Being Responsible For Your Health

The holiday season may be a lousy time to talk about such things, but what are you doing about diet and exercise?

With the nation ready to fall off a fiscal cliff, might you be going off a physical cliff?

New nationwide statistics show that because of advances in medicine, we Americans are living longer but with more disease, disability and drain to our health care system. The good news is that Hawaii is second only to Vermont for having the healthiest population in the U.S. (up from third), according to 2012 health rankings put out jointly by the United Health Foundation, American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention.

According to the foundation’s measures, Hawaii has a “low prevalence of obesity, low prevalence of smoking and low rate of preventable hospitalizations” compared to states such as South Carolina, West Virginia, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana at the bottom of the health heap.

The bad news is that rankings are deceiving. In the case of America’s overall health scorecard, I’m afraid this study is comparing the least bad to the worst bad.

Truth is, 21.9 percent of Hawaii’s population is obese. One in 12 people have diabetes, 16.8 percent smoke and 21.3 percent are physically inactive. Also, Hawaii has a high rate of binge drinking comparatively, perhaps accounting for a high incidence of domestic violence (which routinely increases during holidays).

Anyway, we’re now just recovering from the holiday cookies-cakes-and-mochi-everything season. Add football-watching and general couch potato-ing, and you have the perfect environment for cholesterol, blood pressure and pounds to edge up and over the “physical cliff.”

Temptations are high and willpower low when it comes to the season of sugar. Look at Santa. He has a heckuva time recovering from his cookie binge across a billion or so households. Though some children are now leaving him carrot sticks and granola, we all know amounts count. Santa needs to practice “safe eating” during the season, otherwise he will spend January, February and March at the North Pole Fitness Center in a rubber sweat-suit.

My prescription for avoiding the physical cliff during the Christmas season (and year-round) is akin to how we should avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” our country faces:

1) Cut the fat. Don’t waste calories on the unnecessary (i.e., fat and sugar). Instead of pasta (macaroni) salad with mayo, try a green salad with balsamic dressing. The calories you save will afford you an occasional cookie with icing.

2) Don’t tax your body by lazying around. During college football bowl game commercials, stand up and jog in place or stretch. If you don’t know how to stretch, just watch your dog or cat and do what they do. Wag your tail for extra calorie burning.

3) Provide incentives – like buying a swimsuit a size too small to aspire to wearing in 2013. Baggy styles only incentivize increased consumption. The Chinese (who carry much of the U.S. debt) are hardly unhealthy fiscally or physically because of industriousness. Sweep the driveway, walk the block or build a Barbie Doll factory in your spare time.

4) Reduce reliance on bad habits (i.e., two scoops, two packs and too much). Provide your own fuel. Grow a vegetable garden or plant a papaya tree and cut back on packaged, processed, preservative-laden foods. Fuel your body with fruit-and-vegetable smoothies instead of high-calorie foods such as potatoes, rice, pasta, or greasy ribs and bacon.

5) Be responsible – to yourself, your family and the nation that will be burdened by the cost of an unhealthy you.

Here’s an idea for a healthy stocking stuffer: “Fiscal” Clif Bars with a dollar attached. Clif Bars are ono organic energy bars for your 150-mile bike rides during commercials. And the dollar? Well, it may be worth more in 2012 than 2013, so I’d spend it soon on a pear tree or starting an herb garden.