Uncomplicating Matters on the Way to Health

Getting to health doesn't need to be all that complicated. And it also doesn't need to be about "should." Don't pursue health because it's an obligation, or because someone says you should. Pursue health because health is a currency you can spend on living better.
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On Monday of this week, my staff and I at the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center entertained a visiting delegation of colleagues from Korea. The visit was first proposed by a preventive medicine specialist there in an email to me some months back. Somehow, in the time since, the visit grew to a group of roughly 25, most working for public health agencies.

We were of course honored and delighted that a group would travel so far to learn about our health promotion programs. And we were also eager to explore the opportunities for translating programs that have proven effective here for application in another language and culture.

Translation, however, proved to have more general relevance to the meeting. Of the group, only three members spoke English. Thanks to years of Tae Kwon Do, I can count to 10 in Korean, but that was the extent of our group's collective vocabulary. So the day's discussions, which spanned some hours, required frequent pauses for translation from English to Korean (for the most part), or Korean to English.

So, there we were -- a large group from the Prevention Center, Griffin Hospital, some of our partner agencies, and our guests -- gathered around a big boardroom table for hours, wrestling with the challenges of health promotion in two languages.

A group this size, talking at length about how best to implement health promotion programming, might well have sucked all of the oxygen out of the room even without the language barrier. But with that additional encumbrance, and despite my frequent recourse to standing and walking around the perimeter of the room -- by mid-afternoon I was feeling increasingly prone to a sudden onset coma.

So around that time, while we were discussing programs to promote physical activity as our rear ends molded to our chairs, I asked my staff to pick out and project one of our ABE for Fitness videos for the group. We did so, choosing from the library of roughly 60 videos one made for the office setting, lasting about four minutes, and providing a total body workout in the standing position.

We all followed along, and suddenly there were smiles on faces that appeared all but unconscious a moment before. Suddenly, we had oxygen in our lungs again -- and it was actually reaching our brains! And suddenly, following the on-screen guide through the exercises, there was no language barrier, and no real cultural barrier, either. We were all just moving, together, and feeling a whole lot better for it.

There's no question that activity burst rejuvenated our meeting -- but its ramifications went far beyond that. It illustrated how readily we can turn a simple action into a complex idea, when what we really want is to turn ideas into actions.

We could have talked for hours about the challenges of fitting physical activity into people's days while failing to fit any into ours. Or, we could have put our feet where our mouths were and, stood up and said, how about this? Which, thankfully, is what we did.

I am by no means suggesting that ABE for Fitness, or any one program, suffices to reverse all of the forces of modern living that conspire against physical activity or health in general. I am, however, saying that getting up and moving isn't very complicated. And it isn't even very hard.

And while eating better may be a bit more complicated than being active, I think that, too, can be fairly simple. Eat close to nature. Learn enough about nutrition and food labels so you can trade up your choices. Control your own food choices rather than letting others do it for you. And by getting used to better foods, come to love the foods that love you back. Admittedly, there is some effort here -- but it's not a space mission.

I believe that many of the best defenses of the human body reside with the body politic. And consequently, I support an array of programs and policies that would help pave the way to health and place it along a path of lesser resistance for us all. Exploring just such opportunities was why our Korean colleagues traveled so far to confer.

But I also believe that most of us are quite capable of acquiring new skills we deem important and applying that skill-power to good effect. I believe that people who manage mortgages, student loans, tax forms, and 401ks can figure out how to have a healthy dinner if it matters to them. I believe people who can navigate across the country through a maze of airports can, if so inclined, acquire the skills to fit some fitness into their daily routines.

Sometimes we mistake hard for complex. Lifting a rock, for instance, can be hard if the rock is heavy, but it's not complicated. A deliberating committee is unlikely to help.

And sometimes we get carried away with how hard something might be, instead of just doing it -- and discovering it's actually fairly easy. That activity burst was easy. One of those every hour, and we could all have gotten that recommended 30 minutes of physical activity without ever leaving the board room.

Getting to health doesn't need to be all that complicated. And it also doesn't need to be about "should." Don't pursue health because it's an obligation, or because someone says you should. Pursue health because health is a currency you can spend on living better. Pursue health because healthy people have more fun. Pursue health if it matters to you, because it matters to you.

I genuinely believe that most of us can get to health in the pursuit of pleasure and get more pleasure in the pursuit of health. I believe that making substantially better use of our feet and our forks every day need not be very complicated, might not even need to be hard, and can even be fun.

I believe we can uncomplicate getting to health. All we really need to do is decide that health truly matters, and start acting accordingly.


Dr. David L. Katz; www.davidkatzmd.com

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