One of the biggest complaints about the media is we focus on bad news, so here’s good news: Hawaii is No. 1 on a national ranking vital to all of us.
For the second year in a row, the Islands got top spot in the Gallup and Healthways’ Well-Being Index for Older Americans, which was released in December. That matches the overall No. 1 ranking Gallup and Healthways gave to Hawaii, which was a composite of all ages.
The ranking is good news for people 55 and older, but young people should care for two reasons: The healthier seniors are, the less time, energy and money is spent on them and available to solve a million other problems.
The other reason young people should care is choices. Good health is an unfair combination of luck and choices. We all know of people who smoke and gorge on whiskey and cheeseburgers, yet live into their 80s. But, for most people, that life kills or cripples. The state’s No. 1 ranking shows that Hawaii helps you make good personal choices that will leave you healthier. Whether you inherited good or bad genes, what you do with them makes a huge difference.
Some people make healthy choices all their lives, but most of us act so-so and need a wake-up call. Mine arrived a couple of decades ago as an HDL cholesterol test result of 21. HDL is the good cholesterol and the minimum healthy score is supposed to be 40. I already knew bad cholesterol and heart issues ran in my family – my father’s third stroke killed him at the age of 72, even though he was slim, ate OK for his era and was active. My test score was a cold, hard warning of a premature demise.
At first, I took “reasonable” steps. Better diet, more exercise. When the number barely budged, I deepened and redefined my definition of “reasonable.” My latest HDL was a 36, which is good considering my genes, but I know I can do better, and will keep striving.
My key is to keep learning and avoid getting discouraged. As I got older, running, tennis and soccer were crippling me, but, instead of crying on the couch, I intensified my hiking, weightlifting, walking and stair climbing.
I read medical studies, but focus on learning mostly from the long-term, big-group studies, like a 2011 report in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study followed the weight changes of more than 120,000 American men and women for up to 20 years. The food most associated with weight gain was French fries; others close behind were potato chips, sugar-sweetened beverages, unprocessed red meat and processed meats. Most associated with weight loss was yogurt, followed by vegetables, whole grains, fruits and nuts.
Be willing to change direction. I took fish oil pills for years, but when the evidence of their uselessness became overwhelming, I quit.
For me, vacations should be active, not sedentary. Think hiking in the Rockies. On the other hand, the typical Las Vegas trip will empty your wallet and clog your arteries; if you must go, spend a cool morning hiking Mount Charleston and walk the Strip every night.
I don’t intend to boast or sound self-righteous. I am just passing along advice from someone who wants to walk his daughter down the aisle and hold his grandchildren. If that’s on your agenda, don’t wait for another wake-up call. You might not be around to answer it.