Personal health reform

You also need to exercise to balance your eating. (And your nation’s budget.)

In America in particular, there is a bitter debate about how to finance the ever growing expenses of the country’s health care. The same problem faces most developed countries, although the debate is generally more civil in those I know. Still, there is much handwringing and various not-so-great ideas.

In the middle of this is the small voice of reason, belonging to Dr Dean Ornish: How about people stop eating fast food and starts walking at least a couple hours a week, meditating from time to time and be nice to their family? That way we would have much less illness to contend with in the first place.

Dr Ornish and his colleagues have proved, and in the sense of hard science, peer reviewed large-scale clinical tests, that radical lifestyle change can actually reverse coronary plaque, diabetes, and some cancers. A less radical change can prevent them in most cases, and even when not, improve your chance of survival and your quality of life.

The approach is fairly low-tech:  Cut down on fat, to no more than 10% of your calories. Avoid white sugar and corn syrup like the plague. Eat your veggies. Exercise at moderate intensity. Meditate. Stick with your loved ones. The  more of these things you do, the less likely you are to contract the illnesses that make up 75% of the country’s health care budget.

If we don’t do it for the sake of the country, at least it makes sense to do it because being terminally ill sucks.  You are going to die sooner or later, of course, but later usually seems like the best alternative – after all, that is why people will pay an arm and a leg for expensive new cancer drugs, although they were not willing to move an arm and a leg back when they could have prevented the whole horror.


Now, I am fully aware that it is not easy. You come home from work, your head is already tired, and perhaps your feet too. You want nothing more than sit down in a good chair.  And as if it was not bad enough, you have to drive your kids (if you have kids, and most people do sooner or later) to some far-off destination.  When you’re back, it is already late and the weather is not good for walking, running, biking or whatever. There may be criminal elements out there too. No, it is best to stay inside and eat snacks in front of the TV, just like every other day.

I totally understand. After all, I keep a bottle of cola in the house at all times, if possible, and another at work. True, I mix the cola with water before drinking it, but I am sure it is still an unspeakable sin in the eyes of every nutritionist worth his diploma.  Sugar = poison, after all. But it all boils down to this: We have to do something, we have to start somewhere, we have to make a sacrifice for the sake of our own future and those we love, and those we don’t particularly hate. Someone has to go the extra mile. Or, failing that, eat their veggies.

You know quite well that you would do it if your life was at stake, and it is. The thing is to do it BEFORE the doctor tells you that you have X months left to live. I am sure that is very motivating, but by then we’ll probably feel even much less energetic than today. By then we may pray to God, but today God is praying to us, so to speak, imploring us to not be idiots and waste the body we’ve been given.  It is not by accident that the world’s religious traditions put emphasis on various exercises in self-control. Holding back our impulses was never easy, not 2500 years ago and not today. But it is a good idea, not just for ourselves, but for others as well.

It is true that for the time being, at least, most people will probably still continue to eat their fast food and veg out in front of the tube. So that if you eat your greens and work out, you’ll be paying for their bypass and they won’t be paying for yours. Sure it is unfair. But we should love our neighbor, right? It is more blessed to give than to receive. No, seriously, it is; I have tried. But even apart from that, it is more blessed to go the second mile than to receive diabetes, constipation, knee pain and heart infarct. For the love of ourselves and others, we have to make at least some effort, and encourage each other to do what we can.

And of course, if you happen to live in America, there is the small matter of your country not defaulting on its debt and sliding rapidly to banana republic status. Or at least, when that happens anyway, to be able to say “It wasn’t my fault… this time.”