5 Ways to Improve Your Health Immediately.


1333254191_healing handsAlmost as much as education, experience counts in health care. The more patients that I have seen, the more conditions I have treated, the more times I have treated the same condition in different people, the more I have learned. And the better I am able to help my patients become healthy. This month begins my 20th year as a doctor. As I look back over the past two decades, I can see certain commonalities emerge from the background of doctor-patient interchanges. The things that I have taught my patients not once, not twice, but hundreds of times. The mistakes that I have observed my patients make. The simple short-cuts which I have learned that, once applied, can make immediate and dramatic positive changes in someone's health.

Unlike most other health advice you're going to get from the internet, the information I'm about to give you will not cost you anything. As a matter of fact, most of my recommendations will save you money. And, with a few exceptions, none of them will be difficult or time-consuming. None of them require special equipment, special diets, or hard-to-get foodstuffs. As a special bonus, all of these recommendations are not only backed by a doctor with two decades of experience, but also by research and the collected wisdom of the doctors and healers that have preceded me by hundreds, and in some cases, thousands, of years. As Isaac Newton said in his letter to rival Robert Hook, "If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."

Though there are a few more, I am giving you one work week's worth of ideas that you can use to improve your health. Everybody should implement all five of these recommendations, although the gains you will receive from each will vary wildly from person to person.

1. Turn off the TV and cut the cable.

I can think of no other piece of advice that will fundamentally change your life more than this one. Despite the recent flattening in the growth of cable companies, Americans still watch a tremendous amount of television -- 34 hours a week, according to a 2012 Nielsen study. In younger people, the amount is 10 hours less, and dropping, which is a good sign. Nonetheless, 24 hours a week turns television watching into a part-time job for most people.

So why is it bad for you? First of all, watching TV makes you fat. It makes you less fit. It makes you stupid. Do you need more reasons?

Interestingly, this recommendation, perhaps my most important one, is also the most ignored. Patients will nod their heads, dutifully agreeing with me, and proceed to completely forget every word that I said. The reason why is simple. Television is highly addictive. Like all addictions, it is difficult to break.

Also like all addictions, the best way to break this one is to go cold turkey. Call up the cable company, and terminate your cable channels. (Keep in mind that this step will save you anywhere from $75 to $200 per month.) The first thing that you will notice is that all of a sudden you have a bunch of spare time on your hands, time you once spent plugged into the television. Here's things that you can do with that time:

1. Learn another language.

2. Join a club or service organization.

3. Get a hobby! Knit, woodworking, model rocket building, fish, make pottery.

4. Spend time talking to your kids, spouse, husband. Walk the dog. Call your father.

You get the point. There's an infinite number of activities that you will not do today because you make the choice to sit in front of a 40-inch screen listening to retreaded jokes told over a laugh track. On your gravestone they can put the epitaph: "He Watched TV."

 2. Hide the car keys.

There's a reason that studies have shown city dwellers are thinner and more fit than rural residents. It's because city folk walk or ride bicycles more than people in suburbs or rural areas.

That doesn't have to be the case, though. Despite living in a small rural town, I rarely need to use my car. Trips to the grocery store, bank, and other daily chores are all done on my bicycle, most of the year. I usually ride to work, though more recently these days, I've been walking to my office a lot.

A lack of exercise is the number one cause of virtually every major health problem in this country, from heart disease to diabetes. Exercise also reduces the risk of breast cancer and other cancers as well.

My recommendation is to walk to any destination that is 1 mile away or less, and ride a bike if it is 3 miles or less. Don't think you have the time? Just remember Health Tip #1. You're already doing that, right? So you've got plenty of time. Use it to become healthier.

Interestingly, riding or walking will change your entire perception of time. For a variety of reasons neurological, travelling at speed tends to compress time; when we are driving our automobiles, we feel the constant pressure of needing to arrive at our destination. Our minds are focused on what's ahead of us, not what is immediately around us. After several months of low-speed transportation, you will find that pressure easing. You just notice things more as you walk and ride, putting your mind on the present rather than the always-unattainable future. Also, you will find yourself winnowing out the necessary tasks from the unnecessary, or better coordinating your daily journey to get more done with less. And you will soon realize that it is such a relief to not be constantly rushing about to get things done.

3. Look at the sky. Twice each day.

How someone carries themselves tells us much about them. A slouched posture is often associated with negative traits, from illness to depression to low self-esteem. The fact of the matter is that posture does indicate psychological health, relational status and physical well-being.

Most people, when trying to improve their posture, use the large muscles of the back to straighten the spine, creating a stiff, unnatural form that cannot be maintained longer than a minute or so. That's because the large muscles of the spine are intended to control movement, not posture. They need way too much energy to maintain contraction for any length of time. The postural muscles are much smaller, and positioned to use leverage to make the most out of minimal effort. These muscles, for the most part, are out of our conscious control.

To improve your posture, you must retrain your unconsciously controlled postural muscles. And how do you do that? Simple. Just keep your body relaxed, stand up, and tilt your head back as far as it can go to look at the sky directly above you. Your spine will naturally straighten when you do that. Bring your head back down, while remaining in that relaxed, straightened posture, and voila! You have straightened your spine without engaging the large movement muscles.

Of course, you'll forget about that in two minutes. Which is why you'll do the exercise later the same day. If you repeat that daily for 3-6 months, you will find that you will begin to retain a straight posture naturally, without conscious intervention. Now you can brush your teeth, comb your hair, and go get that job of your dreams.

4. Read 1 book every month.

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. In ways large and small, reading is good for you. Reading improves mood and reduces stress. Reading reduces the impact of dementia. Reading reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

I know I'm fighting an uphill battle on this one. Anti-intellectualism in America has deep roots. As a result, 25 percent of Americans haven't read a single book in the past year.

What you read tends to be less important than the act of reading itself. Whether you're reading Emerson or Evanovich, the result is the same; you're smarter, think better, and have more to talk about with others.

5. Laugh.

When there is nothing else I can do for a patient -- no way to relieve their pain or ameliorate their illness before they leave my office -- I do my best to make them laugh. And when I'm performing possibly painful procedures, I almost always crack wise. Patients will sometimes mistake my eager rush for laughter for sadism, but it's actually quite the opposite. Laughter is an effective painkiller; not only that, it improves immune function in cancer patients.

Laughter increases tissue oxygenation, exercises the trunk muscles, burns calories and provides cardiovascular benefits. As an all-around health stimulator, laughter ranks right up there with exercise. Heck, laughter reduces blood sugar in diabetics.

If I've done nothing else but make a patient laugh, I know I've improved their quality of life, perhaps for the rest of the day, as laughter's physiological benefits can linger.

Of course, laughter therapy can backfire as well. There was that time that I was explaining to a new patient how to get to my office. I said that my building was right across the street from the funeral home. "Yeah, it makes it really easy to take care of my mistakes," I said.

She never showed up.


I have more of these, perhaps a dozen. But these are the nuggets of gold that have consistently worked for my patients, and not infrequently helped them to navigate difficult waters to a healthier life.


When The Universe Changes

It may be entirely apocryphal, but I was once told that in ancient China, it was the practice to pay your doctor when you are healthy, and your payments would stop when you are sick. This economic model -- the wellness model -- makes far more sense than our current system, in which physicians, including myself, make more money from you being sick than being healthy.

If you look at any other industry, it is apparent that the medical habit of paying for failure is entirely topsy-turvy. Should you pay the airline for not getting you to Hoboken in time for Thanksgiving at Aunt Marcy's? Should you tip the waitress more for bringing cold coffee and yesterday's French fries? Of course not. But when it comes to health care, the sicker you are and the longer you take to get better, the more your doctor makes.

What brought this to mind recently was my daughter's acceptance into college, and the concomitant realization that I was now on the hook for a considerable annual fee to join the august club of College Student Parents. I was bemoaning my fate to a friend who also happens to be a patient. They just looked at me and said:

"You know what your problem is, doc? You get your patients better too fast."

Well now, there's a concept. In what other industry could I possibly be in where I actually hurt myself financially by improving my performance?

The medicopharmaceutical industry has neatly tied up both ends of this ribbon. On the one hand, they create new diseases, find ways of convincing you and your non-chiropractic doctors that you have it (adult ADHD, anyone?), then sell you on a lifetime of pills to fix it. The Great 20th Century Statin Deficiency is another example. Through corrupted research and savvy marketing techniques -- up to and including the use of prostitutes at medical conferences -- the pharmaceutical companies have deluded millions of healthy Americans and their medical doctors into believing that they must take their daily dose of statins to survive. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, but there's nothing wrong with a healthy revenue stream, is there?

On the other hand, they market drugs as tools of disease prevention, all the time knowing that the nostrums they peddle do little to encourage better health. A perfect example of this are the bisphophonate drugs, such as Fosamax. We now know that bisphonates not only fail to create healthier bone, they also kill the very bone that they are supposed to strengthen.

Long before reaching that fraudulent extreme, however, there is a sound basis for wellness, or preventative care.

Both proper diet (a term I am loathe to use these days, as it has been sorely abused by the media) and exercise are, of course, the foundations of preventative care. But aside from these factors, what should be stirred into the mix of preventative care?

Here's what the research shows us:

  • Seniors who receive regular chiropractic manipulation use fewer drugs, have fewer hospital stays, spend less time in rehab, and live healthier lives.
  • Pregnant women who recieve regular chiropractic manipulation require fewer ceasarian births.
  • It should go without saying -- but in fact, is well supported by the research -- that preventative chiropractic manipulation reduces the risk of suffering from low back pain.

And that's just chiropractic manipulation alone. What about the other services provided by chiropractic physicians?

Acupuncture is one of the therapeutic approaches I use the most for treating people with a variety of existing conditions. But does it make any sense at all to adopt a "preventative acupuncture" strategem?

The research on this topic is surprisingly vacant. While a number of studies have discussed the effectiveness of acupuncture for early intervention in disease processes, this is far from the idea of wellness. A few articles have noted that traditionally, regular acupuncture at certain points has been regarded as beneficial for seniors.

I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for some research to appear, however. Government funding for acupuncture research is only slightly higher than the homeopathic doses grudgingly dispersed for chiropractic manipulation. So how do we decide?

I remember when I posed this question to one of my acupuncture professors: How often should we have a patient return for preventative care?

He didn't break stride. "Of course," he said. "When the universe changes." And then he went on to discuss some observations of the more esoteric uses of Bupleurum.

The answer didn't make sense to me at first, but as I puzzled over it during the following week, I finally realized what he meant. The aim of acupuncture -- indeed, chinese medicine as a whole -- is to put the individual in balance with the environment. Any time that there is a change in the person's environment, they must respond by altering their metabolism and behavior. (This process is known as "homeostasis" in modern biology). Thus, when the universe changes, the individual  can use assistance that acupuncture provides in adapting to the altered environment.

When does the universe change? We need look no further than directly around us to tell. When the fresh green of springtime appears, the universe is changing. When the leaves turn brown and fall from the trees in autumn, the universe is changing. At the height of summer, as the sun ascends to its northernmost latitude above the equator, the universe is changing. And, finally, in the dead of winter when the day's length reaches its nadir, the universe is changing.

The change in seasons does, in fact, affect our health. The fluctuation in communicable diseases, mental health, and the course of some chronic disorders is profoundly affected by the time of the year.

So, from a very practical standpoint, it makes sense to evaluate and adjust your position in the universe as the universe itself changes. And in the absence of more precise clinical data, it is on that concept that I rest my recommendations for preventative -- or should we say adaptive -- acupuncture.

See you when the universe changes!

Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at alj@docaltmed.com or by calling 860-567-5727.