Sunday, June 30, 2013

Why Has It Become So Hard To Stay Healthy?

Many patients tell me it is very hard to live a healthy lifestyle. They are absolutely right and a look at our history will explain why.

About two-hundred thousand years ago, modern man (and woman) or Homo Sapiens, is believed to have evolved. This means at that time those early for-bearers had all the phenotypical characteristics that we have today, although they were yet to adopt more evolved social characteristics. That did not happen until an estimated fifty thousand years ago when man began to display modern behavior as he started forming groups and living together.

Yet, there is relatively little human history available beyond ten thousand years ago when the Neolithic Revolution or what some call the first Agricultural Revolution began. This revolution involved the wide-scale transition of many human cultures from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlement, which supported the growth of large populations. But most sociologists, anthropologists, even humanists would agree that man's heavy lifting and major accomplishments truly began with the Industrial Revolution, which was the transition to new manufacturing processes in the period from about 1760 to some time between 1820 and 1840.

The Digital Revolution, which can be called the newest Industrial Revolution, is the change from analog mechanical and electronic technology to digital technology that has taken place since about 1980 and continues to the present day.

During all these periods, life as we know has undergone profound changes, particularly our relationship with food. From hunting our food and gathering it from nature, we began to grow our own. Take wheat for example.It could be argued that humans' social and cultural roots is closely tied to the development of wheat since before recorded history. In regards to wheat, first we learned how to process it into breads and cakes. Then scientists learned how to genetically manipulate wheat by changing the nature of its protein called gluten so it would grow more robustly.Inventions like refrigeration allowed us to gather in our homes foods, such as meat, dairy, etc. that had been otherwise difficult to access on a regular basis.

Basically, as we advanced our knowledge and the world progressed, men and women changed their relationship with food. We no longer ate to simply sustain ourselves; rather, we began to eat for pleasure.  To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, "we no longer eat to live,  we now live to eat." Arguably, modern conveniences and those technological advances yet to be discovered have created some significant challenges to our health.

Why do I say that? Consider the following. Today, you can have access to a week's or more supply of food without traversing more than thirty feet to get to your refrigerator or pantry. You can communicate with virtually anyone in the world at any time without moving an inch. You can get to the four corners of the Earth without breaking a sweat. Basically, you can exist by taking weekly or so trips to a local supermarket, stocking up on meats, cheeses, breads, cakes, cookies, crackers, canned foods, frozen foods, etc. You can also have it delivered for free. You can also typically access at least a dozen or more restaurants, fast food or otherwise, within one mile of your home.

Our entire commerce now appears to be built around conveniences, which require little physical exertion and even less social interaction.  Like the lunacy of paying for bottled water, once unthinkable, we now pay countless gyms for the privilege of exercising, which we did for free for nearly two-hundred thousand years, not considering the millions of years before as less evolved hominids. I  often quip to audiences that the Okinawans, Sardinians, and Icarians, who count among them many centenarians for hundreds, if not thousands of years, have never even seen the inside of a gym. They don't need them based on their lifestyle.

Technology has also been disruptive. Countless patients have told me they are either on the computer or watching television in the middle of the night because it's there and they can't sleep. 

Food science may be the worse offender. With the ubiquitous nature of processed foods and consumables that can't in good faith even be called food anymore because they are entirely composed of artificial ingredients and chemicals, we are challenged every passing day to stay healthy.

So what does it still mean to be healthy?  It means to eat healthy foods in reasonable quantities, stay physically fit, enjoy positive social interactions, get adequate sleep, effectively manage unavoidable stresses, and have purpose in life. Our modern society increasingly challenges every single aspect of what it means to be healthy. That's why I say that staying healthy requires extraordinary effort.

To stay healthy you simply have to forgo many modern conveniences and live at least part of your life like your ancestors. You have to walk or run whenever you can, eat primarily real food, which is the produce of the ground best eaten raw when possible with added wild Alaskan salmon, nurture relationships and make an effort to meet friends in person, take steps to get a good night's sleep, develop skills in managing stress.and most of all find new challenges every day to keep you engaged.

I know I'm asking for a lot when it's so simple to do none of these, but if you really want to feel what it means to be human (again), make the effort. I promise you it will be life changing.


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