Lifestyle Choices

The human body is a remarkable masterpiece of intelligent design. It can run on a wide variety of fuels, tolerate wide fluctuations in activity and inactivity, and endure almost unthinkable abuses. It is largely self-healing and can overcome severe damage in the right conditions.

Yet, we tend to take it for granted, if not abuse it. We regularly consume junk food, empty calories, derivatives and additives that were only recently introduced into the food system. If you doubt this, read an ingredient label on just about all of the items sold in the middle of the grocery store or go online and read the ingredients in some of your favorite restaurants.

We tend to hold our bodies in unusual postures for long periods of time (e.g. sitting or standing) and many of us perform repetitive movements that wear out joints, injure ligaments, and over-tighten or over-stretch a wide variety of the muscles and tissues in the body that would otherwise allow for graceful, fluid, pain-free movement for a lifetime.

In the Western world we down stimulants like they’re going out of style, just to make it through the day. Caffeine and sugar top the list, but by no means complete it. This constant stimulation disrupts the endocrine system, gradually exhausts the adrenal glands, and further divorces us from the natural, daily rhythms that inherently provide a sense of connection and balance throughout the universe.

Our lifestyle choices–which are modifiable–establish the quality and condition of our terrain. Granted, these decisions sit largely on top of deeper genetic terrain, but they have been shown to effect things in innumerable ways, even genetically. We are, as it was put, what we eat.

One of the things I find most astonishing in our scramble to deal with this COVID-19 crisis is the fact that we give the matter of reconsidering our lifestyle choices so little airplay. During a period of time of any heightened potential infection from COVID-19 (or any other new virus or bacteria for that matter), favorably modulating immune function is an important strategy for not only reducing the chance of infection, but for potentially reducing the severity of and sequelae from infections.

We have long understood the effect that lifestyle factors have on immune function and the science on this front is improving daily. I, for one, am unwilling to pin my hopes on a magic pill or jab that will somehow bring calm, order, and normalcy in the presence of this novel virus. Such solutions always come with a cost.

Our scientific achievements are impressive, but to my mind medicine—no matter how modern, how clever, how seemingly effective—will never transcend the body’s inherent ability to restore balance and bring order out of chaos.

You are not powerless in the face of this novel virus, whether it leaked from a lab or emerged from nature. You have control over the lifestyle choices you make. The information is out there, and I would encourage you to do your own research.

In the meantime, here are a few starting points for improving the terrain and downregulating an overactive immune response (which is a big part of the problem in the case of COVID-19):

  • Food/Nutrition
    • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
    • Eat fermented vegetables or other probiotic-containing foods
    • Consume dietary fiber, preferably from whole foods
    • Reduce or avoid altogether immune offenders such as caffeine, sugar, and highly processed foods
  • Stress Reduction/Management
    • Spend at least 20 minutes outside, in the sunlight if possible
    • Take up (at home or in class) a mind-body practice such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, tai chi, qigong, relaxation response, or breath regulation
    • Read a book, activate your imagination
  • Sleep
    • Explore non-medical ways to ensure good quality and sufficient quantity of sleep (7-8 hours is ideal)
    • Pursue positive social relationships
  • Exercise
    • Engage in regular, moderate physical activity (ask your doctor if you’re experiencing severe symptoms)
  • Social Factors/Connection
    • Reduce exposure to hostile and non-supporting people
    • Spend more time with people who are positive and affirming

Making thoughtful lifestyle choices will allow you to regain control and restore order in the face of this upsetting and disorienting pandemic. This is especially true if you disengage from the toxic “discourse” that leads only to division and more negative emotion.

To my mind, the more steps we take to improve the terrain, the stronger we are individually and collectively. Your body’s inherent restorative and balancing capacity is far stronger than you might imagine, but you have to make room in your mind, heart, and body to do so.

Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

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