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Preventing Illness and Disease

Without question, the most important positive action you can take to prevent illness and disease is exercise. Exercise prevents a long list of diseases that can cause chronic or severe illness, disability, and even death, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, vascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and osteoporosis. Exercise also prevents mental health illness and disease disorders, including depression, anxiety, and stress. While some of these disease processes can be reversed with exercise and healthy life-style, some cannot. Preventing them from starting is the number one goal.

Not Smoking
The most negative lifestyle behavior is smoking. Smoking contributes to the development of almost all diseases, notably cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and asthma. Smoking has the following negative health effects: lowers immunity, making you more likely to get bronchitis, colds, and other infections; interferes with breathing by causing wheezing and asthma; causes snoring and sleep apnea; impairs fine motor skills, leaving you shaky and unable to control your hands. Athletes who smoke have decreased endurance and are more likely to suffer from exercise-induced asthma.

If you quit smoking before the diseases becomes chronic, you can reverse most of the effects smoking has on the body—breathing, snoring, immunity, and risk of cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure all improves. Problems exist, however, if smoking has done permanent damage. Severe smoking-related diseases, including cancer, emphysema, and coronary artery disease, are permanent.

HEALTH TIP The best thing you can do for your body is exercise; the worst is smoke.

See Your Doctor
Because doctors and health professionals are trained to recognize, treat, and prevent illness, following their advice is recommended. Each person has different risks of diseases based on genetics and other health history; therefore health recommendations can be slightly different for each individual.

Still, following the basic recommendations outlined below will reduce your risk of severe diseases.

Recommended Medical Testing and Check-Ups

  • Yearly check-up (every other year if no health risks)
  • Yearly dental exam
  • Monthly breast self-exams
  • Yearly Pap smear/OBGYN visit after the age of 18 or when sexual activity begins
  • Mammogram initially by age 40; high risk by age 35
  • Colonoscopy initially by age 40; high risk by age 35
  • EKG as recommended by your primary physician
Disease Prevention Through Nutrition
The health benefits and risks of foods has been and will always be a source of excitement, controversy, and research. Although it might seem that dietary recommendations change frequently, the consistent findings are that getting adequate sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants through foods are the best way to stay healthy. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and moderate in everything else, has been consistently found to be most beneficial. A general rule is that the darker the color of the fruit or vegetable, the more nutritional value it has. Cancer-fighting chemical groups include phytochemicals and antioxidants. Some of the most beneficial foods, according to recent research include the following:
  • Tomatoes—Tomatoes and tomato products contain vitamin C and lycopenes, antioxidant cancer-fighting chemicals that reduce digestive tract (and for men, prostate) and other types of cancer.

  • Broccoli—Broccoli contains phytochemicals that are thought to make cancer cells less toxic (destructive). Also contains beta-carotene, vitamin C, calcium, and fiber.

  • Spinach—Spinach is rich in folate, fiber, and iron—nutrients needed especially in women. Other similar beneficial vegetables include kale, Swiss chard, and collard greens.

  • Tea—Tea contains phytochemicals, which are cancer-cell fighters. Green tea has been associated with a lower risk of stomach, esophageal, and liver cancers.

  • Nuts—Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in nuts improve levels of cholesterol by lowering triglycerides and LDL along with raising HDL, preventing heart disease and stroke. Nuts also contain fiber and Vitamin E, both of which prevent heart disease and cancer.



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    From The Active Woman's Health and Fitness Handbook by Nadya Swedan. Copyright © 2003 by Nadya Swedan. Used by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

    To order this book visit Amazon.


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