Health Isn’t Just Exercising and Eating Well.
This is a picture of me and my buddy Mia. Our weekly Heath walk protects our health. We get to chat, we’re moving, and we are surrounded by nature 🌲
The more I read the more the point is hammered home - pain and ill-health have biological, psychological AND social roots. Gabor Mate’s book When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress is pretty confrontational. He uses personal stories to explain that just having the physical or genetic preconditions for an illness does not mean that you will get it, you also need to be triggered by emotional or social stress. The most striking example is that of smokers.
From 1965-1966 ten percent of the town of Cvrenka (approximately 1,400 people) filled out a 109 item questionnaire. By 1976 the single greatest risk factor for death, especially cancer death, was a person’s rationality and anti emotionality score. Eleven questions measured this R/A score or repression of anger score. Those who answered positively to ten or eleven of the R/A questions had forty times higher cancer incidence than the remaining subjects who answered positively to 3 questions on average. But wait for it - smokers had NO incidence of lung cancer unless they had R/A scores of 10 or 11.
A beautiful contrasting example is that of the Nun Study: “Sister Mary, the gold standard for the Nun Study was a remarkable woman who had high cognitive test scores before her death at 101 years of age. What is more remarkable is that she maintained this high status despite having abundant neurofibrillary tangles and senile plaques, the classic lesions of Alzheimer's disease.” Though this case puzzled researchers it may be that living a life with purpose, being surrounded by people every day, regular prayer/mindfulness/meditation, and being a valued member of a community may have been the psychological and social components that protected her from Alzheimers.
Gabor Maté’s book introduces us to the fields of Psychoneuroimmunology and psychoneuroimmunoendocrinology. These two areas study the relationship between the brain, our hormones, the immune system and our central nervous system. His conclusion is that “when we have been prevented from learning how to say no, our bodies may end up saying it for us”
This is not to say that we bring disease upon ourselves or that our childhood dooms us to a future of ill health. Cancer is not a punishment. It might be a sign that something is not right with our emotional or social health and this imbalance has triggered a mutation of cells to start replicating and proliferating.
Gabor Maté asks us to challenge false beliefs about ourselves, Do you agree with any of the statements below?
I have to be strong
It’s not right for me to be angry
If I’m angry I will not be loved
I’m responsible for the whole world
I can handle anything
I’m not wanted, I’m not lovable
I must justify my existence
I have to be very ill to deserve being taken care of
If any of these feel true to you, then perhaps you could think about where these beliefs are coming from? Perhaps you could chat with a friend or a therapist about these ideas? If we focus on our emotional health now perhaps we can protect ourselves from physical illness in the future.
This book has been a reminder to me. My health is so much more than exercising and eating well.
I need to keep meditating; to schedule in time with friends; to do things that make me happy and give me a sense of purpose. What do you do to protect your social and emotional health?