To recap, the kernel that corrects the majority of health ills boils down to eat right, exercise daily, frolic outdoors, and be kind and helpful to others. Maybe with an added sprinkle of self-defense practice (paying attention to possible threats and foiling others trying to mess with you).
(If you could practice martial arts with friends on a beach at sunrise 3-4 days a week, you could check all the boxes! – pbk)
Whether you look at health through the lens of functional medicine or the wisdom of your grandmother, combining the above with adequate sleep and inner work dialed-in using habit science would cover the critical bases.
These are the essentials of all my posts to date.
Fear looms large in healthcare
Going up one level, what about an overarching theme for your health and wellness choices? Your personal health mission statement, if you will.
I want to be strong as an ox. Then lift heavy (yes), eat lots of protein (yes), and lay off the ultra endurance stuff (triathlons, no).
I want to live past 100. Then emulate blue zone diets and get serious about stress management and being social (yes, yes, and yes).
Most medical advice focuses on risk-avoidance. Lower your blood pressure to avoid strokes. Reduce your LDL cholesterol to avoid heart attacks. Reduce processed foods to avoid…pretty much every imaginable chronic disease.
Much of modern healthcare could be characterized as avoiding premature death and disability.
Which basically is a fear-based approach. You are “afraid” of something bad happening, so you take certain steps.
Works for me.
But being fearless is big business
In the time of the pandemic, risk avoidance has generated considerable pushback in social media:
I’m tired of being afraid.
The government is trying to scare me into doing what they want.
The narrative is all about fear, and that’s how you want me to live?
These posts promote pride in the converse: living boldly. Disdaining the shackles of sheephood. Many businesses are built to appeal to those tired of feeling small.
Let me clarify, I’m all for boldness. Seek the positive rather than cringe away from the theoretical negative. Who wouldn’t prefer to put fear behind them and live boldly, waving their hands in the air like they just don’t care?
Well, anyone who actually deals with catastrophic consequences.
Influencers deal in Likes, Professionals deal in Lives
“Fear” and “boldness” are loaded with connotations; they’re practically fightin’ words. But they are concepts.
Pundits can toss these around all day.
But freeway overpass designers, aviation engineers, military, law enforcement, and first responder personnel — and physicians — confront the potentially awful for a living.
Death, morbidity, and various forms of dismemberment tend to put a damper on broad sweeping statements.
Technically, these professionals live and breathe a fear-based mentality, to the benefit of the wider public. It’s not that they’re the only ones touched by bad outcomes. It’s that they’re expected to deal with those outcomes.
The stakes are different, grappling with blood.
Then there’s livin’ large
My brother-in-law recently went all-in on motorcycles, apparently for the better. He is already smoking less, getting outdoors more, and is considerably less stressed.
He is also not married.
Though there are no motos in my future — valuing domestic bliss as I do — there is something to be said for not living in fear.
Flinching at thunder and breathing a sigh of relief at bedtime because nobody yelled at you all day is arguably not much of a life. Much of humanity lives this way, but few would wish this on their children:
You could get kidnapped while traveling!
You could have a stroke while lifting weights!
You could have your heart broken falling in love!
And yes, you could inhale your own spit, spasm your airways shut, and choke to death while breathing.
There are risks to every choice, including fearing everything, and living a mean, miserable existence is a big one.
So what are you saying, doc?!!!
The most important part of this post isn’t about fear, boldness, or living the dream.
It’s about facing consequences.
Freeway overpass designers and first responders can’t dodge consequences, since it’s their job to prevent or treat consequences.
Many of us have the luxury of avoiding consequences, at least for a while.
That’s why there’s this hugely profitable industry called credit, that takes advantage of the human preference to put off financial accountability.
That’s why Captain John Smith had to get tough with the settlers in Jamestown nearly half a millennium ago (You seem to forget we are all going to die this winter, unless you rise off your hindquarters and work, gentlemen!).
And that’s arguably why global warming is eating our shorts and income inequality has become so extreme. Power brokers do what they do, but masses of us don’t want to see the consequences of ceding fundamental control of our lives to others like it’s no big deal.
Choosing to ride a motorcycle can be a clear-eyed assessment of the consequence of crashing vs. the joys of riding. But it also can be not-looking at the former, while drooling over catalogs of biking gear.
As a species, we have this pathological tendency to look the other way, if given the option to enjoy a pleasant alternative fiction. The problem arises, in the wider world in general and in health/wellness matters in particular, when the thing we’re ignoring is growing like a weed.
We used to be instinctively sensible
We are descended from a very, very long line of forebears who were successful at reproducing. For most of human history, that meant not falling prey, literally, to things that could kill us early and quickly.
That used to mean sharp teeth, infections, starvation, death from the elements, and death from your fellow man. We still instinctively recognize these threats, deep in our DNA.
Nowadays, the threats are different. We’re more likely to die from diseases of plenty than starvation.
Is the problem insufficient exercise, a diet heavy in processed foods, too little sun, socialization, sleep, inner work, and consistency? Well, yes.
But like your momma, I’ve been going on about these cardinal functional medicine areas for some time. Why haven’t you taken the ball and run with it?
Why aren’t we all built like Marvel superheroes?
I suspect it’s because we are better at avoiding consequences than we are at sticking to a health script. We can’t blame it on the Internet; wishful thinking is as old as humanity. But the distance of the old threats combined with vastly improved technology to distract and gaslight in the digital era have greatly magnified the risk.
As distant as they may seem, consequences are as real as ever. They are only distant if we look the other way and allow them to be.