Health Tips from Professor Lawrence Gostin
Read here new health tips from O’Neill Institute Faculty Director and Professor, Lawrence O. Gostin. Professor Gostin holds the Founding O’Neill Chair in Global Health Law. For more information about Professor Gostin, please click here.
Dear Students and Friends,
If you’ve read my health tips over the years (and if you haven’t, please do), you probably realize that I’m usually discussing ideas for healthy living. I do my best to live a healthy lifestyle, but it can be quite difficult to maintain for students: a well-balanced nutritious diet, exercise (aerobic and anaerobic), physical activity (e.g., walking, biking), balance, and flexibility (e.g., stretching, yoga, tai chi). But there are two health necessities, which I’m not very good at, but hopefully you are. I’ll talk about the first in today’s Professor Gostin’s Health Tips: the importance of sleep. In my next health tip, I’ll discuss the second vital health behavior that can be a challenge during busy times: social connectedness.
Let’s begin with 3 widely held fallacies about sleep, which are captured in commonly expressed phrases: “I can get by on 6 hours of sleep or less”. Public health advice is to get a minimum of 8 hours of sleep each night. Yes, there are some people who can cope with less than this amount, but here’s the problem: people who need less than the recommended hours of sleep are few and far between. That is, the likelihood is that you need at least 8 hours of sleep every night, as most of us fit within the normal range. In any given community, like the O’Neill Institute family, probably all (or virtually all) will need the recommended night’s sleep. So, here is the bottom line: plan to sleep for at least 8 hours every night. I’ll explain in a moment why sleeping 8 hours should be your highest priority.
Here’s the next common fallacy: “I feel lousy today because I didn’t sleep well last night, but no harm, I’ll just catch up on my sleep.” That is a fallacy because failing to sleep enough hours does not just have a transient effect the next day. Rather it has long term, profound health consequences, as significant as other health behaviors, like diet and exercise.
A final fallacy about sleep is captured in this idea: “I need to pull an all-nighter to accomplish an important task”. Often that task is writing a paper or preparing for an exam, or during your careers you might restrict your sleep to write a brief, prepare for a trial, or to make a presentation. All of this is faulty thinking. The truth is that you will perform far worse, irrespective of the task, if you are sleep deprived. Study after study clearly show that individuals who are sleep deprived, even a little bit, perform below their abilities on physical or mental activities. Yes, you will remember better, write better, speak better, think better if you are well rested. That requires a full 8 hours as your brain will process cognitively in complex ways through various sleep cycles, including rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
Now let’s return to the reasons you should make sleep a high priority and then I’ll turn to good sleep habits that give you the best shot at sleeping well. Why should you make sleep a high priority, perhaps your highest priority? In short, sleep is necessary for virtually all the other aspects of your life that you value. As I’ve explained, you’ll be far more effective, efficient, and capable of performing at your peak if you are well rested. And I often tell my sons this little secret to good success at work.
Here’s a personal self-reflection. When I sleep well, I instinctively adopt good work behaviors: I will give credit to others; don’t assert my own strong viewpoint, but rather ask the right questions; I will frame the key problems we need to solve, simply saying that I will try to capture the excellent ideas of others in the room. In other words, I’m part of the team, supporting my colleagues. If I haven’t slept, I’m more likely to either be unsure, not speak, or speak in ways that are far too assertive.
You might say that you can push yourself hard so you can be all these things, even if you haven’t slept. However, here’s perhaps the most important reason for you to sleep 8 hours minimum every night. It’s absolutely necessary for your good long-term health. It improves not just brain function, but cardiac, respiratory, and immune functions, among others. In other words, scientists are coming to understand that the better question to ask is this: “what physical or mental functions over the life’s course are not profoundly impacted by sleep?”
Thus, even if you are able to “catch up” on sleep, over the long term, sleep deprivation (even a little bit) can significantly affect your long-term health. Sleep also keeps us safer. We are less likely to suffer disabling injuries. The sleep deprived fall more, and it gets worse as you age. The sleep deprived get into traffic crashes far more; injuring themselves, family members, and others. The sleep deprived are even more likely to be victims of violence because they are less aware of their surroundings. The bottom line: prioritize sleep for your own benefit and the benefit of your loved ones.
I hope I have convinced you to prioritize getting at least 8 hours of sleep every night. But how can you plan for a good night’s sleep? In other words, what are good “sleep habits”? Let’s begin by saying that getting a good night’s sleep can be hard for many. It is for me. I know how important sleep is, but I have sleep anxiety, that is I try mightily to sleep and as a consequence I cannot. Also, the older you are, the more difficult it is to sleep. So, I know how hard it can be, but here’s how to give yourself the best shot at sleeping well.
Sleep regular hours. If you can, try to go to bed and get up roughly the same time each night. Regular bedtimes condition your body to expect to sleep.
Avoid caffeine in the afternoons. Caffeine remains in your body long after you drink a cup of coffee or soda. (Remember, coffee and tea are good for you, but soda is not). So, try to stick to coffee in the mornings. (I should, but don’t do this, but I’m trying to change).
Avoid looking at screens before bedtime. It may be tempting to check that last email or write your last tweet, etc. before going to bed. Don’t. Switch off your mind and don’t look at any screens before bed, especially smartphones, computers, and tablets.
Switch off your mind. Related to the above, try not to work before bed or to solve problems. Try to clear your mind and relax before bed. Avoid screens and work not just right before bed, but try to switch off an hour or two (or three) before bedtime.
Avoid sleeping tablets. Since I’ve been telling you how important sleep is, you may think it counterintuitive that I suggest avoiding sleeping pills. However, these medications actually interfere with the normal sleep cycle and are counterproductive. So, avoid them when you can. And if you do take any of these medicines make sure you consult your doctor.
Avoid Alcohol. While alcohol may help relax you and put you to sleep, it will also wake you up periodically at night. So, don’t drink before bed, and overall drink in moderation, really no more than one glass of wine or beer a day.
So, there you have it. You now know how long to sleep, why you should sleep that long, and the best sleep habits for a good night’s rest. It’s up to you. Be kind to yourself. Look after your health. You are so important to your family, your friends, your community, your country, and the world, that you owe it to us all to take good care of your personal health and well-being.
This month’s health tip is a bit unusual. I thought I would devote it to music. You have to have music in your lives—makes the heart sing and the body move. So, what can you do with really good music? First, it is a wonderful way to clear your mind, almost like mindfulness (the subject of last month’s health tip). Just listen to your favorite music while you are doing yoga and get lost in a dream-like state. There is even a meditation app and lots on the Internet to aid your way. Second, it makes you move. Music is the best way to exercise, the only way to dance and tap your feet. Music makes your body move to the rhythm.
So, what kind of music? Any kind really you like is good. I like classical (e.g., Braham’s Symphony No. 3, Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, and Shostakovich’s 5thSymphony). I also like modern music just to get a beat going in my head.
So here is a secret that I have never told before. The secret is my favorite routine most days. Up early: Hit the gym with upbeat music on my Bose. (I never watch television while exercising because it slows me down). I also try to cross train with music—e.g., elliptical, rowing, and/or treadmill. (Or just go for a nice walk if your body is telling you that it is a rest day—just keep active). After aerobics, I try to do a little strength training if I’m up to it: I alternate between chest and arms, abs and back, or legs (e.g., squats). After the workout, I shift to classical music, one of my favorites. I listen while I do my yoga. If the Symphony isn’t over by the time my yoga is complete, I’ll bring it up and listen to the end of the Symphony while I take my shower.
Now that you’re physically exhausted and in a limp state of relaxation, it’s time for a huge breakfast, you’ve earned it! If I’ve done a rigorous strength routine (usually just once a week), I’ll have plain non-fat Greek Yogurt with fruit and nuts. You need the protein boost. Try piping hot porridge (oatmeal), or soak some quinoa, amaranth, or faro the night before and cook it up. Put on a big lot of fruit (berries are real nice) and some nuts (try raw walnuts and/or almonds), and sprinkle some flaxseeds on top. You are in paradise!
Now it is time to get to work. Your mind is clear and you can read, write, think like never before. That’s how I do it. Highly recommended way to live!
Get out to the gym and listen up a storm!
PS A wide variety of music is lovely. I sign up for a Spotify Premium Account, and have tons of playlists. Guess what, as a student you can get it at half price!
You spend much of your life at school or work. These environments can be decidedly unhealthy, both physically and mentally. In my last health tip, I discussed meditation as a stress reducer, and you should take a little time while studying or working in a meditative posture. Being more active is better both for your physical and mental health.
Much of your life is spent at a computer or other screens. Traditionally, students or workers sit for long periods staring at their screens. Nothing could be worse for your health and wellbeing. What to do? You have heard of standing desks, or even “active” desks such as a treadmill or elliptical. These kinds of alternative desks can be helpful. Standing desks are most popular, but don’t just stand all day because that can be harmful to your back and posture. A combination of sitting and standing can help. Active desks can help with this problem.
Whatever desk you choose to use there is one thing that is vital: leave the desk to walk at least once every hour, or more if you can. Walk the stairs, go outside and walk, or even walk down the corridor. These kinds of breaks can be good for your mental wellbeing and also much better for your physical health. Just walk! Don’t be sedentary. Go for a longish walk during lunch. Consider walking meetings.
Speaking of stairs, never use the elevator, never. Always walk up and down the stairs. It is a good life habit to follow.
If you can, go to the gym or have a swim. You may think you don’t have the time, but the truth is the opposite. Vigorous activity gives your more energy and mental clarity. You will be more, not less, productive.
Good nutrition is also very important when studying and working. We tend to take the quicker and easier nutritional path, such as fast foods, French Fries, snack foods, etc. Don’t be fooled by things you think are healthy such as granola bars or sandwiches with processed white flower, mayo, and other unhealthy ingredients. Even cold cuts are thought to be quite unhealthy. Think about salads, lean protein (fish or chicken), whole fruits, and vegetables. For snacks, think about raw nuts, carrots, and non-fat plain yogurt. Drink plenty of fluids, such as water, tea, and coffee.
So take care of yourself while studying or working: focus on your mental wellbeing and stress reduction (e.g., meditation, yoga, tai chi); focus on your body’s need for physical activity (go for a walk, go to the gym); focus on your food (healthy fruits, vegetables, and lean protein). Your mind and body will thank you! And so will your family and friends because you will be so much more social and pleasant to be with!
December 2016/January 2017
Welcome back to a New Year and the Second Semester of the Global Health LLM. A new year often means new beginnings, new intentions, and new goals. All of us live in a stressful world with uncertainties and much to be done and accomplished. Usually my health tip is about diet and physical activity, nourishment for the body, while still advancing your inner peace. But this month’s health tip is about your spiritual wellbeing. I’m not very good at attaining inner peace myself, but I understand how important it is to a good and happy life.
One way to advance your wellbeing is to practice mindfulness. Here are nine steps for mindfulness:
- Focus on the Present Moment
- Being Fully Present
- Openness to Experience
- Acceptance of Things as They Are
- Peace and Equanimity
With these concepts in mind, you can begin to introduce mindfulness into your own life, whether it is by deliberately directing attention to your breath and senses at different times during the day, taking a mindful nature walk, or beginning a simple meditation practice. You might want to center your attention on each in- and out-breath, noticing the length, quality, and sensations of the breath moving in and out of your body, without trying to force or change it in any way. You may also begin to become aware of the times in the day that you operate “mindlessly,” and on automatic pilot, your head so busy with plans and worries, that you don’t even notice what you feel inside or what is around you.
Developing an observing mind that watches your own daily experience, notices your automatic patterns, and gently redirects attention to the present moment is the beginning of growing a “mindfulness muscle” to help you navigate the winds of change and stresses in your life. “As Eckhart Tolle so eloquently said: “Always say ‘yes’ to the present moment. Surrender to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life—and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.”
Mindfulness helps us to slow down, to pay attention to what is happening inside and outside of our body, and to stay focused in the present moment. Mindfulness encourages us to listen to our bodies, to observe what is happening in this present moment, to let go of what is in the past, and stop worrying about what is in our future. By being present in the moment, we can reduce stress and worry in our lives, which inevitably takes away for joy and often for effective functioning. Anxiety can also lead to poorer health. Mindfulness can be achieved through a regular daily, guided meditation practice. This entails a commitment, but a worthwhile one as it can bring rewards to you, deepening creativity, critical thinking, memory, calmness, and balance in your life, and much more
Being present in the moment can be extended to all activities of your daily life. For example, being present mindfully in class sharpens your attention and listening skills, which improves your learning. When you are eating, going slow and savoring the smell and taste can be more enjoyable and you will be less likely to eat more than your body needs. When you are deeply listening to your friends and family, it deepens empathy and solidifies social relationships.
You may think that calming the mind and focusing on the present might detract from your productivity and success. “I don’t have the time to stop and focus,” you may think. But the reverse is true. Mindfulness can make you more, not less, effective in your commitment to a world of global health with justice.
Dear Global Health Law Students and the entire O’Neill Institute community,
Being young, you rarely think of cancer, unless of course you have a close family member taken too soon. And you may think that my health tips are mostly about cardiovascular disease. But the magic of healthy living is not only that it builds a strong heart and lungs; it also prevents a myriad of health problems. We could prevent one-third of cancer deaths if Americans moved more, weighed less, and ate nutritious food. If we added smoking and sun damage, we could prevent up to half of cancer deaths.
You already know most of the right ways to live a good life: eat mostly a plant-based diet with lean protein; be physically active every day; and never use tobacco products. But did you know that drinking alcoholic beverages raises your risk of breast cancer, and the risk increases the more you drink? The enhanced risk applies to many cancers, such as mouth, throat, liver, and colon. The American Cancer Society recommends that women have no more than 1 alcoholic beverage a day. You may have read that alcohol, particularly red wine, is cardiovascular benefits. But the modern evidence refutes that claim. Having the occasional drink to relax and socialize is fine, but stay away from a steady intake of alcohol, even one unit a day.
Young people also like to be out in the sun. But you need to know how to prevent skin cancer and here are simple steps: avoid sun exposure (my family calls me “Shade Seeking Larry”), cover your arms and legs, wear a wide brim hat (fashionably healthy), wear sunglasses (ditto), use sunscreen (30 SPF or higher, which blocks UVA and UVB rays), and avoid indoor tanning. Next, do at home skin checks, using the ABCs: Asymmetry (one part of a mole or birthmark doesn’t the other); Border (edges irregular or blurred), Color (shades of brown/black or patches of pink, red, white, or blue); Diameter (>6 millimeters); Evolving (changing size, shape, or color). Finally, regularly visit a dermatologist.
One last tip. Did you know that viruses cause 15% of cancers worldwide? Epstein-Barr, human papilloma, hepatitis, and herpes viruses are all capable of causing cancer. So, get immunized, for example, all children and adolescents should get the HPV vaccine. And avoid behaviors that risk transmission of blood-borne infections.
Preventing cancer is within your power. Live a long, energetic, and healthy life.
Dear Global Health Law Students and the entire O’Neill Institute community,
The semester is now well under way, with a lot of hard work and learning. This can bring on stress, and you may think you don’t have enough time to eat a nutritious diet, get 8 hours of sleep, and enjoy robust physical activity. You need all three, and every day. Let’s focus on a nutritious diet for this month, which means a well-balanced diet. Balance means that you need to eat these food groups, while avoiding empty calories (e.g., sugary drinks, refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats)
- Protein: Good sources include fish, poultry (grilled and only white breast meat), beans/pulses, and low-fat dairy (e.g., Greek yogurt, with zero fat and zero sugar).
- Vegetables: This might be the most important. Make sure you have several servings of vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts (in season and tasty; roast or grill), winter squash, and green beans. The leafy green vegetables are particularly nutritious, such as kale, arctic chard, and spinach.
- Fruits: Eat only whole fruits, such as berries, apples, pears, and oranges. Buy your berries frozen and mix them in some Greek yogurt with walnuts (yum!). Apples, pears, and oranges are in season and really delicious.
A wholesome diet includes all these food groups, but it also means you shouldn’t add extra calories. Most people gain 5 pounds or more every decade. Don’t! I am still the same weight I was when I married (and actually a bit lighter). And don’t eat foods that aren’t good for you such as sugary drinks, salty/fatty snacks, and unhealthy fats (e.g., butter). Many foods you may think are good for you are not, such as granola bars, fruit yogurt, and a white bagel.
If you sleep, eat well, and enjoy physical activity every day, you will be happier, healthier and, yes, more productive. Be well my dear students and O’Neill family.
On April 21st my father celebrated his 100th birthday. In his speech (yes he gave a long speech without notes on his 100th birthday), he said, “Many people have asked about the secret to a long life. In truth, there is no secret, I just lived.”
At the end of the speech, he attributed his long life to something simple but so important. It was not sweaty exercise (he never did it), or sports (he played a bit of handball against a concrete wall in New York City, that is all), or even good nutritious food (he and I eat chocolate cream pies and malted milks). All these things are indeed important. But for him, it was the simple act of walking. On his exact 100th birthday he walked three miles, in the local Queens park and visited some new neighborhoods as well. On the way home he stopped by the supermarket to pick up a few things, and the New York Times, which he devoured when he got home. And he wrote a letter to the NY Daily News about the virtues of walking over the scenic bridges in Manhattan.
Yes, walking is the secret to a good life. We need other things for sure: good nutrition, cardiovascular exercise, strength training, sleep… But walking, being present with nature, the trees, flowers, animal life. Yes, walking and being vibrant and alive go hand and hand. I should have mentioned that on his 90th birthday he biked 20 miles through the park, nice and slow. He can’t ride a bike now, can’t run or swim. But he can walk!
Professor Gostin’s father’s speech can be found here: https://youtu.be/e_BET0PesVM.
March was National Nutrition Month, so shall we talk about diet and nutrition? My first and foremost piece of advice is: do not go on a diet! Most diets are futile or counterproductive, lacking a sound scientific base. This is true of programs such as the paleontology diet, high fat/high protein diets, and low carb diets. Diets also are for the most part transient, with the large proportion of “dieters” giving up after a short while. If the diet resulted in some weight loss, the vast majority of people put the weight back on, and more. What we need to aim for is changing
our lifelong eating habits.
The best approach is to aim for Mediterranean foods, such as fish, beans, nuts, vegetables, fruits, low fat dairy, and healthy oils (e.g., olive oil). Your plates should be balanced, brightly colored, and very low on added sugars, processed foods, and refined carbohydrates. No particular need to count calories, but just don’t overdo it; no need to read the latest fad diet books (they lack quality evidence); no need to overreact to news stories of this or that new finding (most are wrong or exaggerated). Just follow the simple rules above and don’t stray. Remember, foods that we are taught are healthy really are not, such as flavored yogurts (too much sugar), chocolate (ditto), and granola (too much fat). Follow these simple rules and your life and energy will explode. Food for thought.
As we are in the midst of a Washington winter, mosquitoes are the last thing on our minds– that is, until we hear about the Zika epidemic sweeping the Americas. Will it hit the United States? Probably, especially because the Aedes species mosquito is present in the southern U.S., the Gulf Coast, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. During peak summer months the Aedes mosquito is found all the way up to Washington, DC. It is also likely that the Rio Olympics will be an amplifying event as travelers return to the US during the peak summer months.
The risk for most people is very low, but for women of child bearing age and particularly pregnant women there is a link between Zika and microcephaly in infants. This means that women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant should consider postponing travel to Zika-affected countries. In all cases — whether in Latin America or the Caribbean, or in the United States where the Aedes mosquito is present, there are simple precautions to take: wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks; use effective insect repellants (e.g., containing Deet); remove mosquito habitats, such as standing water; and use screens and air conditioning when indoors (or sleep under a bed net). Also, remember that these mosquitoes bite both during the day and night.
Bottom line message: don’t panic or be fearful but do use common sense precautions to protect against mosquito bites.
The worst thing you can do is to “go on a diet” especially if it is a fad and not evidence based. “Low fat” diets tend to be high in sugar, while “low sugar” diets can be high in trans and saturated fats. “Low carbs” diets may substitute with highly processed or cured meats. The “Paleo Diet” is particularly egregious—it’s heavy on meat and asks dieters to avoid healthy options such as legumes, low fat dairy, and whole grains. The best “diets” is the Mediterranean diet or the Dean Ornish diet, which ensure balanced nutrition including lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy oils.
My advice? Each day, make sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as your mainstay; don’t skimp on lean protein from fish, chicken, soy, legumes, and low fat plain yogurt; and you can eat moderate amounts of whole grains and olive or canola oil. Avoid trans and saturated fat and added sugars from any source (including honey and other so-called healthy sugars). If you like alcohol, drink it sparingly, but the evidence is that overall alcohol is not part of a healthy diet. Now, do you think this kind of food is boring? Well, that’s where you’re wrong. It’s so delicious and nutritious. You will see your health and energy soar!
Public Health England published a report on 22 October 2015 documenting the devastating effects of sugar on our diet. Did you know that a 1.75 l bottle of coke contains 46 sugar cubes worth of sugar and a Mars Bar is nearly 60% sugar? And did you know that food companies sneak sugar into almost everything you eat, including the products you think are healthy—baked beans, soy milk, yogurt, and bread? Public Health England recommends: a 10-20% sugar tax, advertising curbs, bans on special pricing or offers on sugary foods, and reformulated products with less sugar?
Public Health England concludes, “Over the last 30-40 years there have been profound changes in our relationship with food – how we shop, where we eat, as well as the foods available and how they are produced. Food is now more readily available, more heavily promoted, marketed, and advertised, and, in real terms, much cheaper than ever before. All of these nudge us toward over-consumption. The changes have crept up on us… it is time to do something about it.”
Whether government does anything about it is debatable as the food and beverage industry is mightily powerful. But YOU can change your relationship with food. Avoid all added sugars.
Welcome to a new semester at the O’Neill Institute. You come from nearly every region on earth, all with its own unique and special culture and traditions. As you prepare for a rigorous year of learning and growing in your careers, remember to take time for your physical health and mental well-being. Here are the essentials of a happy, healthy life and to bring all parts of your lives into good balance: sleep so you are well rested; eat foods that are nutritious, and not too much; and be physically active. Sleeping is a key ingredient. Don’t think you can skimp on sleep or that you have too much work to sleep a full 8 hours. The truth is that with less sleep you are less productive. Eat lots of healthy fruits and vegetables, and avoid sugar, saturated or trans fats, and salt. And be active, go for walks, walk the stairs, go to the gym, dance, laugh. By following living by these simple truths you will be the best person you can be. Welcome to Georgetown Law.
Each year, 75,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with and 10,000 die from melanoma. The origins of this disease arise in carelessness about sun exposure. There are several simple steps you can take to prevent skin cancer.
- Stay out of the mid-day sun (early morning to late evening) and always wear protective clothing including hats and proper sunglasses.
- Use sunscreens with high SPF protection, 30 or above. Sadly, the FDA has not approved broad-spectrum sunscreens that reliably protect against both UVA and UVB radiation. Unlike countries in Europe, the FDA does not thoroughly regulate sunscreens and misleading claims confuse the public.
- Do routine checks of your skin to see if you have the signs of early cancers.
Enjoy the summer, but be safe!
To our dear graduating students,
As you leave our classrooms and continue on your professional journey, I want you to know that you are now part of an important movement—one that is critical to bettering the lives of many and one that must grow. It is a young field but yet, even when it didn’t have a name, the importance of law to public health has always existed. By joining our program, you have recognized it and now are part of the movement.
Please remember that we welcomed each of you to the program because you showed enormous potential for furthering what we consider an important task that we all have at hand. It is an honor to have you as our graduates. We are so proud of what you have accomplished during your time here and all that you will accomplish in your lives.
On behalf of our program, the O’Neill Institute, and Georgetown Law, a heart-felt congratulations on your success and all that is to come! The O’Neill Institute, and me personally, will always be here to support your career. I hope to see you and hear from you often as you build a wonderful career and life.
With my warm wishes,
A new WHO guideline recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits. The WHO guideline does not refer to the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables, and sugars naturally present in milk. Beware of hidden sugars in processed foods. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams and a single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40 grams. In truth, I try to eliminate added sugars entirely although it often isn’t possible. So, to lose weight or not put weight on, to be healthy, and to avoid dental disease, get rid of added sugar in your diets.
When we think about our health, we tend to think about the physical: diet, physical activity, flexibility, and strength. But our mental health — our levels of wellbeing — are just as important, and maybe more so. More and more, we learn about the close links between our mental health and our physical one. Among the most important parts of our wellbeing is restful sleep and stress reduction, but how can we do this with so much work to do and so many responsibilities. For sleep, make sure you have as much asleep as your body needs — about a full 8 hours of restful sleep.
Many people say or think they can do with less, but the data show that isn’t true. We think that we don’t have time to sleep because there is too much to do, but the truth is exactly the opposite. Without sleep we perform our tasks much less efficiently. Sleep actually makes us perform better, much better. So, have a cup of herbal tea before bed, no computers, smart phones, or tablets, and free your mind. Have a look here: NatGeo documentary: “Sleepless in America”. Sleep well my lovely students and do well in your lives. Next time, stress relief.
In thinking about our health we often don’t consider injuries. As with so much in public health the best form of injury protection is to design the environment and consumer products in ways the ensure safe use, such as designing cars and roads to be safe. But there is also a behavioral element, so avoid high risk activities and when you do always ameliorate the risk through good preparation, such as helmets, lights, and reflective gear, as well as due care, when biking. Staying safe from injuries is essential for a life full of vigor.
As we witness the self-interested US response to three domestic Ebola cases, we should reflect on the real humanitarian crisis in West Africa, which has endured unbelievable, and avoidable, suffering and death. Sometimes when we think about health, we need to dwell on others, with particular attention to the most disadvantaged. And that is my health tip for this month—our shared humanity.
As the semester is just beginning, now is the time to bring our lives into balance. There are three essentials to good health and wellbeing: sleep well, eat well, and get plenty of physical activity. Often we think that we can do with less sleep, eat unhealthy snacks, or skip our walk or workout when the pressure of study gets intense. But the reverse is true. Without keeping all three parts of life in balance we actually work less effectively. I should know. I have tried everything in my many years of life, and there is no substitute for good health and wellbeing. In fact, it brings greater concentration and productivity, not less. Pass it on.
Every one knows that exercise is good for your heart health, and the growing evidence shows that high intensity workouts are very effective and take less time. But it is less commonly known that even high intensity exercise won’t compensate for an otherwise sedentary lifestyle. That is why regular physical activity every day is so important. There are lots of ways to do this: walking (aim for 10,000 steps daily), use the stairs not elevator (both down and up), and try this—a standing desk. Studies show that among the worst things for our health is sitting down, whether at work or at home watching television. So, try standing more, including using a standing desk. I recently went to Stockholm and everyone at the Institute for Public Health was standing. And the Institute actually bought everyone a standing desk. (Not to mention the free ample fruit and veggie snacks for employees.) So stand up, walk, and get active!
Resistance bearing exercise (weight training) is an important part of fitness, especially as you get older (so get into the habit now). Don’t use those little weights, but something that will tax your muscles. And remember to eat good quality protein very soon after weight training. Be strong.
Recent meta analysis found that sugar intake was highly correlated to overweight and obesity, with higher risks of cardiovascular disease. Remember, sugar is hidden in so many foods (e.g., processed foods, bread, yogurt). Stay healthy. Avoid sugar, particularly the hidden ingredients. And also remember, sugar is sugar: doesn’t matter if it is brown or white, high fructose corn syrup… sugar is sugar in all its various forms.
Most people don’t realize it but sleep is vital for health and wellbeing. You may think you don’t need a full 8 hours, but you do. Stay restful and relaxed.
Do you get enough physical activity? Remember to walk, climb the stairs, bicycle, dance, or whatever makes you fit and active. Next month, I will tell you about the goals of physical exercise (the more intense form of activity, with its three elements).
When you buy foods, scrutinize the labels for hidden fats, sugars, and sodium.
This month, Prof. Gostin explores, “Is Sugar Toxic?”: Think before you put sugar in your mouth — whether in sugary drinks, in coffee, or tea, and especially hidden in processed foods. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg recently proposed a controversial portion restriction that would limit the portion of high-sugar beverages to a maximum 16-oz size.