Preventing Illness

I have spoken and written a lot about the importance of creating health and about “lifestyle medicine” as a way of treating and preventing illness and other health problems. Lets explore how you can do that.

That is a broad question. I’d say the three most essential things are diet, stress reduction, and emotional well-being.

To remain healthy and prevent diseases, proper diet and nutrition is the most important factor to consider. We truly are what we eat. As a consequence, food is our best and safest medicine. The more we know about how food affects our unique body and how we feel, the more control we have over our life, health, and destiny. From both a professional and personal perspective, I cannot overstate this fact and its singular importance. No other factor affects our health and mood as much as what we eat! That’s why being educated and proactive is so important. It’s a fact that most of the major health problems people have can be prevented or treated with the right diet. Given the opportunity, the body will heal itself, and appropriate diet helps facilitate that process.

It’s good to know some basics about how the body works. It must have the right kind and quantity of macro- and micronutrients to sustain it. But just as important as what we take in is what happens to by-products of this process: what’s left over after digestion and metabolism. If the body cannot absorb nutrients and process food properly, it will gradually weaken. If the excretory system does not eliminate adequately, toxicity will build up over time. Those toxins will spread throughout the body, compromising cell function and causing acidity.

Most disease develops because of the body’s inability to function properly. The body becomes overwhelmed and then starts to break down. This can be avoided by preventing toxic buildup and overstimulation of the nervous system. Even genetic predispositions to particular diseases can be prevented through appropriate diet. Diet also directly affects our emotional state and mental health, which in turn affects how well our immune system functions. The body and mind are intimately connected and part of a great feedback loop.

Stress is the second most important factor in our health. People underestimate its impact. Long-term stress is especially damaging to some organs. Stress is both mental and physical and can be both internally and externally generated. In either case, the extent of stress’s impact depends on how a person responds to it physically and emotionally. Sleep and relationships also play a big role. Lack of sleep can cause a lot of unnoticed stress; many people are sleep-deprived and don’t recognize that as the origin of their stress.

If stress can’t be avoided, people should find ways to effectively manage it. Supportive relationships are central to helping us handle stress. For those have difficulty handling life’s problems, some forms of psychotherapy can be very useful. Deep breathing, yoga, Tai Chi, and most forms of physical exercise are useful activities for reducing and preventing stress. Meditation and prayer have also proven very effective in reducing stress. Find what best fits your body and personality, and go with that. The important thing is to do it on a regular basis. I always recommend that people find time each day for deep relaxation—it’s worth it! Just like eating and sleeping, relaxing and exercising should be part of your daily life.

Another important factor in our health and happiness is meaning. People who feel purpose and meaning in their lives tend to live healthier, more satisfying lives. Some people call this the “spiritual dimension” of life. The common denominator is that it connects people on an emotional level to something greater than their separate selves. The more isolated people feel, the more stress it puts on their immune system, emotional life, and motivation. Feeling part of something greater than ourselves is a great motivator. Meaning can penetrate every aspect of our life.

These are the key principles to a healthy life; if we take them into account in how we live, many of our problems can be repaired or prevented.