How full is your cup? I prefer mine to be at least half empty. If I suspect that it is filling too quickly or that I don't have enough wiggle room for almond milk at the top, I immediately hunker down to fix the problem. The last thing I want is for my cup to overflow.
When someone comes into my office detailing an ailment or condition, there is a natural inclination to describe the circumstances around which the symptom developed. With a gastrointestinal infection it is important to know whether you have recently been traveling or what you may have eaten over the last week.
With other complaints, the connection is less obvious. People don't often notice that the worsening of their headaches corresponds to the start of their new job, or that their joint pain came on after they recently renovated their home. The fact is, most people don't notice their cup is filling at all.
A family friend called me recently following an insurance physical to say that he had been declined coverage due to his elevated blood pressure. He was dumbstruck that there was even a problem. After 65 years of avoiding vegetables, libating with frivolity and acquiring electrolytes through potato chips, he couldn't comprehend the connection between the elevated blood pressure and his lifestyle. "It can't be related to what I consume" he said, "I have always eaten this way without a problem. "It's not a meteorite that breaks the camel's back I replied, it's a piece of straw."
Our bodies -- our cups, all start off as different shapes and sizes. Those with large cups can avoid vegetables and eat potato chips until they are 65 with relatively few health crises, while others have challenges from the beginning. I tend to find that most of us start out with a relatively empty cup, slowing filling it with poor food choices, a lack of sleep, environmental exposures and stress.
Those with larger, more robust cups, take these challenges in stride. These are the people that despite their poor diet, coffee dependence and exercise avoidance, continue to maintain their weight, good temperament and radiant skin. Don't be fooled however, a larger cup doesn't mean you are healthier, it means you get sick less often. In contrast, healthy choices such as exercise and whole foods, keep the fluid level in your cup at a steady level, allowing the body to manage and maintain in the face of physiological stressors.
I use the analogy of a cup in my practice because I have found an inherent disconnect between the choices people make and the consequences on their health. When I ask about an auto-immune condition, diabetes or hypertension, people tell me the day or month they were diagnosed as if that was the moment the disease began. In each of these cases however, the groundwork for the condition or the disease itself started long before, one physiologically stressful encounter after another.
We tend to judge our lifestyle choices based on whether or not they have enabled us to be "fine until now." The reality is, we are all fine until we aren't. In a study published online on February 26 2013 in the journal Cancer Research, the authors noted that increased body weight and decreased levels of physical activity were associated with an incremental risk for colorectal cancer in 54 per cent of the cases studied.
Colorectal cancer is a devastating disease, often detectable through routine colonoscopies and seemingly preventable in a significant number of cases. The researchers went on the point out that those who would benefit from the lifestyle and exercise investment had a genetic marker that would identify them to doctors early in life -- before their cup became too full. Would the genetic knowledge change the behaviour of most of these people? We have yet to find out.
Many appear to live oblivious to the size of our cup until we start to experience symptoms related to the overflow. Whether it is the state of the planet, our health or the national economy, we make our collective choices on credit until the bank calls or the camel breaks his back.
I don't know conclusively whether you will live longer because you chose to exercise, eat well or manage your stress in an effective manner. I am certain of one thing however, healthy lifestyle choices are likely to leave your cup in a stronger position to handle the unexpected stressors and well-placed indulgences that we all tend to scoop up along the way.
10 Important Lifestyle Actions to Reduce the Burden of Daily Life on your Body
1. Exercise and move your body regularly and with intention
2. Avoid processed foods
3. Acknowledge your sources of stress and implement effective outlets
4. Make time to sleep
5. Don't smoke
6. Limit your consumption of sugar
7. Eat a diversity of colourful vegetables
8. Wash your fruit and vegetables
9. Get outside for some fresh air
10. Take advantage of appropriate and preventative screening tests such as mammograms and colonoscopies
Rather than nursing a drink sitting down, belly up to the bar, or grab dinner at a high table with bar stools. <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20534367_4,00.html" target="_hplink">Leaning against a high stool</a> is a step up from sitting, but can be more comfy than standing all night, <em>Health</em> magazine reported.
This old-timey favorite is fun for kids and adults alike, and can burn 100 calories in just 30 minutes. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/machineisorganic/6740536715/" target="_hplink">Machine is Organic</a></em>
You don't have to be Michael Phelps to get a water workout. Even some leisurely splashing around can shave off 200 calories, and it's a great way to stay cool in the heat, too! <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeshlabotnik/311692139/" target="_hplink">Joe Shlabotnik</a></em>
Instead of just lounging on the sand working on your tan, get up and move around if you're at the beach this weekend. Bonus: Digging in the sand can be a surprisingly <a href="http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/great-summer-workouts?page=3" target="_hplink">good workout for abs and obliques</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donhomer/7200149722/" target="_hplink">Michael Bentley</a></em>
Let the music move you when you're out on Saturday night. A little boogying can burn 150 calories in just 30 minutes.
You're not chained to that park bench! If you're already enjoying the outdoors, why not throw around a Frisbee or a football, pass a volleyball or kick a soccer ball? It doesn't have to be strenuous -- you don't even have to be any good! -- but it will get you up and moving. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/perspective/458811240/" target="_hplink">Elvert Barnes</a></em>
If you've got a date night planned this weekend, skip dinner and a movie in favor of something that gets you off your rears. It doesn't have to be a trip to the gym or a jog -- it can be anything active you like doing together. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/78428166@N00/7283892652/" target="_hplink">Tobyotter</a></em>
Many local parks, rivers and lakes have row boats, canoes or kayaks available for rent. No matter your vessel of choice, it's a fun, seasonal way to burn some serious calories. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/inner-eye-photo/6849944748/" target="_hplink">Josh Hawley</a></em>
During the busy week, you sometimes might just let your pet out in the backyard to dig up his own trouble. This weekend, spend a little extra time moving with him. Play fetch, give him that much-needed belly rub or take him on an extra-long walk. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/footloosiety/4255290603/" target="_hplink">footloosiety</a></em>
If you've made plans to meet a friend for coffee, take your catch up session to-go instead and gab on a walk. Even strolling at a snail's pace will burn 85 calories in 30 minutes!
Put down the drink for some foosball or pool if you're at a bar this weekend that offers it. Thirty minutes of pool can shave off 85 calories, not to mention you may save yourself a few if your hands aren't wrapped tightly around that pint glass. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/15216811@N06/5842783313/" target="_hplink">Nicola since 1972</a></em>
Head for the hills! Depending on where you live, a hike can be a weekend expedition or a quick afternoon adventure. It's a change of scenery and a great way to spend some time outdoors. If you're feeling sporty enough to tackle some hills, you can burn almost 250 calories in just 30 minutes. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/4104101152/" target="_hplink">mikebaird</a></em>
If you typically find yourself hailing a taxi on the weekends, try hoofing it instead. If your destination is too far to make it on foot, try public transportation -- and leave the seat for someone else. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tmab2003/3180940701/" target="_hplink">TMAB2003</a></em>
If you have plans to barbecue this weekend, break out the lawn games to get you out of your seat. Try <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/27/lawn-games-calorie-counts-memorial-day-_n_1546462.html" target="_hplink">croquet</a> or badminton, which can burn more than 150 calories in 30 minutes. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jessabc/5835828281/" target="_hplink">Jessa B.C.</a></em>
Those people who do their exercise walking around the mall are onto something. Whether or not you plan to buy anything, browsing around your favorite shopping center gets you moving -- especially if you decide to wiggle in and out of a few things in the dressing room. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimmyharris/2774384836/" target="_hplink">jimmyharris</a></em>
Spend some time strolling through the halls and galleries of your favorite museum. You'll give your brain a workout while you're at it!
Pick your favorite nearby joint and walk to pick up your meal.
Sure, it might take a little longer than sitting through the drive-thru, but you get the pleasure of working those muscles a little bit.
Instead of sitting at a restaurant waiting to be served, why not whip something up at home? You'll be on your feet slicing, chopping, mixing and more, not to mention cleaning up after yourself. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/janicecullivan/4262146921/" target="_hplink">mamaloco</a></em>
A number of <a href="http://www.lsuagcenter.com/en/lawn_garden/home_gardening/vegetables/Variety+Of+Vegetables+Can+Be+Planted+In+Late+Summer.htm" target="_hplink">fall veggies</a> are ready for planting now. Spending an hour digging, crouching, weeding and planting in your garden <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/24/memorial-day-chores-calories_n_1543691.html#slide=1018494" target="_hplink">can burn more than 300 calories</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/7682623@N02/7343305940/" target="_hplink">auntjojo</a></em>
You don't have be imitate the Tour de France! Even the most casual rides can burn 200 calories an hour. Don't own a bike? Many cities now have <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/2011-05-08-bike-sharing-programs_n.htm" target="_hplink">bike share programs</a> that allow you to take a short spin for a small fee, and some parks have bikes available for rent, too. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/chinny_chin_chin00/6137088467/" target="_hplink">machernucha</a></em>
Go old-school, and grab a group of friends to head to the nearest <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/30/make-fitness-fun_n_1465840.html#slide=921050" target="_hplink">laser tag</a> arena. You'll run, jump, squat, crawl -- all in the name of fun and (healthy) competition. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/shawnzlea/324447996/" target="_hplink">shawnzrossi</a></em>
With the increase in <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/03/sports/the-sport-of-bouldering-climbs-in-popularity.html?pagewanted=all" target="_hplink">popularity of bouldering</a>, you no longer need a load of gear (and experience!) to reap the fitness benefits of rock climbing. Try it out at a local gym -- you'll burn calories and seriously work those arm muscles. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/toolmantim/6728078909/" target="_hplink">toolmantim</a></em>
It's not just for dads in bowling shirts! Grab a pair of nerdy-chic shoes and aim straight. You may even wiggle a little arm workout out of it! <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/junklab/68904368/" target="_hplink">junklab</a></em>
Dreaming of a couch-potato weekend? Turn that screen time into something more productive by challenging a roommate, spouse or kid to a Wii Fit boxing or tennis match. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sashawolff/3190273060/" target="_hplink">SashaW</a></em>
Follow Dr. Meghan Walker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drmeghanwalker