Years ago, a client of mine was grieving the loss of his father. He was also angry and questioning everything he believed. His father was a wealthy vegetarian who ran three miles a day even in his early 70s. His heart attack was a complete shocker to everyone. Wasn’t he doing everything right?
A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology looked at trends and disparities in cardiometabolic health, and researchers found that a very small percentage of us have optimal cardiometabolic health. They also found that there are disparities in age, sex, education and race/ethnicity that seem to get worse over time.
So because I have a master’s degree and my parents don’t, does that mean that my cardiometabolic health will automatically be better? Well, there is a lot that this study doesn’t take into consideration.
If I meditate and do 30 minutes of yoga every morning, eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, and get outside in nature a couple times a week, then will that give my cardiometabolic health a leg up? How about if I run 12 miles a day?
Many people want to eat a specific diet because they’ve heard about one that’s “good for them”. For example, many people are vegans now, some for philosophical reasons, and others for health reasons. And while a vegan diet can lower body weight, body mass index, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and HbA1c, it hasn’t necessarily been shown to improve HDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides. So what does affect those things?
Hmmm, well, ginger has been shown to improve HDL in overweight and obese people, but what happens to the HDL when we finally lose the weight? Does it have the same effect? One study shows some improvement in high blood pressure from it too. And another study showed that ginger lowered triglycerides and a bunch of other things in people with fatty liver disease.
So ginger is a wonder drug. Right?
Yes. No. Sometimes - like all substances. For example, if you have too much of it, especially in powder form, then you can get heartburn. Ironically, it can help heartburn if your digestive enzymes are weak. I know. So confusing.
Ugh, it’s just because none of us studied how our bodies actually work. We focused on how to be successful in the world. We focused on how to memorize things, assimilate facts and succeed in whatever system we decided to play in for our career. But now, to win the health, wellness and longevity game, we have to succeed in the human system, and how we interact with nature. And for that, we must give our bodies a very specific kind of attention. Inner attention. Interoception. How is stuff feeling right now?
I know it seems unfair that we can’t just pick one food to eat for the rest of our lives and feel like we have our health locked in until we’re 100. I will tell you that in the 10 years I’ve been working with Ayurveda clients, people really seem to want that. They want to know the “right” thing to do. But we aren’t computers. Temperatures are changing. Sunlight. Tissue densities. Moisture. Attachments. Hormones are changing - for both men and women of all ages. Everything is changing every day, and significantly in different seasons of the year or of our lives. Plus, people have the effects of the past to deal with - e.g. scars and prosthetic implants of various sorts (even if only a stent, or a tooth filling here and there). Oh, and the toxins we’ve accumulated through the years. I would argue that if you feel you’ve already gamed the system, then you should open your eyes that much wider. If it were that easy to pick a specific life prescription and run with it the rest of our [long] lives, then my client’s dad would still be winning the longevity race, like he probably believed he would, but he isn’t.
It was another man in my life who seemed to win the longevity race - my UCLA professor emeritus father-in-law*, who ate a cheese sandwich every day for lunch, verbally protested the news daily while riding the recumbent bike, drank a few sips of wine with his meaty dinner every night, and recorded himself singing quatrains of political satire on his blog until two weeks before he died at 96. He won. It wasn’t because he figured out how to be a good boy and follow the right prescription. It was something else altogether.
It’s this “something else” that I’m obsessed with helping people find.
Though, come to think of it...he did have a PhD.
*Or whatever you call the stepfather of the person you had a baby with, but never married. In lieu of a word for that, I chose father-in-law :-)