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It’s good to get your bell rung — if reading about health and fitness

Whether you have a PhD or a GED, I’m sure you spent some time at the School of Hard Knocks. What’s not so sure is if your attendance there led to a diploma or a concussion.

And though I can only hope these columns eliminate the need for more classes at Everyman’s alma mater, I do want you to occasionally - albeit metaphorically - get concussed from them.

Getting your bell rung can be a good thing, and something that should happen sometimes if you do with your diet and your workouts what I so often suggest.

Experiment, experiment, experiment.

It can also occur simply by reading about health and fitness. As I read data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about two months ago, for example, it felt as if someone had swung that old iron frying pan my mother so dearly loved and cracked me atop the cranium.

The bell-ringing stat: After nearly reaching 79 years of age in 2019, the average life expectancy in the U.S. had fallen to 76 in 2021.

This 2.7-year decline over only 2 years affected Robert Anderson, PhD, a bit differently. While the chief of mortality statistics at the National Center for Health Statistics didn’t experience any of the confusion, altered perceptions, headaches, or amnesia that can result from a concussion, he told CNN, “When I saw that [the 2.7-year decline] in the report, I just - my jaw dropped.”

That’s because, as he explained to the New York Times, “even small declines in life expectancy of a tenth or two-tenths of a year mean that on a population level, a lot more people are dying prematurely than they really should be.” And “should be” is a key phrase in a second bell ringer.

A lot more people should be doing four fundamental things to lower their risk of heart disease. After all, it’s been the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States for the past 80 years, the CDC reports.

In 2020, for instance, nearly 700,000 Americans succumbed from heart disease - accounting for about 20% of all death.

But only 2.7% of American adults are doing all four fundamental things to avoid this fate, according to research performed at three separate universities and published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2016.

One of these things is not running a marathon jokes Ellen Smit, senior author of the study and an associate professor at Oregon State University, in an OSU press release and all are “pretty reasonable.” But when researchers reviewed the responses of 4,745 people who participated in a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, they discovered 97.3% of them either smoke, fail to exercise moderately, have an unhealthy body fat percentage, or eat in a manner that’s less than healthy.

And Smit wasn’t lying when she added that the expectations set were not “super high.” Participants’ eating habits needed only to be in the top 40 percentile of all U.S. diets to be deemed healthy.

Which brings us to another type of high, getting high, and the third and biggest bell ringer: Smoking marijuana recreationally might actually be good for your waistline.

Recreational marijuana use has been legal in the state of Washington since 2014, so researchers from North Dakota State and Metropolitan State Universities did something statisticians call a synthetic counterfactual. They approximated Washington’s population using a few other states where marijuana was not legal from 2014 to 2018 and then made comparisons between the health data accrued during that time in both places.

And the finding that should hit you like a two-by-four to the forehead swung by a well-muscled construction worker: The state of Washington would have 5.4% more obese people today if recreational marijuana use was not legal.

I know, I know, I too have heard reference upon reference about how smoking marijuana leads to eating a ton of food, aka “the munchies,” and that has not been disproved by this study.

But what someone not involved in the study, Thomas Clark, PhD, a physiologist with the Department of Biological Sciences at Indiana University in South Bend, tells WebMD.com also occurs from marijuana use is that it helps restore the balance of omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. And an imbalance in the body between the two makes your endocannabinoid system “overactive, resulting in weight gain.”

And Clark is responsible for a bell ringer of his own. A meta-analysis he led, published in the December 2018 issue of Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, found significantly reduced body mass index and rates of obesity in cannabis users - despite an increased caloric intake.

One final note: I’m uncomfortable writing about recreational marijuana use. I can’t ever imagine using it medically, let alone recreationally.

But I can’t imagine being obese, either - or sitting on potentially helpful information just because I’m biased.