On proactive health management
As I have said elsewhere, and as should be evident from the fact that I am also a Personal Trainer, I care very much about my health and have approached it proactively since I was young. Thankfully, I seem to have some kind of innate orientation towards wellness and have always understood that to be well meant to actively work towards health in a continuous sense. Wellness and health have always been a journey for me, something I seek, and in seeking, largely achieve.
In large part I think this orientation is because I have several chronic diseases – asthma, a very serious and rare form of eczema, and hay fever – which modern medicine can’t really do anything about. As such, I have had to learn how to minimise and control the symptoms of the diseases I am forced to live with. I have tried to do this, as much as is possible, without the use of drugs, as I have never bought into the notion of “side effects”. I do not agree that we should sideline and ignore the usually negative effects of a drug we are asked to take. (Although the avoidance of drugs has not always been possible for my asthma and hay fever, alas.)
This has meant staying physically active to ensure my lung capacity was as good as it could be for an asthmatic, and not allowing it to deteriorate by becoming sedentary through a fear of exercise induced asthma. I have therefore always exercised regularly, and even more so since I passed 30 and vanity kicked in. I currently use the gym three times a week primarily for strength training, do a lot of yoga at home, and engage in active travel (i.e. cycling and walking) whenever possible. I also go through phases of being a keen runner, although I am not currently in one.
Luckily, I also have a very healthy relationship with food and have always understood that food is primarily about nutrition: it is the equivalent of the fuel in our tanks. So as much as your car won’t run if you pour manure in it, I have always grasped that my body won’t work properly if I put shite in it.
This was especially compounded by the development of a very rare and very, very severe form of eczema when I was a teen. After spending months in bandages and in chronic pain, all the while using stronger and stronger steroids to no avail, it was suddenly and totally resolved in two weeks after being put on an exclusion diet by a naturopath. It was a very illuminating experience which clearly demonstrated the direct link between what I put in my body and the (negative) consequences for my health.
In respect of nutrition, I was a vegetarian for around 20 years, but started eating meat again in my 30s and feel much better for it (sorry, animals). I now follow the kind of diet promoted by Dr Zoe Harcombe, although I was largely eating that way before I came across her excellent book The Obesity Epidemic. I am also totally obsessed with my gut microbiome after reading both Ed Yong’s I contain Multitudes and Alanna Collen’s 10% Human. Recently I came across the Public Health Consortium who also seem to have some great, easy to use resources on how to eat to increase your health; for instance, real food on a budget (PDF).
My diet now consists of a small amount of grass-fed and free range meat and fish, eggs, sheep and goat dairy, nuts/seeds, and as many fruit and vegetables as I can. I cook from scratch, rarely eat processed foods, and consume only a very small amount of cereals and grains. I also want to point out that I have spent most of my life on a pretty low income, so I know for a fact that you can eat healthily on a budget if you spend some time planning your meals and cook from scratch. In my case, I do most of my shopping in one of the budget supermarkets and spend the savings I have made on quality meat and fish from Field & Flower.
I am telling you this not to be self-righteous or sanctimonious but because I think that knowing I have done just about everything I can to promote and take care of my health has meant that I have not lost myself to COVID-fear like many people I know. If I get it (I got it), then I know that my body is in the best place it can be to fight off the infection, just as it is to fight off any infection (etc.) that I may have. We cannot control viruses; aside from the fact that they are microscopic organisms invisible to the naked eye, they are a part of the ecology of Earth and, by extension, our bodies. We can only make sure that our bodies are in as best condition that they can be for our age, to ensure that we stay as fit and as healthy as possible, for as long as possible.
The fact remains that many of the modern diet and lifestyle-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure/hypertension, and excess weight and obesity (PDF) that we eat and sit our way into, are causing people to be more at risk of serious complications from a COVID-19 infection. That is over and above the risk that those diseases already pose to us. For instance, blindness, miscarriage, heart disease, and kidney problems for diabetics; strokes, heart disease, kidney disease, and dementia for hypertensives; and all of those things plus 13 different types of cancers for obese and overweight people.
Given that all of these diseases can either be prevented, reversed, or radically improved by taking a proactive approach to your health (i.e. a real food diet and plenty of exercise), why has the pandemic not resulted in people (as far as I can tell) taking more responsibility for proactively managing their health? Although I suppose, given the fact that every year in the UK 166,000 people die from cancer, 26,000 people die from complications to do with their diabetes, and 75,000 people die from complications due to hypertension, perhaps it is a bit much for me to expect that a mere pandemic would make people start thinking about taking responsibility for their health…
Being healthy and living an active life is not hard, it just takes commitment. It just takes a desire to be well and an orientation towards life. It just takes a basic level of personal responsibility and agency. If that sounds like too much work to you, then you need to ask yourself why you court death. And if you don’t, then really start living.