Sunday, May 2, 2010

Welcome to first health through imagery blog Join us. If you want to see  background about the health through imagery project check it out at this link:  Health through Imagery described

You can’t pick up a magazine or newspaper without finding a cacophony of dogmatic information about what to eat, how many miles to walk each day, and the latest magic pill that will ensure you a long and healthy life.   Confused? Here’s the good news:  Your life (or lifestyle) is more or less what makes you healthy.  Not to take anything away from professional health care,  but your health is in your own hands, no expertise needed.  In fact, many of your urges and pleasures are not sinful but are actually good for you and part of your own unique recipe to produce “health”, well being, and vitality.

Health advice via experts is not universally healthful. Trust me about this.  I am a health expert.  In part this is because advice about things like nutrition (aka eating), exercise (moving about or playing) may be based on science that is likely to change dramatically. Frequently these dictates are also difficult to follow because they are hard to comprehend and hard to do.

 As an example, in 2007 Gary Taube wrote a mind-changing article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine called “Science and the Stairmaster:  Why most of us believe that exercise makes us thinner—and why we’re wrong”.   This article uproots every deeply held notion about the relationship of exercise, eating, and weight loss and its validity has been consistently confirmed.  In summary: “….despite half a century of efforts to prove otherwise, scientists still can’t say that exercise will help keep off the pounds. This is not to say that there aren’t excellent reasons to be physically active . . . But there’s no reason to think that we will lose any significant amount of weight, and little reason to think we will prevent ourselves from gaining it.”

Oh no! Another magic bullet gone the way of bran, Vitamin E, margarine, low fat diets, and sugar substitutes.  Could the essential flaw be our powerful desire to reduce health to that single magic bullet?  Instead of holding out for just one thing that will save or change our lives perhaps instead we need a variety of them, many of them fun things that make us feel good.

As pleasing as a simple linear relationship might be—food in, weight out—it doesn’t seem to be true.  We live in relationship, in dynamic interaction with our cellular and universal environments. The science of health proves over and over that humans are complex systems and social animals.  The answer to our ongoing search for good health will be multifaceted and include what we think, if we love, if our lives have pleasure, if we eat real food and drink water.  The commonsensical but scientifically grounded words of Michael Pollen about eating, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” strikes just the right tone.

In this spirit, as a nearly reformed health expert, I offer the following advice: Start and stick with things that consistently make you feel fit, able, and energetic, no matter what the experts say.  Become an expert about yourself.

As an example of how we each need to feel our way to health, let’s continue with advice about exercise.  In animal studies, if Animal #1 enjoys running on its treadmill it will benefit from the exercise. However, if animal #2 is obliged to run every time animal #1 does, Animal #2 not only doesn’t necessarily benefit from the exercise but also may actually be at greater risk of ill health from such things as ulcers and cardiovascular disease. Exercising against your will, when it is a duty, may actually be bad for you. (ref R Sapolsky) Animal #2 may love to square dance or make rock pathways, laugh out-loud or god-forbid, read.  

In the particular environment of a person’s life, any one of these things may contribute to well being.  Thus, the best advice about exercise and your health must come from you and it depends on how you “feel” about that exercise.  Apparently the more it resembles fun or play the more contributes to your health and happiness.

Coming next…. The nearest thing to a magic bullet—social connection or “lets make friends”.


Reference links

  1. Gary Taube- New York Times Sunday Magazine, Science and the stairmaster:  Why most of us believe that exercise makes us thinner—and why we’re wrong (
  2. Robert Sapolsky- multiple sources. A fun one is a podcast he has made on his excellent book “Why Zebras don’t get ulcers” and another on what baboons can teach about stress us available from Stanford University for free download at:  Sapolsky podcast
  3. Micheal Pollen newest book "Food Rules" is fun, well written and scientifically sound. Great for kids or adults.

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