Living Well in Myanmar

A good doctor is nice, a healthy lifestyle is better

Lifestyle.  Regardless of whether I am treating patients at my clinics in Yangon or Northern California, I can’t offer a medical intervention with more potential benefit than improving a patient’s lifestyle.  In the last 150 years Western medicine has become the globally dominant curative modality because it offers a series of specific responses to diseases of specific organs.  The appeal of ‘fixing a problem’ using pills or surgery is the basis for most of our national healthcare systems and has created the global biomedical complex. 

However from a purely statistical point of view we don’t have any magical tablets that are better at keeping you well than leading a healthy lifestyle.  Is there a way in which you can reduce your chances of having a heart attack, getting cancer, suffering from joint pain, struggling with dementia, or becoming incapacitated from a stroke?  Yes, it’s called optimizing your lifestyle. 

Consider what the following well-conducted research tells us about leading a healthy lifestyle: 

·      Reduce your chance of having a heart attack by 83%

·      Reduce your chance of having a stroke by 79%

·      Reduce your chance of all cancers by between 36% to 64%

·      Reduce your chance of developing type 2 diabetes by 93%

·      Reduce your chance of high blood pressure by 78%

·      Reduce your chance of heart failure by 47%

·      And reduce your overall chance of dying by up to 65%

So what does a leading a healthy lifestyle mean?  Five basic choices:  1) eat vegetables, beans, nuts, fish and olive oil  2) don’t smoke  3) exercise 90 minutes per week  4) don’t become overweight  5) drink a glass of alcohol every day. 

A good doctor should hassle you about these choices at every visit.  A great doctor will help you take the steps to achieve these goals.  But of course you don’t need a doctor for any of it – you just need to decide that lifestyle maximization is right for you and your family. 

I will address aspects of lifestyle in more detail in future issues of this column.  However, a suggested initial approach is to think about which of these five choices sound most attractive and address those first.  It is less important to fix everything right away than it is to take it slow and increase the likelihood of doing most things well for many years.  The statistics will start to be on your side.  © Christoph Gelsdorf 2013