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NATAROS: Resolving to keep it simple in the new year

The need to understand our health and how to maintain it has never been more important
Dr. Alex Nataros. (Submitted photo)

Medicine is not that complicated. And yet our health-care system makes it so.

My goal when I see patients and write this column is to simplify the issues I spent 10 years training - and the past 10 years working - towards understanding. And to communicate them clearly.

To paraphrase Einstein - who famously sought to communicate The Theory of Relativity - the goal is communicate complex topics in an understandable way. That is genius.

I am no genius, but I try my best with my patients and in my writing.

The need to understand our health and how to maintain it has never been more important: Our social-media driven world is fraught with misinformation. An “Infodemic” that has only worsened through the Covid pandemic. The lack of access to family doctors - a trusted, evidence-based source of health information - has only deepened this cesspool of misinformation. Hopefully this column helps cut through the clouds.

Staying healthy is a laudable goal. Sometimes made more difficult by marketing, hucksters and well-meaning but misinformed people.

New Years Resolutions are an important time to reflect and set goals. We can all do better.

Nail the basics: Sleep, balanced diet, exercise, healthy relationships, limiting alcohol and not smoking.

Sleep is a superpower. Some “very important people” tout how little sleep they need and how busy they are. That is not something to brag about. Restful sleep maintains and recharges health. Optimize it by avoiding stimulants late in the day, use the bed only for sleep and sex, and don’t lie in bed counting down the hours if you can’t fall asleep. Meditation works. So does a small dose of melatonin if you’re really stuck.

Diets abound. But no diet has shown more evidence in maintaining health and reversing chronic disease than a balanced, low carbohydrate “Mediterranean diet”. Think of Greece/Italy and fill your shopping cart accordingly. The updated Canada Food Guide is an excellent starting point. Ultimately the best “diet” is the one you can maintain longterm. And remember a healthy relationship with food is key to mental health.

Movement is medicine. There’s no shortcut. Sitting is the new smoking. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic exercise 3-5 times per week. That means exercising to the point where you are slightly short of breath but could maintain a conversation. Having trouble getting motivated? Get or borrow a dog.

Loneliness is (also) the new smoking. It’s associated with significantly increased risks of cancer and chronic disease. It’s also never been more common. We can heal each other and our world by building community. Meaningful simple interactions - on the street or at the grocery store - matter. Learn and protect your boundaries - sometimes intentional solitude is healthier than toxic relationships.

Alcohol is a social lubricant. Our colonial Anglo-Saxon roots have normalized it to frequent pathology. No one need explain why they don’t drink. Alcohol is a carcinogen. That means it causes cancer and there is no “safe” amount. But I still enjoy it.

Alcoholism is an epidemic. Especially in our north island communities. We need to normalize not drinking.

Smoking nicotine is still bad. So is vaping. So is cannabis. Period.

As for quick fixes, most supplements are bunk. Living in northern latitudes, a standard dose of Vitamin D 1000U daily is a good idea through winter months. Otherwise a balanced diet is all you need, unless instructed by your healthcare practitioner. And don’t get me started on the BS that is “cleanses”/detoxes.

Setting goals isn’t easy. But goals become practices which become habits which become lifestyle. Longevity and health-span are largely within your control. Much as bad habits can be contagious, so can healthy lifestyle shifts. Do it for your friends and family. Choose to make better choices.

My goal is to nurture healthier patients and healthier communities. Keep It Simple, Silly.

Let’s do it, together.

For ideas/topics you would like explored, please email suggestions to: or find me online Facebook/Twitter “Alex Nataros MD” Note this is Not for personal medical questions – for these you should present to clinic/emerg or call 8-11.

Dr. Alexander Nataros is a new resident to Port Hardy and will be writing regularly for the North Island Gazette

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