|Longevity. Most of us are seeking this. We hope to live a long and healthy life. Three years ago, in early 2016, for the first time ever, the CDC stated that children being born today have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. It’s the hard truth. Obesity and other diet related chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease are the reason. These diseases used to be diseases of adulthood. Sadly, children are now being diagnosed with these diseases. Imagine the toll disease takes on a body when it is diagnosed at 10 years of age rather than at age 50. It’s scary. It’s real and it’s happening across the world’s industrialized nations.
You just have to peek at the daily news articles or scroll through your favorite social media platform to see the latest diets and advice for improving health and longevity. Many people are struggling to fix the problem for themselves. Some bounce from this diet to that and struggle to implement the latest exercise advice. Some of what is out there is probably right, though we are constantly being bombarded with newer information and “plans” for better health. Trying to follow all these recommendations feel like a job. Do this, don’t do that. It’s overwhelming!
Perhaps it’s time to take a step back in the interest of good health. If you’re trying to keep up with all the health advice because you want to do what’s right for your body and soul, it’s probably causing you additional stress, exactly the opposite of what you need! Good health and longevity can be a much simpler process than we are being led to believe. It really comes down to four pillars that we can take from the ancient Tibetan proverb, “The secret to living well is; eat half, walk double, laugh triple and love without measure”. Translated to today’s terms; portion control, regular exercise, stress relief and healthy relationships. Promoting good health goes back to the ancients.
So how does one simplify living healthy? Let’s take these four pillars and apply them to our modern lifestyle.
“Eat half” equates to portion control. Americans tend to eat large amounts of food. Picture the plate that was delivered to you the last time you ate out, or even the last plate of pasta you served yourself. Chances are it was two to three times (or possibly more) the actual serving size recommended. The majority of Americans eat super sized meals on a daily basis. A friend recently told me she and her husband went to Canada. They ordered dinner in a nice restaurant and were surprised when the meal was served. It seemed like a very small amount of food. In retrospect, she decided that it was probably a true serving size. She also noted that both she and her husband felt satisfied after the meal. Start practicing eating about half the amount of your typical meals and snacks. If you’re out, ask for a box when your plate is delivered, or better yet, ask the server to package half of your meal to go and bring you the rest. Notice there’s no mention of counting calories or carbs, fat and protein. There’s no mention of the food groups. Eat a variety of foods every day, take your time eating and really enjoy your meals. If you make healthy choices and practice moderation, you will be well on your way!
“Walk double” equates to getting regular exercise. Exercise keeps the body in good working order, but for many of us, it’s the first thing to be put on the back burner when other things crop up. Regular exercise is essential for a body to be truly healthy. Muscles need to be stretched and toned. Bones need to be strengthened. Increasing heart rate and getting the blood pumping is great for your cardiovascular system, reducing your risk of heart attack as well as lowering blood pressure. That being said, the question for many is when and how to exercise in our world of long hours at work, life’s responsibilities and not using our own body as transportation. Exercise can be planned and formal or spontaneous and informal. There are folks who need to put it right on their agenda or they will never do it. They need a scheduled class or an exercise partner to hold them accountable. And then there are others who do better without a plan. They build it into their life in a more casual way. They might get outside for good romp in the yard with the dog or kids, go for a bike ride or take a fast paced walk in their neighborhood or along a beach. Keeping an extra pair of sneakers and even some casual or workout clothes in the car, allows you the opportunity to exercise anytime the mood or weather is right. If you can exercise in some way everyday, there’s no need to count minutes or reps. When talking about being active, we can’t leave out decreasing sedentary behavior. Our bodies are meant to be up and moving the majority of the time. If our ancestors weren’t up and moving they didn’t eat or have shelter for the night. In our world of desk jobs, reality TV shows and technology, we are sitting way too much. You owe it to your body to exercise daily (or at least most days) and to be up and about the majority of your waking hours. Increase your movement and you will benefit ten fold – you will have lower weight, lower cholesterol, lower risk of falls, lower risk of type 2 diabetes and some cancers. You will feel better and happier, experience more energy, sleep better, feel more relaxed and in the event of an illness or injury, your body will recover better! Let’s keep moving!
“Laugh triple” equates to stress relief. You’ve heard the saying “laughter is the best medicine”. Laughter has the ability to decrease stress, pain and conflict, while at the same time, bringing your mind and body back into balance. It has the power to relax your entire body in seconds, relieving physical stress and tension and decreasing the release of stress hormones, which can wreak havoc on the human body if left unchecked. In turn, your body releases endorphins, the feel good hormones, which halt distressing emotions, and leave you feeling relaxed. It’s physically impossible to feel anxious, sad or angry when you are laughing! As you relax, your mood is improved, your immune system is boosted, your blood vessels open up and blood flow increases, protecting you against cardiovascular problems. The ability to smile and to laugh is innate. Smiling and laughter emerge within the first few months of life as they are crucial to both our physical and mental health. Laughter is a part of daily life for children. It tends to decrease as we age and life becomes more serious and stressful, which is when we need it most. It’s been said that laughter is contagious. Keep good company and if possible, include children in your life and you’ll find yourself laughing on a regular basis!
“Love without measure” equates to having healthy relationships. Surrounding yourself with people who care about you is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. Humans are social creatures and social connectedness is vital to our overall health and wellbeing. One of the most striking benefits is mortality. In numerous studies worldwide, those with the highest levels of quality social involvement had the lowest risk of death, even if they had documented medical conditions. The human body and mind thrive when life is filled with quality social relationships. Connecting with others reduces stress and anxiety, which in turn reduces blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels. People with social connections tend to take better care of themselves with regard to exercise, diet and adhering to medical regimens, such as remembering to take medications. They also tend to recover faster from illness and injury. Social ties also give people a sense of responsibility and provide a sense of purpose in life. Feeling cared for and valued by another human being has a tremendous impact on one’s mental health. On the flip side, a life void of social connectedness suffers both emotionally and physically. When people lack social connections, loneliness results. This causes feelings of unhappiness and lack of fulfillment and purpose, which often result in lack of self-care resulting in illness. Dementia and depression are more prevalent, especially in older folks, who have limited or no social connections. Physically, loneliness can result in poor sleep, increased blood pressure and release of cortisol and a weakened immune system putting these people at risk for more illness. Boost your health by nurturing your relationships with friends and family members. What you “put in” you will, in turn, receive in one-way or another. Quality social connections give our lives meaning and we feel a sense of personal control over what we do and how we live. Humans thrive on knowing they have a purpose resulting in a healthier, longer life.
Written by Kathy Tonelli of Your Way to Health RI and a SimplaFYI Community Practitioner
Learn more about Kathy here.