Tabloids are full of suggestions for the “magic bullet” that will keep you fit, healthy, and active into your golden years, however, the real magic may be found in our approach to living. Once you have discovered the root of your pain and fatigue issue and have begun to recover, you’ll need to identify the types of changes that will support your new and hard-won health and well-being. The everyday choices you make have a profound effect on your overall health. Which basic principles will contribute to your wellness? Is there some way to boil down the hundreds and thousands of health tips that we are barraged with in magazines, on TV, and from our friends, neighbors, and relatives? The answer is yes.
Here are five ways to approach life that will take you farther than any pill or diet fad can muster.
Maintain Proper Water and Fluid Consumption
We’re made up mostly of water, the magical solvent within which millions and millions of chemical reactions occur in our bodies. We all need to consume adequate amounts of pure water every day—about six 8-ounce glasses per day is generally recommended. But this doesn’t include the ice cubes in your scotch on the rocks or the water in your fruity drink, either! Preferably, it should be plain pure water. Use spring water from a trusted source or reverse-osmosis filtered water.
On the other hand, don’t drink too much water or other liquids with meals since this dilutes your stomach acid and enzymes and can impair digestion. If you need to drink with meals, drink pure water slightly acidified with the juice of a fresh lemon wedge or two. If you need something a little more interesting, instead of soda or sugary drinks, try a refreshing spritzer made of ice, 2⁄3 of a glass of sparkling water, and 1⁄3 fresh fruit juice.
Although more and more people are questioning this assumption, most people expect that when they turn on the tap, their water will be fresh and clean. That is not always so. Tap water from municipal supplies isn’t nearly as good as government sources would have you believe. The water from your local municipal treatment facility is now commonly contaminated with a variety of toxic chemicals; heavy metals; and pesticide, herbicide, antibiotic, and other prescription drug residues.8 It’s also a common practice to remove solid particles during water treatment by mixing aluminum sulfate into the water. Yet, aluminum toxicity has been increasingly linked to disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
Chlorination and fluoridation also create oxidative stress in your body, which may promote various chronic diseases. Chlorine can also form highly toxic and carcinogenic chemicals called organochlorides. Because of this, I always recommend installing a reverse-osmosis or charcoal water filter in your home—at a minimum on your main kitchen sink faucet and optimally on the main water feed to your residence.
Create a Sense of Purpose and Accomplishment
Have you noticed that people who feel they are accomplishing something in life and contributing to the greater good seem happier and more content? This sense of purpose and accomplishment can be achieved through your work, but it can also be generated through service to others of some kind or raising a happy family. I changed my career path from being an engineer to a doctor because I personally felt that I was more suited to help people directly as a health-care provider versus indirectly by designing and working on computer systems. For many of us, a drastic step like that is not necessary. I have also experienced great joy and contentment from something as simple as volunteering to coach youth ice hockey. Helping to teach and mentor kids is about as rewarding as it gets.
I think many people struggle with the issue of whether or not they are making a difference in the world, particularly as they approach middle age. This has certainly fueled the increase in volunteerism and second careers. Often we just become bored with what we’re doing and look for new challenges and horizons. While this can be destructive if we constantly up-end our lives, for many people it can be a good thing when done for the right reasons with purpose.
I encourage people to examine their lives—to consider if they are really contributing to the greater good and if they are content with their lives and accomplishments. If not, I always suggest they take steps to change their situations. Sometimes a really major change will be required, such as a career switch or even ending a destructive and unrewarding relationship, but in many cases, it may just mean spending more time with family or dedicating some time to a worthy cause.
Keep It Simple
The old principle “Keep it simple, stupid” is often referred to by its acronym KISS. I was taught this philosophy during my training when one of my professors told us, “When you hear hooves, think horses not zebras!” In other words, think about the common causes for a particular complaint or symptom before diagnosing a patient with some rare, obscure malady. This is a useful principle in everyday life.
Many of us put added stress on ourselves by avoiding KISS. Do we really need the biggest house we can possibly buy or that 20th pair of shoes? Is burning out your adrenals to acquire more objects that you’re told by advertisers you simply must have really a good idea? Do you think they have your best interests at heart? Wouldn’t we be healthier if we simplified our lives, uncluttered our homes, and reduced our stress? I think you know the answer to that question.
A colleague of mine once defined fun as something you do for the experience rather than the outcome. Labeling all the boxes in your storage locker or folding the fitted sheets may be useful and practical, but having dinner with friends, going to see a film, and dancing to your favorite music are all fun. Fun tends to be pointless—That’s the point of fun!
I have always liked this distinction and have used it with patients. Many of them realize that they have not been having enough fun in their lives. Even most recreational sports are full of competition, making them less enjoyable. I try and encourage my patients to have some fun every day. The stress relief from regularly engaging in an activity that you enjoy can’t be overstated. Even on workdays, you can usually fit in something small, such as listening to a favorite song or playing with a pet. Make it a point to engage in fun activities, particularly with those you love, on a regular basis. You’ll be healthier for it! I even go so far as to write out “fun prescriptions” for patients to show their family members so they have an official excuse to go outside and garden, ride their bike, go for a walk alone, or just curl up and read a book.
Make Your Health a Priority
My final thoughts are about the importance you choose to give to your health. If you’re like most people, your greatest priority is not your health, even though you may say that it is. I can’t tell you how many patients I have seen who balk at the very idea of spending money on a bottle of quality vitamins or to see a chiropractor or massage therapist on a fairly regular basis. Yet, they’ll think nothing of going out to dinner several times a week or getting their nails done. Many of these same people would spend $800 at the vet’s office if their dog had the slightest problem, but would not even dream of spending that amount on a health-related test for themselves.
Why is this? One reason is that we have been convinced—wrongly—over many decades that our health care should be totally covered by our insurance policies and that if something isn’t covered, well, it probably isn’t all that necessary. This is not true. Bad general health care or disease-based crisis health care may be covered by your insurance and is therefore sometimes perceived as almost free (even though you are paying for it somehow), but quality wellness and preventive health care is not free! At least not in the world we’re living in, with a “disease” care system as opposed to a true “health” care system.
People must start looking at their health insurance as nothing more than a safety net against the very high costs associated with serious illness, hospitalization, and surgery. In fact, even things that are covered by insurance are getting less and less free. Look at the increasing deductibles, co-pays, and declining coverage for many services. Patients must come to grips with the fact that if they really want quality care, including preventive and wellness health care, they are going to have to pay something for it. As the old saying goes, “You can pay a little now or you can pay a whole lot more later.”
This may mean shifting priorities in order to do away with some of those purely emotional purchases you really don’t need and investing some funds into your long-term health. Yes, those vitamins and nutrients may cost some money. The organic veggies and free-range chicken may be more expensive. Office visits to your naturopath, chiropractor, nutritionist, acupuncturist, or massage therapist may not be covered at all. It’s all just a matter of priorities. Your health and vitality are your greatest assets. Without them, not much else matters.
David Brady, MD, // drdavidbrady.com