Wellness is a relatively young concept. A century ago, people considered themselves lucky to survive into adulthood. People typically died of infectious diseases or environmental conditions like unrefrigerated food, poor sanitation, and air and water pollution. However, over the last century the human lifespan has doubled, and with it the conditions that people die from have changed as well. It is no longer sufficient to live a long time, as many people don’t want to live 30 or more years requiring assistance from others and unable to do the things they love. As people’s lifespans have lengthened, the concept of quality of life has developed.
With the development of vaccines, the illnesses people died from changed from common infectious diseases to lifestyle-hybrid diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. These lifestyle-hybrid diseases involve a blend of genetics, environment and behaviors/lifestyle. Treating these new chronic and degenerative diseases has proven to be challenging due to costs and apathy. Many people are unwilling to make the changes earlier in life to prevent disease later in life. Also, pharmaceutical companies are not motivated to fund research on lifestyle behavior changes that prevent disease, as those changes threaten the very way the pharmaceutical industry makes a large part of its revenue, on treating the symptoms of these lifestyle-hybrid diseases.
The number one treatment for many of these health conditions is prevention, followed closely behind by early detection and treatment. The primary ways to prevent and provide early treatment for these conditions are largely similar lifestyle changes, regardless of which condition you are speaking about. The behaviors that promote health, such as nutrition, sleep, exercise, stress management, hygiene, and environment are often things we can impact or control. Medical research continues to look at the implications that our behaviors and environment play on our overall health. We are beginning to move away from reactionary medicine, which involves treating symptoms with medicine, to a preventive model, where changes are made prior to illness with the aim of preventing the development of the disease.
If someone told you that you could live to an old age, maintaining the productivity, activities, and social interactions you enjoy (perhaps at a reduced level as you age, but still able to do them at some level), would you be interested? Most people would say yes, as people across the globe are continuously searching for the fountain of youth through herbs, creams, drinks, injections, etc. However, if someone told you that you needed to go to bed and rise at roughly the same time each day, and ensure you attained at least 8 hours of sleep each night, would you still be interested? What if they told you that you needed to find a way to exercise at least 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week? Would your opinion change if they told you that you couldn’t eat for 12 hours between your last meal of one day and your first meal of the next day? What if you needed to disconnect from technology, including your cell phone, internet, and television for one hour each night before bed? How would you feel about finding the time for 15 minutes of prayer, yoga, or meditation each day? Would you be willing to brush your teeth twice daily and floss if it meant you could have a higher quality of life for longer? Finally, and often the hardest one for many, would you be willing to switch from pre-packaged foods to a whole foods eating plan that involved only fresh sources of fruits and vegetables, and free-range or wild caught sources of lean protein, which also eliminated foods containing gluten and dairy from your life?
The issue at hand with behavior change is that the human species enjoys pleasure derived from its behaviors and environment, but tends to not be forward thinking about what this pleasure means over the long-term. Most people would say no to implementing at least two or more of the recommendations above if you asked them. However, if you ask a person who was a chronic smoker who is battling lung cancer if they wished they could tell their younger self to stop smoking, most would say they would. If you ask a person with heart disease who is so limited in their activity that walking across their home leaves them winded, they would likely tell their younger self to eat a healthier diet and find a way to exercise more. If you ask a person who is in the early stages of dementia if they wished they could make a change to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s or even possibly prevent it from developing, many would say that yes those changes are definitely worth it.
At AFFIRMATIVhealth we believe that the health and quality of life of an individual is every bit as important at the end of your life as it is at the beginning and in the middle. We partnered with the Buck Institute on Aging to bring their breakthrough scientific research on the impact of a multi-dimensional approach to early cognitive decline to the masses. Our RE:mind program is based on the latest scientific research looking at behavioral and metabolic changes you can make that are likely to impact your cognitive health. Researchers are continually learning about how the food we eat, our stress levels, meditation, sleep, dental hygiene, gut health, our physical activity levels, our social interactions with others, and our ability to challenge our brain in new ways all have long-term implications for our brain and cognitive health. They are also learning how food sensitivities, allergies, genetics, and vitamin deficiencies are influencing our cognitive health. Finally, research is unraveling the impact of environmental toxins and chemical on our brain health.
Join us later this week as we release another blog to help you figure out how to put these concepts of lifestyle changes you can make now that will impact your quality of life for decades to come into play. As we head into a new year, we challenge you to “resolve” to make 2017 the year you decide to take back your health! In the meantime, please check out our website (http://affirmativhealth.com) to learn more about our program, read our blogs on a variety of health topics, and read through our research summaries of some of the exciting science that is happening on cognitive health, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Written by Marci L. Hardy, PhD