How To Stay Healthy Even If You Eat Junk, Smoke Ciggies, Skip Exercise & Booze It Up
Guest Writer for Wake Up World
Ever since we docs started teaching people the importance of smoking cessation, moderation in alcohol intake, a nutritious, mostly plant-based diet, daily exercise, and weight control, millions of people have been beating themselves up for unhealthy lifestyle habits. Yet the guilt and shame so many feel hasnâ€™t led to significant improvements in the health of the general public. Even though people know how to live a â€śhealthyâ€ťÂť lifestyle, most choose not to. Instead, rates of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other largely preventable diseases are on the rise.
While lots of people rattle off about the importance of healthy lifestyle modifications â€“ and as a green-juicing, exercising, non-smoking, health food junkie, I agree with them â€“ what shocks me is how few are talking about the other critical factors that contribute to health and longevity â€“ the factors that are arguably even more important than diet, cigarette use, alcohol intake, weight, and exercise.
Some Diseases Are Preventable
Before I share with you these factors that may shock you, let me start with a hat tip to conventional medical wisdom. Yes, some diseases are largely preventable. If youâ€™re a 3 pack-a-day smoker who winds up with lung cancer, youâ€™re probably feeling pretty crappy about your cancer because you know that if you had never smoked, you probably wouldnâ€™t have been saddled with that disease. If youâ€™ve been eating at McDonalds every day, it wonâ€™t surprise you if a heart attack knocks you flat and you have to get bypass surgery. If youâ€™ve been boozing it up for three decades and you wind up with cirrhosis of the liver, wellâ€¦ not to be harsh, but you knew that might happen, right? If youâ€™re four hundred pounds and you get diabetes, umâ€¦ need I say more?
Yes, if we aim to lead optimally healthy lives, diet, exercise, weight control, alcohol intake, and cigarette use matter.
Some Unhealthy People Live To Be 100
But letâ€™s face it. Some smoking, boozing, overweight, junk food binging couch potatoes stay healthy and die of old age. As a physician, these people have always blown me away. How are their bodies so resilient to such poisons? Is it genetic? Is it just dumb luck? These people left me scratching my head, until I was doing the research for my book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013).
Clearly, there are many factors contributing to why one person winds up sick when another stays healthy, in spite of poor health habits. The same is true for the health nut who is doing everything â€śrightâ€ťÂť but still winds up sick.
So what are these factors that your doctor probably isnâ€™t discussing with you?
Loving Community Equals Health
Let me start by telling you a story.
Once upon a time, a tribe of Italian immigrants crossed the Atlantic and settled in Roseto, Pennsylvania, where they didnâ€™t exactly live the most â€śhealthyâ€ťÂť lifestyle. They ate meatballs fried in lard, smoked like chimneys, boozed it up every night, and pigged out on pasta and pizza. Yet, shockingly, they had half the rate of heart disease and much lower rates of many other illnesses than the national average. It wasnâ€™t the water they drank, the hospital they went to, or their DNA. And clearly, it wasnâ€™t their stellar diet. So what was it that made the people of Roseto so resistant to heart disease?
One physician, baffled by their low rates of heart disease, studied the townspeople to determine why they were so protected.
The Effects of Loneliness On The Body
What his researchers found is that the tight knit community living in multi-generational homes and enjoying communal dinners and frequent festivities provided solace from the loneliness so many people feel. The love and support of others in the close knit community alleviated the stress and overwhelm many lonely people feel. Researchers posit that the stress lonely people feel, which increases cortisol levels and activates the sympathetic nervous system, raising heart rate, elevating blood pressure, incapacitating the immune system, and increasing the risk of heart disease, is responsible for much of the illness lonely people experience.
Because the people of Roseto never felt alone, they rarely died of heart disease â€“ most died of â€śold ageâ€ťÂť- even though they smoked, ate poorly, and drank. As it turns out, alleviation of loneliness is preventative medicine, and the scientific data suggests that loneliness is a stronger risk factor for illness than smoking or failure to exercise.
Why One Person Gets Sick & Another Stays Healthy
Itâ€™s not just loneliness that contributes to whether you get sick or stay healthy. As I discussed in my TEDx talk, itâ€™s not just your relationships that affect your health â€“ itâ€™s work stress, financial stress, mental health issues like depression and anxiety, whether youâ€™re optimistic or pessimistic, and whether or not youâ€™re actively engaging in potentially stress reducing activities like creative expression, sex, and spiritual activities like prayer, attending religious services, or meditation.