A critical issue that receives no attention from researchers and very little attention in progressive circles is the health status and health outcomes of progressive activists and organizers. This column will explore a few critical healthy lifestyle points that everyone in the progressive community should strive to follow.

Stop smoking

The first one is, of course, smoking and tobacco use. Cigarette use is associated with significantly higher risks of heart and blood vessel disease, lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema, stroke and cancer, especially lung and mouth cancer. Smoking is a significant contributing factor to major killer diseases that affect people in the United States. It is also strongly associated with increased disease, pain, and suffering throughout life, especially at the end of life, and significantly higher medical bills.

While it is not easy to quit smoking once a person is addicted, it is very much worth the effort. Just three months after a person stops smoking, there is evidence of improved circulation, decreased risk for heart attacks, improved lung function and overall enhanced quality of life.

Eat right

Good eating habits naturally follow smoking cessation on this list. A balanced meal with plenty of fruits, vegetables and lean sources of protein (such as chicken or tofu) is very important to maintain good health. In many communities, however, it is difficult to find enough variety of healthy foods. Despite these difficulties, it is important to maximize any available opportunities.

A special case occurs when individuals suffer from diabetes, a disease that occurs when people lose the ability to regulate the sugar in their blood. Diabetes is strongly associated with obesity and most diabetics acquire the disease in adulthood. High levels of sugar in the blood cause a variety of problems in the circulatory, neurological and renal systems.

If left uncontrolled, these problems can result in blindness, kidney failure and a need for dialysis, heart attacks and amputations, among others. Healthy eating is a matter of life or death for people with diabetes, and is one of the most important factors in controlling the negative health effects of the disease. Pizza and soda, for example, are poor choices for feeding folks at community events.

Weight loss can improve a person’s diabetes and has been shown to decrease the risk of developing this disease. Healthy eating for people who are obese goes beyond choosing the right foods: the only way to lose weight is to eat less. Eating fewer calories than you burn throughout the day will result in weight loss. Exercise increases the number of calories you burn and will accelerate weight loss.

Establish a medical ‘home’

One of the most important healthy lifestyle changes activists can make is to establish a medical “home.” Regular visits with a physician in one clinic that can accumulate your medical history will make your health checkups more productive and allow your doctor give you better services. All patients have the right to demand that their doctor gives individualized advice on living a healthy lifestyle and to receive the age- and sex-appropriate screenings recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Many activists and organizers have poor or no health insurance. These individuals should seek out free clinics or community health centers to receive care.

Take the long view

Activists and organizers are busy people who give a lot of themselves to advancing the people’s agenda and winning real improvements for working men and women. The work is difficult, and given the onslaught from the far right, it always seems unending. It is easy to understand how we sacrifice ourselves and our health for our work.

Such sacrifices, however, are unsustainable and ultimately destructive towards the movement. It is not an act of selfishness to create time for self-care. Living a long, healthy life gives progressives the opportunity to contribute more to the struggle — and increases our chances of eating the fruit of our toil: a society where people will not have to sacrifice themselves and their health for social justice.

Flávio Casoy works on universal health care with the American Medical Student Association.