At some point during the thrill of watching the Olympics, the question emerges: How do they do it? No, really, how do they live to perform such amazing feats? What is their lifestyle like behind the scenes (besides the endless hours spent training). The answer is supposed to inform the rest of us on the "secrets" to living, well, like an Olympian -- to living with superhuman health. Is there such a formula we can glean from our prized athletes?
Four years ago during the Beijing Olympics, I started writing my first book, The End of Illness. The book was published in January of this year and became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller. I imagine that most first-time authors like me feel surprised by such an enthusiastic response. It's exhilarating to create something that strikes a cord with so many people whether they agree with your ideas or not. I've since received much feedback, both positive and negative, but most important -- at least to me -- is that people have read it. People have gone to the book looking for how I could make such a bold and declaratory statement in the title. Is "the end of illness" really possible? The answer is, frankly, very similar to the one about whether we can truly live like an Olympian. Yes. And yes.
The central premise is that we all have to take charge of our own health and make changes as we grow older in order to live the long, vibrant life of our dreams. These slight shifts to our lifestyle over time are quite simple, and there is real scientific data behind them that we cannot ignore. In fact, over the past several months multiple key studies have emerged that further support and confirm many of my assertions, including my most aggressive and controversial, such as the one about ditching vitamins and embracing a daily baby aspirin. I won't go into those details here, but for those of you interested in this topic look to my PBS special, "The End of Illness," debuting nationwide August 2012, for specifics.
The exciting news is that the same list of benefits for long-term health can have immediate impact on athletic performance. I am not saying we all can be Olympic athletes, but optimizing performance is something we can all benefit from. Much in the way Olympic athletes optimize their game by paying an enormous -- borderline maniacal -- amount of attention to things like diet, exercise, sleep, and of course the essential R&R, we all would do well to pay more attention to those key aspects of our lives that comprise our overall health equation. When's the last time you really thought about what you eat, how much you move throughout the day, whether or not you feel fantastic when you get up in the morning, and which shoes keep your feet comfortable? (Take a moment to think about how many times a gymnast or track runner worries about the state of his or her feet!)
Today the most common question I am routinely asked is the following: What are the simple steps I can take for health? My answer would be the same if I had to give my "formula" for living like an Olympian:
1. Eat real food.
2. Avoid vitamins, supplements, and other "short-cuts" to health like juicing.
3. Discuss preventive strategies and possible preventive medications with your doctor.
4. Participate in the prescribed cancer screening programs.
5. Don't sit for long periods of time and move throughout the day.
6. Maintain lean body mass and wear comfortable shoes.
7. Avoid tobacco products.
8. Prevent sunburns.
9. Keep a regular schedule 365 days a year (this includes meal times, sleep times and exercise times).
10. Get a yearly flu shot and remember to get your booster shots.
11. Avoid inflammation as much as possible (identify potential sources of inflammation and try and get rid of them).
Remember, everyone's body is different. Just look at the striking difference between a wrestler and a diver, or a rower and a table tennis player. Or consider the fact someone like Michael Phelps can put down 12,000 calories a day whereas most of us get by on a very small fraction of that. We all need to learn how to discover our own lifestyle habits and rhythms that support our individual bodies and needs. We all need to figure out what's right for us because nothing about life is one size fits all. Even for an Olympian, that's for sure. And such discovery starts with you paying attention -- to yourself.
Hope you enjoyed the games!
To your health!
David B. Agus, M.D.
Professor of Medicine and Engineering
University of Southern California
Dr. David B. Agus is one of the world's leading cancer doctors and pioneering biomedical researchers. He's the host of the new eye-opening health special, The End Of Illness, airing nationwide on PBS (check local listings and times), which is based on his #1 New York Times best seller. According to Dr. Agus, the one-size-fits-all approach toward treating illness is a model of the past. If you want to live a long, vibrant, robust life well into your 90s then you need to be proactive with your health. Start today... it's easier than you think!
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