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At Least I Have My Health
By Don Bennett, DAS

This past Thanksgiving, I took part in the annual ritual of giving thanks. One by one, in turn, people announced to those assembled what they were thankful for. Some were thankful for the good fortune they experienced during the year, some gave thanks for a blessed event, and some were thankful to still be in one piece (there had been a lot of severe hurricanes in 2005). But when I heard, "I'm thankful to have my health", something struck me.

After dinner, as people milled around sharing tales of hurricane survival, I heard more than a few times, "...but at least we have our health". If I had asked these people, "How do you know you're in good health?" some of them may have given the question serious thought, and no doubt some would have looked at me as if I had two heads.

But it raises an important question: When does health fail? Do you lose your standing of "good health" when, during an annual physical, you get a diagnosis of something serious? Maybe technically, but for all practical purposes, no. Are you in "good health" up until the point at which you begin to feel "off", enough so that you schedule an appointment with a doctor? It may appear so, and if indeed what ails you is an acute (sudden) illness, then the answer may be yes, but the vast majority of disease today is not acute, it is chronic, from the Greek word khronos, meaning time. The majority of disease plaguing our society is degenerative disease (and it is, by all definitions, a plague); you degenerate slowly, over time. So the diagnosis of cancer, for example, may appear sudden, but it was a long time in forming to get to the point that it was detectable by tests or that the symptoms it caused caught your attention.

Symptoms come in two flavors: apparent and unapparent. Over the course of 30 years you may not have consciously noticed a loss of vitality; and if you had, you might simply chalk it up to "getting older". But what if it was a degenerative disease that was responsible for this loss of vim and vigor. Loss of vitality and energy can be symptoms of disease, and just because it happens over a long period of time doesn't make it any less a symptom.

So although one of the markers of good health can be the absence of disease, the absence of noticeable symptoms is not necessarily an indication of good health. Going by today's statistics, and by what science knows about disease progression, the majority of folks who say, "At least I have my health" are a stone's throw away from a diagnosis (or an episode) that will rock their world.

Why do I bring up this issue? I mention it because if you want to be able to say, "I have my health" and you want it to be an accurate statement, you need to do more of the things that cause health, and less of the things that cause disease. Now you may have just thought, "I know you can cause disease, but can you cause health?" You absolutely can! Health and disease are a continuum; they are two sides of the same coin. Your lifestyle choices and habits dictate where you are on that sliding scale. If you are all the way to one side of it, the healthy side, does it guarantee that you will live a disease-free life? No; there are no such guarantees. But what it does do is give you the absolute best odds of avoiding degenerative disease, and the needless suffering and premature death that go along with it. And it gives you the best odds of having a vibrant, energetic quality-of-life (which I feel is more important than quantity of life), and it gives you the best odds of experiencing your "happiness potential".

Who wouldn't want the best odds of being disease-free! One obvious answer is a cigarette smoker (who is not honestly trying to quit). Another example is a person who claims they care about their health, but when presented with compelling information that would suggest they are partaking of something that's health-damaging, they dismiss the information out-of-hand because they can't let themselves believe it may be true. But if you are someone who truly wants the best odds of avoiding disease, the best odds of feeling great, and the best odds of being happy, then take the time to take stock of your lifestyle choices. Don't wait until you get a diagnosis of something serious to start reversing disease; start reversing disease now, before you experience symptoms or that dreaded diagnosis. A maxim of health (health truism) is: "The sooner you start reversing any disease you may have, the better your odds of not 'getting it'."

A good starting point in your stock-taking is to look at what are called the Basics of Health - diet, physical activity, sufficient water, fresh air, sunshine, sleep, stress management, toxin/poison avoidance, and education (to be better able to recognize health misinformation). And pay equal attention to each of these basics (if you focus on one more than the others, it is physiologically impossible to be as healthy as you can be). Make adjustments to your lifestyle practices that are doable, "detoxify" yourself in a tolerable fashion, and don't beat yourself up if you take "two steps back"; that goes with the territory.

There's a lot to discover, and uncover, about being truly healthy, partly because our society is sick-care not health-care oriented. Indeed, our so-called health-care system is based on disease management, not disease prevention. Modern medicine is primarily reactionary in nature, just as it was centuries ago. But to avoid disease, you need to take a preemptive approach, and knowledge of how to be healthy is an empowering tool to help you accomplish this.

So if you honestly care about your health (and your future health), go ahead and make those positive changes in yourself, so that if you say, "At least I have my health", it'll be the truth, and not merely wishful thinking.

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