We’re Missing the Larger Issue

I have 5 questions that I’d like you to take a minute, think about, and answer to yourself honestly:  

1) Are you currently dealing with any chronic pain or injuries?  

2) Do you have at least one chronic disease?  

3) Do you achieve at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day (walking counts)?  

4) Do you eat 5-8 servings of vegetables and/or fruit everyday?  

5) And, do you average between 7-9 hours of sleep each night?

Okay, so how many of you can say no to questions 1 and 2, and yes to questions 3 – 5?  I ask this particular question because it is my feeling that we, as a society, have lost touch as to what it actually means to be “healthy” or in good physical health.

I’m amazed at the number of people I talk to who consider their chronically sore low back, hips, or knees to be “normal.”

Or along the same lines – the high blood pressure, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and chronic inflammation – just to name a few that impacts so many of us – as again, “normal” and just part of the aging process.

I’m sorry but I’ve got to call BS on this one.  

If you’re as old or older than me, do you remember a time when we used to call type 2 diabetes by its other name – adult onset diabetes?  Essentially, it’s a disease we have given to ourselves as a result of various lifestyle choices chosen throughout life.  It just took until we were 70-80 years old for it to manifest.

Then something happened…we started seeing it in kids.  So what did we do?  We just changed the name from adult onset diabetes to type 2 diabetes, and again, considered it “normal.”

Yes, chronic disease is associated with getting older, but I’m not sure that we should consider it “normal.”   

I think most of you will probably agree with me that 30 minutes of daily physical activity is not a very high bar.  Especially, when simply going for a walk counts!  This doesn’t even take into account what would be termed “vigorous exercise” such as heavy strength training, higher intensity cardiovascular activities, and interval training.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, less than 5% of adults meet this criteria.  Seriously?

You might also find it interesting that from 1900 to the early 2000’s we’ve experienced a 60 – 70% reduction in total daily energy expenditure for the average American (Int. Journal of Sports Medicine 2004: May 24).  It’s pretty simple to see that not only are we not exercising, we’re not even moving anymore.

Guess what?  Our daily vegetable and fruit intake is not so hot either, but I bet you saw that one coming.  According to the CDC, only 1 in 10 Americans get the recommended servings per day.  1 out of 10!  What are the recommended servings you ask?  For the average adult, the CDC recommends 2 – 3 cups of vegetables and 1.5 – 2 cups of fruit per day.  

For what it’s worth, this is probably on the low side in terms of what would be considered optimal, especially looking at the vegetable side of things.

And that brings me to sleep.  You guessed it, again less than stellar.  On average we’re getting 1-2 hours less sleep than we were in the 1950’s, with the average American clocking in at just over 6.5 hours per night.

In addition, over a quarter of us gets by on 6 hours of sleep per night, while 14% gets 5 hours per night or less.

I know I’ve just thrown a bunch of less than flattering statistics at you relating to the health of our nation and I’m just about finished, but allow me to drive it home.  Add to the above the following (CDC/NIH/HHS):

50% of Americans report a muscular skeleton condition (aka an injury and/or pain).

60% of Americans live with a chronic disease.  40% live with two or more.

And finally…72% of Americans are obese or overweight.

So why am I taking my time to tell you all of this?  Let me be clear – it’s not to scold, shame, and make you feel badly about yourself.  It’s to point out the fact that we have a serious perception vs. reality problem.

I’ve just laid out the reality part of it for you, and as you can clearly see, it’s not pretty.  

But here’s the kicker – when asked to self-report, 81% of us believe that were are in GOOD or EXCELLENT physical heath.

See the problem here?

Given the times we are in and the situation that we are currently facing, the argument can be made that this dichotomy of what we perceive to be true and what actually is true has never been more important.

Over the next decade and quite possibly decades, many of our lingering questions and doubts concerning this COVID-19 crisis will be answered and explained.  However, so far there appears to wide agreement that those who have pre-existing chronic conditions and/or a weakened immune system are at a disadvantage when it comes to not contracting this virus in the first place and being able to successfully overcome it if they do.

I felt compelled to write this because I don’t hear anyone talking about it.  

No one.  Anywhere.  And, I find that extremely troubling.  While we argue with one another concerning masks, shutdowns, and the vaccine – we miss the obvious.

We need to be healthier.  We need to get healthier.

Please don’t misunderstand me, COVID-19 is nasty virus and people were going to contract and fall victim to it no matter what.  But, I just can’t help but think how many of us would not have gotten sick, or have died if more us could have answered favorably to the 5 questions I posed earlier?

Perhaps it’s time we take a more proactive approach when it comes to our health?  The result of not doing so is playing out right in front of our eyes and it doesn’t appear to be going so well. 

Here’s the thing – when you have a handle on the above, you naturally lower the likelihood of acquiring chronic diseases, while at the same time, bolstering your immune system.  It’s a win – win.  

My hope is not to depress and further discourage you in already troubling times, but rather to bring about some awareness to what I consider to be the real issue at hand.  It’s something all of us have a say and a choice in.

While many things are out of our control at the moment, taking steps to improve our individual health and wellness is not.  This much I am sure about.  I help people do it everyday.