Personal health and well-being are greatly influenced by environment, both internal and external. Internal environmental factors include the genetic traits, familial tendencies, and physical and psychological characteristics inherent in each person. External environmental factors may be more easily defined; they include the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the surroundings in which we live and work.

Unfortunately, internal environmental factors are not easily controlled, changed, or altered. Individuals are unable to change their genetic makeup; however, through genetic engineering, it is possible that they may alter the genetic makeup of their offspring. Familial tendencies are almost as difficult to influence as genetics, and it is known that children often reflect the traits of their parents. Physical and psychological characteristics and attitudes can be altered; but deliberate, consistent, and continuous efforts must be instituted before change can occur. Some, but not all, external environmental influences are more easily managed. A conscious effort may be made to refrain from smoking, but not everyone can leave his or her job working in a coal mine. The air is cleaner in Portland, Oregon, than in New York City, but everyone cannot live in Oregon. Food may be purer with no preservatives or additives, but that also creates a risk of food poisoning. Should the government control the spraying of fruits and vegetables with pesticides? Should all fruits and vegetables be organic?

In the final analysis, individuals must recognize the influences that lifestyle and both internal and external environment have on health. It is important to understand that these factors also greatly affect disorders and diseases of the body.

Value of Good Nutrition

Gluttony is not a secret vice.

“You are what you eat”—how many times has that phrase been heard? There is logic in advice such as “Beware of saturated fats,” “Avoid refined sugar,” and “Low salt, or no salt,” so why does eating often get out of control? Perhaps it comes from the philosophy that individuals should eat all the food from their plates. It may occur because food is used as a reward and to relieve emotions or physical pain. Improper nutrition may result in disorders or diseases. Bowel cancer is more common among groups of people who consume high amounts of animal fat and little fiber. There also is evidence that breast cancer may be linked to a high-fat/low-fiber dietary pattern and that where there is high meat consumption, cancer mortality rates are correspondingly high.

The Dietary Goals for Americans, adapted from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, includes the ABCs with the following suggestions:

A. Aim for Fitness

  • Aim for healthy weight.
  • Be physically active each day.

B. Build a Healthy Base

  • Let the Food Pyramid guide choices.
  • Choose a variety of whole grains daily.
  • Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Keep food safe for eating.

C. Choose Sensibly

  • Choose a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and moderate in total fat.
  • Choose beverages and foods to moderate intake of sugars.
  • Choose and prepare foods with less salt.
  • Drink alcoholic beverages only in moderation, if at all.

It is important to realize that individuals have the power to improve their lifestyle by eating properly each and every day. Good nutrition can make a difference—if not in prolonging life, at least in enabling individuals to face life’s stresses with greater ease.

Stress and Distress

It is generally believed that biological organisms require a certain amount of stress in order to maintain their well-being. Stress is always present. “Good” stress enables the body to meet the challenges of everyday activity. For example, stress keeps individuals alert when driving in heavy traffic or helps them respond to needs of family members in crises. Without a correct balance of stress, people would be unable to respond to any stimuli.

Distress, however, tends to be a negative influence. When stress occurs in quantities that the system cannot handle, it may produce pathological changes. These stressors can be either a person or a condition; some examples of stressors are children, spouses, bosses, unemployment, weather, traffic, noise, money, school, environment, retirement, divorce, death, disease—any change that occurs in life. The amount of distress experienced depends a great deal on how individuals respond to these stressors. The recognition of stressors in life and their subsequent management constitute one of the keys to a healthy lifestyle. It has been shown that good nutrition, proper exercise, and a quality support system help alleviate distress.