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  • Writer's pictureDr. Doug Pooley

What creates health?

This may be long, but it's worth the read. I had just finished watching the latest reporting on the COVID 19 pandemic and was thinking about how surreal and almost perverse the fascination with this disease had become. This is not to say that the situation is not serious or newsworthy, but the amount of air-time dedicated to it seems to be generating a dangerous sense of fear and paranoia that appears too far over shadow actual scientific validation.

Moving the thought process along, it occurred to me that the public reaction to the COVID crisis was actually in many ways a predictable outcome. A tangible demonstration of how the media and the current model of health provision have over the past few decades conditioned us to react to disease in general. It is almost like we now expect to get sick, and accept that living with disease has become the new norm. If you don’t believe this, then spend a couple of hours in front of a television and pay attention to the nature of the advertising that consciously and subliminally influence your attitudes on the prevalence of disease and subsequent requirements for treatment. Step out of the loop for just a moment and pragmatically digest this reality. It appears that living with disease has become the new norm for health. Now there is an oxymoron for you!!! Due to a process of repeated conscious and subconscious influencing there is now a pervading belief and sad acquiescence to the notion that we will inevitably all get sick and that those illnesses will require outside intervention.

What the hell happened to being healthy? Have we totally forgotten that health not disease is the intended state for all life and the human body inherently contains one of the most magnificent pharmaceutical labs ever created? It is as if we have decided that literally hundreds of thousands of years of creative evolutionary engineering dedicated to the maintenance of health really has no value and that instead, 21st century science holds the keys to health and longevity. How pompously arrogant! I don’t know about you, but I am convinced that I would far rather remain healthy than constantly fighting disease. I thought surely there must be information out there on what creates and maintains health, so I did the “new millennium” thing, and asked google by keying in “What constitutes health”?

What I got back was some rather outdated textbook attempts to define what comes across as a rather amorphous state of wellbeing. Dictionary definitions such as: “ A state of being free from illness or disease” or policy statements like “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” taken from the 1948 World Health Organization definition. This one has a nice feel good sense to it but contains the substance equivalency of air. So, as is my persistent nature, I asked google a more salient question: “What creates health?” I thought that this would be a reasonable question since if we knew what it was that actually created health, perhaps we could find the keys to its maintenance and within that the most efficient mechanisms for fighting disease. What I retrieved from the search was quite astounding - everything from a 2016 President’s health challenge to our ability to manage stress, to causes of intestinal gas. Not one single article on the genesis of human health. I could of course find reams of information on every disease calamity known to man, but nothing on the critically important topic of “what creates health?”

So, I thought, what is it that is contained within the life process that generates and subsequently maintains health? Or more pointedly to this discussion, what if removed from this same life process results in the development of disease? To answer this, I decided to look for functional commonalities to all living things. These are the processes and systems found in all life, which when removed, will immediately or over time, ultimately result in the death of the organism. I postulated that whatever would be responsible for the creation of life, would also be an integral part of the health process. This just seemed logical, so I started my investigations at the beginning... between 3.7 and 4.5 billion years ago when the first life appeared on the planet.

According to the Smithsonian Institute, although there is evidence of single cell microbes going back 3.7 billion years ago, it was not until the advent of cyanobacteria, tiny single cell oxygen producing organisms 2.4 billion years ago that the blueprint for life as we know it today started to evolve. What these simple life forms had in common with the magnificent animals of today was their ability to “purposefully” eat, drink, move, discharge waste and reproduce. From here primitive multicellular lifeforms evolved in sophistication over time in order to better enhance life potential and more efficient performance in the above five areas of function. As sophistication of life continued to evolve, the advent of the first animals became evidenced approximately 800 million years ago. Interestingly, the advancement in the evolution of all living entities was directly proportional to the levels of oxygen found in the atmosphere and oceans. It was during the Cambrian period {541-485 million years ago} that the origins of life as we know it today evolved. Between 300,000- 200,000 years ago the homo sapiens, the precursors to current day humans first appeared.

During this evolutionary journey, key systems reflective of the life process itself continually evolved in complexity. Our ability to ingest food and water, discharge waste, breathe, intellectually strategize, reproduce and move with efficiency were all enhanced as core components to survival as mankind transitioned to the top of the food chain. Logic therefore dictates that these six processes must be considered the irrefutable pillars of life. Quite simply, in order to be alive we need to eat, drink, eliminate toxins, breathe, reproduce and move. For the purposes of thriving, we can remove the ability to reproduce. As critical as it is to the survival of the species, it is not a prerequisite for life itself or the creation of health. So if my supposition is in fact correct, that life is predicated upon these five systems, then would it not be a reasonable assumption that health would be a direct reflection of the efficiency of these core functions. If this is the truth, then the answer to what creates health would be found contained within the functional integrity of these key systems. Now, let's dig a little deeper and ask the really important question: Is there a key process or activity which is common to all of these same five primal functions? To determine this, let's strip life down to its most infinitesimal level.

Science has found that if you dissect all living things to their core subatomic functional components, life in its most basic form is simply one thing, purposeful {intelligence directed} energy. In turn, all energy in one form or another is again just one thing...movement. Movement in all of its varying forms is the key commonality to each pillar of life.Every one of the keystone components of being alive is just a different form of purpose driven movement. Now bring this back to the big picture and look at the evolution of the human body and it becomes evident that the overarching and fundamental driver in the life process in its most basic simplicity is efficient and purposeful movement. Now let's take all of this and extrapolate it to health.

As previously demonstrated... for health purposes, there are five unique but related pillars to life... eating, breathing, fluid intake, elimination of toxins and physical activity. Contained within each pillar, is a unique form of purposeful movement reflected as a defined function. For example, in eating, the purposeful movement is the process of digestion and assimilation of nutrients, breathing is the oxygenation of tissues and so-on for each of the other operations.

Take away or compromise any of the above activities and sooner or later the process we call living deteriorates {disease} and eventually stops {death}. So, their importance to life is undeniable. If health is a reflection of the viability and integrity of these five systems, then it would seem to make perfect sense that the keys to the maintenance and enhancement of health would also lie within the functional integrity of these five entities. Extrapolate a little further and I think that it would be safe to assume that the breakdown of these systems would eventually lead to the development of “dis-ease” which comes from the old French word “desaise”, meaning without ease or put more succinctly, functionally compromised. This begs the question: Could there be a commonality to the development of disease? If so, could this congruity also serve as the key to the restoration and maintenance of health and with that even longevity?

Now lets change gears for a moment and see what we know for sure.. Science has established unequivocally that most of the diseases associated with the aging process {which are the ones that ultimately kill most of us}, can be positively impacted by exercise. Life expectancy for everything from metabolic syndrome and diabetes, to heart disease and circulatory disorders to most of the common cancers, can be improved through an effective program of structured activity. The reason for this is found within the metabolic and functional benefits derived from processes that provide for the consistent elevation in levels of movement over time. Sustained activity over time not only raises cardio-vascular fitness, but also stimulates increased levels of activity in all of the other companion systems, encouraging them to function with greater efficiency. Everything from cognitive function to the integrity of the immune system and everything in between are impacted by the levels and quality of movement. In other words, the more consistently and efficiently you move, the better and more efficiently your body will perform. Logic dictates that if health is a reflection of the functional integrity of the five key pillars of life, and consistent purposeful movement is the common denominator, then your health and most importantly the ability to fight disease is an absolute reflection of the quality and quantity of your movement. When movement is compromised, health is inevitably impacted. This is not conjecture, it is absolute and scientifically verified fact. For the most part obesity is as much a disease founded in the lack of movement as it is a nutritional disorder. The heavier one gets, the less they move and ultimately the sicker they get. Science has demonstrated this same cause and effect outcome is also consistent in the genesis and evolution of most other disease processes. In fact, in understanding the necessity of movement to all key life processes, reason would dictate that the prime driver for our viability and therefore health is found contained within consistent purposeful movement. If you look at mankind’s progressive deterioration of health over the last 50 or so years, it parallels the systematic decrease in consistent physical activity in all aspects of life and this has been found to be especially so as we age. During this same half century we have worked hard to remove physicality from almost every aspect of our lives. We have systematically eliminated the need for physical exertion from most of our work and leisure environments and called it progress. All the while, insidiously weakening the species and predisposing it to greater levels of ill health and disease. Although the blame for our collective health decline has been levied almost solely upon the nutritional breakdown in Western society, it has mirrored many of the other lifestyle alterations of the past five or so decades. Although there is no denying the importance of proper nutrition to health, the real elephant in the room is the removal of purposeful movement from our traditional daily activities. Although it is certain that what, how and when we eat is pivotal to health, the primary driver of vitality and the ability to fend off disease is found in consistently applied purpose driven activity. So, I am sure you are wondering, what exactly is purpose driven activity?

It is the engagement of the body’s large muscle groups in order to execute a prescribed activity over time. Here, both the activity and the time under load are of importance to the resultant health benefits. For activity to have health benefits, it has to be consistent and vigorous enough to raise metabolic function and then sustain it consistently over time. Surprisingly the activity does not have to be overly demanding or for a prolonged period. Joan Vernikos in her work with NASA, is a pioneer in determining the effects of movement on health. She found that in order to maintain health astronauts contained within a gravity depleted environment required consistent periods of activity throughout the course of the day. Her further research demonstrated the same to be a true determinant of health within the general population. The negative impact upon astronauts was more pronounced due to the depletion of gravity, but the same basic physiological principles apply here on earth as well, life is movement. Most of us are physically active as little as possible these days. In fact, we move so sparingly that we have actually developed trackers that tell us how many steps we take in a day. Some of us have started to buy into the fact that movement is somehow necessary to health, and it has become like a game to see how many steps we can accumulate. Sadly, the tragic reality of the situation is that while we are starting to acknowledge the importance of movement to health, few understand the consequences over time of failing to engage in consistent physical activity during the course of their day...every day! We believe that if we exercise once a day we should stay healthy. Sadly this is not the case.

In a paper published in the British Medical Journal entitled: “How Should We Define Health”, the author Machteld Huber and colleagues propose a new definition of health as “ability to adapt and self-manage”. Interestingly, the history of human development shows this to have always been the hallmark of our progressive development as a species. Both adaptation and self-management reflect core principles of the human evolutionary experience. Without this ability to creatively adapt, we would have been extinct long ago. If you boil down the past couple of hundred thousand years of our core functional development, you see the species steadily evolving increasingly efficient and purposeful movement away from danger and towards that which sustains life and enhances vitality. Although we are no longer chasing our food or being chased for food, hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary engineering has crafted the human body into this magnificent movement machine. Now, within the space of one generation, we have taken a Ferrari and tried desperately to turn it into a minivan. The human body has been perfectly crafted over time to sustain a life of movement punctuated by the need for only brief periods of rest in the form of sitting during the waking hours. In fact, from a purely anatomical perspective, the human skeleton was never designed to sit or stand for extended periods at all. Most notably, research is showing that prolonged periods of sitting alone and of itself, is responsible for recent explosions of functionally related diseases.

History repeatedly demonstrates that often the resolve to today’s problem is rooted in the activities, circumstances and events that preceded it. The same holds true for our health. We are and always will be, creatures of movement and it is here that we find the source of health. The same place that it has been for thousands of years. Human beings are spectacularly engineered thinking machines that evolved over thousands of years, with one overarching purpose... to move. Historically all facets of our existence and evolution have depended upon our ability to creatively fabricate game plans for survival and then successfully execute them. This in turn has been predicated upon the efficiency of our movement. No movement….no survival.

I would suggest that if you are serious about enhancing your ability to fight off CoVid-19 or for that matter any other disease process there is one option that you have been spectacularly engineered for and it won't cost you a cent...simply get up and move!

If you want to live in a state of consistent health you only have one real effective choice, and that is to move with purpose and consistently. The type of activity does not have to be particularly sophisticated to be effective. There is no need for complicated or demanding exercise programs. Simply utilize what nature provided to you for this very purpose...your legs. Evolution put the greatest concentration of muscle in our bodies here for good reason and that is to move, and with that, the key to rebuilding and maintaining health is found in purposeful activity done regularly throughout the day.Research continues to emerge that supports the thought that small bouts of exercise accumulated through the day may actually provide greater health benefits than one continuous session of activity, with measurable benefits including improved cardio-vascular fitness, immune function and even weight loss.

The currently accepted recommendations for exercise frequency and duration tend to make the process a chore, almost a burden and worse, tend to vary depending which expert you listen to. When thinking about activity designed to foster health and vitality, remember our evolutionary purpose; The human body has been perfectly crafted over time to sustain a life of movement punctuated by the need for only brief periods of rest during the waking hours. What this translates to in real time is periods of consistent uninterrupted movement throughout the day. Again,Dr. Joan Vernikos in her groundbreaking work with NASA astronauts found that for the human body to maintain health and vitality it requires regular periods of activity punctuated throughout the course of a day. This process serves to consistently enhance the body’s functional integrity by stimulating all metabolic activity including immune function and is generally much more effective than only one dedicated period of exercise or activity.

The following is a program that I have tested over 42 years of practice that works as a template for creating enough sustained activity during the course of the day to positively impact physiology and with that health. Do not be put off by the simplicity of the offering. I have had patients turn their health and lives around by doing little more than consistently following this program. I call it the “5-10-15-repeat” program and it works. It can be done by anyone who can walk up to a maximum of 15 minutes without stopping and this means by far, most of us. Here is how it rolls out:

  • Get up five minutes earlier than normal and walk for five minutes. Work up to a comfortably brisk pace for the last 2 ½ minutes.

  • Mid morning go for a ten minute walk and work up to a comfortably brisk pace for the last five minutes.

  • Just before lunch, walk for fifteen minutes and again work up to a brisk pace for the last ten minutes.

  • Mid afternoon, again walk for ten minutes and work up to a comfortably brisk pace for the last five minutes

  • Just before dinner walk for fifteen minutes and again work up to a brisk pace for the last ten minutes

  • Just before retiring for the evening comfortably work up to a brisk walk for a total of five minutes.

  • Weigh yourself and take a selfie prior to starting the program. Commit to this daily regime for just 21 days. At the end, again weigh yourself and take another selfie exactly where you took the first and compare. I think you will be surprised at the results.

I will share with you my full health reclamation strategy over the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

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