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JP Grace: Want to get healthier? Try this trio of habits

Jan. 01, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Wash, floss, walk: How's that for an easy-to-remember healthy lifestyle formula -- one that might be appropriate for a New Year's resolution?

For sure we all need more, but I believe an amazing amount of good can be accomplished for one's physical -- and as a consequence, also mental and emotional -- health by making daily habits of this trio.

Let's go point by point, with a little of my own personal history thrown in.

Wash. Clearly, I'm talking here about much more than your casual shower or wash-up upon rising, and hand washing before meals, then your before-bedtime swabbing of face, neck, arms and legs.

No, the commitment to washing that I invite you to make is something akin to what doctors and nurses in hospitals do. These professionals probably wash their hands and lower arms 20 or 25 times a day (or more!).

For most of my now 70 years on the planet I was distinctly unconverted to the ritual of doing a couple dozen ablutions a day. What could be the point? However, lately I have "seen the light." I am now on board with the idea of washing after petting a dog or cat, washing after blowing my nose or running my hands through my hair, washing after handling any number of items or after meeting people and shaking hands.

And of course after each and every use of the bathroom.

Research has indeed shown that one of the best things you can possibly do to optimize your health, in other words, to ward off disease, is to engage in this degree of hand washing. Plus using antiseptic spray every chance you get (in stores, at the bank, etc.).

To get the full effect, rinse your hands in warm water, apply soap generously and work it in, then rinse off the soap with warm water and blow dry or paper towel dry your hands.

Floss. Unless you're a lifelong flosser, you no doubt, like me, have found that religiously flossing each night before bedtime, tooth by tooth, uppers and lowers, seems to be an exercise in manic tedium that's hard to acquire.

That all changed for yours truly the day at the dentist when it was brought home to me that I had periodontal, or gum, disease and that unless I did something radically different from my usual once-over-lightly with a toothbrush, I would start losing my teeth.

A periodontist, in fact, urged me to let him extract what I called "my $3,500 tooth," because with multiple root canals and crowns, that's what I had into it. No, no, no. ... I did not want all that expensive dental work to be yanked out, and replaced with a $1,600 implant.

What was the alternative? Assiduous brushing, followed by meticulous flossing, followed by antiseptic mouth wash. Day by day, with no skipping. And that is what I have done for the last one year plus -- with astonishing results. I have not only saved that particular tooth but also made my entire mouth -- teeth and gums -- much healthier

Walk. Every day. For at least a mile (more is better) or 30 minutes -- and preferably some of it uphill. Because I have a very energetic shepherd-huskie mix dog, Cooper, and no fenced yard, I find myself, of absolute necessity, walking the aforementioned distance and time every single day. And yes, because of our location on West Pea Ridge, a good bit of my walking is uphill.

This is all to the good. Having gotten used to it, and coming to enjoy it, I wouldn't have it any other way. It certainly has been good for my body. Thank you, Cooper, my fine furry friend.

John Patrick Grace is a former healthcare editor of The Greensboro (N.C.) News and Record. He lives (and walks!) on West Pea Ridge in eastern Cabell County.

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