Cultivate healthy habits
Anyone can prevent or reverse chronic disease with nine simple diet, exercise and mind-body practices. That’s the premise of Kirk Hamilton’s self-published book, Staying Healthy in the Fast Lane: 9 Simple Steps to Optimal Health. A certified physician’s assistant specializing in nutrition, prevention and integrative medicine, Hamilton drew on 28 years of professional experience to create the plan in his book.
What made you decide to turn your ideas about health into a book?
When you’re in medicine, you talk to patients every day. You say the same things over and over and over again. If you practice some basic lifestyle practices, most people would be in better health. … The basic idea of the book was to put down what [you] say in a concise way so people can help themselves avoid doctors. Like the World Health Organization says, if we just had the correct diet, exercise and didn’t smoke, we could prevent 80 percent of heart disease, 80 percent of Type 2 diabetes, 80 percent of stroke, and 40 percent of cancer. … That’s why I decided to write the book.
If someone was too lazy to implement all nine steps detailed in your book, which two or three would you suggest as absolutely essential?
The first would be to eat [from] the outside [aisles] of a grocery store—no processed foods. When you walk inside a grocery store, eat on the periphery of the grocery store: fruits and vegetables, lean animal protein. I’d skip dairy products. Eat unprocessed whole grains if you can find them. Skip the junk in the middle of the store. … No. 2 is you’ve got to move your body every day. Walking, biking, hiking. Try and move about a half hour a day. My mind-body one would be to just sit quietly for 15 to 30 minutes every day. [It] doesn’t have to be a perfect meditative practice … because a little meditation will occur. Those are the three.
What sort of incentives actually work to keep people active and healthy?
It’s not about the knowledge. It’s about how you incentivize people. I think it should be a national debate, because we have the reverse. Our incentives are to let these [diseases] happen. Either your insurance covers it, or the doctor gets paid for it. … If you get someone feeling well through this lifestyle, then it hooks them. It’s the reward. The reward is to be around for children and grandchildren. … I think the health-care debate should be that staying well is the real health-care reform. We should do everything we can to incentivize that.
Do you think the American lifestyle is the unhealthiest of all developed countries?
Yes and no. I think we waste money. We’re supposedly 37th, or something like that, on how they judge health care. I know a large portion of our gross national product goes to health care. Japan’s down to 8 percent or so. They’re much healthier than we are. We’re obviously doing something wrong. In a free capitalistic society, you can sell anything, whether a lot of it kills you or not. We reimburse for disease. We let them happen.
Which developed country do you think lives the healthiest?
Japan is pretty much there, though as they let the Western lifestyle in, they’re getting [less healthy]. In Okinawa, they have the highest concentration of centenarians in the world. The benefit of their lifestyle is pretty clear: lots of physical labor, good social structure, high plant-based diet, unprocessed foods and fish. Also in Okinawa, they have the highest rates of diabetes and obesity in the younger generations. They have the most per capita fast-food restaurants in Asia. … You see these elders of 100 or so years of age, and [they are] lonely. All of [their] grandchildren and children died. They’re getting our diseases because they’re not living the elders’ lifestyle. They’re choosing to live the extreme Western lifestyle.
How do you teach young children to love healthy food and exercise and to stay away from unhealthy foods that are being advertised to them?
No. 1: The parents have to live the lifestyle. You have to offer it to the child, and you have to live it. You control what’s in the cupboard, in the refrigerator. But you have to believe in it yourself. I realize it’s hard if you’re a single mother and you have three children and you’re working, but you’ll have to believe in yourself and have it in the house. Kids watch what you do.
What’s one common food you recommend people immediately cut back on?
Dairy products—100 percent. I’ve seen more pain and suffering, just symptom-wise. Migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, joint pain—you name a symptom, I’ve seen it. If I had to make one rule, I think everybody should be off it.