Taking Control of Our Health
By Dr. Hillel Z. Harris, MD
Each one of us needs to take control of our own health. We need to ensure we are getting enough physical activity, rest, and proper nutrition. Big businesses are not looking out for us as individuals. There are many large companies who want to sell products, whether in the food industry, or in the pharmaceutical industry. I feel that no one is looking out for the individual. As a physician, I want to partner with my patients and teach them how to look out for themselves. I want my patients to ask what they can do to decrease their chances of developing obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, cancer, arthritis, and on and on.
Let’s focus on preventative health, and optimizing our chances for staying healthy. This is easier said than done. It takes discipline to take control of your health, but like everything else, it takes practice and guidance until it becomes easier. The first step is dissecting the wealth of information available regarding nutrition, exercise, and stress. Understanding the way nutrition influences how we feel, how we store fat, how we prevent diabetes from developing, is key to our health. Exercise is important for keeping a low body weight, by building both muscle and improving cardiovascular fitness. Physical activity can actually cause neurogenesis, or the creation of new brain cells.
Stress wreaks havoc on our bodies, and the hormones that are released in stressful states can derail all the good choices we make. Uncovering the roots of our stress will allow us the opportunity to take control of our health by removing the unconscious blockade we set up for ourselves.
In today’s fast pace life, we are less connected to how we feel. Often a chronic low-level stress develops, which can sap our energy and lower our natural production of hormones. Testosterone, for example, may be declining in men due to chronic stress, which causes the release of cortisol. Cortisol blocks testosterone release. Having too much fat around our mid-section also decreases the production of testosterone. So, how can you increase your natural production of hormones, such as testosterone? By figuring out how to decrease stress. The first step to is to be aware of stress, because recognition is half the battle. Abdominal fat interferes with the body’s own internal signaling. In men, this excess fat secretes estrogen. Estrogen antagonizes the production of testosterone. So balancing the right eating plan with physical activity can cause drastic improvements in your hormone levels. Resistance training appears to promote the biggest release of testosterone. Specifically, it is the complex resistance exercises, such as squats, that yield the greatest natural increase in testosterone.
The way we eat influences how we absorb food for fuel. Eating frequent, smaller meals prevents insulin spikes, which has been shown to decrease the production of cholesterol. In fact, when people skip breakfast and eat a large lunch and dinner, the body acts as if it were in starvation mode and will maximize fat storage! This is not what we want. We want our body to use the nutrients it receives to repair and replenish our energy stores, not become a walking repository of fat! By eating just enough food at any given time, we can set ourselves up for success- in that the food we eat, will be used efficiently.
Choosing food with a low glycemic index has been shown to prevent the spikes in blood sugar and subsequently insulin. You want to choose foods that cause a slower release of blood sugar, in order to keep insulin levels low. Most fruit and vegetables have a low glycemic index. Processed foods, on the other hand, have the opposite effect. They spike glucose, spike insulin, and then you crash. The cycle repeats itself and can cause an up and down effect, which is why some people feel their energy levels correlate so drastically based on what they just ate. Achieving a blood-balance will translate to a more consistent mood and energy levels, which is more preferable. The next article is titled, “Are Ketogenic Diets Good for Athletes?” More to come!
About the Author:
Dr. Hillel Z. Harris, MD is the founder of MD Sports Inc, which focuses on sports performance and athletic training. He provides annual physicals, and performs laboratory testing and body composition testing. He and his team develop customized nutrition and physical activity plans for athletes and the general population interested living a healthy lifestyle. He promotes wellness, and is an innovator in the emerging field of preventative health and lifestyle medicine. He is a board-certified physician and has been a practicing medical doctor since 2004.