We are fortunate to live in an era where we have highly effective medications and state of the art interventional procedures and surgeries, but the value of a “healthy lifestyle” supersedes them all. With a reasonable diet, some exercise, and avoidance of unhealthy habits, a large amount of cardiovascular disease, and many cancers can be prevented.
The value of a healthful diet can not be underestimated. The most basic concept is to have mostly high quality nutritional foods, and greatly minimize poor quality foods. A useful web site is Choose my Plate.
High quality foods include plenty of vegetables (a “colorful plate”), fruits, whole grain carbohydrates (such as brown rice and oatmeal), beans, and nuts (especially almonds and walnuts). These foods have large quantities of phytonutrients such as vitamins (more effective than taking a vitamin pill) and fiber (makes you feel full and improves digestion). They are low in calories so you can eat a lot of them. They have almost no fat, so they are unlikely to clog your arteries and cause a heart attack or stroke.
Poor quality foods include those containing saturated fats (red meat, anything deep fried, and full fat dairy products) and highly refined carbohydrates (sweets, white bread, white pasta). Excess salt will often raise blood pressure.
Exercise has been clearly shown to reduce cardiovascular disease, dementia, hypertension, diabetes, anxiety and depression. Some type of aerobic/cardio exercise such as a walking, for 30-45 minutes 4 to 5 times a week would be ideal. However, anything that gets your body moving even for a short time is good. If you are able, adding a limited amount of strength training is also very helpful to maintain muscle tone, safe gait (very important for seniors), and reduces blood pressure and blood sugar.
There is good data that “prolonged immobility”, such as sitting at desk/computer/TV for many hours in a row is harmful. So, even if you can’t partake in formal exericse, getting up and walking around your home or office is helpful.
If you don’t exercise now, it is important to start a program only after consulting with your physician.
The single most important habit to avoid is smoking. Cigarettes cause substantial amounts of cardiovascular disease (heart attack, strokes, leg circulation problems), emphysema, cancers (especially lung), and make you smell bad. Quitting is hard but mandatory. For help, check out the American Cancer Society website, or make an appointment to talk about medications that may make it easier to quit.
Wearing seat belts saves lives.
Alcohol to up to 10 to 14 drinks a week may be of some benefit (may reduce some cardiovascular disease) though more than that may cause liver and other problems. Never drive while impaired; you will not only harm yourself, but others as well.