Coach Tom’s Corner

Don’t play in traffic with your health



A friend of mine recently posted an interesting infographic on social media showing a year-to-date time-lapse of various causes of death globally. It presents COVID-19 as initially causing the least number of deaths globally (in January) and subsequently escalating to 345,000 and the No. 1 cause of death by May 24 (Source: public.flourish. studio).

A number of common causes of death were notably absent from the infographic. Missing, for example, was “cardiovascular diseases,” which has held the No. 1 spot for some years. And while I do not have current cardiovascular diseases mortality numbers for the first six months of 2020, mortality due to cardiovascular diseases in 2016 totaled 17.65 million (Source: Wikipedia).

If we assume COVID-19 global mortality remains constant over the next six months, the infographic implies approximately 700,000 COVID-19 deaths globally in 2020. The actual number may be lower or higher but, for simplicity sake, we will assume a constant rate.

If we (for now) accept that forecast, COVID 19 is on track to rank somewhere between “malaria” and “suicide” as a cause of death globally (relative to 2016 data). Extending the comparison further, the forecasted COVID-19 mortality is less than 4 percent that of cardiovascular diseases (2016 data).

I am not attempting to minimize concerns regarding COVID-19. Rather, I want to point out what I perceive to be a current decision paradox many are expressing through their actions: rigorous adherence to mask, distancing and sanitary protocols while not proactively dealing with far more pressing health concerns.

An analogy might be an individual who consistently uses his or her seat belt and observes all traffic laws when driving yet, when not in a vehicle, runs in and out of traffic. While both environments require our attendance, which setting contains the higher risk?

Nevertheless, we often tell ourselves what we want to hear. I do it occasionally, more than I probably should. Presumably, most of us do to some extent. I came across what I took to be an example of this in a recent article discussing intermittent fasting.

In “Intermittent Fasting works for many—not only for weight loss but also for heart health” (Source: Washington Post), columnist Steven Petrow tells us he has been diagnosed as a high risk for a heart attack due to metabolic syndrome, that intermittent fasting would help, but he is not going to engage in the process as he (effectively) likes to eat breakfast. As someone who reads, writes and otherwise engages in health and wellness practices, I was stunned by this column.

Petrow’s description of intermittent fasting is decent and has solid factual support. It is worth a read if you are new to the concept and would like to read some good, high-level information on the topic. I should mention that the term “intermittent fasting” can be somewhat slippery in that all of us, assuming we do not eat constantly, already engage in some form of intermittent fasting. The conventionally accepted versions of intermittent fasting avoid consumption over much larger blocks of time than the traditional three meals and snacks model allows for. Without spending time detailing specific intermittent fasting programs, suffice to say that all intermittent fasting programs work primarily due to a reduction in total consumption.

Anyway, Petrow does a good job on the set-up: • He has been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. • He is at high risk for heart attack. • His cardiologist prescribed intermittent fasting for him. • He provides ample evidence that intermittent fasting will improve his health and lower his risks.

Then comes the surprise ending where he says he will not be engaging in the practice as, among other reasons, “I’ve been trained over many years that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” I forgot to mention, he also provides support that intermittent fasting is beneficial in an era of COVID-19.

Let me sum up this column one more time: The columnist is at risk of a heart attack. His doctor prescribed intermittent fasting. The columnist knows people who have benefitted from intermittent fasting, providing research that supports intermittent fasting and how it helps to ward off COVID-19. The columnist concludes intermittent fasting is not for him.

Does this strike you as paradoxical? Or perhaps self-indulgent? Or does this make sense to you? To me, it is another case of wearing a seat belt when driving or playing in traffic when not. His choice was to avoid the possibility of some mild discomfort (hunger) over the reality of his significant health risks.

From his writing, Petrow seems a thoughtful person. But he also has declared existing, life-threatening health challenges without mention of any affirmative remedies he might be pursuing. I am not particularly advocating for intermittent fasting. It could be that Petrow is proactively tackling his health challenges in some other fashion. However, my impression of the article suggests he is out playing in traffic. In other words, he is unwilling to do what he needs to do for his health, conditional phrasing (“I remain on the fence…”) notwithstanding.

Consider yourself. Do you wear a face mask in public? Are you overweight? Do you adhere to social distancing? Do you smoke? Do you regularly wash your hands? Do you get regular exercise? Three of these are “seat belts” and three of these are “playing in traffic.”

Wear your seat belt and do not play in traffic! Get well, soon!

Consult the Minnesota Department of Health and CDC websites for the latest updates on COVID-19.

Consult with your healthcare professional before starting any weight loss or exercise program. Sources: • 167/?fbclid=IwAR1gfrdqv5lney3ccen3GxOGX9 6nPaCFwUhWODt_ beFCCca6EkMCZy8lsy8 • of_ causes_ of_ death_ by_ rate#/media/File:Leading_ cause_ of_ death_ world.png • intermittent-fasting-works-for-many–notonly for-weight-loss-but-also-for-hearthealth/ 2020/06/12/11420c1c-a4d5- 11ea-b619-3f9133bbb482_ story.html

Tom Duffy is the owner of Good Sports Fitness, a wellness, fitness & athletic conditioning business based in Babbitt, MN. Email:

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