A typical day for many adults goes like this: drink coffee, sit in a car or take public transit to get to work, work at a desk bent over a computer all day, take quick breaks to eat processed food and toss back an energy drink, return to sitting in your mode of transport at the end of the workday, eat fast food for dinner, and sit on the couch all evening watching TV, texting, and interacting through social media.
Sound familiar? Would you be surprised to find that this toxic lifestyle produces many unnecessary health challenges? In today’s society, leading a sedentary lifestyle seems to be the norm rather than the exception—but it doesn’t have to be this way! The key to change is recognizing the signs and symptoms of an unhealthy lifestyle and then taking the necessary steps to make better choices that will result in a long-lasting healthier, and happier life.
A toxic lifestyle manifests itself in physical, physiological, and psychological symptoms. Many people feel fatigued, sluggish, tired, and bloated and experience joint pain and general body aches. In addition, toxic lifestyles contribute to anxiety, stress, and sleep issues. Eventually more serious complications arise, such as high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, diabetes, stress and heart problems, and, unfortunately, sometimes cancer.
The easiest way to prevent a healthy lifestyle from turning toxic is to start young. As caregivers, it is important to help children build the foundation they need through access to regular checkups and information about disease, health, nutrition, exercise, and emotional stability. Accordingly, optimal health includes:
- Regular wellness visits—in other words, don’t just see a healthcare provider when the child is sick
- Dental and vision checkups
- Spinal and chiropractic screenings to check for misalignments or dysfunctions, ensure the spine is growing straight, and monitor bone health and growth
- Nutritional consultations to evaluate diet and nutrition, especially if the child is involved in strenuous sports or other physical activities or, at the other end of the spectrum, excessive inactivity
With more than one-third of the nation’s children and adolescents classified as either overweight or obese, the early effects of a toxic lifestyle are alarming. Obese children have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Obese adolescents are more likely to suffer from prediabetes, a condition that indicates a high risk for diabetes later in life. Overweight or obese children and adolescents are more likely to be overweight as adults and may suffer from poor balance, impaired coordination, and other health issues—not to mention suffering the unfortunate emotional and social ramifications. Early education and activity are essential to building a stronger body structure, enhancing balance and coordination, and establishing healthy nutrition patterns.
Turning the Tide
Although early intervention and education are important, it is fortunately never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Many diseases and conditions are treatable or even preventable when adults recognize the ill-effects of a toxic lifestyle and are willing to make changes. Here are five steps for transforming toxic practices into healthy ones.
>> 1. Recognize the issues that contribute to a toxic life.
The lack of fundamental education on health and wellness is a significant one. In an article written by Patricia Salber, MD, she reports that individuals “make hundreds of decisions each day that favorably (or unfavorably) impact our health.” Yet, outside of educational public health campaigns or actively learning about health and wellness, most adults are not trained in these topics.
While basic health courses are taught in middle and/or high school, the School Health Policies and Practices
Study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, determined that the majority of public school districts do not teach all essential elements of health in these courses. In other words, neither adults nor adolescents receive enough education to make informed health and wellness decisions. Learning about health and wellness provides individuals with the knowledge to recognize the signs and symptoms of living a toxic lifestyle. To become an informed consumer, sign up for nutrition classes, read healthy diet and food books, and learn how to prepare healthy meals. In addition, get referrals from healthcare providers to nutritionists, personal trainers, and physio-therapists.
>> 2. Seek out an integrated healthcare team.
The traditional medical model is to visit a primary care practitioner once per year or only when sick. This individual is generally a single person who doesn’t focus on preventive or integrated medicine. A better alternative is to access an integrated health team composed of practitioners from various health and medical disciplines before serious diseases and illnesses take over a person’s well-being. This allows the team to create a custom health plan based on the individual’s unique health history, including current and previous lifestyle choices, family history, predispositions, and genetic makeup. A well-rounded healthcare team experienced in diet, exercise, medical diagnosis, disease prevention, and health maintenance can provide guidance and solutions for living healthy lifestyles. In addition, there are customized genetic tests available to determine which types of medications a person’s body would or would not be able to process well.
>> 3. Follow recommended guidelines.
A customized health plan is useless if the patient ignores recommendations to obtain health screenings or follow diet, nutrition, and exercise plans. For example, excess sugar consumption is linked to heart disease, obesity, decreased brain function, depression, dementia, diabetes, arthritis, sexual health, acceleration of the aging process, and fatty liver disease. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9.5 teaspoons of sugar per day, yet the average adult disregards this guideline and consumes 22 teaspoons daily. Because of sugar’s effects on the brain, many people are addicted to refined/added sugars and find it difficult to curb this addiction.
One strategy for breaking the sugar dependency is to create new nutritional and physical activity habits. Involving healthcare professionals increases the chances of successfully turning this toxic pattern into a healthy one. Nutritionists can design customized plans for reducing refined sugars in a person’s diet.
>> 4. Avoid quick fixes.
Everyone is looking for immediate resolutions to problems that took years to manifest. Transforming a toxic lifestyle into a lasting and healthy one is not a quick fix, but rather a long-term health solution. Making changes involves both successes and setbacks, as well as a realistic mindset. It is improbable that a person who tries to eat healthier will consume only the “right” food at every meal, or that someone working toward increased physical activity will engage in strenuous exercise every day for the rest of his or her life. However, individuals can strive to make healthy eating choices for the majority of their meals and exercise at least three times weekly.
Success comes from realizing that living a lasting healthy lifestyle is not an approach that is done for one day or one week or one month. Instead, it involves making lifestyle modifications that are adoptable and doable for a lifetime of healthy living.
>> 5. Be prepared for short-term discomfort.
When making lasting lifestyle changes, it is important to recognize that there may be some short-term discomfort, including cravings and withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and agitation. The good news is that the body regenerates itself on a regular basis. When toxic habits and behaviors are reduced or eliminated, the body will modify and adapt as well.
As individuals get past the initial phases of detox and withdrawal from a toxic lifestyle, they begin to feel moments of peace, serenity, and calmness. They may lose weight, thereby feeling lighter and more energetic. Their joints may ache less, and they are likely to feel less swollen and bloated. Often they sense that they can accomplish and do more. And, in many cases, by engaging in these wholesome lifestyle practices, they experience a reversal of the toxic effects on their bodies.
Healthy for Life
Many of today’s fast-food conveniences and sedentary lifestyles are contributing to a significant decline in a healthy population. Without accurate and timely information and education on wellness, diet, exercise, preventive care, and health maintenance, individuals and society will struggle when it comes to understanding the causes of diseases and how the effects of their choices lead to toxic lifestyles. Toxic lifestyles can shave years off of a person’s life, causing discomfort, pain, and grief to not only the person affected, but also their families.
Working with a multidisciplinary team of well-trained healthcare professionals can help you make better decisions about nutrition, exercise, and medical care. These professionals who offer medical, chiropractic, acupuncture, healthy weight management, and massage provide adults and children with the best opportunity to alleviate toxic lifestyles and restore and achieve optimal health. Optimal health results in greater longevity, less pain and suffering, more energy and peace of mind, and better general well-being.
In the end, is there anyone who doesn’t want to experience those health benefits?
By Stephanie Higashi, DC