Fat and Happy or Fit and Healthy

There is an old expression that describes contentment as “sitting fat and happy.”  Our modern lifestyle seems geared toward having both, often at the expense of your health and longevity.  While the United States has one of the most sophisticated healthcare delivery systems in the world, we rank 37th in overall health according to the World Health Organization.  Why is that?

Look around you.  We live in an age that is designed to sabotage our health.  Cheap, poor quality food is readily available at every turn.  Our jobs are slowly moving away from physical labor toward a computer driven economy that inhibits exercise.  We even have moving sidewalks.  So, the question becomes is “sitting fat and happy” the picture you had for your life?

Let’s look at the results of a sedentary lifestyle.  There are endless known effects of lack of exercise and poor diet, including:

1.        Increased risk of heart disease

2.       Increased risk of diabetes

3.       Increased risk of cancer

4.       Increased risk of stroke

5.       Decreases immune system

6.       Sleep difficulty

7.       Depression

8.       Digestive problems

9.       Decreased life expectancy

10.   General decline in health

The “fat and happy” lifestyle is a recipe for disaster.  While you may enjoy temporary satisfaction, you are setting yourself up for long-term failure.

Unfortunately, many people are led to believe that being healthy is out of their reach.  They’ve been told that illness is just inevitable and they are destined to suffer the rest of their life with some form of chronic infirmity.  Worse, many of the people telling them this are the very people they trust with their health decisions.

The truth is exactly the opposite and you have more power than you know.  Being healthy is a choice as much as being sick is your decision.  Your body is a self healing machine and functions optimally with adequate fuel and proper maintenance.  Further, where you are in your health right now is more likely a reflection of the decisions you have made up to that point rather than an accident of genetics or fate.  The biggest detriment to being healthy may be you.  Lack of exercise, poor diet, high amounts of stress, and poor nervous system health all contribute to a decline in your overall well being.

If we’re told that as we age getting sick is normal, does that make the 90 year old healthy individual on no medications abnormal?  When did sick become the new normal?  Where you are in your health is a product of the choices you make, a cause and effect.  If you choose to exercise or not, there will be an effect.  If you choose to eat junk food or vegetables, there will be an effect.  If you are able to manage your stress or not, there will be an effect…and so on.

Disease does not occur in a vacuum.  It’s the deliberate result of years of poor decisions and neglect…years of “sitting fat and happy.”  You need to understand that the decisions you make now about your health may determine whether you spend the later years of your life sick and tired or fit and healthy.  The decisions you make now may even shorten or prolong your life.

Even if you are sick, there are ways to restore your health.  No, taking ibuprofen for pain, an acid reducer for acid reflux, or an antibiotic for a sinus infection does not make you healthy.  You can’t get health from chemicals in a bottle.  Medications are only designed to alter body functions in order to manage a disease process…cause and effect.  They are not vital nutrients.  In other words, you’re still “fat” (or, more appropriately, sick) but at least you’re happy.  Health can only come from one place…from inside you.  The decision you have to make is whether you are willing to make the good decisions to take care of yourself as an insurance policy for your future.

The ironic thing about health is that most people know what they need to do to be healthy.  They know they need to stop eating the junk.  They know they need to eat more fruits and vegetables.  They know they need to get more exercise.  They know they should take care of their spines.  Many of the patients I talk to even know that the medications they take are not the solution they are looking for.  Still, they choose not to do anything about being well and prefer to live “fat and happy.”

Each day is a new cross-road in your life.  Each day, you have the option to take care of yourself or not.  Keep in mind that every day you choose not to act builds upon the next.  Ultimately, you need to decide for yourself whether you are going to live each day “fat and happy” or fit and healthy.

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.