Although complementary medicine has made strong advances, mainstream medical practice still keeps faith with drugs and surgery as the default methods of treatment. The way forward for anyone who wants to establish a high level of wellbeing isn't going to come via the family doctor but through self-care. The first rule of self-care is to trust in the body's wisdom and to make choices in line with it.
Living in accord with your body's wisdom is simple and natural, which is why practices that hovered on the fringe when I was first practicing medicine in the Seventies are now tried and true. The following points are unarguable.
- A diet that minimizes meat is good for you. There are two reasons for this. First, avoiding meat is a way to keep your weight down. Second, you have to eat a lot of vegetables to get enough calories per day, and this increases your intake of vitamins and minerals. Changing dietary patterns aren't easy, because eating habits are formed in childhood and influenced by culture and emotions. So do not try to go entirely vegetarian if you find it stressful. You can eat less meat or go meatless one day a week, increasing gradually on your intake of veggies. For the meat you do eat, make sure it is organic, and that the fish is wild caught.
- Stress reduction works. The best studies of heart disease and cancer indicate that high stress is harmful. Stress reduction brings the body back into balance generally, which is itself a good thing. It reduces high blood pressure, although it isn't a cure. Meditation is a proven stress reducer.
- Small amounts of exercise are absolutely necessary. Your body is designed to move. A completely sedentary life is a major cause of overweight ad higher risk of many diseases. An adequate amount of exercise would include regular housecleaning, walking on a daily basis, taking care of a small child, climbing the stairs instead of taking the elevator, etc. As far a weight loss goes, it's been shown that walking a mile loses more weight than jogging a mile, and jogging loses more than running. This is because heavier exercise is anaerobic (doesn't use oxygen) and causes the body to preserve calories rather than shed them.
- Fresh pure food is best. Even though organic food has not been proven to be a major factor in good health, it still makes perfect sense to opt for the least contaminated food you can. The general public is right to be suspicious of chemical preservatives in goods, and processed food tends to have too many calories in proportion to vitamins and minerals. Life span is steadily increasing, with the decrease in the incidence of heart disease and strokes, but the worldwide intake of processed and junk food is promoting gross obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
- Staying away from the doctor is good for you. The medical establishment gave up on the old recommendation that everyone get a six-month checkup because it wasn't working. About 90% of serious illness is first detected by the patient. Secondly, people who live to great old age tend to not see doctors and to avoid taking drugs. It's not healthy to rely on drugs, to haunt the doctor's office, or to worry over minor illness and discomforts.
- Moderation is the best preventive. It sounds banal, but doing a bit of what's good for you is the best medicine, while too much of a good thing is bad. Eat when you are hungry, and stop eating when you aren't hungry. Omega-3 fish oil is good for thinning the blood, but too much runs the risk of stroke. Red wine is good for you, but too much is bad for the liver. Eating your vegetables is good for you; trying to live on megavitamins probably isn't. For lacto-tolerant individuals, organic milk remains a healthy food, (men who drink a quart of milk a day seem to reduce their risk of heart attack, for example). Making sure you exercise into old age is good, but over-exercise at younger ages can lead to joint problems later on. Finally, natural exercise like jogging outside does more good to more muscle groups than running on a treadmill. Using gym equipment is fine, but being outside in the sunshine is better.
- Biorhythms are the key to remaining in balance, and the key rhythm is rest and activity. The body is keeping track of dozens of different internal clocks, and maintaining a healthy body is all about keeping them in perfect synchronicity. A good night's sleep sounds like standard advice that many people feel free to ignore, but behind it is the mystery of how the brain coordinates every biorhythm, using hormones and genetic expression to fine tune processes that last only a few thousandths of a second, in harmony with long-term processes like puberty and menstruation that are timed by months and years. This invisible synchronicity may one day turn out to be far more crucial than we realize today, but at the very least your body wants a good night's sleep and periods of rest during the day in order to reset itself.
None of this sounds revolutionary, but there is an underlying wisdom at work. Your body knows what it is doing, and if you listen to it and cooperate sensibly, good health is the norm, not the exception. We are a society with incredible advantages in terms of health, and the sooner we stop relying only on outside authorities, and begin to rely more on the wisdom of our bodies, the better.
Deepak Chopra, M.D. is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. His latest book is The Future of God