Your Heart and Your Bottom Dollar

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you might be aware that two well-known fifty year old men passed away this past week.

Michael Jackson got most of the media coverage – and for good reason. He recorded the best-selling pop music album of all time and virtually everyone can recognize the beat of many of his songs. He was simply an amazing performer – here’s my favorite example, actually:

However, I was more shocked and psychically bothered by the passing of Billy Mays. If you don’t know him, he was the ubiquitous television pitch man for a huge diversity of products – most notably OxyClean. His beard, friendly demeanor, pure skill at promoting products, and often nearly over-the-top enthusiasm made him memorable:

Both of these men were fifty years old when they passed away.

Both of these men died of sudden cardiac arrest, a common outcome of heart disease.

Those facts together shook me quite a bit. Fifty years old? I’m thirty – twenty years away from that magic number. Both of my kids would merely be college age when I’m fifty. I have many things that I want to do in life, and the thought that my life could easily end – or my quality of life could rapidly fall – at such an early age made me think quite a bit about the future – and other things I can do now to protect it.

I’ve invested quite a bit of time and energy in my own life – and I’m sure you have in your own – building the foundation for a great later life. My retirement accounts are solid. I have a book in print that pays me royalties and another one on the way. I want to be able to enjoy the benefits of these things in my golden years as I play with my grandchildren. I want to protect my investment.

So I’ve decided to do something about it. For my family, for my health, for my finances, and for my long term future, I’m going to make a number of changes that directly reduce the chances of heart disease – and also help with preventing other diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.

I should note that I’ve already been doing these things in 2009. I made a resolution to improve my health and I’ve lost about forty pounds this year through a mix of more exercise and better eating and I hope to keep up the progress.

I simply started by asking my doctor what I could do to reduce my chances of heart disease as I grow older. He suggested eight things, all of them pretty simple.

First, don’t smoke

Nicotine raises your blood pressure (not good) and the tar reduces your lung capacity and makes exercise more difficult (not good). It also increases your risk of many other diseases, like emphysema.

Second, exercise

If you don’t exercise at all, start really slow. Make a commitment to just walk for thirty minutes each evening around your neighborhood. The goal is to raise your heart rate to a reasonably elevated level for a sustained period, and continuous movement (like walking) is an easy way to get there. If you want to go beyond that, that’s great, but take it slow – don’t dive in and try to run a 5K right off the bat. Just go for a walk.

Third, eat more green things

Eat broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts, and leafy vegetables. You can start by having a side salad with dinner. I’ve found that spinach is a great ingredient in many, many dishes, for example – just add a bunch of spinach to lasagna, for example.

Fourth, eat fewer meats

Going vegetarian isn’t necessarily the best option, but reducing your meat intake is a good idea. For example, try eating no meats until your last meal of the day – for breakfast and lunch, eat vegetables and fruits and whole grains.

Fifth, eat some nuts

Seriously. Nuts contain fiber and also contain vitamin E, one vitamin that tends to be deficient in modern diets. One great way to do three, four, and five all at once is to make your own granola bars – something I’ll talk about in the future.

Sixth, cut down on your sodium intake

In other words, don’t dump table salt on your foods. Sodium directly raises blood pressure and we already get enough sodium in our normal foods without extra salting.

Seventh, try meditation or relaxation techniques Stress elevates your blood pressure and causes all kinds of health issues. Take some time to calm down and psychologically deal with the stresses in your life. Here are some great beginning meditation and stress management techniques.

Finally, cut down on your caffeine

Caffeine also raises blood pressure. Many people say they can’t “live” without the caffeine, but coupling caffeine reduction with other diet improvements and a bit of exercise will make the transition easier.

Most of these changes are not very hard to do in your life. As with any behavior change, take it slow. Don’t go whole hog at first. Just start walking in the evening (I do it while listening to podcasts) and maybe substitute a food or two that you eat for something better for you, particularly at dinner. Put the salt shaker in the cupboard and put out granola bars and fruits for snacks instead of cookies.

It’s simple to protect your life’s investment with a few little changes. Today’s the day to get started.

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  1. Nick says:

    On number four, I made a resolution in 2009 that I’ve mostly kept and hope to continue forever to just eat meat once a day.

    I like the once a day idea rather than the last meal because it gives me the option of the bacon breakfast occasionally for a treat which is one of my favorite meals.

    I think I’ve broken this rule a few times this year, but it has been pretty easy to keep actually and I’ve noticed health benefits already to reducing the amount of meat.

    It basically forces you to follow number 3 and number 5.

  2. Johanna says:

    You put green things in your granola bars? I’d be interested in seeing that recipe.

    With nuts, it might be more than just the fiber or the vitamin E. There have been studies that show pretty convincingly (much more convincingly than other nutrition studies) that eating a few servings of nuts a week cuts your risk of heart disease pretty substantially. So, eat more nuts. They don’t have to be just for snacks or ingredients in granola or cookies. For example, you could throw a handful of slivered almonds or cashew pieces into a pot of rice or stew. You can even try putting them on pizza.

    With sodium, for most people, most of the sodium they eat comes not from salt added at the table but from processed foods and restaurant foods. There’s not a whole lot you can do about how much salt a restaurant or a food manufacturer chooses to add – and almost all of them add a lot – but you can eat less of these foods, and more foods you make from scratch.

    And I’m not sure taking it slow is necessarily the way to go. I’ve read that, especially when it comes to their health, many people handle big changes better than small ones, because they can see and feel the difference sooner. Do what works for you.

  3. Kathryn says:

    Less processed food, less processed salt. There are forms of salt that are good for you.

    You’ve got a good list here, but you might want to look into it a bit farther. I’d recommend a good starting place is Mercola dot com.

  4. Tim says:

    Well, being 21 and in college, perhaps it is strange that I actually concern myself somewhat with my future health by what I do now. I am great at getting enough exercise… especially while at college, I might workout 3 times a week and do cardio 3 times a week. It’s just a habit you have to start and stick to. Once it becomes habitual, it feels strange to just not go to the gym… I actually want to go many days. I also drink almost only water (and perhaps milk every now and then)… so I get very little caffeiene, and I hate even being around cigarette smoke.

    The thing I always have a hard time with is eating well. While I don’t eat a lot of junk food, I do eat a lot of microwavable or already cooked oven-heated foods. I cannot cook to save my life – that is the main problem… that and not wanting to take the time to learn and to actually cook. I know I’m going to have to learn to do this some day, but it’s hard when you don’t have an actual oven in your dormitory room! Good luck with your exercise Trent! If you ever feel like writing a post on getting started eating well (particularly on good ways to get started cooking – or refer me if you already have or know of some good articles on this), I would be interested!

  5. et says:

    I’m with Johanna on the nuts/sodium/committing to a big change.

    As far as sodium, my DH trained me over the past 15 years to buy the lowest-sodium versions of the few prepared foods we buy, and we cook most of our meals from scratch with little added salt. That said, I’ve also been told by doctors that if your blood pressure is in the normal range, limiting or reducing your salt intake isn’t necessary. My bigger issue is the water retention/puffiness issue. Sometimes the pizza or fries are worth it though!

    Our main eating plan is to eat simple foods in a wide variety, just enough to satisfy hunger, with the occasional splurge.

  6. HebsFarm says:

    When I was Tim’s age, I learned about cooking from the television. I found a television chef who cooked the sort of food I thought I would actually eat (not exotic, expensive food or heavy on the presentation a la Martha Stewart). I learned much about tools, techniques and the sorts of foods that go together well from watching him.

  7. Mike Piper says:

    Wow, congratulations on 40 pounds!

    Also, thanks for mentioning cutting back on meat twice in the last week or so. :)

    As Amy Dacyczyn once said, “Eating less meat is another of those triple plays–something you can do that is good for your health, good for the environment, and good for your wallet.”

  8. Yung Chia says:

    What we eat plays maybe about only 10% of our total health picture, if even that much. When I worked with terminal cancer clients, some of them ate incredibly healthy (everything organic, etc.) and still had cancer. Yet others ate whatever they wanted and were relatively healthy. Over the years, I came to realize how emotions play one of the biggest roles in our health. Dr. Candace Pert, at NIH did some amazing research and eventually wrote the book: Molecules of Emotion. Dr. Caroline Leaf wrote the book, Who Switched Off My Brain, in which she explains how our emotions produces different sets of chemicals which either promote health and wellness or sickness and disease.

    2 clear examples in my life stand out — one is George Burns — smoked 2 packs a day and at 90+ had healthy lungs. But he was a happy man. Content, lived life with a purpose and ON purpose. The other is my uncle, he’s in his 80′s. Still rides around all over the place by bus (Singapore’s primary mode of public transportation), and eats his favorite food every so often — fried noodles with TONS of fried pork fat. I mean TONS. He is slim, healthy as anything. And in answer to my question why he is so healthy, he replied — I don’t let anything worry or stress me out.

    Dr. Caroline Leaf says that worry and anxiety, anger and resentment are the biggest contributors to heart disease, cancer, etc. I have found this to be true in my years working with cancer clients.

    I am glad that you have mentioned stress management in your article. I use to think that food played a huge role in determining our health but have over the past 25 years of personal research, come to the conclusion that, emotions and attitudes play a far bigger role.

    Thanks for your great thought provoking article.

  9. Johanna says:

    @Tim: What cooking appliances can you keep in your dorm room? Can you have a small refrigerator? a microwave? a toaster oven? a plug-in kettle? Is there a full kitchen elsewhere in your dorm that you can use?

    When I was in college, I learned to cook by necessity. I had an apartment for the summer, and no meal plan, so I ate only what I cooked. I had some disasters early on, and I called my Mom a lot to get help (which she was happy to give – thanks, Mom), but by the end of the summer, I had figured out most of the basics, and I was even cooking things for other people to eat.

    My advice: Don’t try to do too much too soon. Start with something really simple, like pasta with sauce out of a jar, and go from there. And for the love of all that is good, learn how to follow a recipe before you try to make up your own. Do not ask me how I know this.

  10. Aaron says:

    Kicking caffeine can be tough, because your body upregulates (fancy talk for “incrases”) its adenosine receptors with sustained exposure to caffeine.

    Here’s the trick –
    It’ll take about 2 – 3 weeks to kick it (You need to give your brain time to “downregulate” your receptors back to a normal level). If you normally drink one to two cups of coffee per day, you can PROBABLY get away with just quitting cold turkey and taking aspirin if you get withdrawal headaches. If you are a big coffee drinker (4+ cups per day) you may need to supplant your first week by drinking one cup of coffee per day and possibly also gobble some aspirin to help with the headaches.

    Once you’re off the caffeine train, try to limit your caffeine consumption to NECESSITY rather than HABIT (ie. if you need some extra “focus juice”), and try not to drink it every day. The sporadic exposure should keep your brain from upregulating. If you find that one cup isn’t doing it anymore, then abstain again for a while.

    It’s a useful chemical, but moderation is key.

  11. My Journey says:

    Trent,

    I think what makes your site continually popular is the journey you have taken and shared. Why not share the weight loss journey with us (plus keep you accountable)

  12. Dishes and Laundry says:

    The caffeine issue is a complicated one when you look at the medical literature. A recent (2008) review article by a Harvard School of Public Health researcher examined studies which had been done into the effects of coffee consumption and heart, cancer and diabetes risk. It’s far from a clear-cut or one-sided issue. “In sum, the currently available evidence on coffee and risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer is largely reassuring, and suggests that, for the general population, addressing other health-related behaviors has priority for the prevention of chronic diseases.” Coffee consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. van Dam RM. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008 Dec;33(6):1269-83

  13. Muppet Girl says:

    Re. comment #7:

    Just make sure your headache medicine doesn’t include caffeine. Excedr!n is pretty much just aspirin and caffeine.

    It will make the headache go away, but won’t help you get off the jitter juice.

  14. Kevin M says:

    Congrats on the weight loss, Trent. I’m doing pretty well with all these except the exercise and the caffeine. Thanks for the reminder to try harder.

  15. the Dad says:

    FORTY POUNDS?! Wow, Trent, that’s awesome!

  16. I’m with Young Chia on this issue. After you’ve done all that you can do within the scope of human knowledge, there’s still that thing called Life that can lay waste to all of our plans.

    At 51 I’ve already outlived Michael Jackson and Billy Mays. I’m already doing everything Trent listed (well, maybe I’m soft on the caffeine and sodium parts) but life has taught me that there are no guarantees.

    I’ve seen people who did all the right things we’re supposed to do, like athletes and health buffs, and never live to see 50. I’ve seen people who would be condemned by the AMA (if they did such a thing) live well into their 80s. I’ve seen enough of this to know that there are no precise correlations.

    To add to Trent’s list, none of these are physical, but the DO matter–

    1) Slow down a bit, this treadmill life we’re trying to lead won’t serve any of us well in the long run
    2) Take time and truly bond with family and friends. In our minds, they’re largely the reason we’re on that treadmill, but they’re already here in our lives–enjoy them
    3) Becoming less fashionable in the youth crowd, but pray. If there is no God, then it’s all on our shoulders alone, and that’s a burden none of us can carry
    4) Pursue you’re passions, at least on a part time basis. That’s what makes life worth living.

    So take care of yourself first foremost to LIVE WELL–how long we’ll live is largely out of our hands.

  17. AnnJo says:

    Trent, your doctor may not have mentioned this to you because you were already doing it, but one of the most important things you can do for your health is get regular check-ups and track changes over time.

    Genetics plays a part in many diseases, including heart disease, and all the healthy living in the world may not be enough to prevent it if you got dealt a bad hand in the genes department. Thankfully, those greedy pharmaceutical companies we all love to hate have come up with some drugs that can help, and the sooner the problem is identified, the better.

    A check-up with basic lab work every 12-18 months and a simple spreadsheet in which you enter the lab results from year to year will allow you to notice trends before they become serious problems. (You’ll have to ask your doctor’s office to always send you copies of all reports, and you’ll probably have to remind them every year, but they will do it if you ask.)

    There’s one other thing I would put on a “healthy living” list, especially for your audience (I think you once said your audience demographic was heavily in the 25-40 age range?), and that is accident prevention. Seatbelts, properly inflated tires, safe driving techniques, workplace safety, drug/alcohol cautions, etc. Even non-fatal accidents can seriously interfere with your ability to live a healthy, active life going forward.

  18. Marsha says:

    Pretty good advice – but I question the admonition to give up caffeine. It’s effects on blood pressure are short-term only (at least any long-term effects are unclear), and there’s some evidence that it improves memory and can reduce the risk of Alzheimers.

  19. k2000k says:

    I feel that I should point out that heavy duty medication that is usually only used in hospitals were found in Jacksons house were he suffered cardiac arrest. I don’t think that comparing yourself to Jackson is exactly pertinent given this fact, and the dozens of procedures that he went through. Though the sudden death of the pitchman is a good example of why you should take care of yourself, and why even if you do, sometimes things happen.

  20. leslie says:

    Nuts are expensive!! I have to consider them a treat because when I buy them, I go through them fast (so yummy) and can’t bare to spend the $6-10 every shopping trip.

    Am I missing some special store with nuts for cheap?

  21. Leslie (#15)–Same problem, I love nuts, but expensive, and we have two teenagers who also love them. Nuts are a treat around here that won’t last nearly as long as a bag of chocolate (which ironically is a lot cheaper than nuts?).

  22. Johanna says:

    @leslie: Try ethnic groceries – particularly Indian – if you have such places near you. If you don’t, try Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, or a local independent health food shop. Look in the bulk products section, not the snack foods aisle. And check prices at several places, if you can, because they can vary a lot from place to place. Nuts will never be super cheap compared to, say, rice and beans, but you can certainly do better than what the regular grocery stores charge for roasted, salted nuts (assuming that that’s what you’re buying now).

  23. guinness416 says:

    Hey, great post Trent. This stuff is just as important as savings to a decent retirement – maybe more I suppose. (Plus some of the suggestions overlap. Working out every evening definitely reduces my stress).

    Re: nuts your fellow moneyblogger and author Squawkfox had a post with a fantastic granola bar recipe a couple of weeks back. The only issue with it is that we’re eating the bars too quickly!

  24. Steve in Montreal says:

    Let’s see the first “guy” was an alleged child molester (money can buy silence) and the next was extremely irritating and lead an unhealthy lifestyle. So I guess I won’t partake in either of those 2 ways.

    There is more to life than Michael Jackson!!!!

  25. swampette says:

    Trent,

    Great post! Living healthfully is a great way to cut down on expenses. I wish more employers (and the government, if we’re moving in that direction with healthcare) would take prevention into account. Eating and exercising better would go a long way to curbing medical costs.

    A couple notes on your suggestions, however:

    I would almost never recommend that anyone cut out caffeine entirely. It poses a health risk for VERY few people – and for most people, it actually provides health benefits. Also, a moderate amount of caffeine dramatically boosts athletic performance. This boost is significant enough that it could help someone stick to an exercise plan; you can exercise longer with a lower perceived rate of exertion if you have a cup of coffee before a workout or race. (If you’re concerned about dehydration, don’t be: as long as you’ve been drinking coffee regularly already, your body has adjusted and compensated for any dehydrating effect.)

    Another note about sodium: only a small percentage of the population actually has sodium-sensitive blood pressure. It’s much easier to reduce blood pressure with exercise than a change in diet. Most people should still cut out the sodium that they get from processed foods – and there are lots of reasons besides sodium to eliminate them. However, remember that your body, your heart especially, needs sodium to function. Remember, you lose salt when you sweat, and if you live in a warm climate like I do (Florida), it’s important to replace that salt. The typical American diet with its processed foods needn’t worry about this. But if you do take your eating and exercising seriously, and are cooking primarily from scratch with unprocessed ingredients, don’t go overboard on eliminating salt.

  26. Steve in Montreal–Like you, I’m over the saturation this is causing, but there is some value in taking in the Michael Jackson story. If nothing else, it’s an excellent time to reflect that a man with money and fame was unable to “buy” any more than 50 years in this life. There’s a message for all of us when the “mighty” fall.

    It’s a good time to reflect on what we’re doing wrong (and do less of it), what we’re doing right (and do more of it), and always to savor life and the time we’re given.

  27. Pizpo says:

    Trent:

    I highly recommend that you integrate health into finance. There are many things you can do that directly affect both simultaneously. For example, cooking vegetable soup is very cheap and very healthy. If you take the left over soup to work, you save a ton of money and improve health. You have posted articles on this integration idea before and I know from personal experience there are a lot of double whammies out there. If you have an idea that saves money and improves health at the same time, it should be a “no-brainer.” For the record, I have lost 50 pounds in the past year myself, have no debt except my mortgage which is less than my anual salary and have a very hefty emergency fund. My coworkers would never guess any of this (except the losing weight part) because I do odd things like bringing boring soup to work for lunch.

  28. briang says:

    My doctor made it even easier on me with only two things:

    1. be skinny
    2. be active

    His point was all the attention paid to nutritional advice makes it harder to stick to goals, so just make sure you do those two. His secondary point was about brain function when aging. He said people who maintain good brain function into their 80s and beyond are almost always skinny and active.

  29. Rangzy says:

    Thanks Trent, thats a nice post.

    Already, I don’t smoke / drink alcohol / drink coffee / eat meat.

    Exercise, nuts and meditation are the ones I need to start. And, the 30min tip to start slowly on exercise is very good. I’ll do my best at these to improve my health.

  30. Jack says:

    Although not necessarily in the spirit of your post, protecting your investments also means having a will, living will, insurance, etc. so that your loved ones are cared for when the inevitable does happen.

  31. Clifford Jacobson says:

    Where did you find out that Michael Jackson died of a sudden heart attack? If you don’t want to die like Michael Jackson, then don’t live like Michael Jackson. Don’t take drugs and when someone says that that medication could be dangerous, then don’t get someone else to give it to you.
    I guess you could have helped Michael with his finances, though.
    Cliff

  32. Gwen says:

    If you’re going to lead off with Michael Jackson, you should probably add “Don’t abuse prescription pain killers, etc.” to your list.

    Billy Mays is the more appropriate leader of this group. However, he also had a previous heart defect.

  33. Kevin says:

    @Rangzy (#24):

    “Already, I don’t smoke / drink alcohol / drink coffee / eat meat.”

    Geez man, I think maybe you’re missing the whole POINT to this “life” thing. It’s not a competition to see who can live the longest. In the end, nobody gets out of this game alive. There’s no point in being the healthiest/richest corpse in the graveyard.

    Lighten up, live a little! Make the most of your short time on this cold rock! If you like beer, drink a little now and then. If you like a good steak, eat one now and then.

  34. Mike Piper says:

    @Kevin (#28) What makes you think Rangzy isn’t “living a little” just because he doesn’t do any of those things? :P

  35. Damester says:

    Trent,
    Your healthy choices will improve your life, for sure, regardless of how long it is and certainly add to your energy and ability to enjoy it. But I hate to be the one to say this, healthy habits are no protection when it comes to sudden cardiac death.

    Sadly, many people who die from it (unlike Jackson, whose drug use, anorexia, and other stuff made him more likely a candidate)never know they have a problem until they literally just keel over.

    Most important, is that you enjoy your life every day, which you seem to do, and have prepared your life financially, as best you can, for an eventuality such as death, so that your family is provided for. At any age.

    You do what you can. Prepare as you can. And then, just live your life.

    There are no guarantees. Many an otherwise seemingly healthy person has died from Sudden Cardiac arrest. Don’t live in fear of it.

    Just live your life. Cause that’s all you can really do. All any of us can do.

    FYI: I come from a family where we only learned in our 40s of the serious nature of heart problems in our family. We wish we knew sooner, but then our parents, who died of heart disease, did not. At times, my brother and I feel as if a
    huge sword hangs over us. But hey, we’re all going to die.

    We have chosen to use that knowledge to one/improve our health habits and 2/make sure we live each day as best we can.

    What else can any of us do? It is quite possible that one or more of the thousands reading your column today, will not be here tomorrow or next week. Death is always with us. But…it’s life we focus on!

  36. Meghan says:

    Ok for everyone giving examples of relatives, celebrities, etc. who either lived health and died young or lived unhealthy and lived to 95…This is call anecdotal evidence and is worthless in science. It’s very powerful to the human mind, but not statistically significant – you need hundreds, preferably thousands of subjects for studies. If you are going to present evidence to support your argument then please present studies from peer reviewed journals. The researchers’ methods are extremely important as well as the original results/discussion sections – mainstream media tends to mangle and oversimplify things. Nature and New Scientist are good places to start and can refer you to other journals.

  37. Matt Jabs says:

    One of the best kept secrets to building & maintaining health is held in knowledge and awareness of food industry growth & production practices.

    Few realize the dangerous effects of GMO (genetically modified organisms) foods engineered by chemical companies such as Monsanto. ***Google – “Millions Against Monsanto Campaign” for more info***

    Worse yet, many people who are aware of depths these little known truths cannot afford to shop “all organic”.

    So what’s the answer?

    -Grow an organic garden
    -Compost
    -Shop farmers markets
    -Ask the farmers about their practices
    -Buy local in-season foods
    -Preserve in season foods
    -Buy raw organic ingredients such as whole wheat flour, brown rice, & beans in bulk and start making progressively more & more of your own homemade foods.

    My wife & I are employing these methods and have cut out nearly all GMO foods (which are in 70% of traditional grocery store products) and have REDUCED our grocery budget and increased our closeness to each other by working toward this common goal of true health.

  38. Lindsay says:

    Considering you look overweight in your photo and make things like maceroni casserole for dinner, these are probably good ideas for you. I think for most of us, this is pretty common sense.

  39. Johanna says:

    @Kevin: The whole point of life is to drink beer and eat steak? If that’s really true for you, I kind of feel sorry for you.

  40. Johanna–I think you’re missing @Kevin’s (#27) point. In light of the death of two celebrities at age 50, we also need to enjoy life. I couldn’t agree more.

    “There’s no point in being the healthiest/richest corpse in the graveyard.”–brilliant perspective,
    Kevin.

    (And you just gotta love that name!)

  41. Johanna says:

    @Other Kevin: And I think you’re missing my point, which is that it is perfectly possible to enjoy life even without tobacco, alcohol, coffee, and animal flesh, so why assume that Rangzy’s life is miserable because it lacks them? Additionally, Rangzy didn’t say anything about *why* he avoids these things, so why assume that he does it because he’s trying to live forever? Maybe he just doesn’t like the taste of coffee, the smell of tobacco smoke, etc., so maybe his life is actually more enjoyable without them than with them.

  42. Johanna–I made no comments on Rangzy. @Kevin (#27) seems to be bringing “all things in moderation” to the table. I agree with that, and implied nothing else.

    Being a Kevin and taking up for another Kevin probably was a bad idea on my part, in retrospect. It’s hard to know where his comments end and mine begin.

  43. South Texas says:

    The point of living healthy is not to live the longest, but to actually be and feel healthy. I think y’all are confusing the two. A healthy lifestyle, as outlined above, will improve your overall well-being. Living longer is an added benefit, and so is feeling better at your older age, or even your middle age.

  44. Des says:

    I would second what others have said about sodium. If you are eating at home and cooking your own food, you don’t need to worry about sodium intake. Most sodium comes from prepared foods, it is used as a preservative.

    As an example, I started tracking my sodium intake (using the LoseIt! app for the iPhone) a while back for a variety of reasons. I found that on average it was between 800mg and 1200mg per day. Then we went to Taco Bell and I had to input the nutrition facts for a bean burrito without the cheese. 1220mg! One burrito had as much sodium as a days worth of food at home.

    If you drink a lot of water and don’t eat enough sodium your blood pressure can actually get too low. I know this isn’t a problem for most people, but it is another example of not taking anything too far extreme.

  45. T'Pol says:

    When I was in college, I used to drink 5-6 cups of coffee a day and sometimes even more around midterms and finals. I kept on drinking almost as much when I started working. However, one day I found myself not drinking coffee anymore. I never consciously tried to kick the habit. It was gone… just like that. Now I enjoy a cup of coffee may be 2-3 times a week as a treat. I don’t drink caffeineated beverages either. So, I guess caffeine is not a necessity to stay alert and energetic.

  46. Erin says:

    Whoa, Linday #31 – rude and judgmental much?

  47. swampette says:

    To follow up on what Des said, it’s not really an issue of blood pressure. Most people’s blood pressure isn’t directly affected by sodium intake, but rather by physical health in general, as a result of overall diet and exercise. However, there are real dangers associated with not getting enough sodium, and that can happen even to someone who isn’t in good shape but is trying to reform. If you don’t get enough sodium, or if you do but you also drink a lot of water (like right after a big workout) you risk diluting the amount of sodium and electrolytes in your bloodstream. It’s called hyponatremia, or water poisoning, and it’s actually a lot more common than people think. In severe cases, it can cause heart failure.

  48. Candi says:

    I would like to add that anecdotal evidence, while not considered extremely strong evidence, IS still evidence. Compile enough of it, from enough sources and you get stronger evidence. Just a thought about how the research process actually works from a current grad student.

    People’s life spans are determined from so many sources including genetics and environment that we cannot predict who will live to 80 eating junk and who will die at 50 having been healthy. I think Trent was speaking more to hedging his bets. Improving one’s health will most likely improve one’s life span and it will certainly improve the quality of that life, however long it may be.

  49. dlm says:

    Table salt has iodine added. If you cut back too far your thyroid may suffer. I was surprised to discover that the salt used by food processors does not have iodine added.

  50. Candi (#40)–Well said. Trent is posting to increase the odds in our favor. The improved lifestyle aspect might slighted somewhat when the topic is longevity, but it’s equally important.

    This is an excellent thread–post and comments!

  51. KAD says:

    Wow, Trent, 40 pounds! Way to go!!! What have you been doing?

  52. Russ Smith says:

    Yeah. Those deaths shocked me too, in that they were relatively young, and even should have been pretty healthy. I have found the diet has the single biggest effect on my health. trading carbs for protein has helped a lot. a little walk every day is probably second.

  53. leslie says:

    @Johanna thanks for the tip about ethnic grocery stores. there are quite a few around here so I’ll definitely stop and take a look!

  54. Isha says:

    I generally eat well, but I don’t exercise like I should. I appreciate your post b/c I need reminders from time to time to get a better focus on where I want to be in ten years, twenty years… as I am also thirty right now.

    As I was reading through the comments on this post and the argument about all things in moderation vs. avoiding known health hazards like smoking, etc., I remember how much better I felt when I stopped smoking and drinking so much caffeine at 20. Even then, making those changes helped me feel free and clear-headed about my life. I don’t think health goals can be truly be separated from finanical goals b/c both have the same outcome: a confortable life (w/o financial burdens and health problems) before we die. Instead, (we hope) at 70, we’ll just be kicking back & enjoying the grandkids.

    There’s no guarantee, of course, but when I lock eyes with my toddler, I know I want to be here for her for a long time.

  55. Sarah says:

    Congrats on the weight, Trent! I think this is a solid list. Watch out for the granola, though. It can be full of added fat and sugar. (Stupid tasty granola…!!!)

    Nice attitude, Lindsay. Let’s take a microscope to your life and see how it holds up.

  56. Jenna says:

    Another beautiful thing about spinach is that frozen spinach is a great bargain in the grocery store. One box of frozen spinach would cost about three or four times less as fresh spinach for the same amount!

  57. Chris @ BuildMyBudget says:

    And don’t forget to stretch! Stretching keeps your body limber, and helps release the toxins that build up in your muscles.

  58. Gabriel says:

    I have to admit that my family has a history of heart disease. Interestingly, it seems to be related to the amount of carbohydrate in our diet, rather than fat. Syndrome X is what it’s called. Together my family gave up grains in favor of meat, eggs, and veggies: our blood numbers, especially triglycerides, improved dramatically. Make sure you know what your triggers are for heart disease, and as always be your own advocate!

  59. Terese says:

    Congrats Trent on losing 40 pounds! Update your photo so everyone can see your progress!

    Now I’m going to be a curmudgeon. I think that going vegetarian IS the best option for almost everyone. Because it’s hard to give up things we like, people quibble over the issue, but the hard science indicates that eating meat is a losing proposition for our bodies and our environment. If you are going to eat it anyway, be aware of how small a serving size actually is, limit the number of servings to a few a week, and as much as possible, buy organic, grain-fed, humanely slaughtered meat.

  60. Millie says:

    Hi, all of what you say is true but here is another FREE way to take care of yourself. I am in a echocardiography program which is basically ultrasound of the heart. That means sound waves are used to produce a rather clear picture of the heart. We have found some amazing heart defects and problems on our practice patients. The school is always looking for volunteers. We have found one individual who had a heart attack and was unaware that he had had one. Sometimes there are no sypmptoms, these are called silent heart attacks. We are always looking for people to volunteer their time so we can scan different individuals and practice our skills. If a problem is found the person is told about it (after a re-scan by our instructor) and referred to a cardilogist. It’s a great FREE scanning opportunity. Look for a sonography or echocardiography school in your area on the internet. We do require an appointment. Our school is in Gaylord, MI, through Kirtland Community College.
    I’ve been scanned myself at least 100 times in the past 1 1/2 years. There is no danger or after effect. And it can help save your life. One of the prominent signs of heart disease is sudden death!

  61. Maria says:

    If you are 30, you don’t need to be worrying about all these things for the next 20 years! Michael Jackson’s cardiac arrest probably had to do with all those surgeries over the years and possibly dehydration as he was working out in preparation for his next tour. Unless your calendar has a boatload of plastic surgeries scheduled, I don’t think you need to worry.

    As you noted, Billy Mays is far more disturbing, but less is known about him, except that he was very very good at what he did.

    Sudden cessation of smoking, drinking and/or caffeine intake CAN BE more dangerous than continuing these habits. Best thing you can do to preserve your heart and your health is…..be happy, work at what you enjoy, love your family. And don’t focus on thoughts of illness and fear.

  62. John Morris says:

    RE: #4
    I been a “flexitarian” for about ten years. Limiting meat intake to one meal per day has helped control my cholestrol and weight. This approach may not be as lofty as vegetarianism, but it’s far more tolerant and workable.

    Next birthday will be #64 on the way to 100.

  63. Sam says:

    How do you figure that going vegetarian “isn’t necessarily the best option”? I’m curious because I haven’t read anything that suggests that eating meat is a healthier option than not eating it. Are you familar with Dr. Ornish’s work on this topic? It’s pretty compelling.

  64. swampette says:

    @Sam: Humans evolved to eat meat, just not in the quantities most eat today. It is very difficult to get enough iron or high quality protein from a vegetarian diet. This is especially true for people who exercise regularly. Exercise causes your body to make more red blood cells – a process that requires high levels of iron. It is virtually impossible to meet these needs without eating some meat, as the body doesn’t process supplements as well as nutrients obtained from real food. I understand the environmental benefits of cutting back on meat consumption, and even agree that most people eat too much meat. But vegetarianism isn’t a reasonable solution, either. Most extremes aren’t.

  65. Johanna says:

    @swampette: You are wrong. I haven’t eaten any meat for more than six years. I recently had my iron level tested by my doctor. It’s absolutely fine. I’m not any kind of athlete, but I am a woman of childbearing age, which means that my iron needs are pretty high. And I don’t do anything special to meet them – I just eat a normal vegetarian diet and take a normal multivitamin.

    Please stop propagating nutritional myths that aren’t based on fact.

  66. swampette says:

    I am not wrong. I work out for about an hour six days a week, and struggle with my iron levels. I was a vegetarian for six years, during which I suffered from fainting spells. Doctor told me repeatedly that I had to eat meat, that my supplement wasn’t enough and likely would never be. I began eating lean meat in limited quantities and lo and behold, the fainting spells disappeared.

    Both our stories are anecdotal. However, I can tell you that if you are exercising as often as is advised, research shows that you will need more iron than you can get from a vegetarian diet. Your anecdotal evidence can’t supplant the rigorous research that goes into training endurance athletes.

    I will absolutely concede that most Americans don’t exercise enough, if at all, and therefore would probably be fine on a meatless diet. In fact, in that case, it is probably preferable. However, Trent has talked about possibly training for a 5K. (I hope he does, and I hope he considers training for longer distances.) If he is serious about this, his training should be taken into account when he plans his meals. I am as passionate about nutrition and fitness as Trent is about personal finance, and so I’m merely trying to share the knowledge I’ve gained over the years.

  67. Pola says:

    Ummm…Billy Mays was NOT 50…

  68. GayleRn says:

    @swampette
    True hyponatremia is extremely rare and even more rare to be caused by overhydration or undersalting. Overhydration requires several gallons of water in a short period of time and is rare that anyone attempts it. Undersalting in the American diet is almost impossible given our general diet. Even in Subsaharan Africa it was not necessary to salt our food in any significant way. We most certainly did not use salt tabs.

    In twenty years of cardiac nursing I have only seen two instances of true laboratory proven cases of hyponatremia. The symptoms of extreme disorientation, dizziness, altered gait, slurred speech, loss of balance etc. will be obvious to even the most disinterested bystander and you will end up hospitalized. There are other electrolyte imbalances that are far more common and far more dangerous, but even they are more likely to be caused by chronic organic disease than anything you did or didn’t do today.

    As a cardiac nurse I totally agree with Trent’s list and basically in the order given. Almost all of the patients I see are smokers, the younger the patient the more likely they are to be smokers. Many are overweight, some to extremes, and associated with that is a high rate of diabetes. Exercise is very beneficial for control of both weight and blood sugar. No smoking and exercise alone are the places I advise my patients to start because nobody can do it all at once.

  69. Karen says:

    I had a stroke at age 40 – yes age 40 – and I didn’t smoke or drink coffee or had high sodium intake. It was from stress!! I’ve since made several life changes but still enjoy life to the fullest. If I had a nickel for every time someone said I was too young I would be a rich woman and wouldn’t need Trent’s advise!!! My mother who is very healthy got cancer. Just goes to show you that one never knows.

  70. Dan says:

    @swampette

    “I can tell you that if you are exercising as often as is advised, research shows that you will need more iron than you can get from a vegetarian diet. Your anecdotal evidence can’t supplant the rigorous research that goes into training endurance athletes.”

    You are absolutely correct that anectdotal evidence cannot supplant the rigorous research that goes into training endurance athletes. You would do well to practice what you preach in that regard. There are scores of endurance athletes, both men and women, novice and professional, who are vegetarians. Look no further than Scott Jurek, who has won the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (the premier ultramarathon event) seven consecutive years and owns the course record all while being a vegan.

    From a health standpoint, the research I’ve seen indicates that people who never or rarely eat meat are much healthier than there counterparts who eat meat regularly. There is no noticeable difference between those who seldom eat meat and those who abstain completely.

    All the fuss about vegetarians not getting enough protein, iron, etc. is really overdone. The amount of nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants, etc. that are lacking in the diet of the average human omnivore in this country because they don’t eat a wide enough variety of fruits and vegetables presents a much greater health concern than any deficiencies that might be found in the average vegetarian’s diet.

  71. Lenore says:

    Lindsay of post #31 is nothing but a hater, so just ignore her, Trent. Losing 40 pounds is a MAJOR accomplishment. I know because I lost 30 several months ago and have unfortunately found them again. It takes WORK and dedication to change your lifestyle, so be proud of what you’re doing. I think keeping us updated on your progress and travails would be awesomely inspiring…for you and us both.

    I remember when Michael Jackson was supposedly sleeping in a hyperbaric (?) chamber to live longer. He was certainly getting plenty of exercise preparing for a tour and had every nutritional and medical advantage at his disposal. It may never be clear why he died so young, but it has reinforced to me that there are no guarantees. Life is fragile, and money cannot buy happiness or total security. Enjoy each day, give and receive love and try to leave the world a better place than you found it.

  72. swampette says:

    @GayleRN
    Extreme cases may be rare, but a study recently found that 13% of those who completed the Boston Marathon experienced hyponatremia.

    Again, I’m not saying this is a concern for most Americans. What I am saying is that here in Florida, where we sweat a LOT during exercise, we have learned to emphasize salt replacement as much as hydration. If someone is embarking on both an exercise routine and a diet change during the summer, he or she may want to be aware that extreme sodium reduction MAY not be the best choice.

  73. Nine Circles says:

    I second the concerns a couple of commenters have expressed about cutting back severely on caffeine. Just this week a study was reported that indicates caffeine may actually *reverse* Alzheimer’s. As the daughter of someone with Alzheimer’s, I can tell you that dropping dead suddenly of a heart attack is a much better way to go than the heartbreaking, slow degeneration of Alzheimer’s. When we talk about health, we need to consider all aspects of health–not just keeping our hearts pumping.

  74. Dan says:

    @swampette

    “I can tell you that if you are exercising as often as is advised, research shows that you will need more iron than you can get from a vegetarian diet. Your anecdotal evidence can’t supplant the rigorous research that goes into training endurance athletes.”

    You are absolutely correct that anectdotal evidence cannot supplant the rigorous research that goes into training endurance athletes. You would do well to practice what you preach in that regard. There are scores of endurance athletes, both men and women, novice and professional, who are vegetarians. Look no further than Scott Jurek, who has won the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (the premier ultramarathon event) seven consecutive years and owns the course record all while being a vegan.

    From a health standpoint, the research I’ve seen indicates that people who never or rarely eat meat are much healthier than there counterparts who eat meat regularly. There is no noticeable difference between those who seldom eat meat and those who abstain completely.

    All the fuss about vegetarians not getting enough protein, iron, etc. is really overdone. The amount of nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants, etc. that are lacking in the diet of the average human omnivore in this country because they don’t eat a wide enough variety of fruits and vegetables presents a much greater health concern than any deficiencies that might be found in the average vegetarian’s diet.

  75. Trent–Let’s see, you run a business, you have two very small children (know that experience well–blessed but stressful) AND you lost 40 lbs in six months?

    When do you sleep???

  76. SoCalGal says:

    Great post Trent. Losing and keeping the weight off is tough & I applaud you.
    I would also add to your list:
    have some fun & socialize
    It is so great to get out & meet up with friends and family.
    Just my 2 cents :)

  77. Kirsten says:

    Heart attacks start with inflammation, so really you should be looking at all of the inflammatory things in your life and reducing them as much as possible. Smoking is inflammatory, and so is stress, as many commenters have mentioned. The rest of those things you mentioned are up for debate, though the right type of exercise is good for the long-term goal of helping your body fight inflammation. Rather than pointing accusatory fingers at meat and saturated fat, (can we say causation vs correlation?) you should try looking more into the inflammatory affects of grains. (yikes!) And focus on getting lots of mono-unsaturated fats (yay nuts!) keep your carbohydrates low (boo metabolic syndrome!) and get plenty of anti-oxidants. (whether caffeine is bad for blood pressure or not, coffee is I believe the number one source of anti-oxidants in the american diet. yay?)

    I’m not a huge fan of dietary supplements because I’d rather get my nutrients naturally, but I do take Omega-3 supplements (would rather avoid mercury in fish and know I’m still getting too much of my polunsaturated fats as Omega-6) and vitamin D (I’m definitely not getting enough sun) which are my extra boost to protect my heart.

  78. Pit Gal says:

    Gabriel – your post was spot on. A vigorous exerciser, I struggled with weight my whole life until I went grainless. meat and veggies are the way to go. They ARE my diet. I have maintained a 50 lb weight loss for 4 years without hunger. We have all been sold a bill of goods – please Trent, if you get a chance, read NYTimes author Gary Taubes book: Good Calories/Bad Calories. He and Dr. Atkins saved my life.

  79. Sam says:

    Sorry, Swampette, I disagree. I’m a 34 year old vegetarian woman who works out 5-6 days a week; running, cycling and weight training, yet my cholesterol and iron are perfect, I have good lean muscle mass, no health issues except asthma, and I haven’t been sick in years.

    I’ve read a lot on this topic and any “risks” of the vegetarianism are far outweighed by the benefits. The protein deficiency is a myth. Most people, vegetarians included, get more than enough protein because all unrefined foods contain protein. As long as one eats enough non-sugar calories to maintain a healthy weight,they’re likely getting enough protein.

    I also disagree with your assertion that vegetarianism is “extreme”. There’s nothing extreme about eating EVERYTHING but meat.

    I also disagree that we’ve “evolved to eat meat”. If anything, we’ve evolved not to need meat because our caloric needs today aren’t nearly as much as they were when we had to hunt, gather, and walk everywhere, or otherwise fend for ourselves entirely.

  80. Caroline says:

    Great post! For me, managing my diet is much harder than managing my money – congratulations on having both in hand! I found this website and the accompanying books at the library really helpful: http://www.dadamo.com/

  81. K. says:

    If you’re interested in avoiding heart disease, you should read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. It’s life changing.

  82. reulte says:

    Sam (#79) I can’t agree with the last paragraph where you state that (if anything) we’ve evolved not to need meat because our caloric needs aren’t as demanding as they where when humans did the hunter & gatherer thing. That’s not a matter of evolution — it’s more a matter of energy needs and conservation. Even archaic humans didn’t need as many calories when they were lounging around as they did when they were chasing giant mammoths.

  83. dlm says:

    Gary Taubes’ GCBC is a masterpiece — all the research back to day one — disproving many of the popular current beliefs on nutrition and health. @#78 and @#81 thanks for the recommendation. He has a shorter Why We Get Fat just coming out and has a new blog! He verifies Michael Eades’ Protein Power, Atkins and Dr. Richard K Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution. It certainly all works for me and has probably been a lifesaver. Low carb is the only way to control insulin, fat and diabetes. Your body needs good saturated fat and protein.

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