Lifestyle or Deathstyle?

Sedentary Lifestyle: Couch potato (Photo credit: FBellon)

The Lifestyle You Choose
May Seal Your Medical Future

The term “lifestyle” can be off-putting with its yuppie connotation. But its pervasive use in both medical and lay literature forces us to adopt it as an effective shorthand that captures crucial variables such as diet, exercise, stress, sleep, and toxic exposure.

It’s a bit of a misnomer, however.

Fast food diets, sedentary work and leisure time, over-stressed days and sleep-deprived nights, and chronic exposure to an array of chemicals, medications, and other contaminants. These are more accurately labeled  “deathstyle” behaviors since they deny the very things essential to life – circulation of pure oxygen and clean water, essential nutrients, physical activity, rest, and replenishment.

Of course, some “deathstyle” behaviors are more dangerous than others. Texting while driving, binge drinking, smoking, and other reckless behaviors are even more likely to cause an early demise than a junk food diet and couch potato syndrome.

However, more people will likely die from the latter than the former…just more slowly.

Are You A “Boiling Frog?”

The “boiling frog” metaphor applies – put a frog in boiling water and he’ll reflexively jump out. But put him in mildly warm water, slowly turn up the heat, and soon you’ve got lunch. The western lifestyle that dominates in the U.S. and other developed countries is very much the “warm water” that slowly cooks us frogs into an early demise.

As noted, some behaviors are worse than others. Cigarette smoking still tops the list of self-destructive behaviors, but excess body fat – especially belly fat in even average weight people (see “Belly Fat – The Enemy Within“) – is now a very close second in terms of its life-shortening effects.

But it’s the combination of self-destructive behaviors – overeating poor quality foods, physical inactivity, incessant stress in a wired economy, poor sleep habits – with their cumulative effects over years and decades that account for our current pandemic of chronic diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Personal Behavior Is Powerful Stuff

Most of us think of “lifestyle” in soft-and-mushy ambiguous terms as contrasted with the “hard” interventions of modern medicine – drugs, surgery, etc.  But the truth is that our lifestyle behaviors – the choices we make every day – have far greater bearing on whether we incur diseases for which we may be at risk. They even affect very directly how safe and effective medical interventions are once we’ve been diagnosed with a disease.

Personal behavior is powerful stuff. It can drive us into harm’s way or keep us disease-free.

And it’s very much in our control – unlike the dangerous and expensive world of medicine where we subject our lives, and our assets, to strangers and think little of it.

Further compounding the medical toll of self-abusive lifestyle behaviors are the cumulative impacts of our increasingly toxic micro-environments:

  • Pesticides in our food supply;

  • Chemical food additives and contaminants;

  • Toxic cleaning supplies under our kitchen sinks;

  • Overmedication in a pill-crazed culture;

  • Excess radiation from the profit-driven surge in CT exams; and

  • Contaminants in our air and water supplies.

Government and industry scientists like to discount these threats as well below the levels of toxic concern, but these “safety” levels are constantly being revised – lending little comfort to these self-serving reassurances.

Plus, there are the cumulative effects of even low-dose toxin exposure over decades to consider – the so-called “toxic burden”. Just as the risk of negative interactions between medications increases with the number of medications you take and how long you take them, the risk of negative interactions among all chemicals increases with both their sheer number and the length of your exposure.

You don’t need to be a scientist to appreciate the potential for this toxic “background noise” to add to the premature death toll brought on by self-destructive lifestyle choices.

You’re The Boss

The good news in this dismal picture is that some of these destructive forces are within our control. We can substitute less toxic cleaning products, selectively choose pesticide-free foods, filter our air and water supply, substitute radiation-free imaging exams, etc.

Some of these remedial lifestyle choices do, in fact, cost more than cheaper but destructive options, but these are economic choices we all make in our daily lives.

Unfortunately, we’re often willing to spend more of our disposable incomes on things that harm us and “economize” on things that benefit us.

The antidote for such damaging lifestyle behavior is to focus on making better decisions today than you made yesterday. And when they cost more, find ways to cut costs elsewhere.

The idea is to reprioritize your spending away from “deathstyle” choices in favor of life-promoting goods and services that may help you avoid hospitals and other dangerous and expensive medical interventions like those discussed in Our Healthcare Sucks.

This seems obvious, of course, but the evidence tells us that too many of us still don’t get it. And it also tells us that mainstream medical practice gives short shrift to lifestyle changes because many doctors don’t believe patients who need them most will stick with it.

They may be right – in general. But you still get to decide whether they’re right about you!

My advice is to prove them wrong – and to then insist on more conservative medical interventions that are most promising when you supplement them with aggressive lifestyle changes for the better.

This is the formula for surviving a medical financing crisis that no one seems able to stop: more aggressive healthful lifestyle changes that will help you avoid aggressive, and expensive, medical interventions in the future.

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John Lynch: John Lynch was founder and CEO of Medical Diagnostics, Inc. - twice named to Business Week's "Best Small Companies" in America. He's since founded MedSmart Members to publish consumer health education publications.
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