A recent study on the health of Americans was a real shocker. It turns out we are far less healthy today than we were 20 years ago, according to the findings published in the American Journal of Medicine. While most of us are living longer, we are getting more serious diseases that are directly related to our lifestyles.

Overall, Americans received a C minus on their lifestyle habits from the study's lead researcher, who also noted that there's a tendency to believe that just taking a pill for high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol will compensate for a poor diet and lack of exercise. But the good news is that you can change your lifestyle fairly easily, and there are many free or low-cost resources that can help. My advice…

  • Get creative with exercise. If you're not exercising, whatever your excuse may be, there's a solution. For example, my wife recognized that she has a hard time maintaining her enthusiasm for her daily walks, so she persuaded a group of her friends to start an informal walking club. They go out every day and motivate each other to stay active. Many large malls sponsor walking programs inside the mall that typically begin each day just before the stores open. (Contact the management office of your local mall to find out whether it offers a walking program.) Older adults can find exercise programs designed specifically for people with arthritis or other physical limitations by contacting their local Area Agency on Aging (find your county's agency in the phone book) or go to www.eldercare.gov for a list of agencies.
  • Get smarter about nutrition. The first step toward improving your eating habits is to get sound nutritional advice geared to your age and your specific health profile, including foods that contain optimal levels of vitamins and minerals and that help maximize your immunity. Many large hospitals offer free nutrition classes as well as weight-loss programs. Helpful resources also can be found online, such as the Web site www.healthcastle.com, which is operated by registered dietitians...or www. nutrition.gov (sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture).
  • Don't be sidelined by a chronic health problem. US Senator Arlen Specter, who is now 80 years old, plays a game of squash nearly every day and did so while twice being treated for cancer over a four-year period. If you have a chronic condition, such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer, it doesn't mean that you should turn into a couch potato. In addition to asking your doctor about activities that can help you stay in better shape, contact your local chapter of the American Heart Association (www.heart.org)...the American Diabetes Association (www. diabetes.org)...or the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org) for information about local programs focusing on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and check their web sites for online resources.

Remember, there's no pill that can take charge of your health the way you can.

Doctors Do Not Always Inform Patients of Abnormal Test Results

One of every 14 cases of abnormal test results were not reported to patients, says a Weill Cornell Medical College study that looked at 23 physician practices across the country. In some practices, the failure rate was zero, while in others it was as high as one in four. Call your doctor's office if you do not get test results within one week.

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