Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Good Health Is Not Just About Diet And Exercise

The late Dr. Alexander Leaf, as he traveled the globe studying long-living populations, observed that diet and exercise contributed mightily to health:
"Whether they were 120 or older, as many of the subjects had claimed, or in their late 90s, as was later found, he concluded that people who lived in mountainous places, worked outdoors into their old age and consumed local food high in vegetable content and low in animal fat tended to live very long and healthy lives free of heart disease."
- Alexander Leaf Dies at 92; Linked Diet and Health, New York Times, 6 January 2013


But there are other contributing factors. Breathing is one. Or, I should say, effective breathing. Dr. Weil:
"While diet and exercise are important, they are not the sole determinants of health. People who eat excellent diets and exercise faithfully are not always healthy, but the likelihood of being a healthy person who does not breathe well is slim."

In Breathing: Basic How-To's, Weil says breathing can lower heart rate, blood pressure, and settle an upset digestive system. It also influences emotional states:
"When you're upset, you breathe rapidly, shallowly and irregularly, but you can't be upset if your breathing is slow, deep, quiet and regular."
He gave basic techniques:
"Practice moving your breath. Keep your back straight. Begin with a deep, audible sigh, then quietly inhale and see how slow, deep, quiet and regular you can make your breathing and still have it feel perfectly comfortable.

Pay attention to your exhalation. ... Exhalation is usually passive and takes less time than inhalation. When you breathe this way, you do not move nearly as much air in and out of your lungs as you can. The more air you move, the healthier you will be, because the functioning of all systems of the body depends on delivery of oxygen and removal of carbon dioxide. To get more air into your lungs, concentrate on getting more air out of them by attending to exhalation."

And spirituality. Or, what I'll call spirituality. Dr. Richard Gunderman offered this insightful piece on Christmas Eve:

Our Health Comes Through Commitment To Others, The Atlantic
We should beware the temptation to think too much about the body, especially if it leads us to neglect what [the Roman poet Juvenal] would have called the needs of the soul. Health is not just the absence of disease. Nor is it merely the sum total of a battery of biological metrics, such as our waistlines, blood pressures, serum chemistry values, and an appropriately balanced mix of neurotransmitters. To be sure, it is a good thing when such values are in the normal range, but no amount of attention to getting the numbers right can guarantee the flourishing of mind and character.

As everyone is talking of the "holiday spirit," remember that it means waking up each morning with the conviction that we are on a mission to enrich others' lives. Isolation, mistrust, resentment, greed, and fear are all bad for us, not primarily because they render us more likely to develop cancer or suffer a heart attack or stroke, but because they undermine our capacity to live. The interests of the body are best served not by designated drivers and rigidly enforced diet plans, but by organizing our days so that each of us brings more humanity into the world.

Health is not the most important thing in life. It is primarily a byproduct of the pursuit of the most important things life has to offer.

Health is also not something that we can hoard up for ourselves. Its value is realized not in its accumulation, but in its spending.

If one day we wake up in full possession of our bodily faculties and feeling our best, our best course of action is not to down a fruit and vegetable puree or go for a jog. Health achieves its fullest expression in connection, trust, gratitude, and a habit of rejoicing in the flourishing of others.

How aware are we of one another? How committed are we to one another? How much of our hope and ambition for every day is bound up in an ongoing commitment to make a difference in the life of another person?

What Scrooge experiences for the first time in a very long time is the best medicine we have for the human soul. It is not found in a bottle, a pair of jogging shoes, or a juicer. The highest and best medicine, the only one that can truly suffuse and elevate everything else, is joy. Joy is life-affirming, life-restoring, and life-enhancing. Joy, and only joy, brings us truly and fully to life."
The photo is of George C. Scott playing Scrooge in a 1984 television version of the story that this author gave good marks: "This Ebenezer Scrooge is a human wrecking ball, laying waste to everything around him. Alternately raging, caustic, sly and sarcastic, he allows no one to feel at ease in his presence. ... Scott owns this picture. His self-righteous rage is soon stripped away into a petulant defensiveness, and then honest repentance as the consequences of his wasted life are made clear."

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