When Looking Healthy Doesn’t Mean You’re Healthy

when-looking-healthy-doesnt-mean-youre-healthy_300The average person claims he’s healthy, though maybe he needs to lose a few pounds. And if you look at a crowd of people, you may assume it’s easy to spot those who are healthy, right?

Well, not really.

In previous articles I have stated how you can be trim, thin and physically toned and still be unhealthy. A recent study looking at young, “in-shape” military personnel shows just how unhealthy a fit person can actually be.

What It Means To Be Healthy

Despite what many people believe, health is not the absence of disease. It is the maintenance of a wellness state, regardless of whether you have been diagnosed with a disease. You can be disease-free and still unhealthy, suffering acute or chronic headaches, back pain, anxiety, insomnia, acid reflux and other symptoms.

No matter how healthy people look and feel on the outside of their bodies, their insides can be in a state of ill health or disease, even if they don’t know it (yet). Examples include: high cholesterol, heart disease, tumors, leaky gut and anything else on the spectrum of silent killers. A new study of arteriosclerosis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), offers good evidence for this fact.

Arterial Health

Healthy arteries are essential to a healthy body. Actually, they are vital. We get our nutrients from the food and beverages we consume, and we get our oxygen from the air we breathe. Oxygen and nutrients enter the blood to nourish our bodies and keep them alive and well. Blood is transported from the heart throughout the body through blood vessels, known as arteries. (It returns to the heart in the veins.) Arteries can, therefore, be thought of as tunnels through which blood transports oxygen and nutrients from the heart to the entire body.

When arteries are healthy, they are flexible and elastic. When these blood tunnels become blocked or clogged, the blood becomes sluggish and slow moving; the body does not get the fresh supply of oxygen and nutrients it needs to thrive. Eventually, too much pressure on the arterial walls (i.e., high blood pressure) causes the walls to become thicker and rigid, reducing the flow of blood throughout the body. This symptomatic change in the arteries is called arteriosclerosis.

There is a type of arteriosclerosis called atherosclerosis, a type of arterial hardening resulting from the accumulation of fats and cholesterol in and on the arterial walls. This arterial plaque can restrict blood flow or worse: They can burst and cause a blood clot.

The recent study published in JAMA conclusively found that among our young, fit military, a good percentage are unhealthy. Although they look and feel healthy and fit, they suffer undetected atherosclerosis, a disease usually reserved (so we’ve thought) for sedentary middle-agers.

The Study

Decades ago, autopsies of U.S. service members killed in the Korean and Vietnam wars showed atherosclerosis in military-aged men and women in their 20s and 30s. A recent study set out to estimate the prevalence of coronary and aortic atherosclerosis among today’s military personnel.

To do this, a “cross-sectional study of all U.S. service members who died of combat or unintentional injuries in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn between October 2001 and August 2011 and whose cardiovascular autopsy reports were available at the time of data collection in January 2012” was carried out. The study accounted for a great number of factors, such as age, sex, race, ethnicity, education, occupation, service branch, military rank and much more. It was thorough and revealing.

Scary Results

A key characteristic of military personnel, many people think, is their high level of fitness. Boot camps where members of the military train are grueling. Military men and women are supposed to be in tip-top shape to be able to do what they do, especially those deployed in combat. But the study results show that obvious physical fitness is not an indicator of real health. Interiorly, this research showed, a significant percentage of these young, fit service members are not healthy; and they have potentially deadly hardening and blockage of the arteries.

Of the 3,832 service members included in the analysis, the mean age was 25.9 years (range, 18-59 years) and 98.3 percent were male.

The prevalence of evident coronary atherosclerosis was 8.5 percent; severe coronary atherosclerosis was present in 2.3 percent, moderate in 4.7 percent and minimal in 1.5 percent.

Service members with atherosclerosis were significantly older (mean age, 30.5 years) than those without (mean age, 25.3 years).

Comparing atherosclerosis prevalence among with those with no cardiovascular risk factor diagnoses, there was a greater prevalence among those with a diagnosis of dyslipidemia (50 percent), hypertension (43.6 percent) or obesity (22.3 percent).

Frightening Numbers

These numbers and percentages can seem overwhelming and confusing; and they are, indeed, scary. Among deployed U.S. service members who died of combat or unintentional injuries and received autopsies, about one in 12 suffered atherosclerosis in one or more coronary (heart) arteries. This is unsettling. Blockage and hardening of the arteries cannot be felt until it’s too late. None of these fit-for-service individuals had been diagnosed with or were told they were at risk for developing heart disease.

Lifestyle Changes Make Great Changes

While arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis are potentially deadly, the good news is that they can be reduced and prevented with modification in lifestyle and also through medication and surgery (if need be).

Lifestyle changes include altering your diet to reduce high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. You should eat more whole grains and fresh vegetables, legumes and fruit and less fatty and fried foods or those containing saturated fats.

You also must become more physically fit and less sedentary. Both food and exercise help with weight management. Stress reduction and not smoking are also essential lifestyle changes that need to be made to help reduce the risk of arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis.

By changing our eating habits, exercising, reducing stress and altering what we put into our bodies, we can prevent and reduce the risk of hardening and blockage of the arteries, heart disease and stroke. Even if you look fit and feel healthy and have strong lung capacity, you may still be at risk. This disease is silent. Don’t let it sneak up on you.

The study abstract can be found here.


Dr. Mark Wiley

By Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach. Dr. Wiley has written 14 books and more than 500 articles. He serves on the Health Advisory Boards of several wellness centers and associations while focusing his attention on helping people achieve healthy and balanced lives through his work with Easy Health Options® and his company, Tambuli Media.