By Sarah A LoBisco, ND
Earlier this week, Hurricane Irene exited our lives, leaving behind a devastating mark on our communities, businesses, and homes. Never really having experienced anything other than blizzards in good-old-Upstate NY, I have to admit, prior to Irene’s arrival; I was quite ignorant about the magnitude of her influence. Dedicated volunteers and state employees worked overtime and leaks were mended, power was restored, shelter was provided, and roadways were rebuilt.
If you can remember a few weeks back, I wrote about the number one predictor of mortality of our nation’s top killer, heart disease. The most important factor to maintaining a healthy heart wasn’t linked to cholesterol numbers, healthy food intake, or exercise; it was the existence of a healthy social support system. There’s nothing like a tragedy of nature to tug at our heart strings and remind us of what is really important in life, Irene demonstrated this.
It was only a few weeks ago that I was in an over-drive, hyper-active state. I had experienced some downtime in my business from a computer blue screen over the weekend and was busy playing catch up. As I recovered files late into the night and maintained my already busy patient load during the day, I raced the clock to get everything done. I had a case of the “being important in my busyness syndrome.”
As the threat of Irene became closer, I actually experienced symptoms of physical stress, and not for the obvious reason. This event in life was getting in the way of my schedule! What if I lost power while trying to back up my files?? Geezz…Didn’t Mother Nature know that I needed to rest this weekend?!
I had family in NYC, and friends in NC, NJ, and colleagues and mentors in CT and VT. Needless to say, as I watched my little niece dance to the rain and be reassured by my sister, I realized that this weekend wasn’t just about me. Maybe Irene was a reminder that we are still human and connected to nature, that it wasn’t a time to be hyper diligent and continue on with our checklists. Maybe it was time to actually consider what “business as usual” should mean.
Irene was here to teach us that our own plans aren’t always in our best interest. As I contemplated my actions of the past week, I texted, emailed, and prayed. (And I have gotten mild De Quervain’s Tendinitis, inflammation of the tendons of the thumb, from all the texting ;)).
I was reminded on what one of my mentors taught me, Robert Holden, author of Authentic Success. It was the concept that humans are so busy doing things, that we have little time to enjoy the fruits of our busyness.
For a country that spends over 16% of its GDP on healthcare, with the resulting placement of 37th amongst countries in mortality for men and women, are we doing things right? According to the journal, Population Health Metrics:
Large disparities in health outcomes have been documented in the US in relation to race, community of residence, and individual and community socioeconomic factors [5,8,16–29]. Our analysis shows that community-level disparities in 2007 cover a range of global health experiences – from counties with life expectancies better than the best-performing nations to those lagging behind these nations by 50 or more years. The extent of geographic inequality is substantially larger in the US than in the UK, Canada, or Japan.
Equally concerning is that between 2000 and 2007, more than 85% of American counties have fallen further behind the international life expectancy frontier, of which 55% were statistically significant at the 90% confidence level. While the US and most of its communities fell further behind, the US maintained its position as the country that spent the most per capita on health care throughout this period.
If the leading four risk factors were addressed (smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose, and adiposity), life expectancy in 2005 would increase 4.9 and 4.1 years, respectively, for males and females. Disparities across eight race-county groupings would reduce by approximately 20% . Given that risk factor exposures vary by county, and based on evidence from state-level analysis that risk factor exposures are larger in places with higher mortality rates [40–42], we would expect that addressing these risk factors would also tend to narrow disparities.
Here it is, in black and white. In a scientifically validated journal, with numbers, and statistics, and not leaving much room for argument….if we could change our lifestyle and the choices we make every day, we could live longer. So why aren’t we? (And why do we continue to allow for such disparities amongst our country)?
For the most part, most of us know that it’s better to eat healthy, decrease our stress, and exercise. We blame lack of time, stress, the next major event, or just plain ol’ lack of motivation as to why we don’t do these things. In the past, I discussed the seduction of media and the negative effect of addictive substances in our food supply. These factors wire our brains to crave unhealthy foods and make unwise health decisions. This is why I specialize in brain biochemistry and neurotransmitter support and what I feel may account for one major reason why many have a hard time amending their behavior.
Still, there’s another big factor. As a whole, our country is more apt to spend money on disease management, cars, homes, entertainment, and plastic surgery than on health promoting activities such as proper supplementation, subsidizing organic foods, replacing harmful chemicals with environmentally helpful ones, and promoting local farming. Irene demonstrated this reason of resistance to give up our comfort promoting activities in exchange for growing to more healthful ones.
We are given the message that we can keep our fast food, hot dog, soda consuming lifestyle and just take a pill to counter the side effects. We continue to come up with more convenience foods and fast gadgets to manage our time and bodily concerns, as the number of waist lines and people with chronic disease in our country skyrockets. So, with all of these gadgets and yummy treats within an arm’s length, what are we really craving?
According to an article in Psychology Today,
Remarkably, 25% of Americans have no meaningful social support at all – not a single person they can confide in. And over half of all Americans report having no close confidants or friends outside their immediate family. The situation is much worse today than it was when similar data were gathered in 1985. (At that time, only 10% of Americans were completely alone).
So, as I continue to receive emails from the Vermont Association of Naturopathic Physicians asking who needs help and offering services to rebuild clinics, I’m reminded that we aren’t meant to do this alone and that Irene served a purpose. For me, it’s knowing and accepting that modern conveniences aren’t just for working more effectively and quickly, but for reaching out and bridging the effects of the isolation. See, social support is just as important for my heart as eating my carrots and broccoli, so, I’ll end this blog here and go make plans with my family to enjoy the long weekend.
So, what I ask of you, my dear, wonderful, readers, for the health of yourself and this country is this: on labor day weekend, drink one more glass of filtered water, eat an extra serving of vegetables, but more importantly allow the time in your busy life to make a phone call to an old friend or a surprise visit to your dearest relative. Your heart needs the protection, especially after Irene and all!
In blessings and appreciation to our dedicated volunteers and everyday heroes!
For updated information on the happenings of health, visit my saratoga.com blog.
Holden, Robert. Authentic Success. Hayhouse, Inc. 2005
AAOS. De Quervain’s Tendinitis (De Quervain’s Tendinosis). October 2007. ASSH. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00007
Sandeep C Kulkarni, Alison Levin-Rector, Majid Ezzati, and Christopher JL Murray. Falling behind: life expectancy in US counties from 2000 to 2007 in an international context. Population Health Metrics. 2011, 9:16. Accessed online on August 29, 2011. http://www.pophealthmetrics.com/content/9/1/16. doi:10.1186/1478-7954-9-16
Stephen Ilardi, Ph.D. Social Isolation: A Modern Plague. Published on July 13, 2009.The Depression Cure. Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-depression-cure/200907/social-isolation-modern-plague