As a physician for over three decades, I’ve treated diseases that take years from our lives and life from our years. And the sobering fact is, many of these diseases could be prevented, better treated and even reversed if more people would make simple lifestyle changes that we know can work as well or better than prescribed drugs or other treatments.
I’ve joined my fellow practitioners in advising patients to get active and eat better, but without a clear understanding as to why these behaviors are so important, without a personal plan and actionable goals, most people and patients may never start, much less sustain, healthy actions that will reduce heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain cancers and other conditions that afflict us as Americans.
Small Steps Over Time
And let’s face it, our environment doesn’t help! Making “the right thing to do the easy thing to do” involves small steps which can get us started on a path to better health, less disease and better treatment outcomes. The key is encouraging people to make one or two simple changes at a time and then working to maintain JUST those few before adding a few more. Over time this approach will result in great improvement, building step-by-step to change what we eat and how we move.
March is Nutrition Month.
So, as we begin the month of March, which is National Nutrition Month, it’s the perfect time to tell you about an exciting new campaign recently launched by the American Heart Association that is focused on recognizing the health importance of fruits and vegetables, improving accessibility to them and promoting a simple and memorable slogan to encourage us to eat more of nature’s natural disease-fighters! It’s an indisputable fact but one we so often overlook and forget - a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is indeed the “best medicine.” It has been shown to reduce risk of heart disease, stroke, and many cancers and causes of early death. What medicine or procedure can boast THAT record?
The campaign says it simply: “Add color.”
Adding colorful fruits and vegetables to one’s daily menu is a first, yet major, step to increasing micronutrients, vitamins, fiber and other disease-fighting food components which we just don’t get any other way. I believe the health impact of this initiative could be significant for individuals, families and communities. And making these changes can be quite simple. We are asking Americans to “add” colorful fruits and vegetables, which improve health and over time, displace our intake of higher calorie, nutrition-poor, fiber-deficient fast and processed foods.
At the center of Add color is a series of entertaining and interactive videos, social media events and digital information that helps make it easy to add these healthy foods and make these simple changes.
The goal for my patients, friends and family is to incorporate at LEAST five cups of fruits and vegetables into our daily diet. Studies from around the world and populations in the US show that the more fruits and vegetables we eat the less likely we are to suffer common diseases and live fewer years than we could.
Eating the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables helps maintain good health in many ways, especially if the focus is on fresh foods, which tend to be lower in sodium and higher in potassium, which helps lower blood pressure. I believe many people who adopt a healthy diet and lifestyle will eventually see their dependence on certain medications drop or vanish completely.
Unfortunately, many people and even their physicians underestimate how unhealthy dietary habits affect long term health and wellbeing. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 2014, the average intake of fruits and vegetables for adults 50 years of age is about half of what is recommended. For these people, adding as little as one more cup of fruits and vegetables to their diets daily could close this gap by as much as 50%.
With the help of the American Heart Association and initiatives like Add color, we can ALL add years to our life and life to our years!
Michael Parkinson, MD, MPH, FACPM is a member of the Health Strategies committee of the GRA of the AHA/ASA. He is trained in and has practiced both family medicine and preventive medicine/public health.
Read his full bio.
The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of The American Heart Association | American Stroke Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The American Heart Association’s blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.