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Ep. 17 – Lifestyle changes for the new year

On this first Straight Talk on Health episode of the new year Dr. Chet looks at a question that he got from a long time listener. The answer to the question can lead to a whole different look at lifestyle over a lifetime

Welcome to Straight Talk on Health, I’m your host Dr. Chet Zelasko. Together with WGVU in Grand Rapids, Michigan I examine the latest and greatest in the world of health. Whether it's research that makes headlines, another miracle diet, a new supplement or an exercise trend. I look at the science behind them and let you know whether it's real or not. You can check out other things that I do on my website drchet.com, and sign up for my free emails.

Happy New Year! We have made it. 2023 is upon us. And you know, at the beginning of a year everything seems obtainable. Optimism reigns supreme. Whatever you think you can do seems possible. And so typically this is where I would most likely guide you so that you could set some goals for 2023, some things that are reasonable. And I mean do that but I'd like to approach things in a slightly different way.

Now, I’m a health expert, but I'm far short of perfect at you having the best lifestyle. I’m not what I used to be back when I weighed close to 240 pounds, could eat 5,000 calories a day, drank close to a 6-pack per day of Sam Adams Boston Lager, the only thing I ever drank, and ran an average of 5 miles a day. But you know what? Those days are over. I’ve eliminated a lot of things as I've gotten older. One day I just woke up and decided it didn't want to drink anymore. Couldn't waste the first couple hours a day recovering from the day before. So I just stopped and I don’t even remember when that was, it wasn't that important of a thing.

But here's the thing. This time I'm gonna take a slightly different approach. I was asked a question that I gave an immediate answer to and I'd like to do it for you here. And here was the question: If you could change just one thing, what would you do different if you could do your life over again? And without hesitation, what I said was I would get to a normal weight and stay there. And when would I do that? Well, in my 20's, if I could, my early 30's, because I think that's when things really start to go downhill. But, you know, when everything else, drinking alcohol, smoking, not eating enough fruits and vegetables, of all the things that you could do for your health, that's the one thing that I think has more dramatic impact long-term on your health than anything else.

Now, why would I say that? Well, I mean, the list of things that you can do to improve your health is a long list. When you think about it, probably the worst thing you can do to yourself is smoke. Smoking is really, really bad. You know, there's nothing that kills the good cholesterol faster than cigarette smoking. It isn't so much the cancer it is the other things. And let me just paint this image for you. You have red blood cells - in those red blood cells you have hemoglobin now hemoglobin attaches to oxygen and it will carry it from your lungs to the rest of your body. That's how your body operates, it requires oxygen to produce energy. And how that happens is very elegant process and there's no way you could you give a visual for it for you. But here's the thing: When you smoke cigarettes, you create a lot of carbon monoxide, carbon monoxide binds to that same hemoglobin molecule except it doesn't release it. That means that that red blood cell is forever going to be attached, at least part of it, maybe all of it, to that carbon monoxide, not dioxide, carbon monoxide. And that means that when you think about it, that all your blood cells are replaced probably, what, every 4 to 6 weeks, every one of them is, if you were to quit smoking right now, that's how long it would take you to get your oxygenation levels back to where they should be.

Now, If you remember back when you were hit with COVID one of the things that people did was check their oxygen, their O2 pulse to see what their oxygen levels were. For cigarette smokers they were already behind because it already captured those red blood cells and never released it. So smoking, we think, yes, it's a toxic atmosphere. Yes, it can create an atmosphere where can cause cancer. Yes, all those things are true, but it's the physical effects that occur that can impact your fitness level and your ability to exercise. Right away I think that's the worst thing. Not eating fruits and vegetables? There are plenty of people that don't eat fruit and vegetables and in an upcoming show I’m going to talk about your micro biome and how important that is. But, you know, you do the best that you can. As far as alcohol is concerned, alcohol does seem to have some good benefits in it. There are certain polyphenols in there that may be beneficial. The problem is that you've got a drink so many of them, you need to get other sources of them. You know, when you think about it, drinking black tea drinking green tea, those are your highest sources of polyphenols. But they have been demonstrated to show that they will help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Sedentary living? Well, you know, I'll tell you, that's never been a problem in my life since my 30's. And, you know, in graduate school I woke up one morning on January 1st, 1982 and I started running that day, which was like the blizzard that recently happened here in the Grand Rapids area. It was a day like that in Lansing and I got my 3 miles and I haven't stopped exercising since. But the problem is, is that being consistent is the is the challenge for most people. There's nothing that improves your health more than that.

But why is excess body weight so bad? Why I picked that? Why did I identify that is one of the things that I would change and work my tail off to maintain? Let me give you just one example from the metabolic perspective. When you make too much body fat, what's going to happen is it means you're going to have too many triglycerides. When you have too many triglyceride, and I’m not just talking about all the ones that are floating around in your bloodstream. Yes, that happens. But also that means you're going to have more to store and that means you can create new fat cells. You know, it's funny. It's very, very difficult to create new muscle cells that can be done but it’s really, really tough. You can create new fat cells much, much easier.

So what does that mean? Well, it means that you're going to store more fat. When you store more fat, you end up making more cholesterol because each one of those, they call it triglyceride for a reason. There are 3 long chain fatty acids and the way that they are cut apart, they can elegantly, in very unique process, make cholesterol. Now what happens when you make cholesterol? You increase some of the steroid hormones and, you know, men you might think, well, that's got to be a good thing maybe we’ll increase testosterone levels. No. The first thing that you make is estrogen. So the heavier that you are, the higher your estrogen levels are. Now, we won't get into what happens if you exercise yada yada but here's the thing: with the increased steroid hormones there's one that we don't think of as being steroid, but it is. And that's cortisol. Cortisol is part of the fight or flight mechanism. And so what that means is your base levels of cortisol in your body are higher. And this has an effect on your body to where, think of it is constantly wearing you out. That's the net effect of it. So that's just one of the things that happens.

You know, there's an increased stress on your joints, would I have had to have a knee replacement if hadn’t run all those miles with the excess weight that I was at? How about the amount of blood vessels? Well, you know, this one is always interesting for me. You never know exactly what the science says about it. Some say that there's a mile of blood vessels in a pound of fat. Some say it's up to 5. I saw one that says it's up to 50. You know, look, it really doesn't matter but all of those blood vessels whether be it a mile or be it 5, your heart has to force blood through those blood vessels. And that's a challenge. Now, does it do it every beat? No, but that's live tissue. It requires blood flow. And so the more fat you have the more strain you put in your heart. There's an increased risk of type 2 diabetes without question that's related to excess body weight. So, the number of things go on and on. I got an obesity textbook when I was in grad school, actually is the first book ever bought for grad school. And there was a list of over 100 things that are impacted by excess body weight. When I look at it today with all the things we know, it's probably 2 to 3 times that list. So if I had my druthers, and what I meant to challenge you to do is get to a normal weight and stay there.

So what does that mean? That means a body mass index less than 25.0. So for me at my now, whopping 5 foot 8, maybe a little more than that, that would be about 165 pounds. The approach? Well, it's going to be very simple and eat less processed foods. Now I’m not going to go crazy and eat only raw foods or anything like that. What I mean is: cook from scratch when you can. And even if that’s biscuits and gravy, you're not going to do that every day, be reasonable.

But the simplest approach? Move from a dinner plate to a salad plate, that's it people. It's not complicated. It's just common sense. No fads, no keto, no Mediterranean, just do something that's reasonable and try to get to a normal body weight and then maintain it. And that's my tip for you to start off 2023. Until next time this is Doctor Chet Zelasko saying health is a choice people, choose wisely today and every day.

Narr: Straight Talk on Health with Dr. Chet Zelasko was recorded in the studios of WGVU Public Radio in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The views and opinions expressed on Straight Talk on Health are not necessarily those of WGVU, its underwriters or Grand Valley State University. Episodes are found at wgvunews.org and wherever you get your podcasts, please rate and subscribe.

Dr. Chet Zelasko is a scientist, speaker, and author. Dr. Chet has a Ph.D. and MA in Exercise Physiology and Health Education from Michigan State University and a BS in Physical Education from Canisius College. He’s certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a Health and Fitness Specialist, belongs to the American Society of Nutrition, and has conducted research and been published in peer-reviewed journals. You can find him online at drchet.com.
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