Overfed But Undernourished: Why Supplementation Matters

One of the cornerstones of our chiropractic practice is proper nutrition.  Indeed, eating a healthy diet and supplementing for the holes in a healthy diet should be a cornerstone of any health related practice.  Having worked with thousands of patients over the years, however, I’ve found that very few people ever even give rational though to how they are feeding their body.

The truth is, you will only be able to remain well with adequate fuel and proper maintenance.  Your body requires a variety of certain nutrients in order to fight of disease and preserve your health.  Too little of certain good nutrients can lead to diseases like neuropathy or cancer.  Too much of the bad stuff can lead to heart disease or diabetes.  The job of the individual looking to become and stay healthy is to find the happy medium that balances nutritional requirements without consuming excess calories or chemicals from their diet.

It can truly be said that, as Americans, we are overfed but undernourished.   The results of this lifestyle are plain.  We now suffer from skyrocketing obesity rates and chronic illness continues to rise.  Despite having one of the most sophisticated “healthcare” delivery systems in the world, we’re not getting any healthier.

One of the ways we attempt to improve the overall health of all of the patients in our office is through improved nutrition.   Some of this comes in the form of nutritional supplementation.  I’ve realized over the years that one of the reasons so many people are overweight is that they are getting so few nutrients from their food.  Food quality is not today what it was 50 years ago.  We’re literally bathed in food that’s high in calories and additives but very low in nutrients.  As a result, we end up eating more and more just to satisfy the minimum nutritional requirements of our body.  So, we eat and eat and eat just to get to the minimum nutrient requirement your body needs to function.  The problem is that the unhealthy foods we are eating are very calorie rich, causing us to literally burst at the seams.

During our patient intake process, I ask patients if they are taking supplements.  Not surprisingly, the few people who do take supplements are largely just taking a ‘pot-shot’ in the dark, offering little if any health benefit.  Often their decision on certain supplements is not based on health, training, or guidance by a healthcare provider, but is based on advertising.  Worse, I’ve had patients who believe or have been told, even by their own healthcare provider, that vitamins are “worthless” or “a waste of money.”  The ironic and sad thing is that many of the patients who mistakenly believe this disinformation are some of the most ill new patients we see in our office, often taking the most medication.  The bad advice they have been given is sabotaging their health.

Here are several reasons why taking a nutritional supplement is critical to maintaining your health:

1.       Many people don’t eat the diet they should – In our busy world, many of us eat a diet of convenience.  Meaning, we eat what we can when we can.   Our diets are nutrient poor, high calorie, and laced with artificial chemicals.  We give little though to what we eat, how we eat, and when we’re eating it.   Worse, many people who think they’re eating a healthy diet have never really sat down and evaluated what they really eat during the day.  Many are surprised at how shockingly bad their diet really is when they do a 7 day diet intake analysis.

2.       General food quality has declined – With an increase in convenience foods, from fast food to microwavable meals, our food quality has suffered.  We’ve moved away from cooking and preparing fresh food at home to “picking something up” or “grabbing a bite.”  Restaurants also include additional salt and MSG to enhance the flavor of their foods and thus generate repeat customers.

3.       Nutrient content of even the good food we eat is on the decline – Think about it.  We are growing enough food in the U.S. to feed the largest population ever, over 300 million people.  That doesn’t even include the food and food supplies we send to other countries.  The problem is that we are growing it on the fewest number of farms in a century.  So, what happens when you grow more and more food on less and less land?  The nutrient content of the food declines.  In other words, a carrot nowadays does not have the same nutrient levels as it did in 1950.

4.       How we cook our foods depletes many of the natural nutrients found in healthy foods – The cooking process can often destroy naturally occurring nutritional and digestive enzymes found in raw foods.  This is particularly true of fruits and vegetables.  Further, cooking and preparing meals often adds undesirable elements such as greases and oils, not to mention chemical additives.

5.       As we age we absorb fewer nutrients from our food – Do you honestly think that a 70 year old will absorb the same nutrients from food as a 17 year old?  Of course not!  As we age, our digestive system ages with us.  Just as our muscles may not function like they used to, so does our digestion.  It’s critical then to supplement those nutrients for which we may have a problem digesting and absorbing as we age.

6.       The medications we take may prevent absorption of certain nutrients and deplete nutrients from our body – There are several examples of medications that affect nutrient absorption.  For example, acid reducers for acid reflux neutralize stomach acid which is required for calcium absorption.  Likewise, cholesterol medication decreases vitamin D production in the liver, which is also critical to calcium absorption.  Cholesterol medication also decreases the body’s production of Coenzyme Q10 which is a critical antioxidant and important for cellular energy.  Antibiotics kill bacteria in the gut that produce vitamin K.  Even the pain medication you’re taking can deplete a multitude of nutrients from vitamin C to Zinc.  And the list goes on…

Not taking a supplement in this age of nutritional decline is a mistake.  Even if you do eat a healthy diet, you may not be getting all the nutrients you need to stay well.

So what supplement should you take?  That depends on your individual health status and your ability to supplement.  I generally recommend that anyone looking to make a serious change in their nutrition consult with a healthcare provider.  That being said, make sure that the people you take your health advice from are in the health business and not the disease management business.  Just because a provider may understand the cause and treatment of disease, does not necessarily mean that they understand what it takes to be healthy.  Managing the symptoms of your disease is not the same as being healthy.  Don’t confuse the two.

Supplementation is a crucial aspect to being healthy.  With regard to which supplements to choose from the infinite choices, we’ll discuss that in a future blog.

Are You Even Willing To Be Healthy?

The great motivational speaker Les Brown once said “The hardest part is getting the person to be an active participant in their own recovery.”  As a healthcare provider, I’m faced with this dogging anathema regularly.  People want health, but are unwilling to do the work and invest in themselves enough to obtain and maintain it.

Participating in our local community is very important to me and our chiropractic office regularly attends dozens of community events every year, from health fairs to senior expos.  Consistently, a regular occurrence during these events are those looking for solutions to the near limitless potential problems that ail the average individual.   I probably speak, at least briefly, with thousands of separate individuals at each of the multitude of venues we associate with annually.  Of issue, is how few of those people are actually willing to pursue any form of solution to their problem.

Recently, we attended a wellness expo for the local school district.  We performed nearly 60 screenings in a single morning, evaluating the attendees for muscular and postural issues.  Most of the people I consulted with during the screening were suffering from various conditions, often for years.  Most had also “learned to live with it.”  What always continues to surprise me about these events is that a person can list a litany of ailments but how very few will actually take any further action to correct them, even when a solution is presented to them.  Often, I can offer my confidence that we may have the potential solution they’re looking for to significantly improve or even resolve their issue, yet the person will refuse any additional commitment to being health.  My observation is that they are more content in their illness than in the potential to be well.

This is a phenomenon I have seen in broad ranges of patients in all avenues of care.  From the person who won’t commit to beginning care to the person who does not follow through with their treatment to completion, there seems to be a generalized non-committal attitude toward being well.  I think that even if I could promise a free guaranteed 100% cure, many people would still turn it down.  Now, I don’t promise cure and nothing is guaranteed, but you get the point.  Many people are unwilling to invest in their own recovery.  Why?  The answer is fear.

I once heard someone say that F.E.A.R is False Evidence Appearing Real.  Fear holds people back.  It keeps the greatness of individuals trapped inside them so they never realize their full potential.  The same is true of health.  You have an amazing healing potential.  The question that should be asked is fear preventing you from living up to your full health ability?  Is fear limiting your willingness to try alternative treatment options?  Is fear stealing your hope?

Fear with regard to health manifests itself in many ways.   Fear is a pernicious multifaceted beast that prevents many from realizing wellness.  Do any of these describe you?

1.        Fear of commitment – Health will never be handed to you on a silver platter.  Health is something you must commit to.   Health isn’t a matter of happenstance or occurrence by chance of fate.  Being healthy is a matter of deliberate intention.  Being healthy requires a time investment.  You have to invest in time to exercise, time to pick the right foods, time to take care of your spine, and time to manage your stress.  The excuse that “I’m to busy” is just that…an excuse.  You have to have health as a priority.

Committing to a lifestyle change that includes healthy choices forces you out of your comfort zone.  Albert Einstein said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”   Too often, unfortunately, a person will wait indefinitely to magically get well.  As the old saying goes, “If your ship doesn’t come in, you may have to row out and meet it.”  If you’ve been waiting indefinitely to get better, you’ll ultimately have to come to the realization that change may be your only solution.  Change can be uncomfortable but, in my experience, more often change can be extremely fulfilling.  Let go of your unrealized fear and make a commitment now to change.

2.        Fear of trying something new – If the solutions you’ve always done aren’t working for you, why are you still doing them.  It always fascinates me when I talk to a patient who has had back pain for years and has been doing the same interventions they have always tried but they don’t get any better, at least not in any meaningful way.  Again, change can be uncomfortable but fear may be preventing you from growing and improving for lack of trying.  William Shakespeare has said “Our doubts make us traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”  Maybe the solution you need is out there.  You just haven’t found it because fear has prevented you from even trying anything outside your self imposed comfort zone.  What solutions have you eliminated, not because they didn’t work, but because you were too afraid to try them in the first place?

3.       Fear of financial expenditure – Of course, in our current economy, this can be a very real fear.  Many people are afraid to commit to being healthy because they feel it may be a bad investment.  They’re afraid of sending for their health but not getting a likewise return.  Well, let me tell you, being sick is a lot more expensive than being healthy.  You have to look at your health as an investment for your future.  A little time and money invested now may save a literal fortune later.

I understand that money can be a touchy subject for a lot of people but, like a time commitment, my experience has shown me that money is truly less of a mitigating factor than priorities.  Frequently, we’ll see patients in our office who, once they calculate an estimated cost of their care plan, claim poverty and will completely discontinue care for financial reasons.  Too often however, I’ve found that these same people drive a $50,000 Mercedes, have a personal trainer or a cleaning lady, or even recently remodeled their house.  For them, health is just not a priority.  Their luxury lifestyle is more important and it may eventually cost hem their health.  Do you have your priorities straight?

4.       Fear of hope – One of the things I am seeing more and more often at some of the events we work, and with many new patients who present to our office, is a loss of hope.  Many have been told they are destined to live with pain or disease for the rest of their life.  Many have been told that they are fated for illness or that sickness is inevitable for them.  In my opinion, there is no greater disservice done to a person than to steal that person’s hope.

There is always hope for any condition or disease.  I don’t think there is a condition out there that doesn’t have a documented case of a miraculous recovery.  Too frequently, I’ve seen people with reversible conditions completely give up on the ability to be well because someone foolishly told them it can’t be done.  Just because someone says it can’t be done doesn’t make it true.  Obviously, there are no guarantees in life and you shouldn’t expect or believe absolutes but that doesn’t mean you should give up.  It’s heartbreaking for me to talk to a person who has a condition that we can most likely help, only to have them never commit to wellness because they’ve had their hope stolen from them.  Don’t give up!  Become the inspired healthy individual you were meant to be!

Ask yourself, are you even willing to get well?  Are you willing to commit to you?  My experience has shown me that, more often than not, the answer is no.  That’s why only about 8% of the population will ever see a chiropractor.  That’s why less than 25% of people have a regular exercise regimen.  It’s why so few people take vitamins.  It’s why fast food is a multibillion dollar industry.  It’s why prescription drug sales are on the rise yet, according to the World Health Organization, we’re 37th as a nation in general health.  Unfortunately, my experience is that people expect health but reject commitment but you can’t have one without the other.

No one will ever care more about you than you.  To that end, no one can force you to be well.  Being healthy is a choice.  What you have to decide is whether you can move past your fear and commit to being the amazing, inspiring, and unstoppable individual you were built to be.

Limitless Choices: Finding The Exercise That’s Right For You

When it comes to exercise there are almost limitless options available.  With so many choices, people are often left guessing which type of exercise is right for them.  Facing this decision, there is a lot to consider, including:

1.        What are your goals?

2.       What are you physically able to do?

3.       What form of exercise will fit in your time constraints?

4.       What do you enjoy?

5.       What can you afford?

What are your goals?

This question is probably one of the most neglected when starting a successful exercise regimen.  To truly succeed and be consistent with your exercises, you must begin your goals in mind.   Which of the following is most important to you?

1.        Flexibility

2.       General Muscle Strength

3.       Endurance

4.       Overall muscle definition

5.       Core muscle strength

6.       Weight loss

Becoming clear on your goals will help point you in the direction of the exercise or exercises that will most allow you to accomplish those goals.  So, you have to consider what’s possible given the following primary exercise forms:

1.        Range of motion exercise – This form of exercise can include yoga, pilates, generalized muscle stretching, Tai Chi, or Qi Kung.  Range of motion exercises are ideal for that person who is looking to regain flexibility and decrease stiffness.  Generally, a person who suffers from stiffness or generalized soreness should include some form of range of motion exercise, though this form of motion is ideally suited for anyone.  Flexibility exercises will help lengthen tight muscles, decrease stiffness, and improve overall range of motion.  A weakness with this form of exercise is that it generally does very little to improve cardiovascular tone and may only minimally improve muscle strength.  Weight loss is also nearly impossible with range of motion exercises alone.

2.       Strengthening exercise – Building muscle strength is an extremely popular form of exercise.  Generally, this includes lifting weights (free weights or machines) and any other exercise that is done against resistance.  This form of movement is extremely effective for the person looking to boost muscle strength, produce definition in their muscles, and increase muscle mass.  Weaknesses with this form of exercise are that it produces very little cardiovascular workout unless resistance is produced with ballistic repetition (quick reps with a higher risk of injury).  Additionally, if weight loss is your goal, and it is for some, visual body changes will be a more reliable method of tracking progress than measuring weight.  Generally, resistance exercise will produce a bulky muscle mass rather than the leaner look which accompanies cardiovascular exercise.

3.       Endurance Exercise (Cardiovascular) – Probably the most important requirement for staying well is a healthy cardiovascular system.  Endurance exercises can include walking, but biking, running, elliptical, pool laps, or even calisthenics to help elevate your heart rate while boosting your exercise endurance.   This type of exercise helps to build lean muscle tone and can help to boost your metabolism, leading to increased energy.  Calorie burning is also relatively high, which can lead to rapid weight loss and generally results in a slimmed physique.  While cardiovascular exercise will help to boost your endurance, it will be more difficult to build muscle mass and short resistance to heavy load (found in strength training).  That being said, cardiovascular exercise should be a critical component of any exercise regimen as it helps to strengthen the heart and improves circulation to the extremities.  Keeping that in perspective, no one ever died of muscle weakness, but a weakened heart and circulation can kill you.

Generally a combination of all three is most ideal.  Having worked with thousands of patients over the years, I can say that flexibility exercises are the most neglected of the three major forms of exercise.  All, however, are important to improving and maintaining optimum health.   Many newer forms of exercise are emerging that incorporate aspects of all three such as cross-training, plyometrics, cardio kick-boxing, or boot camps.  There is an exercise regimen out there for you.  You just have to do it.

What Are You Physically Able To Do?

When beginning a new exercise regimen, you have to consider your own physical ability and limitations.  Not every exercise is meant for every person.  For example, a deconditioned person, not used to regular exercise, may not want to begin with a rigorous plyometric exercise.  Likewise, a person who is unable to bear weight for very long may benefit from starting with pool exercises before beginning a walking regimen.

Injuries while exercising are extremely common, usually the result of exercising beyond a person’s ability.  Two popular exercises I would also generally recommend against for most individuals are squats and dead-lifts.  Both have a very high risk of injury, usually because they’re done incorrectly, and have alternative exercises that will produce the same result with much lower risk of damage.

Exercising within a comfortable pain free range of motion is also key to preventing injury.  While the desire is to tax the tissue so as to produce a desired effect, that has to be weighed against the risk of tissue damage if you cross that line.  Exercising with proper form and being proactive about safety will give you a better workout and decrease the likelihood of having to stop your regimen due to an injury.

What  Form Of Exercise Will Fit In Your Time Constraints?

We live in a day and age where time is limited and valuable.  So, then, is your health.  With more and more people becoming more sedentary than ever before, it becomes ever more critical to incorporate an exercise regimen into your daily routine.  Simply put, you have to get moving.

The excuse I always hear is “I don’t have time to exercise.”  I need you to understand that statement is a total cop-out.  What it really means is “exercise is not important to me.”  Incorporating exercise into your regiment is a matter of priorities.  It’s always interesting how the person who “doesn’t have time to exercise” has plenty of time to watch TV, go out to dinner, sleep in on the weekends, or hang out with friends.  It’s never a matter of time.  It’s a matter of priorities. If it were important, you would make the time.

For those looking to be healthy, exercise becomes something that other commitments are scheduled around, not the reverse.  Ultimately, you will have to find an exercise that not only works for you but you can schedule your lifestyle to accomodate.

What Form Of Exercise Do You Enjoy?

It can truly be said that the best exercise in the world is the one you will actually do and do consistently.  With limitless possibilities for exercise, there is an exercise for just about anyone and there is some form of exercise that everyone will enjoy.  You just have to find it.

Whether, you have a knee replacement, back pain, or are just generally ill, there is an exercise for you.  So, what do you like to do?  Some like to hike while others prefer lifting weights.  Still others enjoy an evening run or a morning swim.  Finding what you love doing and sticking with it is a critical key to be successful at any exercise regimen you choose to pursue.

What Can You Afford?

This section should almost be a non-issue, because exercising is basically free.  You don’t need a fancy gym membership or home equipment to exercise.  You can go walking or running outside for no charge.  You can also make a ‘poor-man’s weight set’ out of some empty milk jugs.  Stretching can be performed in your living room and you can do calisthenics with no additional equipment.   You need to change your perspective on what it takes to get moving.  Unfortunately, many people use expense as an excuse not to exercise.  True, there are many amazing gyms and facilities where you can get a great workout, but don’t let the lack of a membership deter you from getting the movement you need to stay healthy.

Joining a gym does offer several benefits, however.  Exercising with your peers adds motivation and being away from home may decrease the likelihood that some form of distraction will take you off task.  Further, the classes offered in a gym may also guide you toward specific forms of exercise and help you exercise more safely.  The equipment available may further open options for specific exercises not possible at home.  A personal trainer may also add accountability and ensure that you exercise safely.

If you are fortunate enough to afford a trainer, choose one that most matches your fitness ideal and seems to represent your own goals.  So, a person working toward larger bulk muscle mass and definition should not necessarily choose a fairly slim, slender trainer, and a person looking to build a more feminine physique may not want a male body builder to train them.

Ultimately, the most successful form of exercise for you is the one you will actually do and continue with.  Oftentimes, people will give up on regular exercise because they feel like they don’t enjoy it.  Well with so many possibilities, find what you do enjoy and stick with it.  Only consistency will give you the desired results you are looking for.  Becoming healthy takes time and you have to invest in yourself to get the results you expect.

The Exercise Paradox: Movement Is Not An Option

Movement is not an option.  It’s a requirement.  A common conundrum that I see on a regular basis in my office is whether or not to exercise when you have chronic pain.  The correct answer is you should always be exercising.  Now, that doesn’t mean that every exercise is meant for every person and doing the wrong ones, based on your condition, may even have a negative effect on your health.  That being said, incorporating some form of exercise into your regimen is critical to maintaining your health and there is always some for of activity you can do regardless of your current health status.

Unfortunately, many people make the mistake of assuming they cannot exercise because of some form of ailment.  Generally they report that exercise “aggravates my knees” or “hurts my back.”  The problem is that the ‘no exercise’ solution really does nothing to improve that person’s health and may even be making it worse.  Your body is designed to move and the ‘use it or lose it’ rule really is directly tied to your health,

The World Health Organization has said that “sedentary lifestyle is more harmful than smoking.”  This is a fact that often does not occur to those stricken by pain or where exercise is more of a burden than a benefit.  To be honest, we’ve become a sedentary society where convenience is the rule.   It seems that every aspect of our lifestyle from computers to mobile phones is designed for convenience.  Of the thousands of patients I’ve seen in my office, I’ve noticed that being sedentary for large portions of the day can do more to aggravate a chronic pain issue than even some traumas.  Further, most exercise physiology research confirms that the sooner you can return a person to exercise, the better the long term recovery.

The reasoning for lack of exercise that many patients make is “the more I exercise, the more it hurts.”  The paradox is that the less you exercise, the more it will continue to hurt.  Worse, the less exercise you get, the more deconditioned you will become and the more your condition will advance.  You have to understand that your body is a sensory input and motor output machine.  It requires constant sensory and motor stimulation to stay healthy.  While it may “feel good” to not exercise, it is well known and accepted that prolonged immobility leads to muscle weakness, poor circulation in the extremities, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems, and can contribute to neurological symptoms.

For most people, a better solution is not that they can’t exercise, it’s that they need to exercise smartly.  For example, you can’t expect a person with severe arthritis in the knees to begin a walking regimen.  However, pool exercises may be a good place to start, then transitioning to a recumbent exercise bike.   Likewise, arm exercises using weights may also be a viable option to help maintain skeletal muscle tone and improve circulation to the extremities.  Either way, not exercising is not an option.

From heart disease to degenerative arthritis, exercise is possible and even necessary to maintain or restore health.  The question becomes then, what exercise is best for you when establishing an exercise regimen?  Many people just don’t know where to start when they are in pain and looking to rehabilitate themselves.  I will generally advise my patients to begin as easily as possible, exercising in a pain free zone.  While there is a temptation to work through the soreness, exercising while in pain can often aggravate the affected area and does little to rehabilitate it because the targeted muscles are guarded, your body compensating with other muscle groups.  Begin at the beginning.  Ease into any new regimen and exercise in a pain free range of motion.

Once you find a regimen you are comfortable with, begin building on that foundation.  Avoid those motions and movements that may aggravate your condition, focusing instead on the movements you are able to do well.  Over time, increase the amount of time, reps, and resistance as the exercise becomes easier.  Ultimately, you will begin rehabilitating yourself, improving your strength and range of motion via your own physical work.

Besides pain, exercise is a fundamental requirement for the person looking to become healthy and stay healthy.  In fact, your body depends on small amounts of stress in order to more adequately heal.  Movement improves circulation to the tissues which brings in oxygen and nutrients to help keep muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and even organs healthy.  Movement also stimulates nerve firing to help improve nervous system function, decreasing pain, improving muscle tone, and improving balance and coordination.  Movement against gravity will help strengthen your core and improve your posture.  Increased heart rate will also help keep your heart, lungs, and blood vessels healthy.

There is a solution for just about anyone.  Of course, the best exercise anyone can do is the one they are actually consistent with on a regular basis.  Excellent exercise habits will produce excellent results.  If you are only hit or miss with your regimen, expect corresponding results.  If you neglect exercise all together, expect illness to be an eventuality for you.

Unrealistic Expectations: Are You Standing In Your Own Way?

Generally, there is very little guesswork in staying healthy.  If you eat a healthy diet, get adequate exercise, manage your stress, minimize your toxic exposure, and maintain the health if your nervous system function by visiting your chiropractor regularly, you should significantly decrease your risk of disease.  Likewise, doing the same by changing your lifestyle from generally poor habits to excellent behaviors should reverse certain chronic illnesses that many people just assume are inevitable.  Essentially, so-so habits will give you so-so results.  Excellent habits, though, can change your life.

In most cases, you have the control over whether you are sick or not.  Unfortunately, many people believe or, rather, have been trained that disease is inevitable, an unstoppable force we are destined to collide with at some point during our lifetime.  The reality is, however, that the choices you make now will impact not only whether you will have a long life, but whether you have a quality life.  Less a matter of genetics, chronic illness is more impacted by the poor choices we make, neglect, and missed opportunities for health that we allow throughout our lifetime.

While the road to health is a journey, not a destination, one of the largest obstacles standing in a person’s path to true health is unrealistic expectations.  Now, I’ll be clear.  I don’t think it’s unrealistic to have full health as a goal even if you are suffering from chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes.  I’ve seen enough patients with everything from asthma to sleep apnea experience full resolution of their condition over the years to know with certainty that your body is an amazing healing machine capable of miracles.  What is unrealistic, though, are the artificial time frames, illogical conclusions, and nonsensical methodologies employed to accomplish those goals.

When looking at your health goals, there are several factors you must consider:

1.        Is your time frame realistic?

Many people, when expecting improvement for a chronic condition, are completely unrealistic with their time frames for improvement.   Much of the chronic illnesses that are rampant in older populations are the results of years of neglect.  Still, I work regularly with patients who expect to be well in a matter of days or weeks.  You cannot accumulate the effects of aging for decades and then expect immediate recovery.

Getting sick takes time, as does becoming well.  Your body is a self healing machine with incredible capacity as long as it’s given adequate fuel and proper maintenance.  Unfortunately, unrealistic expectations cause too many people to give up on improving her health, often long before the beneficial effects of their lifestyle change begin to take effect.

2.       Is what I’m doing helping or harming?

You have to ask yourself whether the solutions you are relying on are helping you, making no difference, or may even be hurting you.   We live in an age of limitless options, where there seems to be an answer for everything.  The problem is that often the solutions you’re given are just empty promises.

For example, many people who drink soda with choose a ‘diet’ option because they perceive it to be a healthier alternative to sugar.  Besides the fact that soda has almost no nutritional value, the artificial sweetener they are consuming may be linked to cancer or is toxic to the nervous system.  This ‘healthier’ choice is probably worse than a regular soda.  The better alternative is to avoid consuming soda altogether.

And there are countless other shortcuts and changes that people make that they perceive are better for their health like margarine versus butter or pool exercises versus weight bearing exercises.  Even your medications that you take to control your symptoms come with a price.  Mark Twain once said to “be careful of health books, you may die of a misprint.”  It still rings true today.

3.       Is this a fix or a cover-up?

On the topic of medication, a common unrealistic expectation is that your pharmaceuticals are somehow making you healthier.   You have to understand that if you are taking medications to begin with, you are not healthy.  The medication only chemically alters normal bodily function to produce a desired effect, decreased symptoms and risk factors.  The problem is that you’re just as sick while taking them.  You just don’t feel it because your symptoms have been suppressed.

There is not a medication out there for chronic illness that reverses any type of disease.  Granted, they will help you feel better and may prolong your life, versus not taking them, but they are by no means a pathway to health.   The results of taking medication are also temporary.  Meaning, if you stop taking the medication, the symptoms of the disease return relatively rapidly.

In my experience, I would also argue that taking medication for your condition means you have a suppressed disease process that you may not be realistically and directly addressing in a more meaningful way.  Unless you take real action to improve your lifestyle and the causes of your illness, you will have a hard time truly being well.

4.       Have you corrected some of the bad habits and neglect that contributed to this condition in the first place?

Albert Einstein said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Chronic illness is not a matter of luck but a matter of choice.  The pains and illnesses a person develops as they age are the result of the decisions they’ve made.  Essentially, you become a picture of the good or bad choices you’ve made up to that point.  In order to maintain and improve your health, you have to move away from the bad habits and behaviors that keep a person sick.  You can’t expect to continue to eat poorly, get no exercise, and have high levels of stress but remain healthy.  In the case of a person with chronic illness, you have to begin incorporating healthy choices into your regimen while eliminating the bad.  To change your health, you have to change your lifestyle.

Are you willing to make the difficult changes necessary to improve your health?  If you are, maintaining realistic expectations in the face of disease may be a critical factor in whether you improve the way you should or not.  Often, a person may never realize their true health potential because their unrealistic vision of improvement prevents them from attaining their goal.  How?  Because the person who thinks recovery should be fast and easy is more likely to give up on trying all together when they realize recovery is long and hard.  They are also more likely to prematurely stop an effective intervention before realizing the pull potential of that change.  Does a difficult road mean that you should give up on health altogether?  Many do.  Unfortunately, the end result is an opinion that illness is inevitable and uncorrectable…an opinion based merely on unrealistic expectations.

To change your health, you have to become realistic with your expectations.  To change your life, you have to commit to the difficult path, that may seem hard at first, but is worth your commitment in the end.  You’ll be able to make sizable changes in your quality of life and may even extend your life.  The choice, however, is up to you and your ability to be realistic with your expectations.

Exercise: It’s In Your Genes

Having been in practice for about 15 years, one of the most difficult aspects of delivering patient care is getting them to become an active participant in their own recovery.  In my experience, most patients want health handed to them without having to do any work or make the difficult choices needed in order to become healthy and stay that way.   They also expect a speedy recovery despite the fact that it may have taken them years to get to their current health state.

Genetically, we’re designed as humans to live a “hunter-gatherer lifestyle.”  Meaning, we are genetically programmed to spend most of the day foraging for food and hunting for our dinner.   Think about how humans lived 10,000 years ago, when there were no televisions, computers, or cell phones.  People didn’t spend all day sitting on their butt knowing they can just swing through the drive-through on the way home for dinner.  They had to keep moving or die.

Nowadays, in this era of convenience, we expect life to be easy and, after all, exercising is inconvenient and requires work.  I even had one person tell me one time that they didn’t like to exercise because “they got hot and it made them sweat.”  It was no wonder that the patient has in generally poor health.

The most common excuse for not exercising that I hear on a daily basis is, “I’m too busy.”  I say ‘excuse’ because it’s never about time.  It’s about priorities.  We fill our days with countless tasks so that it seems as if we’re almost constantly busy.  However, when you actually sit down and evaluate your day, you’d be surprised how much time you waste or even how much time is spent on low priority tasks.  Those same patients who “don’t have time” will spend 2-3 hours a day watching television or are unwilling to get up an hour earlier to exercise early in the day.  Their television show is more important than exercise.  Getting that extra hour of sleep is also more important than investing in their health.

The American Medical Association recommends 30 minutes of exercise 3 times per week but when you realize how much exercise we are genetically programmed to get, about 12-16 hours per day, you can see how 90 minutes a week is a vastly inadequate amount of movement to stay healthy.

Look at tribal communities around the world.  Did you know that their instances of heart disease, diabetes, and chronic back problems is almost non-existent?  People living a tribal lifestyle, as we are built to, don’t suffer from heart attacks and sleep apnea, at least not like we do in industrialized countries.  They die from Ebola or injured in traumas.  So, living in a country like we do where the risk for severe infectious disease or being maimed by wild animals is rare, we really choose to experience the general declines in health that many suffer as they age.

Think about your average day.  The average person likely:

1.  Wakes up in the morning and gets ready for work then grabs a quick bite and heads out the door (limited standing and sitting).

2.  Spends 30 minutes in a commute to work (sitting).

3.  Spends 8-10 hours sitting in front of a computer at work, sitting in meetings, or sitting on the phone.

4.  Spends 30-60 minutes commuting home (sitting).

5.  Prepares dinner then watches 2-3 hours of television, all the while taking care of their kids and other committments (mostly sitting).

6.  Finally, goes to bed (laying).

It literally seems like we’re resting ourselves to death.  No one ever became healthy by spending all day on their butt.

Now, say you do get the 90 minutes of exercise recommended by the AMA, is that enough to counteract the 166 remaining hours in the week that you are largely immobile?  I think the answer speaks for itself.

You need to exercise for series of reasons:

1.  It helps improve your health and circulation.  Your heart is a muscle and your need to work it out.  Studies consistently show a direct correlation between exercise and a decrease in heart disease.  Increasing your respiration also helps with oxygen delivery to your tissues to decrease fatigue.

2.  In helps improve immune function.  Exercise stimulates lymphatic flow and improves function of the lymph nodes.

3.  It helps improve digestion.  Movement helps contents move through the gut.

4.  In strengthens your muscles and maintains bone density.  Regular exercise helps boost your endurance, increases your energy, and decreases the degenerative effects of aging like arthritis.

5.  It will help you sleep at night.  Physically exhausting your body will encourage healthy sleep.

6.  It helps to keep your nervous system healthy.  Your nervous system is a sensory and motor processing machine that requires constant mental and physical input and output to stay at peak function.  Exercise has been linked to decreases in pain, depression, and degenerative neurological conditions.

The question becomes are you getting enough exercise to maintain minimal health?  Are you willing and able to make the sacrifices necessary to become healthy and stay that way?  Staying well is a journey, not a destination, that requires constant work and attention.  With unlimited potential but a vast minority of Americans who have a structured exercise regimen, are you, and your unwillingness to change, the only thing standing between you and being well?

Including Chiropractic: Don’t Skip the Most Important Step to a Healthier You

Why should you see a chiropractor?  After all you really don’t have any back pain, right?  As a chiropractic physician, one of the biggest misconceptions I see in our office on a near daily basis is the assumption that chiropractic care is just for back pain.  This erroneous myth is perpetuated by the amazing success that chiropractors have with caring for patients with back pain in our office.  It’s also the result of a reactive ‘disease management’ system that only treats people after they’re already sick.

To be honest, for a chiropractor, most cases of back pain are fairly straightforward.  Making a difference in the patient’s health and moving them away from ‘crisis management’ thinking is a lot more difficult.  Seeking chiropractic care for just back pain is like thinking about going to the dentist just for cavities.  There’s more to it than that.  The big difference is that you can replace your teeth but you only get one chance to take care of your spine and nervous system.  There’s no such thing as a spinal transplant.

Did you know that the first documented chiropractic adjustment was not for back pain at all?  It was for a case of hearing loss.  Unfortunately, this is a history lesson that is even lost on some of my own colleagues. In 1895, the founder of chiropractic care, D.D. Palmer performed a spinal mobilization on a deaf janitor named Harvey Lillard.  Mr. Lillard claimed to have been deaf for years and believed it began when he felt something shift in his upper back.  Reasoning that if a bone shifting out of place could lead to hearing loss then moving the bone back should restore it, Palmer mobilized the vertebra in Harvey Lillard’s upper back, ultimately restoring his hearing.

In the past 100 years, chiropractic care has established a reputation as an alternative option to traditional medicine.  Today, there are over 60,000 chiropractors in every state in the country.  Chiropractors are so intertwined with treating back pain because that condition produces such a rapid improvement with little residual as to be astounding in many cases.  If you read the research, though, you’ll find that chiropractic care has been shown to be effective for everything from headaches to digestive problems.  It’s even effective for pediatric conditions such as colic and asthma.

Most people regularly accept the importance of diet and exercise in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  Few however, other than a chiropractor, really teach about the importance of maintaining healthy nervous system function to maintain health and ward off disease.  In fact, less than 10% of the population has even been to a chiropractor before.

Not many people could argue against eating well and getting regular exercise as important to health, but my experience has shown me that most physicians will actually discourage chiropractic care unless the patient has a back pain symptom.  While this approach is in line with treating disease, this is not a ‘healthcare’ approach.  To treat back pain only after it occurs does nothing to prevent the condition in the first place, minimize the risk of back injury, or maintain healthy nervous system function.

To be truly healthy, you have to reject the ‘disease management’ model that is reactive when it comes to health.  To be truly well, you need to take proactive steps to prevent pain and illness from happening in the first place.  I would argue that chiropractic care is most effective when the patient has little to no pain, essentially when the body is not in acute distress and can accept the adjustment and hold it.

We are constantly bombarded by physical and mental stresses.  These stresses can be disastrous to the the body if left unchecked.  How many stresses do you endure on a daily basis that your body has to respond, adapt, and deal with?  Disease ensues when your body is no longer able to counter the stresses in a healthy way.  Chiropractic care helps improve your body’s ability to adapt to stress by decreasing the physical load on the body and removing pressure from the nervous system.

To be truly healthy, you must include all aspects of a healthy lifestyle.  That includes eating well, exercising, and maintaining your body’s nervous, muscular, and skeletal system.  If you want to be at your best, just like regular diet and exercise, you need spinal adjusting on a regular basis.