I'm Not the Only One Who Has Noticed This
(November 8, 2016)
Last week, as just one of many other worthwhile activities, I fervently commended one of my older patients for how well she takes care of herself. (Following a healthy lifestyle means experiencing a lot of little deprivations that can make an already stressful life even more difficult, and I think it’s nice for people to know that SOMEONE has noticed what they are trying to do.) It was especially appropriate in her case because the older people get, the less likely it is that they care properly for themselves. Anyone over 80 who watches their diet and exercises regularly should be embedded in Lucite and displayed prominently in a public place. Or at least they should hear "good job" once in a while.
In the midst of this fulsome praise, I happened to mention to her that I had noticed over the years that those of my patients who were in good health and lived healthy lifestyles not only healed more quickly, but were much more likely to recover from their problems at all, than the others. She said to me, “Not just you. EVERYONE says that.” Meaning her dentist, her massage therapist, maybe even her auto mechanic. So I figure Everyone must be on to something, and that that would make it worth a mention.
People already know that they need to stay healthy in order to avoid disease. But that is only half the picture. You also need to stay healthy in order to be able to RECOVER from disease. Because despite your best efforts, you are inevitably going to get sick and/or injure yourself.
You cannot avoid all risk. According to google, about 150 people a year are killed by falling coconuts, for example. (Far fewer are killed by sharks. Which I suppose means that if you are vacationing in the tropics, and a shark attacks you, you are more likely to survive by going mano a mano with it than running back up onto the beach. Such is the power of Statistics.)
Sticking with google and with the shark theme here, a time period that saw 179 shark attacks also saw about three people die as a result. You know what I bet? I bet that if you compared the general health of people who were shark-attacked (controlling for similar degree of injury, of course), you would see that the healthier victims were not just more likely to live, but recovered more quickly than the more sickly victims as well.
So it is a mistake to feel like you’ve failed if you get ill despite your best efforts to follow a healthy lifestyle. It’s true that the healthier you are, the more likely you are to avoid disease. But although it is not a guarantee, that doesn't really matter. Because even if you get ill, being healthy makes it far more likely that your body will be able to heal you effectively. Being healthy is "win win", not "probably win".
Or so we assume. Because to be honest, I am completely unable to find any studies that compare recovery times for ANYTHING for people with good general health versus those without. Apparently this is one of those “no brainer” assumptions that no one is bothering to study. I wish someone would, so we could have a little more solid information and maybe even an unexpected insight or two. It would be money much better spent than on, say, studying the benefits of massage on bunny rabbits.
But we can still make some pretty good guesses. Unless you eat properly, you are likely to be deficient in some minor nutrients needed for proper tissue repair, and you might be overweight, with resultant poorer circulation and a greater general level of inflammation. Unless you exercise properly, your blood flow isn't what it could be, and your muscle tone and flexibility are also substandard. If you aren't sleeping properly, you’ll heal poorly and be far more likely to injure yourself. And if your stress is out of control, the constant floods of cortisol will produce all of the above as well as prematurely age your entire body.
How much of health is due to lifestyle? According to WHO, about 60%. That would mean 40% is due to genetics. But those percentages are a bit wiggly, because lifestyle has a lot to do with how your genes are expressed. If you have "bad" genes, it doesn't mean that you are doomed by them. An appropriate lifestyle might alleviate their expression, or even prevent them coming into play altogether. Meaning a healthy lifestyle might be MORE beneficial for someone with a poor complement of genes than someone who lucked out in that department.
I’ve repeated ad nauseum the known guidelines for general health, and I will do so again. But there are more than just those, and some are not the ones that we usually think of. In my research for today’s newsletter, I stumbled upon the English translation of a research paper from a non-Western country (NOT China) that is very different from ours and I found their somewhat different cultural viewpoint on lifestyle not just refreshing, but very informative. Which I will talk about next time. In the meantime take care of yourself, as always - it pays off in many, many ways.
--dr. diane holmes
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