JUL 17, 2012 10:30 AM
Is Everything I Do Actually Killing Me?
It seems that nowadays there’s a study saying that everything I do is slowly killing me. I can’t sit down, I can’t eat the foods I like, and I’ll have an early heart attack if I live in a big city. If so many things are bad for me, how can I change my life without giving up so much that I lose my mind?
One Foot in the Grave
If you read a lot of popular studies—as it seems you do—it’s easy to get paranoid about the many things that can slowly kill you over time. The internet doesn’t help matters. You can do a web search for just about any food and find some claim that it’ll give you cancer if you eat it or drink it too often. Not everything you learn is going to be true, and the accurate studies only offer a limited view on the subject. When you learn something you’re doing might not be that great for you, and there’s real scientific evidence to prove it, you don’t need to go out and change your life dramatically. Let’s take a look at some of the popular studies that call out some supposedly deadly behavior and look at practical and reasonable solutions to the problem.
Sitting Down Is Destroying Your Body
We’ve written a lot about the ways sitting down too much can damage your body. Studies show it can significantly increase the risk of heart disease, put you at risk for certain types of cancer, and shave off about seven years of quality life. Fun, right? Sitting too much is, indeed, bad for you. There are enough studies showing that being too sedentary is a problem over time, but we live a lot of our lives in a chair. Most jobs don’t require us to move, and by the end of the day we’re not particularly excited to get up and walk around.
As we’ve previously noted, you don’t have to do too much to counteract the negative effects of sitting. Basically, just get up once an hour and move around and get about 30 minutes of physical activity a day. That 30 minutes doesn’t need to be a hardcore workout, but really just the equivalent of a brisk walk. For example, that could mean just doing some yard work. You can include a shorter, more intense workout and daily mobility exercises, but the most important thing is to get up on the hour and move around. You mainly need to avoid sitting down constantly, whether you get yourself a standing desk at work or just periodically walk around the office.
Certain Foods are “Poison”
People like to overreact and call problematic foods like milk and sugar are “poison.” A little common sense should tell you they’re not, as you’ve eaten them and here you are alive and reading this article. But when certain foods are referred to as particularly bad, the idea is that they’re a slow killer. Referring to them as poison, or by some other sensational term, is to try and get you to pay attention to the problem. While we’ve seen evidence that dairy is bad for you (despite its nutrients and you’re better off never eating certain types of sugar, consuming either isn’t going to put you into an early grave if you do so in moderation.
The trick isn’t to get rid of these foods, but rather to change how you look at them. Think of sugar as a dessert and try to avoid it in non-dessert foods. Primarily, this means learning which foods you buy in the grocery store have added sugar (like some breads, sauces, etc.) and which do not. In the case of milk, many of us think of it as a healthy drink. Instead, think of it as something you enjoy (if you do) and have for that purpose rather than in combination with a balanced meal.
Again, it all comes down to moderation. There are downsides to eating too much of anything. If you make an effort to balance what you eat and look at the less-healthy foods as a special treat—rather than a given part of the meal—it’s easy to manage them without too much sacrifice.
Where You Live Can Kill You
Where you live can kill you. For example, if you live in the middle of a highway in a cardboard box there’s a good chance you’re going to be the victim of nasty car accident. In all seriousness, there is a relatively unknown field of study called geomedicinethat takes your location into account when trying to figure out if you’re at risk for certain diseases. What geomedicine has discovered is that certain problems tend to occur more in certain areas. For example, take a look at the map to the right. It displays the rate of heart attacks based on location. You’ll notice that the highest risk starts to accumulate out East. So if you live out East does that mean you’re definitely going to have a heart attack some day? No, but it does suggest what kind of problems are more likely for you and where you should focus your preventative energy.
The reality is you’re probably going to live where you’re going to live. If you live in Los Angeles you might get killed during an earthquake. In the Midwest it might be a tornado. In Florida a monsoon could come to get you. Wherever you are, there’s some natural disaster waiting to happen and you could be a victim of it, but you put that out of your mind and live there anyway. The same goes with geomedicine. If your entire life is in an area at high risk for heart disease, moving away isn’t going to help. The reason those areas are believed to be problematic is because certain types of people tend to move there. In Los Angeles, the pollution doesn’t help matters, but you’ll also find higher levels of stress because there are many people working long, hard hours. The same goes for New York. Instead of uprooting your entire life and changing everything about it, you can use geomedicine as a compass. It’ll tell you common problems in your area, and then you can take measures to help prevent the effects of those problems. If you’re seriously stressed out, work on ways to lower your stress levels (like with meditation). Small changes are often enough, and panicking about the possible location-based problems isn’t going to make anything better.
If you want to learn more about geomedicine, check out our in-depth look.
The Bottom Line
Studies can be a little sensational once they’ve found their way into the media. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it gets you to pay attention. However, the important thing is to remember that most often the solutions are pretty simple. If you don’t live an obviously unhealthy life, small changes can do the trick. If you do a little research when a study makes you nervous, you’ll often find out how to cope without much work at all.
What studies are freaking you out? Have you found out any simple ways to solve the problem?
2 replies to Adam Dachis
I wouldn’t say it’s freaking me out more than annoying me. It’s the milk is bad for you stuff. Milk has for the longest just been considered a healthy drink (lactose intolerance aside), and now suddenly it’s terrible for you.
I feels similar to when people said eggs were bad for you. Then they were good for you. Then they were bad for you. Now they are good for you again. Something tells me we’ll see another study down the road saying milk is good for you, then bad, then good, then bad on Fridays but good on Mondays.
5 replies to jnite
Lewis Black FTW.
It comes down to these complicated and well thought out studies being digested by Academic journals then regurgitated and redigested by news sources and then being regurgitated and redigested by secondary news sources like blogs, late night TV and comics. You take something that planned experiments with controls and hypotheses and then carried out the experiment over months and years and then took those results, modeled them and analyzed them and then reevaluate your hypotheses and discuss the reasons for the results in an educated, peer-reviewed forum. Someone looks at all that, says “F-that” reads the abstract, reads the conclusions and writes an article. Some blog picks up the article and says that you’re a money wasting moron, how could you not have known that? About some point that wasn’t even relevant to your story. Then the next time you publish a study the blogger remembers and says: it’s jnite again, the hack wasting more millions of dollars in funds studying cancer again.
1 reply to snowburnt
Well said. That’s basically how I feel about it. Studies are taken as fact while they are still just a hypothesis or theory. There hadn’t been enough tests to prove the studies and if there have been, there haven’t been enough tests or occasionally the test are contaminated or biased in their results.
Also, I knew that statement of mine came from somewhere but I couldn’t remember it was Lewis Black. I got to look his comedy up again.
2 replies to jnite
This is sort of a long reply, but I hope you skim through it.
The scientific definition of ‘theory’ differs to the every day meaning.
Not many things are said to be ‘fact’ either. Every hypothesis will be tested statistically, and these will say how likely it is that any results are due to chance. Usually if the probability is less than 5% the hypothesis is accepted, but it’s always open for dispute.
In reality, the ‘theories’ and accepted hypotheses are as good as fact. Unfortunately, media often exaggerates just for a story.
Results might have shown that milk may not be healthy in one aspect at an extreme level, so media will spin it into a good story and focus on how it’s bad for you despite it actually being perfectly fine by all means.
You’re right, it’s important to be critical of any study, but academia is it’s own biggest critic. Scientific journals are subject to peer review, and if there’s ever any problem found post publication then they going to write a retraction/note very quickly
1 reply to tomsau
I am familiar a bit with the scientific process from my science classes. Admittedly it’s been a while. From what I remember a hypothesis is basically the idea with little to no testing. It’s easy to make a hypothesis. It is simply an observation, typically based on our own personal knowledge. Now theories are a different matter. Takes a good deal of study, experimentation, investigation, etc. before something jumps out of the hypothesis level.
I am aware that due to how what we think is fact changes so easily that it would be very difficult to move from theory to being fact that it is usually safe to assume theories are correct (though they are still theories so may not necessarily be considered fact).
Hypothesis on the other hand, at least the type I’m familiar with, could easily be disputed, proven false, etc. This is what I consider some of these studies to be in my personal opinion. They are ideas based on facts, theories, and hypotheses but lack the real experimentation, time, and study to become theories and thus more believable.
I could always be wrong though, but I find it hard to swallow that sudden staples of commonly healthy food like bread, eggs, and milk (all have been considered unhealthy at one point) are suddenly bad for you out of nowhere.
3 replies to jnite
We all have to die. That, and taxes, or something…
1 reply to justincases
Yes, aren’t we all dying anyway, irrespective of what we do?
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