We do live in a “pill for every ill” society. Arthur Frank, in his “Wounded Storyteller” describes the commonest type of story told by patients in contemporary society as being the “Restitution Story”. By this he means “I’m broke, Doc, please fix me”. He says it’s the fast food approach to health, the quick oil change while-you-wait approach. It’s technological and it’s based on a conception of illness as being about a bit of the body that’s not working and on a conception of Medicine as being about applying the right technology for the quick fix.
Whilst this approach has delivered dramatic results in acute situations, it’s done really nothing in the long term for chronic ones. Even in societies where the burden of death and disability from infectious disease has been reduced we are seeing steadily growing rates of chronic illness. The quick fix approach doesn’t deliver long term health and it doesn’t deliver a very effective fix!
Here’s a paper from the “Harvard Health Letter“, headed “Managing Seven Common Conditions without Medication”.
In summary, they say Arthritis – lose weight, gain mobility and less pain; Cholesterol – drop your LDLs (bad blood fats) 5% by keeping saturated fats off your diet; Cognitive decline – brain exercise and physical exercise slows this up; Depression – regular physical activity lifts mood; Diabetes – regular physical activity drops sugar levels; High Blood Pressure – lose weight, regular exercise; reduce salt and drop your BP; Osteoporosis – lose weight and eat more vit D and calcium for stronger bones.
OK, so not exactly rocket science – basically lose weight and exercise more – but at least it’s a start. It’s the mentality behind this report that appeals to me though. When our first concern with an illness is what drug to take or operation to have, we’ve missed the boat. Our first concern should be “what do I need to do differently?” because if you keep doing the same you’ll just get more of the same! But I think we need to push this agenda a lot further and into areas so far pretty unexplored. Sure, things like smoking, alcohol, drugs, diet and exercise are all modifiable factors in our lives which can influence which diseases we get and how those diseases progress, but we need to think of whole people, and not solely in this kind of mechanical or reductionist way. Mental states are significant factors in maintaining health and in determining recovery – positive attitudes, empowerment, hope, loving and being loved aren’t talked about so much by doctors or health care providers but they should be. In fact, if we treat people as only physical bodies we don’t treat them as human beings at all. We are much more than our physical selves.
So let’s all agree that diet, exercise and drugs are important considerations in health and illness, but what other factors would YOU consider? What about writing for example? Or music?
What factors are important in YOUR life to keep you healthy, or that you’ve found were important parts of your recovery from illnesses?
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