A few extra pounds, overweight or obesity is a sign from your body that something is not balanced. Culminating a perfect storm of a culture that needs to constantly produce, keep up with Jones's, compete often unhealthily, never show fatigue combined with a food supply that is quick and convenient, laden with misleading labels, sugars, unhealthy fats, additives, preservatives and other harmful chemical, our health is imploding and we aren't listening.
(NO TIME TO READ THE FULL BLOG NOW? Skip to the bullet points for advice on healthier lifestyle choices.)
2003 Obesity Trend Map
2017 Obesity Trend Map
I was recently surprised while researching some basic statistics for our upcoming TV show, embody The Lifestyle. In my first year of grad school, 2003, we studied US health trends with simple maps that colored in states with high rates of whatever health issue you were interested in. The top map is similar to that I would have looked at then. The 2017 map brought tears to my eyes. In 16 years, the obesity rates have climbed, as have chronic illnesses. No states have an obesity rate below 20% any longer, and we now top out at >35% obesity instead of <29%. Interestingly, in 2017 data, the weight loss industry brought in $66 billion and the fitness industry brought in almost $38 billion. There is an inverse relationship to the amount of money generated between weight loss and fitness industries and the obesity trend. The more we spend on going to the gym and weight loss diets, programs, supplements, meal replacement shakes and more, the sicker and heavier we are getting. A decent percentage of the gyms and branded diet creators would have us all believing we are weak, with no will power and lazy. This could not be further from the truth. We are so willing to get healthy as evidenced by the amount of money we are willing to spend, but we are offered poor advice and often mislead. What to do?
There is a direct pattern to how “Westernized” or developed your community is and your chance of developing a chronic disease. The Blue Zones Solutions by Dan Buettner, one if my favorite books, teases out health traits of communities that have the most people living over 100 years. Note that these centenarians are not lying in beds being kept alive by machines, but enjoy an active and fulfilled life for over 100 years. Traits that are common between centenarians are almost in direct opposition to the cultural practices in most of the US. Centenarians live in communities that are active through the day by walking to markets to purchase fresh foods to be cooked later that day or the next. Food is prepared in the home with locally grown, in season foods. Free time is spent visiting with neighbors or other members of the community. There is no time for video games, no processed/convenience foods, no gyms and in some areas, frequently no couches. After dinner hours are spent walking and visiting with neighbors until the end of the evening. Human connection is key. There are many other traits like elective caesarian sections over natural childbirth, antibiotics and other medications over plants, roots, rest and meditation that are dramatically different. As many of you read this, you may start to argue that it’s nearly impossible to live in your current community and walk to the market to cook. Just not realistic. Agreed. And, of course, some situations need medications. Meditation will not cure my diabetes. All true. Mostly.
Unfortunately, we have gone too often to the quick fix for instant gratification, and decided to roll the dice with the side effects of a medication we are told is necessary. I’m all for medicines and the life saving capabilities, but not so much for take this pill mentality. I’m more in favor of educating people on lifestyle choices, minimizing or eliminating the medication and side effects, and hopefully overall improvement of health and wellness. There are hundreds of chronic diseases many of which are impacted by lifestyle choices. What to do? Moving out of the US or other developed nations is not a reasonable solution, (although sometimes I consider the option when reading about the harmful compounds we are exposed to daily that are slowly being linked to our “mysterious” spike in allergies, mental health issues, and other chronic diseases). We can instead speak up to food manufacturing, policy makers, zoning boards and demand more wholesome lifestyle choices, and in the meantime, we can take steps to help make us healthier within our developed culture.
Get moving. Try to get outside, breathe fresh air and move. If you belong to a gym or similar, make sure you are getting hands on advice from a professional for your individual needs. (Unless you are training for an event, 60 minutes on the elliptical may not be the best use of your time).
Eat well. We have been so over marketed to by food manufacturing that we have forgotten that what we eat is what our body uses for everything - like beating our hearts, producing enzymes for digestion, hormones for regulation of way to many things to mention, healing bones, fighting off infections, breathing, thinking, feeling…everything! Your food is your equipment, your brick and mortar. If you want to fight off a cold, I’d choose some fruits and vegetables over a Big Mac, (and I’m sure I could argue that the Big Mac would fight on the side of the infection rather than with your immune system) Avoid refined sugars, processed foods and cook from scratch with wholesome ingredients.
Calm down. Chronic stress is fast becoming one of the largest risk factors for a chronic disease. You can’t eliminate all things that cause you stress, but you can learn some tools to help you handle a situation more easily and lessen the impact of the stressor. Blink your eyes closed, and count 5 breathes. If you lose track start over. Repeat for 1 minute. Research shows that meditating as little as 1 minute a day can lower your overall stress.
Massage. Muscles need love, too! Including regular body work like massage, foam rolling, trigger point therapy and myofascial release, acupressure/acupuncture, grastoning and guaSha can help increase blood flow to muscles, break up tangled muscle fibers, improve muscled balancing and decrease risk of injury. Massage is not a luxury. If you want your body to work, you need bodywork!
There are many reasons that may stand in your way to make your lifestyle changes, but the alternative is poor health. Health issues make us tired, cranky and don't allow us to live to our full potential. Whatever it takes, do it. You're worth it.