Jobs one, two and three for lifelong health

By the time you are reading this article, the stakes establishing the life course of your health have long been set. Your genetic inheritance, location, and family circumstances, combined with a complex set of early life factors determine how your health trajectory will begin. Through childhood and adulthood, you have opportunities to influence your well-being, but in the grand scheme, it’s tinkering at the margins. As you age, the question becomes, what can you do to maximize good health and minimize the impact of the inevitable decline?

Taking good care to avoid the obvious pitfalls is job number one. Parents need to teach children about safety as early in life as possible. And everyone needs to practice safety daily and for all time. If you are smoking, you have failed. If poisons, weapons, or other dangerous items are in reach of children, correct the situation immediately. Practice the basics daily, like looking both ways when you cross the street.

Using common sense isn’t enough. We need to accept the extraordinary role of luck in our lives – for better or for worse. That said, you can influence your luck if you work at it. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case with your health. Empathy is owed to those who have done the right things and still get delt the bad luck of a terminal cancer diagnosis. It’s not fair when tragedy strikes.

What’s job number two, after basic safety and preventing injuries? It’s establishing the best possible conditions for healthy development in early life. Prospective parents, take note. Choose your partners well, know your medical histories as you prepare to have children, and be sure to follow pre-conception advice – e.g., no smoking or drinking, and folic acid in the diet.

Thereafter, one of the most marvellous processes that is crucial to lifelong health is the establishment of the intestinal microbial environment during the initial thousand days of life. A lively community of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa make their home in the gut, on the skin, in the eyes and mouth, in the respiratory and genitourinary tracts. Many factors influence the development of microbiota and cognitive development through, in part, how we feed the gut-brain connection.

Breast milk is the ideal start, followed by the introduction of a variety of solid foods. Exposure to infections plays a role. Use of antibiotics is a consideration. Mental health is key too. A crying baby serves a natural purpose of priming normal functions. But it shouldn’t be a surprise that an absence of comforting will impair healthy development.

Job number three is continuing job number two – personal health promotion for the rest of one’s life. This means following a healthy lifestyle of eating well, exercising regularly, getting good sleep, socializing with friends, and so on.

And finally, in the years when aging becomes more apparent, the business of tinkering at the margins can take on greater urgency. For the lucky and the healthy, each additional trip around the sun comes along in natural order. For those who need to fight a little harder against mounting health problems, there should be thanks for the cures, patches, and hopeful interventions that seek to extend the journey.

Next week, we’ll have a closer look at the gut-brain microbiome, and what you can to do feed the connection.  This is a good area for personal health investment as a ballooning body of research points to new treatments for chronic stress and other mental health issues, inflammation, immune health, digestive health, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and cancer.  Much promise, indeed.

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