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The backward tale of Doralee

I'm about to tell you a story "¦ backward.

Once upon a time there was a nursing facility (some people refer to these environments as post-hospital rehabilitation settings; sometimes they're called nursing homes). This particular facility was full of people who were ill or debilitated. Most were in their 70s and 80s, but not all. Some were, are in fact, quite young.

Many are recovering from some type of surgery, a heart attack or stroke. Pain medications fill the trays distributed by attentive nursing aides. Oxygen tubing is everywhere and catheter bags hang from the edges of beds. The residents need assistance with bathing and eating. Only a few are able to use the bathroom independently.

Remember "¦ this is a backward story, so I started at the end.

The beginning of the story might start with Doralee. She is a resident of this facility. Throughout her life, Doralee smoked several packs of cigarettes each day. She stopped in her early 70s, a few years before a diagnosis of lung cancer. She has always carried 30 pounds of extra weight and defends her years of smoking as a justification for not being even heavier.

She admits she never paid much attention to what she ate. She preferred desserts to vegetables and ate "more coconut cake then carrots."

When asked about regular exercise, Doralee said her achy, arthritic joints usually prevented her from moving around a lot. And yes, she knows that regular physical activity probably would have made those joints less achy, but she "could somehow just never get started"¦"

There's more to the story. Research has identified that people who adhere to all four of the most basic healthy behaviors — which are: 1) not smoking, 2) maintaining a healthy weight weight, 3) eating adequate fruits and vegetables and 4) exercising regularly — stay the healthiest throughout their lives.

I cannot tell you where Doralee would be right now if she had never smoked and kept her weight adequately managed. I do not know whether eating more vegetables would have kept her out of a nursing home, and I cannot do more than surmise what would be going on with Doralee if she had exercised daily. But I believe hers would have been a different story.

The real story is this: Doralee is like all the rest of us. The actual percentage of people who observe all four of the above-identified healthy behaviors (as outlined in a 2006 issue of Consumer Reports on Health) is an unbelievable three percent.

If you want a happier ending, maybe you could change just one thing. Smoking might be particularly hard to stop if you've being doing it for decades — but perhaps it's a little easier now with the high cost of cigarettes as a motivator and quit lines more prevalent (1-800-QUIT-NOW).

Eating well is definitely easier with summer's bounty available and the desire to buy and eat locally so strong. How about this: After tonight's dinner of grilled vegetables and berries, why don't you take a hike (or even a 10-minute walk). Do that tomorrow night, too.

Write your own story — and make the ending happy.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.