Improving your odds

When each of my three kids was born, I did everything possible to breast feed them as long as I could. I had researched enough to know that this ancient, natural, miraculous process of nourishing human offspring made all the sense in the world and would provide the best start for my kids.

In addition to building their little immune systems and brains, it had the benefit of helping me shed pregnancy pounds more quickly and bond beautifully with my babies.

It wasn’t always easy, especially given the lack of support by health care providers in the hospital and the public in general here in the Valley. When I returned to work it was especially challenging, pumping and storing and keeping up with the rhythm of a baby’s schedule which has nothing in common with my work schedule.

I have no regrets about the effort I put into this healthy start for my kids, but I do have to admit I felt a little gypped when one of my kids developed a skin allergy as a toddler!

“I thought breastfeeding for that first year was supposed to protect him from allergies?” I reprimanded Dr. Carmen Rocco, my supportive pediatrician who had encouraged me to breastfeed. “Why would he have allergies?”

She calmly responded that there are other factors involved, like the fact that his mom has asthma and his dad has skin allergies too.

“Consider how much worse his allergies would be had you not breastfed?”

She was right, and he was fine in the end, growing out of his eczema by the time he was 8 or so with no other allergy issues.

This is how we often feel when it comes to making healthy lifestyle choices. We’ve all heard the smoker who justifies the habit by telling us about his grandfather who “smoked all his life and lived to 90 without lung cancer.”

The fact is conditions like my son’s allergies, as well as diseases like cancer, diabetes and hypertension, are influenced by many factors, some genetic and some environmental. While there is a large body of scientific research showing that eating diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and low-fat dairy is part of the prescription for health.

Your odds for a healthy weight and healthy life increase dramatically when you throw in regular exercise, avoid smoking, use a seatbelt, and avoid too much sugar and processed food. But even all of these changes don’t guarantee a disease free body.

So what do we say to the folks who challenge making the healthy changes because they know a marathon runner who died of breast cancer or heart disease?

While circumstances and factors out of our control can get in the way of a healthy life, it doesn’t mean that what you eat and how active you are don’t matter.

These habits help us feel better, have more energy, regardless of what eventually kills us. And while healthy habits may or may not prevent your individual cancer, stroke or diabetes, we know that a healthy lifestyle does prevent and control these diseases in thousands of others, so why not increase your odds?

The reality is that even losing 5-10 percent of your body weight (if you are overweight) can greatly improve your health.

Life is unpredictable in many ways, so why not help load the odds in your favor by making small changes to what you eat and being more physically active, because Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!).