Natural laws govern the physical world. Health results from cooperating with those laws, while disharmony with them produces sickness. Here are valuable principles you need to apply!
Picture for a moment the average citizen of one of our industrialized Western countries. For lack of a better name, let's call him John Q. Citizen. If John is an average American, chances are about one in three that he is overweight. If John is a West German, chances are one in four that he suffers some form of circulatory disease. Fifty-six percent of the British John Q. Citizens will lose all their teeth by age 55. A Frenchman's chances of dying of cirrhosis of the liver are surpassed only by his chances of dying of cancer or heart disease. If John Q. is a Swede over 55 years old, he faces a whopping 88 percent chance that he will die of cancer. In fact, men and women aged 55 and over in every Western nation stand better than even chances of dying from the scourge of cancer. You would probably agree that the chances of living a long, full life with no major health problems are somewhat slim for John Q. Citizen! Mortality rates from modern degenerative diseases make modern warfare look tame in comparison. Every year the United States loses two and one half times more victims to heart disease and one and one half times more victims to cancer than it did in battle during World War II. Not all these fatalities occur among people we would consider senior citizens. One in four heart attack victims is under 65 years of age. And signs of advanced physical degeneration have even been found in people in their 20s. As early as the Korean War, autopsies performed on soldiers with an average age of 22 revealed some degree of arteriosclerosis in more than three fourths of the cases. In 12 percent of this group, arterial obstruction exceeded the 50-percent level. And this was the "cream of the crop." Old age is not the only prerequisite for degenerative illness. According to Lewis Herber, author of Our Synthetic Environment, "Many an octogenarian has been found to have coronary arteries that a man in his forties would be fortunate to possess." Says Herber, "Many American males between 20 and 30 years of age are on the brink of major cardiac disease." Nor does the fact that more people now survive childhood account for this increased incidence of degenerative diseases among adults. According to Gene Marine and Judith Van Allen, authors of Food Pollution, "It is not because of an improvement in the infant mortality rate that heart disease is now the leading cause of death, not only of the old, but of everyone over 45." Once a person reaches middle age, his life expectancy is only a little better than the life expectancy of a person who lived around the turn of the century. In one sense this means that Western man has actually lost ground as far as the state of his overall health is concerned. Lewis Herber explains why: "Today, sanitation, housing, working conditions and incomes have been improved greatly, while medicine has scaled undreamed-of heights.... "If it weren't for the extraordinary medical advances and great improvements in material conditions of life, today's adult might well have a much shorter life span than his grandparents had. This is a remarkable indication of failure."
A few basic principles
The vast sums spent on medical treatment and research don't seem to be solving the problem. The nation of Sweden is a case in point. The Swedes spend more on health than any other nation — $518 per person per year — yet they also have the world's second-highest death rates from both cancer and heart disease. The Scandinavian countries, supposedly "model" welfare societies for the West, lead the world in rate of suicides. The fact is that more medical dollars don't necessarily result in better physical and mental health. Life-style, exercise and dietary habits, though often overlooked, are really the key variables in the health equation. Allan Chase, author of The Biological Imperative, explains, "Where and how well a person lives, makes his living and eats has as much to do with his state of health and that of his children as does anything a doctor can do for him." Lewis Herber put it this way: "Whether he likes it or not, there are 'rules of the game,' which must be obeyed if an environmental change is to advance human vigor, resistance to disease and longevity. "When these rules, simple as they may be, are transgressed, nature takes its revenge in the form of ill health and disease. When they are obeyed, man's life can be full, creative, and remarkably free of physical impairment." The purpose of this article, then, is to discuss some of the basic ground rules essential to achieving robust and radiant health.
Food and fitness
The diet of many people in the Western world has to go down as one of the supreme ironies of modern history. While millions in the underdeveloped world are malnourished because of necessity, many Westerners are often on the short end nutritionally purely due to choice. A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, revealed that roughly one half of all Americans subsist on substandard diets, with junk foods accounting for some 35 percent of a typical American family's food budget. Fifty percent of what Americans eat is processed food — laden with dyes, preservatives, moisture controls and thickeners. Sugar consumption in the affluent West is at an all-time high. In 1750 the average Englishman consumed only four pounds of sugar a year. Today sweet-toothed Australians gulp down 126 pounds per person annually. Sugar now constitutes half of the average American's total calorie intake. The rapid rise in sugar consumption is just one more indicator that there has been a fundamental shift in our basic dietary habits. Dr. Jean Mayer, a leading nutritionist from Harvard University, made the following interesting comments on the average person's current dietary habits in an interview: "Perhaps as much as half of the foods consumed in the home are no longer the primary foods like meats, milk, eggs, bread... vegetables, fruits which were bought at the supermarket. A great many of them are prepared." Vending machines, hamburger stands, drive-ins, ice cream parlors, TV dinners and the like have all added to the problem. The example of what happened to the Danes around World War I gives us fair warning as to where our highly processed food fads are taking us. According to the authors of Food Pollution: "During World War I, Denmark simply stopped refining flour. Later it was found that the death rate had dropped, and there had been a marked decline in cancer, heart disease, diabetes, kidney trouble and high blood pressure. No other marked change in diet or living habits had taken place." Today Westerners are paying for their highly refined, emasculated diets with a rash of diseases such as diabetes, hypoglycemia, obesity, anemia, colon cancer, and kidney, liver and gallbladder malfunctions. The price for poor nutrition costs in terms of dollars as well. Dr. George Briggs, nutritionist at the University of California, estimated that $30 billion of America's annual $75 billion medical bill was the direct result of poor nutrition.
Back to basics
The obvious way to avoid nutritional pitfalls is to avoid overconsumption of processed, refined food s when possible. Fresh fruits and vegetables and whole-grain breads and cereals are not only better for the constitution but usually easier on the food budget. Proper cooking methods can also help. Steaming at low temperatures rather than boiling can preserve much more of the value of your daily food fare. Dietary substitution may be of value, also. For instance, you can eat fruits in place of candy, drink juices instead of soft drinks and refrain from using refined sugar when honey will do as well. Balance is another important factor in food intake. Overreliance on one basic food type can lead to future health problems. Unusual diets and overuse of food supplements should also be avoided. For example, a purely vegetarian diet may often lack in essential B vitamins as well as balanced proteins, unless foods are selected carefully. Excessive vitamin C supplements may be helpful for fighting colds, but can also lead to various digestive complications if they are wrongly administered. Not moderating one's intake is also a major dietary problem that plagues many, living in an age where vigorous physical activity often is the exception rather than the rule. Centuries ago, the apostle Paul encouraged the Philippians to let their moderation be known to all men (Philippians 4:5, Authorized Version). Solomon likewise warned against the consequences of overindulgence in both food and drink. Notice Proverbs 23:21, for example. Obviously, every individual has to seek his own optimum level of food intake. Much information is available on the subject of dieting. Before making any changes in your diet, be sure you have thoroughly researched your particular problem and have sought proper counsel.
The lost art of physical fitness
Someone once observed that most human progress has sprung from man's earnest desire to avoid work. Certainly for the past 200 years, we have hailed as progress ideas or inventions that reduced the need for human effort. Our definition of a developed nation, in fact, implies a nation where muscle power has been largely replaced by machine power. We measure the quality of life in terms of how easy our work is, how abundant our leisure time is and how many laborsaving gadgets we have at our disposal. Before the Industrial Revolution, most people got plenty of exercise whether they wanted to or not. But today, exercise can be all too easily avoided. Millions have adopted the philosophy of Robert Hutchin in Christopher Hale's Exit Screaming: "When I feel a desire to exercise, I lie down until it goes away." Consequently, muscles weaken and atrophy from lack of use. Bodies bulge with fat as the metabolic processes hoard excess calories in anticipation of activity that never comes. If future anthropologists had a chance to look back at 20th-century man, they might well classify us as "sitters," because that is the dominant posture of our age. We sit in a car or bus on our way to work, where we sit at our desk for eight hours a day. Then we sit down again to travel home, where after sitting for dinner, we sit in front of the TV set for several hours. On weekends, for recreation, we sit in front of stages or movie screens to be entertained, or pay for the pleasure of sitting in the bleachers to watch paid professionals get the exercise we so desperately need ourselves.
A matter of the heart
When questioned on the subject, 49 percent of all American men and women admit that they do not engage in physical activities for the purpose of exercise. That leaves 51 percent who do — a slim majority. But Dr. Laurence E. Morehouse, founding director of the Human Performance Laboratory, University of California, Los Angeles, thinks the picture is actually gloomier than statistics indicate. In his best-selling book Total Fitness in 30 Minutes a Week, he states: "Newspapers and magazines make much of statistics indicating that millions of Americans are on a fitness kick. That isn't really true.... "When the activities themselves are analyzed, it's apparent that at least eighty percent of the adult population isn't exercising sufficiently or properly to arrest physiological decay." To understand why Dr. Morehouse came to this conclusion, we need to examine the words "physical fitness" and "exercise." Health and longevity don't depend exclusively on rippling muscles and slender contours. Rather, physical fitness is determined by the condition of the heart, the size and elasticity of the arteries that feed blood to the heart and the elasticity of the lungs. The key, then, to a well-conditioned body is the circulatory system. No part of the body can survive, let alone thrive, without the service of the heart and bloodstream. The blood carries nutriments and oxygen to every cell of the body and exchanges these substances for waste materials, which it then helps dispose of. It distributes hormones to regulate many bodily functions and, with the aid of white blood corpuscles, the bloodstream fights infectious diseases that attack the body. Truly, as the Bible declares, "The life of the flesh is in the blood" (Leviticus 17:11).
Life-style, exercise and dietary habits are key variables in the health equation. Failure to properly regulate these important areas could lead to significant health problems in a person's future.
The Bible also tells us we should exercise regularly and moderately throughout our lives. I Timothy 4:8, correctly translated, shows that bodily exercise profits " for a little while" — that is, in this life. The right kind of exercise improves the functional capacity of the heart and the circulation. The key phrase is "right kind."
Play vs. exercise
Unlike food, which we often describe at rapturous length and prepare using innumerable recipes, we seldom bother to break exercise down into many different types. "I think I'll get some exercise," we say as we jog out the door. Or, "Now that summer is here I hope to get a lot of exercise in the garden." Are gardening and jogging the same? Hardly, but we rarely differentiate — especially in discussing exercise needed for good health. There are exercises for strength — such as weight lifting. There are sports and games of skill such as baseball and bowling. But when health experts talk about exercise for physical fitness they are primarily concerned with exercises that help the heart and control weight. In looking at the physically active 51 percent of the population, Dr. Morehouse saw that most people were not engaged in the kind of exercise that conditions the body. Bowling, golf, softball and volleyball rank among the most popular sports people participate in, but none of these have the sustained level of activity needed for proper conditioning. "At the risk of being immediately deported," wrote Dr. Mayer, in the magazine Family Health, "let me say that neither baseball nor football is, by itself, a good body conditioner. And let me add certain games of skill to this list, games that are great entertainment but are no longer physical exercise. "For instance, if you play golf out of a golf cart, or shoot at clay pigeons on a rifle range, or take up archery, you are not really exercising; you're just playing." This doesn't mean that exercise must be all work and no play. You don't have to throwaway your golf clubs or bowling ball in favor of jogging by the dawn's early light and sweating through a regime of calisthenics. The point is to realize that not all exercise is of equal value to the conditioning of the body.
Choosing a conditioner
If you seek to reduce your waistline, improve your wind or build a few muscles, here are some suggestions in selecting an exercise program: 1) If you are seriously overweight or over 30 years of age, you should seek wise counsel before starting any program. Exercise can condition the body, but strenuous exercise can also kill you if you don't build up to it gradually. 2) Read widely on the subject of exercise. Programs and methods are as varied as the people who write about them. Get a feel for different approaches and schools of thought. Be wary of any regime that makes extravagant promises or radical demands on your way of living. There is no one magic method to produce good health. You don't have to adopt a Spartan existence to be physically fit. 3) Select a program that is right for you — one that fits your life-style, not someone else's. A professional football player needs a lot of endurance and strength to earn his salary. Chances are that you don't. So the football player's physical fitness program is not for you. What you need is a program that enables you to feel well and cope with the stresses and rigors of your own personal life. What you want is exercise tailored to your personality and to the time you have available. Some people like rugged games and activities requiring a lot of exertion — such as soccer, basketball and weight lifting. Others prefer tennis, swimming or bicycling. Exercise is highly individualistic; one of the most common pitfalls that leads to discouragement and failure is to choose a program tailored to someone else. But the main thing you should remember is that your body needs some form of exercise. Failure to keep it in reasonable trim could lead to significant health problems in the future. In addition to physical factors such as diet and exercise, your health is affected, for better or for worse, by your emotional condition, your mental attitude and psychological stress. Next month we will discuss these areas and discover more about what the Bible has to say about maintaining good health.