What is the best way to insure that you will remain healthy your whole life? America has led the world in medical research that gave rise to the best advice on how to prevent lifestyle disorders. This trend has only increased, and the evidence for it has kept mounting. Up to 90% of cancers may be preventable, for example, a complete turn around from a decade ago. Lifestyle changes would reduce the rates of overweight, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke as well. If more people actually complied with the recommended changes, general health would take a leap ahead.
But that isn’t my focus. As important as it is to take care of yourself, letting your body take care of you is the real secret.
In the last post two things were crucial to giving your body the best chance to do what it was designed to do: survive and thrive at any age. Here I want to deal with the first critical ingredient: Create a matrix for a positive lifestyle. You can’t make positive choices for the rest of your life without an environment that makes those choices easy, natural, and enjoyable.
The flaw in the whole prevention movement has been non-compliance. We are a nation suffering from an epidemic of obesity, turning more and more sedentary despite the good advice, which is constantly drummed into our heads. Unless they’ve been hibernating, everyone knows that long-term health depends upon a sensible diet and moderate physical exercise every day. As a first step, let’s stop thinking in terms of discipline and self-control altogether. Some people are prevention saints. They consume only one tablespoon of total fat per day in their diet, because that’s the ideal amount for heart health. They ignore wind and rain to get in five hours of vigorous exercise a week. Saints are inspiring to the rest of us, but deep down they are also discouraging because they remind us that we are a hundred miles from being saintly ourselves.
Change without force is certainly possible. What you need is to create a matrix for making better choices. By matrix I simply mean your setup for daily living. Everyone has a matrix already. Some people live inside a setup that makes positive choices much easier than it is for others. A cupboard that doesn’t contain any snack foods would be part of such a matrix. A house without a television or video games would be another, but you aren’t being good to yourself by jogging every day because you have no entertainment at home. In the end the physical side is secondary. A matrix is more substantial and sustainable.
The real key is to live in an environment where the mind feels free to choose the right thing instead of being compelled by habit and inertia to choose the wrong thing.
Matrix for a Positive Lifestyle
Have good friends.
Don’t isolate yourself.
Sustain a lifelong companionship with a spouse or partner.
Engage socially in worthwhile projects.
Be close with people who have a good lifestyle – habits are contagious.
Follow a purpose in life.
Leave time for play and relaxation.
Keep up satisfying sexual activity.
Address issues around anger.
Practice stress management.
Deal with the reactive mind’s harmful effects: When you have a negative reaction, stop, stand back, take a few deep breaths, and observe how you’re feeling.
These items have been well correlated with longevity. One thing that links them is very basic: success comes when people act together; failure tends to happen alone. A spouse or life partner who keeps an eye on your diet (“Haven’t you already eaten a cookie today? Have a carrot”) is better than wandering the supermarket aisles alone and impulsively grabbing a week’s worth of frozen dinners. A friend who goes to the gym three times a week gives you more incentive than all the promises you make to yourself as you watch Sunday Night Football. It’s important to establish your matrix early and keep it going. Studies have shown that losing a spouse suddenly leads to isolation, depression, higher risk for disease, and ultimately shortened life span. But if you have a wider social network beyond your spouse, you have a cushion against these baleful influences.
The other items on the list should be perused carefully, asking yourself honestly how you can improve your matrix. The goal is to practice what is good for you while making everything as effortless as possible. This only happens with positive reinforcement. The good news is that as you change your lifestyle, you are training your brain in a positive direction. In time, all the right choices become second nature. Research has shown that the best way to be happy is to make each day happy. The same holds true for the highest state of health, which is well-being. Build it day by day and the results will last a lifetime.
Your outer environment is only half the story. In the final post I’ll discuss the second key to lifelong good health, which is to create the right inner environment, a journey that begins with making the mind-body connection as strong as possible.
(To be cont.)