The keys to a long and healthy life

Just before the whirlwind that is December 2022 happened, I was in the Sofitel Sukhumvit ballroom for the keynote address of Dr. Jirí Dvorák who presented his recently published book, Health Brings Wealth, during the Fit Summit in Thailand.

Prof. Dvorák is a senior consultant in Neurology and Research at the Spine Center in Zürich, where he was chairman for 35 years. He is a professor of neurology at the University of Zurich and a consultant at BDMS Wellness Clinic in Bangkok. He also served as chief medical officer of the World Football Federation’s FIFA for 22 years.

He represented his co-authors Dr. Sergio Fazio, Dr. Tanupol Virunhagarun and Dr. Keith Black. The four authors represent different specialties: neurology, neurosurgery, cardiology, regenerative medicine and sports medicine.

Their book is a compilation of simple, easy-to-understand, recent and updated information about preventive medicine and health. The authors stated that the coronavirus highly affected those who were not physically active. Only six percent of those consistently active were hospitalized for the virus based on a study of 48,440 cases published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

“Health Brings Wealth is our gift to the public at large, with medical knowledge in everyday language, simple illustrations, tips for daily life, patient stories, and recipes… we would like readers to remember that it’s never too early or too late to start living a healthy lifestyle — appreciating how health brings purposeful wealth to life,” the authors said in the preface.

Daily exercise, good sleep, balanced nutrition and a peaceful mindset — these are the basic ingredients for a healthy and long life. Sounds easy and simple yet modern technology and current societal values ​​have successfully skewed the public’s preference to eat unhealthy food, be inactive, distracted and sleep poorly.

Dr. Dvorák told the audience that he cycled to and from school, seven kilometers in 20 minutes each way. He emphasized that his active lifestyle, stripped of modern-day conveniences, kept him fit as well as developed his social interaction skills to be part of a community. He realized when he became a doctor that he was taking one “exercise pill” in the morning and one in the afternoon, which is vital to health. One or two pills of exercise a day is necessary for good health. One pill is equivalent to 30 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise. He was warned that to do more than one hour a day is not necessarily beneficial and may even cause harm or injury.

Dr. Jirí Dvorák took centerstage in the latest Fit Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, to share his recently published book with three other renowned medical experts.

In 2018, he said that he attended a reunion of his primary class in Hulin (a town in the former Czechoslovakia). Out of 116 students, 48 ​​had already passed away. Only two — him included — could be considered healthy since they are not under maintenance prescription or a doctor’s care. How did such a thing happen? He lamented that the majority became sedentary and most did not take more than 1,000 steps a day on the average.

“Children and adolescents today typically adopt a lifestyle that is engrossed with smartphones and video games, distracting them from reality and the layered experiences of life. Junk food and sugary drinks are also a typical habit. The biggest threat for younger generations today, however, is physical inactivity. The rate of child and adolescent obesity with all the secondary complications is on the rise; it is a new and silent pandemic that is developing despite loud warnings from the medical and scientific communities,” Dr. Dvorák warned.

We know that there are four primary vital signs: body temperature, pulse rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. Oxygen saturation has also been considered in recent years. But Dr. Dvorák agrees with making exercise measurement a fifth vital sign. He believes that a person’s medical records should indicate how many minutes of physical activity they do in a day and in a week.

“For adults aged 18-64 years, the WHO (World Health Organization) recommends 150-300 minutes of moderate, or 75-150 minutes of vigorous, aerobic physical activity per week. The aerobic exercise should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes’ duration, and for additional health benefits adults may increase their moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week to 300 minutes, or their vigorous aerobic physical activity to 150 minutes, or the equivalent a combination of both moderate and vigorous activity,” he clarified.

Dr. Dvorák ended his very informative talk by sharing the 5 pillars of health that he and his family subscribed to. First, sleep before 10 pm every night and rest for 8 to 9 hours. Second, exercise daily for a minimum of 30 minutes. Third, stick to a balanced diet with quality foods; lose any excess weight and fat. Proportion-wise, your plate should be 50% vegetables, 25% protein and 25-percent carbohydrates.

Fourth, manage your stress with mindfulness, meditation, yoga and tai chi. Fifth, avoid risky substances such as smoking, alcohol and PM 2.5 pollution. The latter is produced by emissions from the combustion of gasoline, oil, diesel fuel or wood.

Dr. Dvorák ended his presentation by discussing the five pillars of health. These are exactly the lifestyle tweaks we need to do for a healthier mind, body and spirit in 2023.

Dr. Dvorák reminded us that lifestyle habits and choices affect the deterioration rate of body cells. Through the years, an evidence-based medical sub-specialty evolved and is now known as lifestyle medicine. This specialization focuses on six areas to improve health.

One, eat healthy, particularly organic and plant-based. Two, increase physical activity. Three, develop strategies to manage stress. Four, maintain positive relationships. Five, improve sleep. Six, avoid risky substances.

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