Are there really new ways to rebuild and renew your only human body? That’s one question I’m asked habitually every New Year. The short answer – yes. You can renew your body along the lines you like – by combining old ways that work for tens of millions. None of this program is about about “superfoods,” “amazing” herbals and vitamins, or super expensive super diets and athletic franchises that promise pain and torture on your way to “new abs.” The trick is to use the vast public health literature – what works in large populations – and turn it into a program most individuals can do by themselves – when and how they like. Public knowledge, used privately, creates better public health.
That’s how you start the Four Fold Way – using “ordinary” physical, mental, social and spiritual means – to feel healthy, and get those you know to feel healthy. The World Health Organization has long recognized “health” as meaning physical, mental and social health. The spiritual side simply adds meaning and purpose in life.
You start with:
1. Physical Health. Human bodies rebuild themselves all the time. For what you do is what you become. Your actions direct how the body remakes itself..
At this point, several public health factors appear to add years – and years – of healthier life. They include:
A. Move around as much as you can in daily life. Sitting is the new smoking.
So you want to walk – to stores, restaurants, and work. Use the stairs. Walk to the company cafeteria. Walk to visit the neighbors.
Better, brief spurts of high activity – even as short as ten seconds – seem to change genetic activity and insulin sensitivity. They may even help mood.
Even standing helps. If you can’t use a standing desk, try – and see if you like – standing or walking work meetings. Stand up and do clean up after meals – a good way to prevent esophageal reflux. Remember, your body is built to move – and you want to use your body the way it’s built.
B. Eat whole foods. Many, many diets seem to work at keeping people alive a long time. The longest living large populations we can certify, Asian American women in Suffolk (New York state) and Bergen counties (New Jersey) generally do not eat a Mediterranean diet. They live into their nineties.
Lots of diets seem to work. It may be best to eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, cereals – stuff that looks as it does when coming out of the ground.
Cheating is allowed – it just has to be controlled. But timing always matters:
C. Have a regular schedule. Time rules life. Regular schedules aid mood, energy, focus, concentration – and happiness.
D. Learn to rest. It’s not just sleep. Rest activities revive your rebuilding processes. There are thousands of ways to do it – my book “The Power of Rest” includes a few dozen.
E. Get light. Sunlight resets body clocks, improves mood and performance. Not bad for one of the few free things left on the planet.
2. Mental Health. If 30 percent of Americans will become depressed during their lives, there’s a lot of work to do.
One way to better mental health involves doing normal stuff a little differently. Lots of studies argue people who like solving problems perform better than those who think endlessly about problems.
To live long and prosper it pays to relentlessly focus on solutions, not problems –a standard of cognitive-behavioral teaching. Often this involves reframing the problem. A classic example – is my problem I weigh too much? Or is it that I feel uncomfortable with how I look and feel? Often approaches to “renaming” the problem lead to different options – and improve the ability to create solutions you can evaluate. To consistently evaluate what works and what does not can help enormously.
3. Social Health. Add up the number of friends, acquaintances, colleagues. Follow that group for many years. The result is a linear function, describing who will and will not get heart attacks, strokes, and different tumors.
Humans are social animals. If we consciously spend time in the presence of others we feel better and learn more. Your cardiologist won’t tell you, but that’s a much bigger factor in your cardiovascular survival that what she normally does.
Are social media friends as valuable? The jury is out. What is clear is that desired face to face contact with other live human beings can be very good for your health.
4. Spiritual Health. People need meaning. They need purpose. They do better when they feel it in their daily lives.
For many that’s obtained through religion – they give thanks through prayer. Yet spiritual health means much more.
There are many ways to meaning, and many benefits. People can identify the environment as what they care about; nature; animals; community; family. It’s a very long list.
The Daily Four Fold Path
Thought changes action. When Boston maids were told their daily work fit the Surgeon General’s requirements for healthy physical activity, they controlled lipid levels and lowered weights far more effectively than their fellows told “good job, keep it up.”
Just thinking about the Four Fold Path can change the results. Do you have to do “well” at physical, mental, social and spiritual health? No. But doing even just a bit of each can provide benefit.
Take a simple task – walking with a friend to a restaurant. You combine physical (walking,) mental (talking about each other’s problems) social (solidarity and support) and potentially spiritual (noting the natural surroundings you traverse) forms of health.
The trick remains making normal activities health promoting. That happens when you recognize your most ordinary actions can help your body rebuild itself according to your own designs and desires. And since bodies work very fast – most of your heart is rebuilt in three days – the results can be appreciated quickly.
How you view the world changes the world. Might as well start now.