Responsibility for our own health

"I aim to become a tropical girl, fruit juice running through my veins!"

“I’m aiming to be a tropical girl so fruity that fruit juice runs trough my veins!” That’s more like it. As long as there are toilets within running distance, at least.

There is a tendency in America, and increasingly in other countries as well, to expect medicine to fix our health, while we otherwise destroy it with our poor life choices. Not every person is like this, and there is a gradual awakening to the truth in this matter, but this is still mostly limited to the well off and the intellectual. Most of the population is still caught in a very dangerous situation: They take a short-term view of the long-term challenge of staying healthy.

It is natural that children don’t think far ahead. Even being 30 is old to them, so they hardly give it a thought. But for adults it should not be a great surprise that they may want to live, and live a good life, some decades into the future as well.

We know some of the greatest causes of poor health in adults are caused by lifestyle choices:  Smoking, inactivity, eating lots of fat or sugar, casual sex, abuse of alcohol and pleasure drugs, stress and conflict. Oh, and not washing your hands.

Yet when public health is discussed, it is mainly a discussion of money, of insurance and the quality of health care. Of course that matters too, but once you need health care, things are already pretty bad.  There are so many things that can be done to prevent illness, for most of us. Of course some are born with the disposition for certain illnesses, and there are accidents. But this is not the most common.

There is nothing flashy about preventive health maintenance. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator when feasible, keeping the snacks in the opposite end of the house from the TV or computer, taking a walk every day or two or having some physical activity as hobby, working through feelings instead of drowning them in booze or worse… none of these things are likely to bring you praise if you do them or consternation if you don’t. Nobody notices anything until you seem to be more lucky than other people.

Is it really worth it? You could be lucky. Perhaps you have the kind of genes that let you smoke all your life and never get cancer, gorge on fat and never get heart disease, may be you are even naturally resistant to HIV (some people are, especially those of Nordic ancestry, but still only a minority). You never know until you try, right?

But on behalf of society it would certainly be a good thing if people didn’t try their luck in this regard. And for those who don’t have unusual luck, it is likely they will regret their lifestyle choices. Of course, most of us have done things we regret. But every time we avoid it, we do a service to ourselves, our families (if any) and the society as a whole. It is not too late to start… probably.

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