We’ll get healthy when health is the easy choice

New Year’s resolutions be damned, we’ll get healthy when health is the easy choice.

Yet again this morning I heard on the CBS Morning Show a segment from medical correspondent, Dr. Jennier Ashton, listing how to stay younger. You know how, you’ve heard these rules a zillion times. Don’t smoke. Eat healthy foods in smaller portions. Exercise, both aerobic and weight training. Wear sunscreen. Get 7-9 hours sleep. Get 1,200 units of calcium for bone loss. 

OK, I listened to hear if anything was new. It wasn’t. Then I went to do my laundry and while shoving shirts in the washer thought, how am I supposed to follow these guidelines given my day? How are you supposed to follow these guidelines with your busy life? Is your boss making time for you to go to the gym? Is your cafeteria or ubiquitous corner deli, fast food place, family chain restaurant or airport kiosks offering more healthy choices than unhealthy ones? For the same price?

Can you enjoy peaceful slumber in these recessionary times? Can you sleep 8 hours if you’ve got little ones or a job you’re trying to hold onto? Can you even find 30 minutes to get outside to wear your sunscreen?

As I’m typing the same show is now doing a segment on “How to jumpstart your oops, missed it, either weight loss or exercise.” As if I had room in my tiny apartment for a treadmill. Or even the space to lie on the floor with dumbbells as they’re now showing. 

It amazes me, again and again, that we preach what we should be doing out of one side of our mouths and do nothing to create the infrastructure to support people doing it. Food manufacturers have powerful lobbies to keep making artificial food-like substances. The government continues to fund farmer’s over production of corn so high fructose corn syrup is in most things you eat, including the burger you can buy for a buck. No wonder people are chowing down at McDonalds and not on apples that also cost nearly a buck. So tell me, talking heads, what do you really expect people to do? 

Or is it because a big corporation owns the TV station, the newspaper, the magazines and profit rules what people say but not do.

Finland’s capital city, Helsinki, has a mysterious high population of type 1 diabetes – more people in Helsinki have type 1 than anywhere else – and they now have a growing epidemic of type 2s. What did Helsinki do? They redesigned the city to create more parks for free outdoor activity, they created more bike lanes and more walking paths. What are people doing? Playing outside (hopefully with their sunscreen on), biking and walking on a regular basis. 

Without the infrastructure to make it easy to make healthy choices, it takes enormous commitment and effort to stay healthy in America. It takes learning about the health quotient of different foods, being able to afford them and packing your own wherever you go. It takes waking up early or sacrificing time with your family to get those 30 minutes of exercise. 

I’m not saying it can’t be done. I do it. It’s important to me so I’ve worked it into my life as best I can. Don’t ask me how frustrated I am when I can’t find something healthy to eat at an airport. Thus the photos. I’m just saying when are we going to admit that we tell people what to do to stay healthy and do next to nothing to make it easy for us to do it. 

Oh wait, gotta go, NBC’s weight loss guru, Joy Bauer, is about to share her Slimdown program.

Happy New Year, Hurrrrrrrrrrrmmmmmmmmpppppppphhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!

When the healthy choice is the easy choice, that’s the one people will make

Biking in Finland, easily accessible

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New York City trying to create bike lanes

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The great gateway to the West, St. Louis

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Where our diet is leading us: two thirds of Americans are slowly dying from obesity

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Around the same time that the Diabetes Prevention Program in 1992 proved that losing a moderate amount of weight (7%–about 10 or 15 pounds for many people who are overweight) and getting 30 minutes of physical activity five times a week can possibly prevent diabetes, the Finns ran a similar study and came up with similar results.

But there the similarity ends. The Finns actually did something about it. For the past 15 years they’ve been building parks and bicycle paths, changing foods available in schools and restaurants: they’ve been making healthy choices easier to make. And people have been losing weight, getting fitter and lowering the incidence of type 2 diabetes in Finland. 

As Dr. Pekka Puska, Director General of the National Public Health Institute says in Dr. Francine Kaufman’s documentary, Diabetes Global Epidemic, “You can give people all kinds of information but unless you make the healthy choice the easy choice, it’s not going to be the one people make.” The key is connecting the dots from information to action, so in Finland city planning has changed direction so people can more easily be physically active. The central lesson from Finland’s success is it’s human nature to make the easy choice and when you make the easy choice the healthy choice, people will follow: fitness trails now fill Finland’s cities and people who otherwise would not be, are on them.

I had the opportunity to reflect on this last week when out of my home town of New York City I was in the heartland, attending a conference in St. Louis. The first morning I was abruptly reminded and saddened to see how poor the choices are across much of America to make healthy choices when it comes to eating. Lodged at a very lovely, star-studded hotel, I was frankly appalled at the dismal breakfast buffet. It appeared the best way to make a healthy choice was to get on line for the fresh omelets. So I did. I got a spinach omelet dripping in butter and when I asked for lettuce and tomato instead of potatoes both grill chefs looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.

Surveying the breakfast buffet, on tap were gummy scrambled eggs, fruits in canned syrup, bacon, sausage, biscuits with coagulated gravy, sweetened, flavored yogurt, frosted cold cereals and only instant oatmeal in only sweetened flavors like Apple and Cinnamon, Maple Syrup and Brown Sugar. 

My whole four days were an enormous effort to work around the unhealthy selection of foods plentifully available and try to find a few nutritious choices. The one evening my colleagues and I went off premises we took a short ride into historic downtown St. Charles for dinner. Having asked our driver for a good restaurant that offered a variety of foods he recommended Lewis & Clark. It appeared to be a typical family restaurant chain like a Fridays or Houstons. Scanning the menu I immediately saw almost everything was fried. We settled on what I thought would be the healthiest choices: guacamole and a spinach-artichoke dip for appetizers. Both came creamed and with a mound of corn chips. Luckily there were two fish entrees which you could order grilled with steamed veggies which I did. If this is how America eats because this is what we’re offered, how can we expect people will not be fat?

The straw that broke my back was breakfast at the St. Louis airport the day I left. In the new concourse there was only one place to sit and eat a meal, at the bar. I ordered scrambled eggs which came with sausage, only white sourdough bread, and when I asked if they could substitute lettuce and tomato for the hash browns, I got my second startled lettuce-and-tomato look. The eggs tasted like they came out of a plastic container not a chicken, the sausage was so salty I’m sure it spiked my blood pressure right then and there, the coffee incidentally was burnt. I felt almost sick after that meal, physically and spiritually. 

Understand, I’m not picking on St. Louis and I’m not saying everyone in this country makes poor health choices; I am saying I experienced how difficult it was to make healthy choices in the course of a day in an ordinary American city, and that it’s shameful to hawk at us on morning news programs and magazines that we have to change our eating habits and then make it almost impossible to do so. 

America, shape up–and I’m not talking to those of you who have pounds to lose–but our agriculturalists, industrialists and politicians who let the food industry and big business get away with murder–because frankly they’re killing us.