Thursday, July 31, 2014

Don’t read more health books. Read these 14 words.

You can do this. But you can also walk for 30 minutes a day. Donald Miralle/Getty Images for NASCAR

Thomas Frieden has a scary job. As director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he gets the call when infections begin defeating all known antibiotics, or Ebola resurfaces, or overdoses from prescription opiates begin skyrocketing.

Meanwhile, I'm the kind of person who won't even go see movies about disease outbreaks. So when I sat down with Frieden recently, I asked him the question hypochondriacs need to know: What has all this data taught him to fear? What does he tell his family to do differently?

His answer was borderline dull:

Very little is different really. It's basic. Wash your hands regularly. Get regular physical activity. Eat foods you love that are healthy. That's one of the things that's so challenging. Take physical activity as an example. You don't have to have much, 30 minutes a day. Doing that, which can be three 10-minute walks, is going to make a huge difference in your life. You'll feel better even if you don't lose an ounce. You will be much less likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, arthritis, depression. You'll sleep better. And it doesn't cost a cent.

There's a lot a of things that can be done that are not very difficult and can make a really big difference. Of course, get your shots, get vaccination, get a flu shot every year and see the doctor regularly and if you have a problem make sure to get follow up.

The broader point — which came up again and again  in our interview — is that the main threats to health aren't spectacular. People die from heart disease, car accidents, and tobacco a lot more often than they're killed by Ebola, terrorism, and heroin.

The CDC Director's reply reminded me of Michael Pollan's famous, commonsense triplet about diet: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." I asked whether Frieden had similarly concise advice. He did.

"Eat right. Get physical activity. Don't smoke. Alcohol in moderation. Spend time with friends."

Unlike a lot of health treatments, weird diets, and fancy exercise regimes you'll read about, this advice is backed up by reams of rock-solid evidence — and following it costs next to nothing.

So there it is: in less than 15 words, the US official who probably knows better than anyone else what might kill you explains how to protect yourself.

Here's my full interview with Frieden:


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