The threat of infection on everyone’s mind currently from COVID-19, might make it hard to think of the future in a positive light. Especially when you add the financial challenges. Everyone will be affected directly and/or indirectly by the economical dominoes currently unfolding. I want to share some opinions and perspectives detailing why we should always be looking after our health regardless of where we are in life.
There are behaviours that we all follow in a herd like mentality that do not aid optimal health or benefit the collective. What seems like one enormous economic enterprise that we find ourselves in, namely society, the nation and the world show patterns of eating and exercise that are inconsistent with health outcomes. I am putting more emphasis on eating than maybe there needs to be. But the saying we are what we eat is literally fact in every sense of the word. We can add sleep, stress management, ‘excess’ management, breathing and hydration to the list of areas to improve on too. For the purpose of this article I am only focusing on what we eat, how we eat and the sustenance we gain from those habits.
Right off the bat I want to quote something Tony Robbins just said in a Facebook post in relation to our current pandemic situation, “no matter what happens in life, who I am is bigger than anything that could ever happen to me or anyone I love. No problem is permanent, and nothing that happens is pervasive (Tony Robbins, 2020)”. Whatever situation you’re in you need to look after yourself regardless.
If you hadn’t already guessed, the latest viral pandemic and ‘info-demic’ has thrust many to be more judgmental than usual, myself included. Emotions are stirring punctuated with uncertainty, doubt and mostly fear of the unknown. I don’t want to think of this in a negative way even with irrational contemplations that cross through my mind daily as reality creeps in, then whisked away just as fast. Day to day, hour to hour it feels like years of decisions and planning were pointless. I’m optimistic that more good than bad will come of this. On a societal, institutional and spiritual level.
This adversity has forced me to think with depth and breadth for changes or rather evolutions that must take place. So many areas of life come to mind with a myriad of only shallow solutions. Many of these solutions however start the same way. How we think. Everything starts right there. The more I read and the more I try to observe the message seems to be the same. Cognitive dissonance is putting ourselves and the rest of the collective at a disadvantage. Correction, Dissonance exists in all our minds and it is not a negative thing. It is simply inconsistent thoughts. We all have them but often the inconsistent thoughts linger long enough to infect a whole tribe or culture. For 5 Everyday Examples of Cognitive Dissonance check this link out.
Cognitive dissonance“the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.” (Oxford)
Right now, someone somewhere is sitting in a public place with a sore throat, blowing their nose completely ignorant of their choice. That is unaware, uneducated or simply just discourteous. Everything we see right now is evidence of behaviours positive and negative on every level. But this isn’t about them specifically. This to me is a reminder about the big picture of human health and how we take for granted what it means to be healthy. And the implications of the absence of it. In other words, looking after ourselves and our immune systems.
I’m curious to why the value of human health (or rather a lack of), seems to be either ignored or not put enough emphasis on by some. The strong suggestions and even legislation for everyone to social distance or else go into complete lock down clearly is evidence there is a great deal of value in human life. It’s as if a whole economy has forfeited chips and folded in favour of self-preservation. And I agree every life is worth it. I see a disparity in steadfastness for promoting human health in general. Why haven’t we pushed all the available chips in favour of human health? Here’s an example. 40% of Australians cycle to work each year (Infrastructure Australia, 2009). Better access to bike paths would make real contributions to people’s health and obesity levels. Reducing congestion reduces stress and pollution, while allowing people to ride and become more active.
It’s not a perfect world but where is the overarching health agenda being preached every day to the people? What am I missing? Did I miss it? Or is it just that it is missing? How else do we explain the frailty of our species and the lifestyle diseases we suffer from? Is everyone sitting in fear right now or is it just people who have had the realisation that their health could be better and in turn immunity stronger?
Blame the markets?
I never knew that animals have just as many diseases as humans. They have no health care system, no social media and no chance really except to evolve if they don’t go extinct in the process. With the amount of animals under threat from disease outbreaks, land clearing, climate change, intensive breeding, increased trade and smuggling it’s no wonder we have an ‘extinction rebellion’ and a novel coronavirus pandemic.
You may be thinking that the wet markets in Wuhan province in China need to be shut down immediately and permanently. They exist in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia too. They are built into the culture and cemented into the minds and the economy. While they may be necessary for nutrient protein, they surely are a serious risk which has been known for many years. We have also witnessed western agriculture make huge mistakes with farmed animals also. Shutting them down however would have much worse consequences. From taking away a food supply; driving conglomerates to take hold of a bigger piece of the pie; and vitalising the wild animal black market trade already in existence.
Do we expel people from society, treat them badly, or curse them if they are not in optimal health. No, of course not. No one can expect the same sort of diligence, knowledge and fortitude from everyone. And to be honest it feels like the ingredients to survive sometimes. What we can do to play our part in being the healthiest version of ourselves is to ask questions, increase awareness and support others. Lead or follow the way and set an example. For some it seems too late. And we can’t think in such a short timeline either. The seeds we plant today extend far beyond our existence. For your children it is a must that they be given health habitual eating practices. Not adequately feeding children is obviously neglect but also not teaching your kids how to eat healthy is also neglect in my opinion.
How do our beliefs affect our health?
Let’s do a top down inside-out look because that is where we all have the ability to affect change. It may not be a strength of yours but it is truly possible to evolve providing the desire is present. In other words from your thoughts, through your body and into your actions and back again. You are human. You have this ability unlike almost every other species on the planet. A consciousness. We have the ultimate choice and power to make change.
While we are all different there may be gaps in our behaviour on a variety of levels. Certainly there are in my life. From every level of authority, in every demographic, age group and sex. I believe there are varying camps of knowledge, behaviour, biases and action. And when health literacy is low we follow or mimic others behaviours in a trial by error, ‘blind-trust’ sort of attitude.
So, when it comes to putting a value on personal and the collectives health:
- it seems, simply don’t care.
- lack foresight and/or unaware how their actions contribute to their lack of health.
- believe it’s not really that important.
- think they are doing enough.
- have good health and wellness habits.
- have been engulfed in the world of biohacking and believe they will live way longer by spending large percentages of their wage on practices, fads, pills and gadgets.
- are misguided and yoyo from healthy to unhealthy, rationalising whenever they want to do unhealthy things.
- genuinely try but fail due to lack of knowledge, finance and support.
- have an exceptionally healthy lifestyle benefited by a high financial position.
Of course, this is far from scientific or black or white but merely to paint a picture of disparity in belief and attitudes among society. I’m sure you could add some others and even disagree with some of mine.
According to the transtheoretical model (TTM) a behavioural therapy model for changing behaviour, it presumes that we all go through one of 6 stages of change: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance or termination (Lamorte, 2019). And without unpacking completely what these stages mean, it is fair to say that in the context of choosing healthy foods and exercising most if not all of us go back and forth through these stages when we are trying to find a better way.
Extremely simplified version of stages of change:
- No, I’m not ready; not thinking about it; not willing.
- Maybe I could think about; maybe I need it; oh I’m not sure.
- Ok I think I want to change; what do I have to do?
- Ok, here I go, I’m still worried but I’m taking the first small step in the right direction.
- Ok, I’m in action and I’m on my way; I need to keep going.
- Right, I’m done with crap food. This is the new me!
The stages from 1 to 5 are not distinct events but rather very blurred lines stimulated possibly by life events, new knowledge, increased fear and/or rewards that incite further action in the right direction. Maybe even like this viral pandemic? The key here is starting and being prepared to go back and forth between levels and knowing that it is normal and it is ok. And to keep trying as many different strategies possible. And no, you have not tried everything. Guaranteed.
What is health anyway?
While some believe that health is simply the absence of disease, conditions or symptoms I think this is a dangerous falsehood. The origin of disease does not necessarily have symptoms to begin with. By the time the disease has been defined, categorised and given a name the disease has been lurking in the background possibly for many years. Subtle symptoms start long before we ever decide to get a check-up. Many diseases are insidious and chronic before they rear their ugly head. Like a bolt on an engine gradually vibrating loose over the years to suddenly fall off causing an unwanted chain reaction.
My mantra is ‘prevention is better than cure’. We are constantly defending against infectious pathogens, chemicals, pollutants, stresses, and generally wearing the body down. Some things we have control over and some things less. And everything that seems normal and legal, from diet, smoking, alcohol, drugs, sitting all day everyday, no exercise, highly refined chemically concocted foods and water that has additives in it can be taking years off our life or setting us up for a painful end and not realise it. And remember some things may be catalysts to psychological manifestations.
We obviously don’t choose our genes. But we can lessen the impact on gene expression by paying attention to epigenetics. Environmental influences can impact our epigenome, modifying it, having an effect passed through from generation to generation. (National Institution for Health, 2020). So, preventing modification of gene expression is worth noting, if not for you but future offspring.
By now you’re probably ready to chuck the towel in shouting “bugger it, I don’t care”. Which I’m sure is where many people come unstuck. And let’s also be honest we all have heard those anecdotal stories of “the guy who was an athlete, always running, ate well then dropped dead all of a sudden”. So what does this all mean?
“It’s not how many times you get knocked down that count, it’s how many times you get back up.”– George A. Custer U.S. MILITARY
So what’s the point of optimal health?
So, why do I believe that not enough people put the required emphasis on health or longevity?
Everything we do affects the future. From the effect on our epigenome passed on to descendants through to all our dollars spent on groceries, foreign products, and invested in medical research and development; identification, diagnosis and treatment; the costs of drugs, surgical intervention, devices and allied health care services; direct and indirect costs of mental health; government labour costs managing and providing programs and care to those in poor health; economic cost of reduced productivity; loss of money from sickness and absenteeism; environmental costs of over eating, and more. We are all affected by the way we spend and how our tax dollars are spent.
I actually don’t believe some people ever reach full vibrant health. We can get used to being a certain way. It becomes our norm. Do you remember Norm the couch potato from the Life be in it campaign launched in 1977? Norm was a stereotypical Aussie bloke who was inactive and had a big belly. You could say like Homer Simpson or the image of the overweight ‘dad bod’ commonly described today.
But wait, we are not here to fat shame or even sick shame. This isn’t about having a six pack or a very low body fat percentage. As defined here “Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.” (Queensland Clinical Senate. 2015). We are here to get perspective to why health has always been important and should be our number one priority always and not just during pandemics.
The Australian government estimates it spends $81.8 billion on health care in 2019-2020 (Phillips et al., 2019). More than $44 billion direct costs annually to the Australian economy for absenteeism (HR Advance, 2018). Diabetes and obesity vastly outnumber most pandemics in proportions along with other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). These include cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory diseases, cancers, and mental illness. All of these may be preventable and reversible if only we were at optimal health. Even if we were to contract or suffer from any of these acute or chronic things we would be at most defensible, resilient and durable selves.
Most of these lost costs could be devoted to more progressive pursuits like discovering how to extend our life span; discover ways to encourage pristine environmental habitats that we could co-exist with; do away with cruel, tortuous agricultural methods; pour funding in to smaller local farming operations with the label farm to fork; open up a hell of a lot more funding to people with disabilities; feed the undernourished; take every homeless person off the street; invest in more sustainable energy resources to mention a few.
Bigger than you and me
The picture is way bigger than you and I. He’s the irony. We think we are being selfish when we say we can’t do overtime or tell our family and friends sorry can we make it another time as I have a personal training session or group fitness class today. These people are actually ridiculed for being gym junkies or narcissistic. I’ve been called both numerous times. And why, because I want to feel good, look good and live to a ripe old age with all my faculties. Well I’m going to turn the table. Once and for all. Or maybe Covid19 has done it for all of us.
In actual fact the opposite is true. Those who do not look after their health are letting themselves down and the rest of the collective. But wait it’s still not that simple either. It’s not always because of laziness and ignorance or being a glutton or sloth as is the common story.
While some would fit into this category according to a paper by Allen noting that in recent years, it’s understood that social, political, and economic trends are significantly driving non-communicable diseases. Allen goes on to state “...including national economic performance, urbanization, population aging, globalization, and the increasing marketing, affordability, and availability of unhealthy products) are the most significant drivers of the NCD boom, rather than a sudden uptick in human laziness”, (Allen, 2016).
If COVID-19 hasn’t proved to us we’re extremely the rest of the endemic and epidemic health issues should. Perfection is unattainable obviously. We need to be kind to ourselves and consistently keep trying little by little. But isn’t that what we’ve been doing? We are getting sicker while some are getting better.
As the Western Australian Health department (n.d.) states “If a person is overweight or obese, even small amounts of weight loss (5% of body weight, for example, 5kg for someone who weighs 100kg) can bring a range of health benefits such as improved blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.)”. Every little bit helps.
Let me ask you. What is your number one priority in life? How much time and thought do you invest in healthy eating and exercise? Are you constantly pouring from an empty cup? What message are you sending to your kids, and peers? And has the recent pandemic adjusted your stance to any of these questions? And if so why? What do you need to know?
Now more than ever even with the push of the fitness industry, medical and allied health industries and public health initiatives exercise and nutrition are still not where they should be. We suffer from lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and are more obese than any time in history.
To be fair even people who exercise and eat well can get sick. I’m not talking about a magic pill. I’m talking about setting yourself up with the ability to resist sickness with a good fight and bounce back hard and fast. Like we will after this pandemic of Covid19.
How masculine are you?
What a silly question. Or is it?
Statistics show that If you’re male you’re less likely to go to the doctor because we think we’re tougher and more durable. I really wish this to be true, but it really is not. The fact is men do not visit the doctor when they need to. “This avoidance of physician visits is consequential, as it is understood as contributing to men dying at higher rates than women for 14 of the 15 leading causes of death in the United States, (Mahalik & Backus Dagirmanjian, 2018).”
“Men are about a quarter as likely as women to have seen a physician over a 1-year period, half as likely over a 2-year period, and three times less likely during the past 5 years”, (Mahalik & Backus Dagirmanjian, 2018).
But what is more interesting are some of the reason’s men don’t go to the doctors:
- No time
- No health insurance
- Uncomfortable with what they might find out
- Asking for help may make them feel less in control and appear less masculine
- Rejecting help to maintain image of masculinity
- Believe that they(we) are the stronger sex and women are frail
How many blokes reading this know this to be true? There is zero shame in going to the doctor and zero shame asking for help. This is especially true when it comes to your mental health and employing a psychologist. The options are struggling through it, think you’re progressing when in actual fact you’re wasting time or going backwards. You could be onto the next project, completing your first dream project, dating again, repairing a relationship, having more fun than you thought were possible, or simply just not struggling and at peace.
I remember the first session I ever went to for some difficulties I was having. It was a really good experience. Maybe I was lucky to find someone who seemed to understand me. And it really just felt like a chat. I had a positive outlook after leaving with a few tips in my quiver to why things weren’t working and how I could get past what I was feeling. Better still the government is increasing spending in mental health so you can find financial assistance there also.
Visit your Doctor
It is a good idea to visit your doctor once per year depending on what you’re getting tested. I personally get a full blood count once per year, a skin cancer prevention screening and of course biannual dentist checkups. There are also a number of businesses that do a multitude of blood tests screening for health markers. For instance, like i-screen. I-screen have a ‘Well man check’ and the female equivalent that checks for your hormone profile, full blood count, cholesterol, blood glucose, bone health, liver function, kidney function, inflammation, and iron levels all in the same test. You can also add on a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test which is important for screening prostate cancer. Over 3000 men die of prostate cancer so early detection is crucial.
Disclaimer: I do not have any affiliations to I-Screen. I am merely provding an example of one service that is available.
Pandemic: (of a disease) prevalent over a whole country or the world. (Oxford)
Epidemic: a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time. (Oxford)
Endemic: (of a disease or condition) regularly found among particular people or in a certain area. (Oxford)
Obesity is at pandemic levels.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2019) states that “Being overweight or obese increases a person’s risk of developing long-term health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, while being underweight can also be a health risk factor for some people”. “More than half of the Queensland population from birth through to death is overweight or obese.” (Queensland Clinical Senate, 2015, Page 8).
This is due to over consumption of food and beverages. Calories consumed in the form of food and beverages need to be utilised in energy expenditure to prevent fat accumulation. Calories in and calories out do matter. Diet, exercise and non-exercise specific movement is how you keep this in balance.
The fastest growing chronic disease in Australia is Diabetes and is fully preventable and mostly reversible. “Diabetes is the epidemic of the 21st century and the biggest challenge confronting Australia’s health system. Around 1.7 million Australians have diabetes. This includes all types of diagnosed diabetes (1.2 million known and registered) as well as silent, undiagnosed type 2 diabetes (up to 500,000 estimated)”, (Diabetes Australia, n.d.). The WHO states “Healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight and avoiding tobacco use are ways to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.”, (WHO, October 2020). The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2020) say that if you contract COVID19 you may be at higher risk from complications if you have diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is serious but is a preventable disease. Through proper diet, sufficient physical activity and regular screening there is no reason for anyone to suffer with type 2 diabetes. So, if you have it follow your doctors and/or dieticians directions as they have no doubt prescribed all the preventable measures as a remedy to regain your health.
“You ought to look after your body as a number one priority above anything else no matter where you are in life.”– Jerome Bocquee
Two areas we have a lot of control over. What we eat and how physically able (or fit) we are, are both our responsibility and very achievable. It doesn’t take that much to avert the course of disease. Simply walking each day for 30minutes is all that is recommended. And some form of weight bearing exercise like stairs, squatting, pushups to help with full body strength. The recommended amount is 2 times per week. Hence why personal trainers aim at 2 sessions per week. I hear a lot of people tell me they used to go to the gym for 5 days, sometimes 6 days per week. Now since having kids they don’t have time. I think the error here is in the assumption that we need 4-5-6 days of gym time. It just isn’t true. And if you are proactive can be totally free, save you money in doctor and hospital fees and make you feel good and look good too.
Most importantly you don’t need to be engulfed by fads, gadgets, unrealistic expenses, complicated reductionist diets, potions and pills, or continue to invest time to research the rest of your life or how to maintain health. We’ve been doing it for 350,000 years. It’s just the industrial revolution and the invention of the TV that our health has escaped us. Depending on your starting point a few small steps in the right direction repeated for a lifetime is all you need.
I’m not selling a product. I am here to sell you an idea that you ought to look after your body as a number one priority above all else no matter where you are in life. Why am I here to sell you this idea? I am a personal trainer and chef and I believe exercise and nutrition are two of the most fundamental baseline factors to fulfil human health. Not the only two but where I’m investing my time in life to learn and pass on to people that need it. I’ve also taken the step this year (2020) to properly educate myself with a Bachelor of Nutrition Science at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). It’s imperative nutrition science continues, and a healthy evidence-based message is delivered.
I have been observing for quite a number of years through Personal Training how easily diet confusion can sneak in. I’ll be honest, I had so much confusion in the beginning and I have no problems cooking. In addition to that, I don’t want to come across as hypocritical either. I accepted that I’ve done my fair share of stupid things that are evidence I had neither health nor longevity as a priority. I’ve even given incorrect diet advice before.
I also request of you, if you ever feel I’ve incorrectly stated anything please let me know. I value honesty and integrity and want to deliver the truth. I encourage you to write to me and disagree with me or educate me on something I may have missed or misled on. I will edit or restructure it. Of course, the amount of areas that foods impact the world is mind boggling. I do my best to read all the material I come across and verify its legitimacy but even then, we can never be certain.
I do class myself as lucky when it comes to health. I was taught from an early age healthy food habits along with being positively exposed to health concepts, good cooking, sport and spirituality. I get regular checkups and ask for blood tests. Usually once per year or when I have a symptom that concerns me. I guess I do have a fear of getting very sick and having to depend on other people to care for me etc. I know what my predispositions are and what I’m heading for if I don’t be careful.
There was a time in my life that I went off the rails and was not living in harmony to maintain equilibrium. That has changed and food, nutrition and health is what I choose. I implore you to choose it too. If you only remember one thing. Remember this. You only get one body and one life. I’ve seen my fair share of professionals for physical symptoms and unashamedly for mental symptoms. If you need them go and pay for them, period. I’ve been to the hospital a number of times and the doctors my fair share. I tell you this little history to acknowledge I’m not invincible. I’m just like you. I have not always been healthy. It’s a choice not an accident. When I reflect back to the times I was rushed to the hospital or bedridden at home for 2 weeks straight I recall how overworked, unhealthy, how depleted and low my immune system was. I was 100% certain I had swine-flu while I was in London. When I got it I was so run down. I have balance now.
So, to continue, I’m in the business of making people fit and healthy. I like to think I’m in the business of preventative ‘medicine’ though no authority could ever compare anything free to medicine. I know food may not be medicine, but it surely can do us harm if mistreated. It is currently outside my scope to treat sickness, diagnose, or suggest treatment. Any of the information here is not advice but more to either inspire you, scare you or kick your butt into action. If it works, it works. I offer individualised personal training, coaching, cooking classes and diet advice based on the Australian Dietary guidelines.
I hope from taking the time reading that you have been inspired to take one small step in the right direction. After all your health is merely a platform to enjoy a long and fruitful life. Maybe you were already there and need a humongous virtual (social/physical distancing) pat on the back for doing your bit. I respect you. I sincerely believe we have one life and one world that we need to protect. We can’t run or hide. We have to stand and fight for the health, immunity and longevity of our species and the planet. No other species has the ability to do so. And we should help them along for the ride too. Because without the rest of the species in the ecosystem we the future is bleak.
We ought to look after our body like nothing else we have ever looked after ever. And this is not just for us but evidently for the benefit of everyone around us. The healthier and stronger you are, you resist disease and infection. If you don’t do it for yourself, you are saying that you’re happy to accept the consequences not only for you but the people around you. Let’s reduce the burden on health care, the environment, divert spending, promote diversity and equality and be the generations that instigated a Utopia for our descendants.
“The single most effective measures may be efforts within motivated communities, including fertility specialists and obstetrician-gynecologists, and by each individual to make several responsible choices each and every day to maintain their most precious asset—their body.”, (Meldrum, 2017). Their most precious asset! You and your body or vessel that you were gifted to carry you through this exceptional lucky adventure we collectively call life.
May your future be fit
Last edited (18 April 2020)
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