Good Health – A Matter of Choice

I used to have a good swing – honestly. I was even told that I was a natural. Then I took lessons and bought state-of-the-art equipment. My golf game was never the same – not in a good way that is.

I remember signing up my teenage daughter for her first horseback riding lessons. Her trainer, who seemed to know what he was doing, urged me not to purchase a saddle for her until she had found her own seat first, meaning letting her ride bareback until she got the feel for riding a horse properly without the use of too much gear.

We don’t normally pursue this “natural” approach anymore. We rather apply the latest technology available. To be sure, I’m not advocating any form of purism or romantic nostalgia for the remote past. We’re fortunate to live in an age where science and technology allow us to put barriers between us and the raw struggle for survival known to our ancestors not that long ago.

On the other hand, particularly as a health care professional, I cannot help but feeling appalled by the constant onslaught of TV and print ads trying to seduce us to reach for man-made remedies for any ailment we can possibly encounter. Ate the wrong food? Just take something against heartburn or indigestion. High cholesterol? Drugs can help. Can’t sleep? Pop a sleeping pill. Anxious about your sex life? You know what to do…

Of course, instead of all this medicating (which inevitably comes with unintended side effects), you could try eating healthier food, manage your stress better and rediscover the importance of a loving relationship with your spouse. Admittedly that may require more effort – but the rewards could be better and longer lasting.

The issue here is this: Do we want to take charge of our well-being ourselves or are we going to outsource all that as well? I was quite fascinated when I read that past Chinese societies (we’re talking as far back as 1200 A.D.) had established a health care system that paid physicians a steady income as long as their patients stayed healthy. The payments stopped when they got sick and were resumed when they were cured. That way, the medical profession had a much higher stake in maintaining their clientele’s health than profiting from their ailments. By contrast, today’s health care industry focuses by and large on treatment rather than prevention.

Of course, keeping in good health depends also on factors we can’t control. After all, we humans are fragile creatures. However, while our health is not solely a matter of our choosing, making better lifestyle choices definitely is. And herein lies the rub: Achieving and maintaining good health takes ongoing effort on our part. Taking care of ourselves requires more than treating ailments when they occur (often by numbing ourselves with pharmaceuticals). The human body can tolerate some abuse, but only within limits. It can go through periods of intense stress, but not without eventual relief. It can survive without wholesome nutrition, but not permanently. It can remain intact without sufficient exercise, but not in the long run. Eventually corrective measures have to be taken. And those are within the realm of our personal responsibility. No amount of tablets, creams or ointments can substitute for the choices we have to make to live a healthy life. In fact, many chronic diseases are not so much the result of bad lifestyle habits we may have developed over time, but more of the lack of good ones.

Personally, it took me a long time to understand the importance of listening to my body. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way that this is not another New Age phrase. Because I didn’t listen to my body when it whispered, it eventually began to shout – I got sick in a life-threatening manner.

Getting back on the road to recovery was not easy. I had my work cut out for me. Finally, I took responsibility and became a good steward for my own health. I learned about nutrition, physical exercise and, most importantly, about peace of mind. I changed my lifestyle dramatically, yet those changes came almost automatically. It was just the right thing to do. Today, I am as healthy as I have ever been without taking any medication or other artificial remedies. I feel I’m in charge of my well-being. You could say, I got my swing back.

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