TIMI GUSTAFSON | When should you start taking care of your health

In this day and age, we can reasonably assume that most people are familiar with diet- and lifestyle-related recommendations, although they may not always turn those into action. According to recent surveys, more than 80 percent of respondents agreed that health-improving guidelines are important to follow, but not too many were ready or willing to implement them into their own lives. In fact, even high-risk patients with serious health problems saw no need to make major changes in their behavior, although they could clearly benefit from them.

Based on clinical studies, less than three percent of participants consistently followed health instructions that were made available to them or they were aware of.

Worse yet, a Canadian population study found that a substantial portion of heart disease patients seemed oblivious or indifferent to the need for diet- and lifestyle improvements, even after diagnosis and counseling, according to the study report author Dr. Benjamin Hibbert of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. That included warnings about the effects of smoking, alcohol intake, overweight, lack of physical activity, stress, and dietary deficiencies.

And all this while experts keep ringing the alarm bells about the progressive deterioration of public health worldwide due to weight problems and related diseases.

Especially younger people, but also many among the middle-aged, seem unconcerned with health issues commonly (but wrongly) only associated with aging.

Feeling invincible and believing that you can get away with a certain amount of abuse without suffering immediate consequences can be a miscalculation, says Joy Bauer, a nutrition expert on NBC’s Today Show and author of many health and diet-related publications.

The truth is that instead of neglecting your health needs because you are too busy or are having too much fun, you should lay the foundation for a long, healthy, and fulfilling life while you are in your prime, she advises.   

The better shape you are in to begin with, the better you will fare when natural decline eventually sets in later on, experts agree. Weight control and physical fitness are part of that, but also other lifestyle components that may be less obvious.

One of the greatest threats to the aging body is loss of bone density and muscle mass. It cannot be completely prevented, but lifelong strength training and exercise can put you in a better position to slow the process and make the decline less severe, Dr. Andrew Weil, a physician and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona and best-selling author of multiple books on dietary health and healthy aging, suggests.

And not only physical but also mental health matters can and should be addressed and, if necessary, treated as soon as possible. Bouts of anxiety or depression during youth or in midlife ought not to be dismissed as passing phases but taken seriously as potentially early signs of cognitive decline, even dementia.

So, when is a good time to start working on your health and well-being? The answer is — now! No matter your age or where you currently are in life. It can be done in form of radical change or via small incremental steps over time, depending on your temperament and inclinations. But the right time to begin is always now.

TIMI GUSTAFSON, a registered dietitian, health counselor, newspaper columnist, and blogger. She’s the author of “The Healthy Diner — How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun.” Her website is www.timigustafson.com.