Smoking, Sugar, & Sitting Destroy Health of a Billion Plus

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, U.S. health care spending grew 5.8 percent in 2015, reaching $3.2 trillion or $9,990 per person. As a share of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, health spending accounted for 17.8 percent. India’s health care spending, on the contrary, according to the World Bank, is only 4.7% of GDP. This will keep on increasing over next several decades as India’s economy keeps on growing, but it can never reach the level of spending in the USA. And it does not have to if the primary causes (smoking, sugar, and sitting) of escalating health care cost are dealt with effectively.

There are a host of other factors leading to the increase in this cost – direct and indirect cost of malpractice insurance, inefficient delivery of the healthcare, increasing cost of the medications, and an aging population – but as a physician in practice for a quarter of a century, my focus, here, is on individual health behavior.

If we stop using tobacco products and help our friends and family members to do the same, we will be improving our health and the health of our communities. Let us also teach our kids not to start smoking in the place.

I have seen my patients lose weight and reduce blood sugars just by going on a low-carb diet. I have managed my type 2 diabetes completely on a low-carb diet. I reduced my glucose levels by eliminating wheat, rice, and sugar from my diet and by increasing lentils, beans, soy milk, vegetables. Multiple studies have shown the same. In a study of obese diabetic subjects, a Low Carb diet (20% carbohydrates) was associated with a significant reduction in body weight, fasting blood glucose and HbA1C (the three months’ average blood sugar) at 6 months compared to the high carbohydrate group (60% carbohydrates). Significant decreases in insulin and the medication requirement were also observed in the low carbohydrate diet group.

Can you walk to a healthy heart? That is what the Tsimanes do! The Tsimane are a native population in the Amazon who make a living by hunting, fishing, foraging, and farming. The group has preserved their culture and language for thousands of years. And their way of life is incredibly good at protecting the heart, Thomas and his colleagues reported in The Lancet.

Of  Tsimane people over age 40, about 85 percent have no blockage of coronary arteries. And nearly two-thirds over age 75 were apparently free of arterial plaque.

Compare that to Americans — who have exactly the opposite statistics. Nearly 85 percent of Americans over age 45 have atherosclerosis. And only 14 percent are free of the plaque.

That data means the heart of an 80-year-old Tsimane has the “vascular age” of an American in his or her mid-50s. And the Tsimane have officially dethroned Japanese women as the group of people with the healthiest hearts in the world, the study reports. The Tsimane now have the lowest levels of coronary artery disease ever recorded.

“I was just floored by the data,” Thomas says. “The Tsimane have extraordinarily healthy hearts.”

So what’s their secret?

The Tsimane get a ton of exercise, Gurven says, but it’s not really intense exercise.

“I think there’s a general stereotype that if you’re a hunter-gatherer and farmer, that you’re exercising vigorously every day, like the equivalent of running a marathon, and that’s not the case,” Gurven says. “It’s really just that they’re not sedentary.”

Instead, the Tsimanes do a lot of walking — about 7 1/2 miles each day. And they’re active for more than 90 percent of daylight hours. In contrast, Americans spend about half their waking hours sitting down.

We all can get in the habit of working while standing. A standing meeting will be healthy and more productive. Take the stairs at work. Walk the floor at work. Do the same at home too and you shall walk your way to a healthy heart.

In short, if we all work together to fight smoking, sugar, and sitting, we can live a long and healthy life and can help reduce the healthcare cost. Do you think it is dificult? Yes, it is, but it is not impossible. Let us take a few baby steps in that direction.





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