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The One-Page Merck Manual of Health

by Dr. Robert S. Porter

People think healthy living involves rare treasures and dark secrets—the exotic plant from a Tibetan meadow, the secret advice from a sage in a remote village—or years of intense study and practice. Actually, the truth is hidden in plain sight, and it's pretty simple (though seldom easy). That's why The Merck Manual of Health requires only one sheet of paper.

Diet and Nutrition

  • Eat less (yes, this means you), particularly less sugars, simple carbohydrates, trans fats, and saturated fats.
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Vary your diet.
  • If your medical condition requires a special diet, follow it .

Vitamins and Supplements

  • If you're a breastfed baby, take vitamin D; if you're a bottle-fed baby, use formula with iron.
  • If you're over 50 years old, take calcium and vitamin D.
  • If you're pregnant (or thinking of becoming pregnant), take prenatal vitamins.

Substance Use

  • Don't smoke (and if you do, don't smoke in bed).
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation (if that's hard for you, don't drink at all).
  • Don't take any drugs that aren't intended to treat a medical problem.

Exercise and Sleep

  • Do 30 to 60 minutes of structured exercise (aerobic and resistance) that is appropriate for your age and medical condition (fun is good) at least 3 times per week.
  • Walk more—and take the stairs.
  • Keep as regular a sleep schedule as possible.

Infections

  • Wash your hands before eating and cooking.
  • Store, prepare, and cook foods (particularly meats) appropriately.
  • Drink only clean or treated water.
  • Practice safe sex.
  • Wash minor wounds with soap and water and keep covered.
  • Use appropriate clothing and insect repellent when mosquito or tick exposure is likely.
  • Don't do intravenous drugs, and if you do, don't share needles.

Injuries and General Safety

  • Wear a seatbelt; if you're a child, use a car seat.
  • Wear a helmet while riding a bicycle or motorcycle and use other protective gear as appropriate for the activity (recreation or occupation).
  • Store and handle firearms safely.
  • Follow the accepted safety procedures for your job and recreational activities.
  • Don't operate vehicles or power equipment while intoxicated, overly sleepy, or distracted.
  • Look before crossing or entering a road, changing lanes, or merging.
  • Wear a life vest while boating, don't dive into shallow water, and learn to swim.
  • Have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home.

Mental Health

  • Treat others as you would be treated.
  • Accept responsibility for your actions; also take responsibility for someone or something besides yourself.
  • Make and keep friends.
  • Act nicer: Don't speak ill to or about others.
  • Practice mind-calming techniques (for example, meditation or prayer).
  • Don't sweat the small stuff and be sensible about what's small.
  • With adversity, change what you can, live with what you can't, and try to know the difference.
  • When you do something, do your best (but don't expect more from yourself than your best).
  • Do something useful for your family and community.
  • Understand that you will die (yes, you) and you will experience pain and loss.

Health Care

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day.
  • See a dentist regularly for cleaning and examination.
  • See a health care practitioner regularly for age-appropriate and sex-appropriate screening (blood pressure, glucose, and lipid levels; Pap smears, mammograms, and colon cancer screening; prenatal screening) and vaccinations.
  • Be cautious about sun exposure and wear suncreen.
  • If something feels wrong physically or mentally, see appropriate practitioners: If you trust them, do what they advise; if you don't trust them, or if what they say seems too good to be true or doesn't make sense, don't ignore the issue, get another opinion.

If you do all of these things but think you need something more, take the time, effort, and money you'd spend looking for a better supplement, diet, or exercise and instead read a book to a child or help those in your community who are in need.

Yours in Good Health,

Robert S. Porter, MD

Editor-in-Chief, The Merck Manuals