Patients are among my best teachers. They’ve taught me how to communicate clearly—and how to live a better life. On The Dr. Oz Show, I’ve learned that once people are emotionally involved, change happens quickly, especially if they feel that their behavior is letting loved ones down.
Large-scale change seems daunting. We want simple routines that we can automatically follow.
Adopt some of the steps described here, which work for me and that anyone can do, and you will like your life more in just a couple of weeks. Plus, you’ll live longer.
#1: Roll on the Floor Laughing
Laughing not only eases stress, promotes social bonding and lowers blood pressure; it may also boost your immune system. So bring some humor into your life, whether it’s through friends, a television show or something else that tickles your funny bone.
#2: Don’t Skip Breakfast
Eating fiber in the morning means less hunger late in the afternoon, when you’re most likely to feel tired and gorge yourself on sugar. My morning dose comes from steel-cut oatmeal, usually mixed with raisins, walnuts and flaxseed oil. An early start on eating also keeps your metabolism more active throughout the day; breakfast eaters are thinner than people who just rush out the door.
#3: Hit the Sack
Jay and Dave are funny, but they’re not worth the strain on your system. Seven hours of sleep a night not only helps you live longer, it also lowers your stress, sharpens your memory and reduces cravings for pants-splitting foods. Set a bedtime and stick to it. My target is 10:30 p.m. I record the late shows and then watch them the next day as I pedal a stationary bike.
#4: Admire Your Work
Don’t be so trigger-happy with the flusher. Turn around and take a look at your poop, which speaks volumes about your gut and overall health. Poop should be smooth and S-shaped, like your colon. If it comes out too lumpy, or drops into the bowl like marbles, you’re constipated; increase your fiber and water intake.
#5: Don’t Pamper Your Bad Back
Even if you’re hunched over in agony, spending more time in bed will only make a bad back worse. The latest research shows that bed rest weakens back muscles and prolongs the suffering. Married men with this problem may suffer more than single men because they’re tempted to lie back and enjoy all the pampering they receive. The best solution is to get up, take a pain reliever and be a soldier.
#6: Taste the Colors
Foods with bright, rich colors are packed with flavonoids and carotenoids, powerful compounds that bind with the damaging free radicals in your body, lowering inflammation. Eat nine fistfuls of colorful fruits and vegetables each day and you’ll reap the benefits without having to give up other foods. Whenever I shop the produce aisle, I’m reminded that these foods are often more powerful than the drugs sold in pharmacies. My favorites are arugula and blueberries.
#7: Brushing is Not Enough
If you plan to spend your later years eating more than yogurt and apple sauce, invest in some floss. No matter how thoroughly or long you brush your teeth, you’re missing a good portion of their total surface. That’s like washing one armpit after a workout. But the dangers of skipping floss go beyond hygiene: The bacteria that linger can increase your risk of heart disease.
#8: Take a Deep Belly Breath
Do this anywhere, anytime. Push out your bellows and suck air through your nose until your lungs are full. They’ll fill with nitric oxide, a chemical found in the back of your nose that opens up blood vessels. The dose of oxygen will make you feel happier and more alert. This is my secret technique for calming down in the face of challenges.
#9: Join a Yoga Class
Yoga is the most important exercise of my daily routine. Being surrounded by beautiful women in spandex should be reason enough to join a class, but if you need more motivation, consider this: Yoga eases stress, lowers blood pressure, slows heart rate and increases flexibility. There’s nothing mystical about it. Loosening your muscles will make them more adaptable, so you may be less likely to injure yourself playing sports. Sure, some of the poses may look ridiculous, but that’s for a reason. Yoga can reach and work muscles that are ignored during routine sports and daily life. My favorite maneuver is the sun salutation.
#10: Don’t Be an Island
Ever wonder why women live longer than men? One major reason is that they form tight networks and actually talk about their problems. If you face life’s stresses alone, you will make yourself older. With another person’s love and support, the inner aging associated with stress can be reduced.
#11: Avoid Fad Diets
The secret to weight loss is not to avoid carbs, fats, yellow foods, solid foods or foods that start with the letter G. The real trick is to lower your daily intake by about 100 calories. You’ll hardly notice, but it’ll add up to a loss of about 10 pounds in a year. Calorie restriction has been shown to lengthen life (in rats and monkeys). I cut back once a year to reset my appetite and taste buds. Healthy food tastes great afterwards.
#12: Be a Smart Patient
Professionals can help keep you in good health, but the responsibility ultimately falls on you. Seek a second opinion before undergoing any medical procedure, because 30 percent of the time, that opinion will change the diagnosis or plan. Keep a written medical history and educate yourself about any family problems. You might even consider signing onto Microsoft HealthVault or Google Health, so your files would be accessible in case you find yourself in trouble away from home.
#13: Lose the Beer Belly
Most men fasten their belts below their waists. It’s just another way of avoiding the truth about their gut. Grab a tape measure and put it around your body at the level of your belly button. That number should be less than half your height. For my 6’1″ frame, for example, I need to keep my waist under 36.5 inches. If avoiding heart attacks and diabetes isn’t enough motivation to eliminate that gut, consider this: For every point your body mass index is over 25, your testosterone drops 3 percent, which isn’t very manly.
#14: Go Green
I drink green tea three times a day. It’s packed with heart-boosting and cancer-stopping polyphenols that black tea doesn’t offer. (These beneficial chemicals are lost when it’s fermented.) Green tea also delivers a boost of alertness, but from a smaller dose of caffeine than black tea. Green tea can even fight dandruff, although only if you pour the cooled tea directly onto your scalp.
#15: Sweat Until You’re Wet
If you can work up a sweat for just one hour a week, you’ll enjoy a range of benefits, including a reduced risk of heart attack, better mood and lower blood pressure. I like interval training on the elliptical, with 15 pull-ups and 15 dips after every 10 minutes. Your muscles will become more efficient, so you’ll have more stamina for more enjoyable activities that also work up a sweat.
#16: Save Some Money
Most people rank personal finance as their number one stressor, usually because they feel powerless about it. Stress not only shortens lives, it also drives people to habits like smoking, drinking or binge eating. Keep some money in a special bank account, safe from your lust for a new television, and you’ll establish an emotional comfort zone with major health benefits.
#17: Have as Much Sex as Possible
If a 50-something man could have sex 700 times a year, the exercise and stress reduction would make him look and feel years younger. I wouldn’t recommend quitting your day job in order to hit that number—but what’s the harm in trying? The next time your loved one says she has a headache, tell her she’s literally killing you. It works for me.
#18: Know Your Numbers, then Aim Lower
Take the part of your brain dedicated to your local steak house’s phone number and reassign it to your heart’s vital signs. These include blood pressure (which ideally should be below 115 over 75), LDL cholesterol (under 100), resting heart rate (under 70), and fasting blood sugar (under 100). If your numbers aren’t ideal, change your diet until they improve.
#19: Add Some Weights
Just 30 minutes twice a week spent lifting weights can build significant muscle mass. What’s more, working all that muscle burns tons of calories, making it a great way to lose your gut, too. Don’t have weights? Try lifting yourself: Pull-ups are the most valuable muscle-building exercises I do. Trainer Bob Greene pointed out to me that pull-ups work the back, pecs, arms, and belly all at once. Because you’re lifting yourself, you’ll think twice before eating that doughnut, because you’ll just have to lift it later. A simple setup in a door frame is convenient and inexpensive.
#20: Grab Your Nuts
Nuts are among the best sources of healthful fats and protein around. I keep a bag of walnuts in my fridge and use their massive dose of omega-3 fatty acids to boost my brainpower while I see patients. Half of a handful eaten about 30 minutes before a meal will temper your appetite and help you avoid the drive-thru.
#21: No, Seriously, Grab Your Nuts
Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men ages 15 to 35, but it’s usually curable if caught early enough. I strongly urge you to grab your testicles and check them for bumps at least once a month. Each testicle should feel smooth and slightly soft, and one should hang slightly lower than the other, like two avocados (which, in Aztec, actually means “testicles”) growing on a tree.
#22: Hit the Dance Floor
Crosswords and card games aren’t the only way to keep a brain razor sharp. It turns out that any kind of dancing with complex moves is stimulating enough to give neurons a workout. Even the simplest moves provide some physical exercise. So don’t be such a wallflower on your next night out. As a bonus, dancing may help you with tip number 17.
#23: Do Your Penis a Favor
Step on a treadmill. Men who exercise enough to burn 200 calories a day significantly lower their chances of impotence. That’s because impotence often has the same cause as heart attacks: blocked arteries. Your penis is like a dipstick for your arteries, so check it. If you’re interested in keeping it up later in life, lace up the sneakers now.
#24: Learn to Cook
Think you know how much butter goes into preparing those mashed potatoes at a restaurant? You’re probably off by half. If you can cook, you not only save money, but also gain control over what goes into your meals. Plus, for most women, a man who knows how to cook is as sexy as one who stars in movies. I have trouble boiling water. Thankfully, I’m already married.
#25: Some Pills Should Be Popped
The indoor life gives modern man protection from the elements. Unfortunately, roughly half of us are deficient in vitamin D, for which the sun is a major source. This crucial vitamin may aid in fighting cancer, diabetes and heart disease. I take a 1,000 IU supplement each morning.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is a professor of cardiac surgery at Columbia University and a founder of the Complementary Medicine Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He is co-author of the award-winning Healing from the Heart: A Leading Surgeon Combines Eastern and Western Traditions to Create the Medicine of the Future and YOU: The Owner’s Manual: An Insider’s Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger. He has frequently appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and currently hosts The Dr. Oz Show.
by Dr. Mehmet Oz
Natural Awakenings, June 2010