Health Care?

Close-up picture of brightly colored cereal loops.

It is amazing to me how much energy is being expended on what is fashioned the “health care debate” in this country.

Aren’t we really discussing how to continue funneling money to health care insurers to repair the damage done to our health by the rest of our food and disease-service systems?

In the most wealthy and advanced country that has ever existed in the world, we now have more medicine, more drugs, more medical options, and are spending increasingly more money every year. At the same exact time, the trend lines for most disease, chronic illness, and addiction are all sharply rising up and to the right. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. More than 100 million of us suffer from problems with a range of blood sugar issues, from insulin resistance to full-blown type 2 diabetes. We spend one third again more than the next most rich country ($9,400 per person in 2015 on health care, or 17% of our GDP) and the outcomes from that investment are dismal.

We are 46th in infant mortality, and 31st in life expectancy! Our government and corporate food producers are so tied together that our government watchdog, the FDA, allows Fruit Loops cereal to be certified heart-healthy! Our farmed animals are raised in horrific conditions and deliver antibodies, corn, and other undesirable ingredients to our bodies. So many Americans have given up, and say, “it’s just part of getting older” as they settle for feeling fatigued or being in pain.

There is no central point of information about how to live healthily in a holistic way – what foods optimize health, how to control stress, how much movement and exercise are optimal. If you want to be healthy, you have to dig through a mountain of information and hope you can figure out what is true and what is just mis-information.  It makes me sad and frustrated.

Americans lose no matter which version of “health care” passes. I’m rethinking my health practices, and keeping my own counsel on this topic.

First, I’m getting healthy. Then, I’m getting angry. 

It’s Friday. And you are right where you should be.

Put everything down. You have done enough. Here are a few things I hope you find interesting and amusing:

Here’s a terrific story about the modern fight for health. Sean Brock, the amazing chef, has quite a story and I admire him for sharing it in such an authentic way. Not everyone gets to tell their story in a venue like the NYTimes, but I found the story interesting and inspirational.

I really like this manifesto by William C Taylor on the changethis site. Doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way is both simple and subversive – which work together powerfully. These eight questions would be a fantastic way to begin a strategic planning session, or to onboard a new leader.

The 99u site had a good summary of how to build new habits using something called “stacking” into your routine. It’s a short read and I recommend it.

They say perspective is everything – we lose hope, Rebecca Solnit suggests, because we lose perspective. Here is a really great compilation of how many things relative to global health, wealth, and living standards have improved over time. It’s a long read, but I really enjoyed it.

Finally, I love these rules for life, and the way that John Maeda explains his rationale underlying each one.

It’s all how you frame it

Old Truck

There is really not that much actual difference between my fearful vision of being old, impoverished bag lady living in the van down by the river, or being a thrill-seeking elder who is documenting adventures by Instagramming her #vanlife.

There is a pretty big delta however, between the mental states that take me toward one or the other. And that is the challenge with this thing we call retirement. Managing your money, your time, your productivity, and your relationships are nothing compared to managing your mindset.

My personal expectation is to pay my way, support myself, share my know-how, and bring enthusiasm to all that I do. My personal fears are also for the worst case, feeling un-needed and unable to contribute, and not able to remember how to get things done. Every day I have to actively choose the expectations, not the fears. Every day I have to recognize when I am actualizing the positive expectations, and reinforce them. As I focus more and more on the positive, I think it gets easier.

Yesterday, I rode on one of the marvelous bike paths nearby. Going out felt slightly downhill. I was with a friend and didn’t have the inclination to worry about the uphill climb on the return trip. And guess what? Coming back felt slightly downhill. Yeah, downhill. Both ways. That’s what happens when you stop worrying and just enjoy the moment.

Hot, Sweaty, and Determined

In the New Parkinson’s Disease Treatment book, Dr. J. Eric Ahlskog, recommends aerobic exercise not just for Parkinson’s but to improve aging in general. He specifically states that exercise should raise your pulse, cause you to perspire, and tire you out.

I recently noticed more research that supports this idea. New research is showing that 30 minutes of intense exercise daily is connected with keeping you up to nine years biologically younger.  It has to do with telomeres.

A telomere is the “endcap” of each of our chromosomes. They protect each chromosome from deterioration during cell division by absorbing the truncation that takes place during that process. In humans, average telomere length declines from about 11 kilobases when we are born to less than 4 kilobases when we are aged, probably because of oxidative stress or inflammation.

The good news is that we can change the truncation of our telomeres with 30 minutes of regular, hard exercise (40 minutes for men).  It is doable. It has a demonstrable impact.

In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari mentions that a hunter-gather before the Agricultural Revolution would have “had physical dexterity that people today are unable to achieve even after years of practicing yoga or t’ai chi.” One reason is that they moved so much more than we do.

In the spirit of my hunter-gather lineage, I ought to be able to fit in 30 minutes a day of hot, sweaty exercise, especially since I don’t have to chase down dinner while I do it.

Changing Your Brain

Mediation Hands

Here are a few recently-discovered resources that offer strategies for changing your brain:

I first heard Rick Hanson speak at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, where he talked about neuroplasticity and the kinds of regular practices that enable your brain to actually change. That talk was the first time I realized that it might be possible for me to use these practices to control my little dopamine problem called Parkinson’s Disease. His organization, The Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom offers an outstanding inventory of the practices Rick discussed. This is an amazing resource that I hope to utilize more in the future.

I also recently discovered Wildmind’s site, and in particular, their very thorough and helpful guide to meditation posture. Very helpful.

Finally, this short article on rewiring your brain to be positive is not too deep, but it does give a nice overview of how to notice when you are being negative so that you can make the shift to positivity.

Uh huh, but what specifically?

Ginkgo Biloba leaves isolated on white

It has been about one year since we relocated to northern Michigan. When I tell people that health is my focus now, I can sense the unsaid “Uh, huh, what does that mean exactly?”

They can see I am thinner and more energetic. Some ask me how I lost weight, seeking a short answer – a ‘trick’, something simple to try. But there is no trick. It’s a whole lifestyle. I do a number of things more, better, or differently now. Here’s a summary of what I have changed in the last year for my whole-self health:

  • Give myself permission to go to bed early, to get plenty of rest and for general brain health
  • Walk and bicycle outside in nature at least 3 times a week to help my skin produce vitamin D, and reset my circadian rhythm through the production of melatonin
  • Regularly practice pilates for strength
  • Eat a low-lectin diet (to facilitate gut biome health)
  • Do not eat any factory food – no artificial sweeteners, no low-fat dairy, no corn, no wheat, no soy – or factory-made animal protein. Beyond the ethical issues of how we treat the other sentient beings on the planet, I do not want the corn, antibiotics, and other poisons regularly fed to animals to make their way into my body.
  • Eat more dark greens vegetables. A LOT more. To increase the polyphenols in my gut.
  • No NSAID’s to protect the good bacteria in my gut.
  • Take a daily supplement of probiotics (good gut bugs) and prebiotics (what helps the good gut bugs grow) to optimize my gut biome
  • Eat less animal protein to give the mitochondria in my digestive system a break
  • Read as much as I want, and on all the topics in which I am interested
  • Avoid situations that stress me, as much as possible
  • Take one tablespoon of MCT oil per day to increase the medium-chain triglycerides that help my good gut bacteria do their job
  • Make decisions (and say “no”) to choose low stress whenever possible

In addition I am committed to learning more about neurology and how to reinforce positive developments in my brain using its own neuro-plasticity. When I have the opportunity I question my doctors more about alternative approaches to Parkinson’s and make them aware of my actions.

In the next year I have a list of more items I plan to test on myself, and add to this list if they seem to have an impact.

It’s Friday. Movie time.

It is the last Friday in June folks. Today you are as old as you have ever been, and as young as you will ever be. One of life’s dichotomies – two parts of a whole, both true.

I’d love everyone to watch this 2-minute animation about the benefits of meditating from Happify and narrated by Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier. Meditation is really that simple and that impactful. Another dichotomy.

“There is no out until you become aware.” Minimalism: a documentary about the important things is a film that came out in 2015. Our stuff is our disease. It’s killing us and killing our planet. This will get your attention.

I learned about the Love Your Brain foundation from a Brain Health Summit webinar recently. It is about snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s accident and traumatic brain injury (TBI) just prior to the 2000 Olympics. The Crash Reel is a film about his journey back to health. The foundations site is very polished, and worth visiting.

Finally, October is just around the corner, and the second annual Fresh Coast Film Festival in Marquette, Michigan. We attended this festival last year and came away changed by it. Fun, funny, and inspiring.

I hope your weekend is the same!

Friends

Symbol of scales is made of stones on the cliff

I live in the country. In a really spectacular part of the country. The northern part of the lower Peninsula of Michigan. Land of glacial moraines and eons-old coral reefs that we call Petoskey stones when pieces wash up on shore. Stunning inland lakes and a few great lakes that are really unbelievable the first time a visitor sees them. We are a mile from the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Seashore, and lots of bicycling trails established just for us to get out and enjoy all the flora and fauna found here.

The thing is, I don’t know too much about all this nature. But I have a friend who does.

My friend can name every bird song in this part of the world, and explain why that singing was so loud last month and has become subdued this month. She helped us track an otter through the snow last winter, all the way back to his home lake. She knows about the trees, and the bees, and the bears. I’ll never get lost in the woods with her because she carries a compass and a topographical map, and she knows how to use them.

I cannot recommend a friend like this highly enough!

Alexander Calder

In 2005 we visited Stockholm’s National Museum, where there were some fantastic Calder pieces interwoven with 18th century paintings. I wrote home that “Heather was reminded of the etiquette of museums.” Twice she was scolded by the guards for touching or trying to otherwise make the mobiles move.

Today, New York’s Whitney Museum announced an Alexander Calder exhibition where the guards will actually be tasked with moving the mobiles so museum-goers can see the pieces as the artist intended.

To bring them to life, several of the Whitney’s art handlers, who ordinarily work behind the scenes, have been cast into a new role as performers. At scheduled times during the run of the show, a handler will “activate” a sculpture in the gallery with the prod of a gloved finger or the poke of a wooden stick.

Mobiles must move!

Being Versus Doing in Retirement

This article from Knowledge@Wharton really resonated for me. Titled The Retirement Problem: What Will You Do With All That Time? it neatly summarizes some big questions.

Stewart Friedman at Wharton summarizes this way: “The questions people ask at earlier stages of life become more profound at these later stages. Am I living the life I want to live? What is most important to me? Who is most important to me? You see the end, and so you think about what you want to do with the time that you have remaining. There is the question of: now what?”

I have struggled with this question. And yes, I realize it’s a first world question. And a boomer-centric question. And one I should have seen coming.

Nonetheless, here I am. What should I do with this time? What’s my bucket list? In which activities should I be involved? Where do I want to make a contribution?

I think the answer isn’t at the end of those question marks. My retirement is not another career step. It is not something I will sink into, get addicted to, play at, or be distracted by. It is not a number of activities to keep busy.

The questions I should have been asking every year – about balancing my health, relationships, community, and career – have gained urgency over time. But these questions have also changed in fundamental ways since the time I stopped working.

What is the universe calling me to be? I’m listening.