Hi my name is Chris. I spend my days with people who would rather not see me and would like to forget that we have ever met. I am a Cardiologist; thus, I care for people who are having or have had a heart attack. As you can imagine, this is a pretty traumatic and life changing event and so most people would like to forget it. Unfortunately, it is not so easy and cannot be undone. You see, America is sick. We have skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. These diseases are called “risk factors” for coronary artery disease, so your risk of having a heart attack directly relates to how many of these you have. These diseases are also called “Diseases of Western Civilization”, because the incidence of them increases with industrialization and changing dietary patterns. So, to take the next step, the incidence of coronary artery disease increases with industrialization and changing dietary patterns. That is to say, that if you were to look at populations of native individuals around the globe they tend not to have widespread coronary and vascular disease, like we do.
I don’t recall where I first heard the term “Dying over Decades”, but when I did it immediately made sense to me. The average person in our population will begin do develop the risk factors in their 50’s or 60’s and will be fed a handful of pills to “treat” the problem. I use the term “treat” because you are addressing the symptom and not the underlying problem. Pills to lower the blood pressure, pills to lower the cholesterol, and pills to lower the blood sugar. This makes the patient and doctor feel better because all the numbers are better but the primary problem has not been addressed. In this concept, the patient takes a handful of pills every day but continues to decline over decades until they finally succumb to one of the complications of the above-mentioned diseases. Think about it, you have seen it, maybe in a relative or neighbor and on some level, you knew all was not well.
If you spend much time on the internet or watching TV, you will quickly find somebody proclaiming that they have the magic supplement or dietary prescription to restore youth and cure all your ills. The truth is a little simpler and a lot more boring. If you were to look at the populations of people around the globe who do not have the diseases I spoke of, you would find a very diverse group. The Masai, in Africa, subsist on a diet of blood, milk, and meat. The Inuit, survive on a diet very high in fat. While, the natives of New Guinea eat a diet that is almost exclusively carbohydrate. Yet all of these groups tend not to get coronary artery disease. What can you take from this? Well, my take is that the thing that all of these diets have in common is the absence of calorically dense processed food and sugar. So, in my opinion, America is fat and sick because we consume excess calories due to our love of calorically dense processed food and sugar. Don’t believe me? Go to the 5 Guys website and add up the calories of your favorite meal and tell me that you are not exceeding what your daily caloric requirements are. Once you do this enough, your insulin levels begin to rise and then high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes follow.
What is the alternative? Well, the alternative is to eat a diet that consists of real food. You know what I mean when I say real food, that is food that has either grown in the ground, on a tree, or had a face and/or a soul (I am not advocating for cannibalism, you know what I am talking about). If you tell me that you are vegetarian or vegan, cool, good for you as you are avoiding all the nasty processed foods and sugars out there. If you tell me that you are Paleo, great, you are avoiding all the nasty processed foods and sugars out there. There is no magic diet, the correct diet is the one that you can adhere to forever, thus it is not a diet but a lifestyle.
Since this is a blog for a gym, you are probably wondering if I am ever going to talk about exercise. Well, believe it or not exercise alone is not a very good weight loss tool. What I mean, is that exercise without dietary change is not particularly beneficial for weight loss. I cannot even say that exercise will make you live longer. Right now, you are all probably asking yourselves why you have been torturing yourself all these years. Well, it may not make you live longer, but exercise will make you live better. The hallmark of aging is loss of strength and mobility and taken to the extreme manifests itself in an elderly person not being able to get out of a chair or off of the floor after a fall. This is usually the reason that people end up in a nursing home. Thus, the exercises we do should be aimed at maintaining muscle mass and strength as we age. Corey Howard, from Results Personal Training in Sioux Falls, knows this and that is why he forces you to squat, with bodyweight, with kettlebells, and with barbells. So, the next time you are complaining, remember that he is making sure that you will be able to get off the floor or out of a chair when you get older.
We all have a choice to make and that choice is, to live the standard American diet and lifestyle and “Die over Decades”, or to opt out and live a life of wise dietary choices and exercise. In the end, we will all still meet the same fate, but by choosing the latter the end will be like the final missed rep on a heavy set, a momentary struggle and then fail, as opposed to a lifetime of pills and sickness. I would like to commend all of you for choosing to invest in yourselves and your health.
Christopher Paa M.D. FACC
BS Biology Creighton University 1991
MD Creighton University 1995
University of Wisconsin, Internal Medicine 1995-98
Creighton University, Cardiology 1998-2001
NorthCentral Heart Institute 2001- present