david r md

What does it mean to be truly healthy? How do we keep our innate health and vitality over the course of a long lifetime?   If we asked one hundred people these questions, we would probably get as many differing responses.  For many, health is merely the absence of symptoms or disease; from the integrative medical perspective, however, health is found not just in our physical bodies, but in the mental and emotional dimensions of our being as well.  In this article, I’d like to outline for you twelve key concepts that can help you to achieve good health and vibrant wellness that will endure throughout your entire life.

 

First Pillar of Health Health is Natural

Our bodies are meant to be healthy, except that we (or the environments we live in) get in the way and create obstacles to this natural state of wellness.  Obviously, the human race would have been in very deep trouble a very long time ago if health, resilience and adaptability were not hard-wired into all of us, ensuring the continuation of our species.

Epigenetics studies how environmental forces can actually influence the expression of your genes.  An analogy I like to use is that of an acorn:  each acorn develops differently and is shaped by the environment around it into a completely unique oak tree.  You are thus the perfect and unique result of the integration of your genes and the environment.

We need to know and intimately understand our body and its individual genetic make-up in order to ascertain what our own unique health success requirements are.

 

Second Pillar of Health:  Know Thyself

As Socrates once observed:  Know Thyself!  If we want to be healthy, we must know ourselves in some detail in order to achieve this.

This includes becoming familiar with the following:

  • Family medical history
  • Your genetics, including our ApoE (apolipoprotein E) and MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrafolate reductase) status
  • Cholesterol numbers and breakdown, specifically particle size/number
  • Your body’s detoxification mechanisms, and their strengths and weaknesses
  • What your waist-to-hip ratio is
  • Your bone density
  • Your calcium score

 

In order to develop a more complete picture of each patient’s health, I perform a very comprehensive blood  panel which contains testing for many of the above criteria.   I then can tailor an individualized treatment plan for each person, which will work optimally for his or her own unique physiology.

 

Third Pillar of Health:  Stop Comparing

I’ve noticed that a number of the patients I treat come to the office dealing with conditions that are clearly stress-related.  Many times this has to do with a frantic and almost desperate pursuit of some “composite standards” that they think they need to achieve in their lives, or levels of “perfection” that clearly are unattainable for 99.99% of us.

Maybe it is wanting to be thinner, sexier, richer or more successful (or all of these!)  Maybe it is the person who works out three hours a day to be the “fittest” and to try to fill the emptiness inside of themselves, but are actually overtraining and depleting themselves.  Maybe it is the woman who thinks she has to raise “perfect” kids and keep a “perfect” home and whip up gourmet meals every night and have a brilliant, high-paying career and be the “perfect” wife and have a “perfect” body.  Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

I urge everyone to spend some time, preferably on a regular basis, going “inside” and looking to see what your individual strengths and weaknesses are, and not comparing yourself to others or some idea of what you “should” be.

 

Fourth Pillar of Health:  Stop Pretending

With this fourth pillar of health, I am referring to the necessity of being real with ourselves.

Let’s take the example of exercise:  If a person is very overweight, with high cholesterol and blood pressure, and hasn’t exercised in the last twenty years or so, it’s not realistic to expect that that person is going to start exercising an hour a day!  He or she may have the best intentions, and may have worked up some willpower to get started, but most likely its not going to happen, despite the fact that they are probably going to have a heart attack sooner rather than later.

I would suggest to this person that they “scaffold” this weakness; that is, get help/structure/support for this area of their life that is not working well.  In the example cited above, the overweight individual could perhaps hire an exercise trainer to show up at his or her house three times a week to motivate them and help them to get started with a fitness program.  Or they could join a group class geared towards the beginning exerciser, and get motivation from others in the group to keep working towards their fitness goals.

Or, instead of an hour a day, could this person find even fifteen minutes a day to do a little cardio or strength training?  Even small increments of exercise performed frequently will have health benefits, and it’s not necessary to have an “all or nothing” approach to exercise.  When the goal is realistic, we can often do better.

We all have to get involved with ourselves directly, turn off the “autopilot” that we frequently are on, and stop waiting for someone to “rescue” us or otherwise tell us what to do.  We need to take the initiative to get the scaffolding or support we need in those aspects of our lives that are not working well, so that they no longer hold us back from realizing our true potential.

 

Fifth Pillar of Health:  Yes + No

This pillar of health asks us to spend some time tuning into ourselves, in order to ask a couple of questions:  What can I do, and what should I do?

Sometimes our body and our mind are going in different directions!  An example that I’m sure most of you can relate to:  It’s Friday night, the end of a long week, and your body just wants sleep, but your mind is saying party, party, party and wants to go out and have a great time.  What to do?

Another example might be that of a busy career woman with school-age kids who, despite her tiredness and her load of other responsibilities, feels pressured to be involved with a multitude of her kids’ activities, homework, birthday parties, sports, PTA, etc. etc.  Where does she find the balance?

We all need to tune in and look into our lives, and figure out when we should say no vs. when we should be saying yes.  Sometimes it can be the other way around:  we need to say yes instead of no.

This means “decreasing the noise”, perhaps taking time each day to meditate or just sit by ourselves quietly for a few minutes.  Turn off the TV, the computer, the phone, the Ipod, the Ipad and just let things settle.

You may find, when your body and mind are in a comfortable balance, that you have an abundance of “free” energy available to you.  This energy can then be put to use contributing and giving to the world around you, and/or pursuing a passion such as music or painting that will siginificantly increase the quality of your daily life.

 

Sixth Pillar of Health:  Reaching Out

No matter how smart, good-looking or rich you may be, you still need to be able to ask for help in order to stay healthy.  This is definitely an area in life where being stoic and trying to figure everything out on your own is not advisable.

Medicine is a tremendously complex endeavor, and you do need a highly trained medical professional to be able to analyze your own unique health status. He or she can then figure out the best ways to guide you to healing and/or keep you healthy over the course of a long and vital lifetime.

We need to look at our lives honestly and figure out in which areas we have the “frequency and density” of knowledge required to be really good at something, and those areas where we do not have this level and intensity of knowledge.

I’ve played music all of my life since elementary school, yet I still seek out good teachers for two of my favorite instruments, piano and sax, when I want to spend some time these days making music.  I know that I need to keep working on my technique and musicianship to raise my level of skill on these instruments, and that I need the guidance of professional musicians in order to achieve this.

In those parts of your life where you are not as knowledgeable, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to learn to ask for help!

 

Seventh Pillar of Health:  Success by Design

When a new patient comes to me, I work with them to design a program that will take into account their uniqueness as a person.  Everyone has very different needs in terms of diet, exercise, nutritional supplementation (and pharmaceutical meds if needed), depending on their age, current health status and temperament/personality.

For example:  People’s needs and capabilities, as far as physical exercise is concerned, change throughout their lives.  A mature individual in their 60s or 70s is probably not going to be doing the exact kind of exercise that they were doing in their 20s or 30s, at the same intensity level.

That is not to say that the older person shouldn’t work out often, and with some intensity, but that they should tailor their exercise program to activities that make more sense for them at this time in their lives.  Instead of a lot of heavy weightlifting and trying to get bulked up and/or “ripped”, they might want to focus more on forms of exercise involving stretching, such as yoga, along with some cardio.  Or instead of running, they might want to work out on a stationary bike.

The idea here is, once again, all about knowing yourself:   going with your strengths and getting “scaffolding” for those areas where you are not so strong.

 

Eighth Pillar of Health:  Get Feedback

Getting appropriate feedback is a crucial part of fine-tuning our health program.  As a physician, I will run certain important tests on a patient, then devise a treatment plan based on the findings and on my clinical judgement.

After the patient has followed my plan for some time, I will selectively re-test to see how things are going for that individual, then adjust my recommendations accordingly.

We all need up-to-date feedback on our health from a physician or other health professional, as our health is fluid, constantly changing and evolving as we move through life.

Bear in mind, however, that a lot of feedback in general is just noise, and you really need to seek out the right feedback from the right people.  A great golfer, or sculptor, or opera singer finds a couple of people to advise and guide him or her, and isn’t listening to every person who shows up with an opinion. They are also not going to the Internet for opinions and advice!

Ultimately, you have to choose what is right for you, but it sure helps to have a few trusted people available to help guide you along your path.

 

Ninth Pillar of Health:  Values Matter

Values are standards that we use to define something as good or bad.  I’m not trying here to wade into a philosophical discussion on values at a societal or global level, but rather to ask you to think about what is important to you as an individual.

Do you value good health, and how important is it to you?  Most, if not all, would say that they value health highly, yet many are unwilling to get actively involved with this crucial part of their existence and actually do the things necessary to achieve and maintain vibrant health.

Can you find a way, for example, to structure regular and consistent physical exercise into your life on an ongoing basis, or stop eating sugary, junky, fatty foods?  Can you take an active role with your physician in your healthcare?  Can you find ways to cultivate some inner balance and equilibrium, despite the inevitable turbulence that swirls through all of our lives?

When the rubber meets the road, how much do you really value your health?

 

Tenth Pillar of Health:  Keep Score

One of the most important things you can do to be healthy is to become more actively involved in your healthcare process.  Get a comprehensive idea of where you are right now by getting information about several key aspects of your health, and keep track of changes in these areas.

I encourage patients to really look at the copies of the lab tests that are provided to you in the office, and become familiar with what many of the values contained within report really mean for you.  I also encourage patients to ask questions, and ask for clarification on items that you do not understand.  Don’t worry, you will not offend me by asking these questions, as I welcome a patient’s desire to become more knowledgeable and self-aware.

Our bodies and our physiology changes as we age, and it’s important to stay focused on where you are in your life right now.  Don’t compare yourself to when you were 18 or 30 or 45, or become hung up on weighing a certain number on the scale, for example, or exercising three hours a day because those were things you did at a different point in your life.  Focus on today and right now.

Also, most importantly, don’t compare yourself to others.  You are a completely unique individual physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and what works best for another person may or may not be best for you.  Put your attention on what makes you feel healthy, alive and fulfilled, and let others be as they are.

Eleventh and Twelfth Pillars of Health:  Recalibrate Often and Culture is the Key

As we move through life, the one thing we can ever count on is that everything changes.  Situations, people, relationships, jobs, emotions, thoughts, our bodies, and even how we perceive reality are in a constant state of flux.

So it is with our health.  Let’s take the example of exercise once again:  As our life situation changes, our interests may evolve.  In his younger days, a man may have been primarily interested in pumping a lot of iron, getting those six-pack abs and big biceps, or playing a sport like football.  As he ages, however, and reaches different places in his life, he may become more interested in other very different kinds of activities, such as yoga or perhaps even ballroom dance.

Spend a few minutes regularly to check in with yourself , and see if you are repeating patterns from earlier points in your life that may or may not serve you any longer, or may not be in your best interest healthwise.

Another point to consider is:  Are you in a culture that values health?  By culture I mean not only your background and ethnicity, but the group of people (friends, family, co-workers, etc.) that you spend your life in relationship with.

Different cultures value different things.  Some cultures value hard work and achievement over cutting loose and having fun, and some feel that enjoying life takes precedence over discipline and hard work.

Staying healthy over a long lifespan does take some effort, and a desire to be proactive about learning all you can about what it takes to achieve this.  It is often extremely helpful to be part of a group of like-minded people, who are focused on the same goal of achieving and maintaining wellness.

One of the reasons I am so committed to my lecture series is that I see it as a way that people who are interested in improving their health for the long term can get together.  It is very exciting to be around others who are interested in achieving the same goals.

I’m also able to go into more details on many aspects of health and/or medicine at my lectures than I normally would be able to cover during an office appoinment, and I allow ample time to take questions from audience members as well.

I’d like to ask you these questions, in conclusion:  What does health mean to you?  Are you in a culture that “scaffolds” and supports good health?  How important is good health to you, and are you willing to do what is needed to achieve it?

To help you get motivated, no matter how many times you have been unsuccessful in guiding yourself towards a healthier lifestyle, I’d like to leave you with the following quotation:

“Forget mistakes.  Forget failures.  Forget everything except what you’re going to do now, and do it.

Today is your lucky day”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LECTURES & PRESENTATIONS

Dr. Allen gives free lectures at the Library three to four times each year, on topics of interest from the cutting edge of integrative medicine.  If you would like to be added to our mailing list for these lectures and his other speaking engagements, please email da@davidallenmd.com.

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