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  • Writer's pictureDr. J

Take Charge of your Health

by Tammy Harstad


Take Charge of your Health!

As a nation we spend more on health care but are getting sicker every year. In an online article, “You Run a Health-Care Business Whether You Like It or Not,” Warren Buffett famously said, “GM is a health and benefits company with an auto company attached.” In fact, GM spends more on health care than steel, just as Starbucks spends more on health care than coffee beans.

In an NPR broadcast, “Selling Sickness: How Drug Ads Changed Health Care,” doctors cautioned against direct-to-consumer television advertisements; the Pharmaceutical Juggernaut buys an average of 80 drug commercials every hour of every day and prescription drug use continues to rise annually. A 2018 NIH report noted that in 2015, 64 of the top 100 pharmaceutical companies spent twice as much on marketing and sales than on research, and 27 spent 10 times as much.

According to a CDC “Trend Table” of drug use 67% of 45-64 year olds and 88% of adults over 65 took at least one prescription drug; 42% of those 65 and older take at least four. The Fiscal Times reported, “The U.S. spends more per capita on prescription drugs than any other high-income country — and that spending has grown much faster than in comparable countries over the last two decades…”

We need a better, more holistic approach to health care. Taking drugs to combat most chronic conditions, rather than changing the environment that’s making us sick is a recipe for Pharmaceutical growth, but not optimal health. The best investment you’ll ever make (aside from the financial investment of buying pharmacy stock) is in your health. It’s worth it.

Our bodies are incredibly regenerative and it’s never too late to start. The American Cancer Society reports lung function and health can improve quickly after quitting! Heart disease risk drops substantially and after 15 years of not smoking, a former smoker’s heart disease risk is the same as a non-smoker. Pre-diabetes, early cognitive impairment, and non-alcoholic fatty liver damage, can be reversed if caught soon enough. Several of us in AI have done just that: the journey can feel daunting and is a life-long commitment, so consider choosing even one area to focus on and don’t stop!

Inflammation is a contributing (arguably causal) factor to the top killers in the United States. An annual Express Scripts trend report, inflammatory conditions again topped the list of highest trend with an increase of 15.6 percent. COVID-19 outcomes were exasperated by pre-existing conditions caused by inflammation including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, and stroke. The CDC reports 30% of Americans have pre-diabetes and 25% are expected to be diabetic by 2030.

The best prescription for chronic disease is low inflammation and a strong immune system; now’s the time to prepare for the next virus whether it be a resurgence of seasonal influenza, COVID-19, or other. You can bolster your immune system and reduce chronic inflammation through a number of lifestyle choices: exercise, nutrition, mindset, and avoiding toxins. Although I could write a book on each (and maybe I will write future AI Reporter articles!), making even small changes in any of these categories will have a remarkable effect on optimizing your health.

Exercise 150 minutes a week even if all you can muster initially is a walk around the neighborhood or mall. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity coupled with 2 days of muscle-strengthening activities (or more for even greater benefits). 22 minutes a day or 5 days a week with 30 minutes of activity will aid in increasing insulin sensitivity and improve metabolic flexibility. If you’re ready to pursue more vigorous exercise, consider CrossFit. I started 3 months after turning 50. The concept of CrossFit is “constantly varied, high-intensity functional movements.” The moves are infinitely modifiable and scalable to any ability.

Nutrition: variety is the spice of life! It’s summer! Take advantage of local farmer’s markets (take a mental health day to do it). Eat a rainbow of local, seasonal, whole antioxidant-rich foods (non-starchy veggies and berries). Focus on Omega-3 fish/meat/eggs, seeds/nuts (raw/dry roasted), some fruit, little starch and virtually no added sugar. Try to keep your intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. If you’re dealing with insulin resistance, choose fewer grains or legumes, but occasionally indulge in lentils or steel cut oats before or after a particularly tough workout. Need a challenge? Shoot for 30 different plant-based foods/week. It’s easier than you think! And above all: avoid processed foods, especially those with seed oils and sugar. Sound too daunting? Shoot for at least 80% of your diet to be healthy, whole foods.

Mindset/Relaxation/Meditation. Roald Dahl famously wrote (in The Twits), “If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” Feed a positive mindset through meditation, Yoga (consider Yin Yoga – anyone can do it), stretching for mobility, or writing in a daily Gratitude Journal. Sleep is the most restorative aspect to healing your body: consider ditching the electronics, alcohol, and after-dinner snacking at least three hours before bedtime. If you have an iWatch, Oura Ring, or Whoop, monitor your Heart Rate Variability to track your progress. At work, stand up. Walk around. Talk with co-workers… jabber! If you only have a minute or two, “box breathing” can be very calming: inhale to the count of 5, hold (to the count of 5), exhale (count to 5), hold (another 5 count). Repeat.

Avoid toxins. If you haven’t heard of the “dirty dozen” produce items that are most likely to have pesticide residue, Google it! Rinse those products well to minimize your exposure (or choose organic if affordable and available). Choose leaner meat (most of the toxins are in the fat), or indulge in grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken. The Environmental Working Group database (check out their HealthyLiving app) includes hundreds of thousands of products for their safety (you can scan the barcodes). Exercise (work up a good sweat) to rid your body of toxins, or take a sauna (don’t think for a second I’m suggesting a sauna can replace good ole’ exercise, though)!

A final note: Supplement where you need to, especially Vitamin D. Research whether magnesium or Vitamin B12 is a good choice for you, but know that there is no “magic pill” to health and the supplement industry is unregulated. If you choose to supplement, choose reputable sources (look for third party verified products) to ensure the manufacturer isn’t including unlisted additives in the supplements you don’t want in your body.

  • DISCLAIMER: This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always see the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have.


Your reality... is what your philosophy is.

The philosophy by which you live by, is foundational in building a healthy, vibrant life.

Tammy and her husband have been a long time friends, mentors, and have collectively served our country for decades. She has an endless pursuit for truth in... everything. This was a letter she wrote for her own colleagues, and I couldn't help but share it here to help spread the message further. It's the message that changed my perspective in health, and my direction in life as I canned the idea of going to med school, and transitioned to a more holistic, vitalistic path.

Refine you philosophy :

Tammy brings together vital components to support the overarching philosophy that the body is designed for health; it just needs the right things to thrive, and void of the things that inhibit the proper expression of health. If you bring your attention to these things, and make small, sustainable changes over time, your reality and overall health will reflect your underlying beliefs and consistent actions.

You manifest your destiny.

Manifest something great.

-Dr. J


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