Squaring the Curve
Getting old isn’t for sissies
Health and longevity is a goal of every person. We all want to live long into our golden years, enjoying retirement and free time to pursue life goals, such as travel, hobbies, spending time with grandchildren and friends that we just never had time to see when we were busy with the daily grind of work and responsibilities. Unfortunately, the golden years often are not the utopia we hoped they would be, and are often plagued with health challenges, failing memory, trouble with mobility, performing activities of daily living, and financial worries. My grandfather often reminded me when I was growing up; “Getting old isn’t for sissies”.
Squaring the curve is an expression I like to use when explaining the timeline of life. We all have a beginning and we all have an end. The progression of that timeline with relation to health is what I am referring to. Too often in our society as adults progress to middle age health challenges begin to plague their bodies. It can be arthritis from wear and tear on their joints, or physiological challenges like high blood pressure, diabetes, or failing hormonal systems. This is often looked on as a normal progression of aging, however it does not have to be that way! We have the potential to live long healthy lives if we start when we are young to make healthy choices that will have long lasting positive effects on our bodies. When we make those good health choices we can maintain a high level of health well into our golden years until we reach the end of our timeline and the health curve falls quickly thereby squaring the curve.
Making the proper health choices is not always easy and sometimes we do not even know we are doing things that are not healthy for us. The greatest part about human physiology is that it is predictable. The body follows very characteristic patterns; symptoms, pains, and abnormal health responses, which are the bodies way of talking to us and communicating where our problems are coming from. Unfortunately, many people think the body is stupid and does things at random when it feels like it or just decides to not work anymore. The reality is that the body is very sophisticated and our innate intelligence is constantly working to maintain homeostasis (body balance). For example, if you have high blood pressure you need to ask WHY is your blood pressure elevated? Is it because you are trying to get more oxygen and nutrients to your body’s tissues? Maybe your kidneys are having a hard time regulating your fluid balance? Or maybe you are so stressed out your adrenals keep you in the fight or flight mode which increases your blood pressure. You see; your blood pressure is not the problem; there is something else causing your blood pressure to be high.
Learning to listen to our bodies can be a new experience for many people, especially in our fast paced society where everything needs to be done yesterday. Listening to our bodies is the beginning of leading a long and healthy life. But besides being mindful of what our bodies are trying to tell us, it is important to be proactive and create healthy habits and practices to keep us healthy. There is a very simple equation I like to teach my patients about being healthy. Being healthy requires three things: We need to Eat Well, Move Well and Think Well. If you can be balanced in those three area’s of your life you have a great chance of squaring the curve.
When I say eat well, I don’t mean eat like a king by feasting and stuffing yourself with cakes, cookies, desserts and foods made with many refined ingredients like white flour, sugar and hydrogenated oils (trans fats). Eating well means eating a physiologically appropriate diet. A diet that is high in green leafy vegetables, root vegetables, fruits, organic proteins, good fats and oils, whole grains and foods that are as close to their original form as possible. Not overly refined foods that comes in a box! The Paleo diet is the most physiologically appropriate diet for humans and there are many books and resources available on the internet to help you explore the benefits of eating a Paleo diet.
Moving well is the second key to healthy longevity. Research has shown that for every 5 degree’s of forward tilt that occurs in the spine caused by degeneration and lack of motion 10% of brain function is lost. This is due to the lack of stimulation of nerve fibers that communicate with our brains letting us know where our bodies are located in space. In order to maintain healthy movement you have to move. The old adage if you don’t use it you lose it is very relevant when it comes to maintaining proper biomechanics. It does not need to be strenuous activity. Walking and activities like yoga and qigong are great ways to keep you healthy and moving through full ranges of motion. Strenuous exercise and weight lifting do have their place in keeping us healthy, but it is important to do it safely and under the guidance of a physical therapist or personal trainer if you are worried about injuries occurring.
Thinking well is the last piece of the triad of health. Thoughts are things and have great impact on our physiology. There has been a lot of research done on the way thoughts affect brain chemistry and physiology. There is an organization called Heart Math, which has done extensive research on the subject. They have found that just 10 minutes a day of thinking about something you are grateful for or appreciative of, will have long standing effects on cortisol production, endorphin production, and change blood pressure, digestion and other physiological markers. In contrast, negative thoughts and feelings of being frightened, frustrated, or angry will have the opposite effects on our physiology. The first step is being mindful of your thoughts, observing what is happening in your mental chatter. Starting a discipline of meditation each day will do wonders for your outlook on life and will impact your longevity. The best part about meditation is it does not take any fancy equipment, and it’s free. All you have to do is stop and be still and work on breathing regularly. There are many resources that can help you get started, but I encourage you to begin your practice today.
Eat well, move well, and think well are the keys to a healthy life. A healthy life leads to longevity free of chronic diseases and the ability to maintain an active and purposeful lifestyle. Therefore, when you finally reach the end of your timeline, you will meet a quick end as your life curve will be squared as it falls off quickly and your friends and loved ones will be able to celebrate the fulfilling life you lived rather then mourning the loss of your unused potential.