29 Health Facts for 2020

In 2016, just before the last time February had 29 days, I wrote an article entitled “29 Ways to Leap into 2016.” Emily Ramsay, my wonderful colleague at AOPA who is responsible for so many great services for our members, thought it might be fun to recapitulate that approach to runway 29 right. So here we go!

The article four years ago (here’s a link) started off with some fun facts about the calendar and why we have leap years. Suffice it to say that if interested, you can click on the link and see what I had to say – who knows, maybe you will win a game of Trivial Pursuit as a result!

  1. January, month one, is National Blood Donor Awareness month, and it would be great if you registered to donate. Please also consider being an organ donor. The former takes little of your time but can save a life. The latter could save many.

  2. In the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun, 007 learns that the villain, Scaramanga, has polymasia, more than the customary two breasts (or nipples in Mr. Scaramanga’s case). The film gets the facts slightly wrong because Bond, endeavoring to convince someone else that he is the chap with a breast surfeit, applies a Q-supplied nipple between his other two. In fact, additional mammaries develop in a line joining the armpit with the groin. Check your breasts, however many you have, because men also (rarely) get breast cancer. If there’s a family history, ask your doctor about additional screening. The press is reporting how soy products contain isoflavones that mimic estrogen, thereby leading to higher incidence of breast – and prostate – cancer. However, the Japanese, who consume 15 times as much soy as Americans, actually have a lower incidence of breast cancer. Other research suggests soy reduces the virulence of a cancer should it develop. Most of the information fueling concern came from animal studies, but humans aren’t rodents.

  3. Three square meals a day! However, eating when not hungry will induce weight gain. Round plates are more customary than square – choose smaller ones and eat slower so you consume less. Select colorful foods – as long as they are colors found in nature, not a chemistry lab! Diminish how much animal protein you consume and eat more fish than red meat. Avoid bread before the main course and, if eating dessert, apply full focus to truly enjoy and again, eat less. You know the old chestnut (and nuts are a good source of protein): “What do you get if you eat 3.142 pies?” Fat. You get fat. And you thought I would make a pi joke!

  4. There are four chambers of your heart that quietly tap out the rhythm of your life. Look after your heart by exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet, get your lipids checked regularly, discuss your family history with your doctor and obtain further screening if recommended. The only smoking you should be doing is looking smoking hot in your aviator shades and leather jacket. If the rhythm section loses the plot, or one of the fab four quits, it’s not only the end of the Beatles. It’s the end of you.

  5. The fifth month, May, is mental health awareness month. Readers of my AOPA Pilot magazine column know that I have previously addressed depression, suicide, and memory loss. I also recently described how mindfulness, the process of being focused on just one thing, can be a game changer (“Mind the Gap,” AOPA Pilot, December 2019, page 26). I have welcomed this practice into my life and during what has been a rather stressful few years, it has really helped me. I suggest you give it a try.

  6. Every six months see your dentist for a check-up. It will save you future pain from tooth decay and good dental hygiene helps prevent heart disease. Additionally, early signs of oral cancer may be evident, and while your dentist may not hit oil drilling down there, it will save you cash in the future.

  7. This one I am keeping verbatim from 2016: with all this calendar calculus, I am relieved to note that there are still seven days a week. Every healthy endeavor you embark on should be part of your routine every day of the seven days a week and the 365.24 days a year! My mantra? Only exercise on the days you eat!

  8. The old aphorism is “8 hours bottle to throttle,” which is probably not enough. Flying demands ultimate focus and is not compatible with any degree of impairment. Also think about your overall alcohol consumption. As I write this it is “dry January,” and that does not refer to dry martini, dry wine, or hanging yourself out to dry!

  9. Cecum, ascending, hepatic flexure, transverse, splenic flexure, descending, sigmoid, rectum, and anus. The nine parts of the colon and a cancer can appear in any of them. Given that cancers develop in little outgrowths called polyps that are initially benign, get screened with a colonoscopy. It is not the nightmare some people color it to be, and the outcome is likely to be either “great news, you are fine, come back in five years,” or “we found a polyp and removed it so let’s keep a close eye on you,” or finally, “we found an early cancer – good job you got screened.” So talk to your doctor about when you should be screened.

  10. To avoid kidney stones and other diseases, follow my stream of consciousness and aim to drink 8 glasses of 8 fl oz of water daily. A bit of a stretch to fit this into #10, but I got there by multiplying 8 x 8 = 64 and then adding 6 + 4 = 10. It isn’t so easy to come up with a nice flow and find 29 useful things to say. Rock on!

  11. In the periodic table of elements, sodium sits at number 11. Add a touch of chlorine (number 17) and you have good old salt. Although recent research suggests low-salt diets don’t affect heart failure prognosis, it is not ideal for a heart-healthy diet. Salt, fat, and sugar-rich foods are addictive – think French fries – who can eat just one? So, whenever you have a period of time at the table (!) pass on the salt. I did want to write a joke about the periodic table but realized I wasn’t in my element.

  12. Every 12 months make sure you have an appointment with a doctor of optometry. Have your vision checked and ask for a glaucoma and retinal evaluation as this can spot and address early risk for blindness. Other serious diseases may also be diagnosed so it is always better to know, certainly in advance of your aviation medical. So a chap asks a physician in the hospital hallway, “Eye doctor?” and the ophthalmologist responds: “What a coincidence, I doctor too!”

  13. FDA allows up to 13 insect heads per 100 grams of fig paste. Any fruit may have some arthropod residents, so your favorite fig newtons might carry an extra protein surprise. Don’t worry, they are not harmful and if nothing else you can have some fun with your vegan friends.

  14. In my native England there is a measure of weight called a “stone,” which is 14 pounds – on that side of the duck pond one does not weigh 140 pounds, rather “ten stone.” If you want to weigh ten stone and not 14 stone, moderating food intake and balancing it with exercise is the only way. Or weigh. No fad diets. No shortcuts. Eat less; exercise more – it is a simple equation!

  15. On October 15th, 1492, Columbus noted that he had seen an Indian sailing in a canoe with water, food, and tobacco leaves. I adore the Bob Newhart comedy sketch where he plays Sir Walter Raleigh telephoning the Queen to tell her of the discovery of tobacco – it sounds so silly! But then again, smoking is silly. It is daft, in fact. So many diseases are caused by this blight and as pilots, take a leadership position with friends, relatives, and loved ones to avoid it like the plague it is. And as for “vaping,” I am sick of hearing that “it is better than smoking cigarettes.” How about neither?

  16. The term “sweet 16” refers to the NCAA basketball tournament (protected by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association in 1988, referring to its annual championship tournament). The phrase originated in Victorian times and was used to describe a debutante’s “coming out,” when she could start looking for a husband. In those days, the average American consumed around 3.5 ounces of sugar daily; today that has more than doubled. Sugar is behind many ills that befall human flesh – and is ubiquitous. Check out the sugar content in sodas (17 teaspoons in a 20-ounce bottle), “low fat,” yogurt and even barbecue sauce. Do your pancreas, heart, and other organs a favor and don’t be so sweet.

  17. Is of course the age at which one can apply for a private pilot license for powered flight. So, encourage those youngsters you come across to join our merry band. The more of us there are, the stronger our voice in campaigning to retain our flying privileges!

  18. There are 18 letters in the words “systolic & diastolic,” the two measures of your blood pressure. Check these numbers regularly! As critical to your continued survival as how much fuel is in each wing – too little and you are not going anywhere, too much and you are not getting off the ground.

  19. The body mass index (BMI) is a measure evaluating weight in the context of height and 19–25 is the normal range. Below this is underweight, above, overweight, obese, or even morbidly obese. Other factors are important – very muscular individuals may have a high BMI but be perfectly healthy. One can buy an inexpensive weighing scale that connects by Bluetooth to a mobile phone and in mere seconds can analyze other factors such as body fat, water, and so on. A good tool to have – but don’t use it daily to monitor your parameters; once a month is sufficient.

  20. Stroke is responsible for the deaths of around 140,000 Americans yearly – 1 in 20 deaths and a total of 795,000 strokes occur annually – one every 4 minutes! Limit your chance of a stroke by controlling weight, eating a sensible diet, exercising regularly, and monitoring blood pressure and blood lipids. If you have any of these symptoms, act FAST: Facial weakness, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties, Time – get to an emergency room pronto.

  21. In the USA one has to be 21 to drink alcohol and in our culture drinking is associated with social interactions and flirtation. Common courtesy dictates that personal hygiene is a key element to having a productive chat with someone and halitosis, bad breath, is one such element. Going back to 1988, a study looked at the bacteria in various drinks, and wine is pretty darn good at disinfecting the mouth and may prevent bad breath and sore throats. Just don’t drink before flying!

  22. The 22nd of April is “vaccination day.” Go over your personal vaccination history and those of your loved ones with your doctor. There has been a great deal of nonsense in the lay press blaming vaccinations for all sorts of nasty outcomes, autism amongst them. I am a firm believer in childhood vaccinations and ensure my own personal vaccinations are up to date.

  23. Humans have 23 sets of chromosomes, one from each parent in each set. Knowing your predisposition to disease by compiling as complete a family history as possible will inform you about sensible screening tests to do and precautionary steps to take. Having a genetic screen, which is now inexpensive and reasonably accurate, may provide you with even more useful information to share with your doctor. Knowledge is power – what pilot does not want more power under their fingertips? Be powerful.

  24. There are 24 hours in a day and each one should be focused ensuring there are another 24 to follow. Including those you spend somnolent. A good night’s sleep is critical; take steps to prepare for sleep, including taking lots of steps during the day to induce physical fatigue. Avoid mental stimulation prior to bed, so no TV or other screen time, and make your bedroom a haven of peace and tranquility.

  25. Food is to be enjoyed and while I often talk about reducing caloric intake, which not only helps control weight but ensures a longer, healthier life, it is important to put things in perspective. Silly fads are often counterproductive; for instance, the trendy avocado on toast (the yuppie breakfast) actually contains more calories than jam on toast. And a nice English muffin with butter has fewer calories than a bland rice cake with 25 grams of peanut butter.

  26. There are 26 letters in the alphabet and most of them can be found in a discussion about cancer, from Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, to Zelboraf, used to treat melanoma. Talk to your doctor this year about your risk factors for each and get screened. For sure, check your skin regularly for any changes – over a million skin cancers will be diagnosed in America this year; make sure if you are one of them that it was caught early. And importantly, take steps to avoid the big C – for instance, always use sunscreen!

  27. You are a pilot, and you often carry passengers. Did you know you are always carrying around 27 trillion passengers with you? Bacteria in your microbiome, sharing your body and, as far as we know, not doing any harm. And maybe doing some good. That is roughly four times as many organisms as humans inhabit the earth. The topic is getting a lot of attention from scientists right now as they endeavor to sort out fact from fiction. Do these gut and skin bugs help or hinder health? But the subject is also getting a lot of attention from marketeers. Until the truth is known, be wary of any product bearing the word biome that promises the secret to long and good health – that secret has yet to be uncovered. And when it is, the scientific community will tell you. Until then, hang on to your cash!

  28. We all know that recitation that begins “Thirty days has September, April, June and November...” and some have 31 and February, 28. Unless it has 29. So what about 28? Gentlemen, pick that day to do a check-up of your undercarriage, your testicles. Women are great at doing breast checks at a regular time every month and men need to follow their lead. By doing this regularly, any cancer or other abnormality will be detected earlier, giving treatment a better chance of success.

  29. Remembering how many days in the month can be a challenge. Remembering where the car – or airplane – keys are can be even more so. Challenging yourself with mental tasks every day is one way to help delay or prevent the natural cognitive decline coincident with aging, Alzheimer’s, or other dementias. So remember to keep your brain – and body – active.


I hope some of these tickle your fancy, but more importantly, help you live well and fly well! See you next month when normal service will resume!

Jonathan Sackier
Dr. Jonathan Sackier is an expert in aviation medical concerns and helps members with their needs through AOPA Pilot Protection Services.
Topics: Pilot Health and Medical Certification

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