Category Archives: Health

The great quest to eat less

For millions of years, Homo Sapiens stove to eat more. Food was scarce and most of the population had to spend most of their time just to get the bare minimum.

This dynamic has changed dramatically over the past century since fossil fuels gave us fertilizers that quadrupled crop yields and machines that can do the work of a hundred men. Indeed, many modern Homo Sapiens now strive (rather unsuccessfully) to eat less.

Today, those who were lucky enough to be born in affluent parts of the world consume about 50% more calories than the recommended daily allowance (which is about 2200). The results are all around us in the form of obesity and degenerative disease.

Our long evolutionary history in a world of scarcity has made it very difficult to cope with the abundance of food in our modern world.  For example, eating has an emotionally pleasant effect through the release of endorphins, creating a strong drive to find food. But this response is totally outdated in our modern world.

We are also exposed to many addictive food substances that were simply not available for the vast majority of human history. Refined sugar is a good example of a substance that puts our primitive caveman food cravings into overdrive.

Modernizing these primitive physiological responses of our brains and bodies certainly presents a challenge. But it can be done. The first step is simply to realize that these primitive responses have become counterproductive in our modern world.

So, keep this simple insight in mind and try to recall it before your next emotional eating excursion. Don’t be surprised if you start laughing in that moment as the ridiculousness of this situation truly dawns on you 🙂

Once this level of understanding is reached, there are several things that can be done to accelerate our mental modernization. The next couple of posts will further explore this topic.

PS: Why should you take lifestyle advice from a random guy on the internet? Good question. Take a look at the effects that these guidelines had on my life and decide for yourself.

Health: Reality check

Even though the guidelines given in the health plan advocated on this blog will result in significant health improvements, they cannot guarantee perpetual optimal health. Health and longevity are influenced by many factors, some of which we have little or no control over. Examples of these factors include genetics, the widespread chemical pollution in our air, water and food, and accidents.

Following these guidelines and building yourself a healthy micro-environment within which excellent lifestyle choices become easy and natural can add many years to your life and much life to your years. This is an indisputable fact based on countless scientific studies, conventional wisdom and plain old common sense. However, even though your chances of being healthy and independent at 100 will increase significantly if you follow these guidelines, this is by no means guaranteed. In the post about the Okinawan people whose traditional healthy lifestyles grant them tremendous health and longevity in comparison to westerners, we saw that these people still die from heart disease and cancer (the only difference is that their chances of suffering this fate is about 10 times less than that of the average American).

But hey, the primary purpose of being healthy is not to prevent degenerative disease. The primary purpose is enjoying the wonderful services of an optimized and fully functional body/mind each and every day. Your body/mind is the thing you use to interact with the world around you, to contribute and to share. Really, if your body/mind is fat, underdeveloped and sluggish, you are only half alive.

It’s time to start living. 

Health: Overcoming the resistances to healthy living

In this penultimate health post, we will spend some time on the resistances that people are likely to experience when starting to build towards optimal health. Most of the resistances are related to the macro-environment we live in today with all of its junk food, factory farming and GMO subsidies, sedentary jobs and sedentary leisure activities. This entire series of personal health posts have been fighting this powerful enemy and this post will be no different. Let’s take a look:

Convenience

Our world has become completely obsessed with convenience. Things like preparing your own healthy food and cycling to work are simply seen as way too much effort. For leisure, it is simply much more convenient to just plop down in front of the TV than to get some friends together for a friendly game of football. Besides, tearing all of your friends away from their own TV’s will be a real mission.

As always, the solution is simply to discipline yourself for a short while to create a micro-environment where these factors are not an issue anymore. Learn some quick, easy and healthy recipes, buy yourself a nice e-bike, join a local social sports team and, if you are really serious about this, throw out your TV. Only a few weekends of building such an environment will grant you a lifetime of automatic and self-sustaining personal health. Just do it.

Practicality

We have managed to make unhealthy living so incredibly practical that it has simply become the default choice. Drive-through fast food joints, soda vending machines at schools, home movie theaters with streamed movies, escalators and elevators in every building with more than two floors… I mean, when it comes to commercializing unhealthy living, we are the champs. On the other hand, organic produce can be hard to find and many destinations within our modern cities can only be reached by car.

This is a real problem for which there unfortunately are no quick fixes, but you can again go a long way by simply designing a healthy micro-environment as advocated throughout the entire series of health posts. The ultimate in micro-environment design (which we will look at later) is selecting your home in a location especially suited for making happy, healthy, wealthy and sustainable living as practical as at all possible. Solutions such as these are lot of effort, but in the long run, they are certainly worth it.

Cost

Most people will find unhealthy eating to be a lot cheaper than healthy eating. Government subsidies, unethical production methods and chemical fertilizers/pesticides all contribute to the low cost of unhealthy foods. This is an unfortunate modern reality we have to deal with.

However, since your health is arguably your most precious possession, going cheap on your food is not exactly the smartest idea. Unfortunately, due to our socialistic healthcare systems, really looking after yourself does not give the kind of direct financial returns that it should, but healthy living will still save you a lot of money through reduced medical expenses (and also increase your earning capacity).

Also keep in mind that a growing demand for organic plant-based whole foods will lead directly to large-scale production which will increase the availability and decrease the price. Yes, those front-runners who pave the way towards healthy living will have to carry some extra weight, but, as more and more people join, the journey will become progressively easier and cheaper. 

Health: Personal benefits

This second installment of the final three health posts will discuss the personal benefits that will come to anyone committing fully to achieving optimal health. As discussed in the post introducing the One in a Billion action plan, three different categories will be discussed:

  • Health – increase in functionality of body/mind and longevity
  • Wealth – increase in earning power and financial resilience
  • Happiness – joy of day-to-day living and overall life satisfaction

Health

Well, since this first category of the One in a Billion action plan focuses directly on health, the given recommendations obviously have a huge potential for increasing body/mind functionality and longevity. But how huge exactly?

Well, just think back to the last time you were sick. How functional was your body/mind then? You could hardly do anything, right? Now imagine the complete opposite of that state: optimal health. In this state, your body simply has to move and your mind simply has to think. Have you ever been so vibrantly healthy that your body begs you to take it for a cycling trip and your mind generates so many valuable new ideas that it almost starts becoming annoying? It’s possible. And it’s awesome 🙂

When it comes to lifespan, things become a little more quantifiable:

  • Regular smoking takes away 15 years on average (11 minutes per cigarette)
  • Alcohol abuse robs you of 8 good years
  • Being overweight drops 7 years while being morbidly obese can leave 20 years in the gutter
  • Eating fast-food daily subtracts 8 years from your life
  • On the other hand, adding five or more portions of fruit and vegetables adds 5 years
  • Regular healthy exercise gives you 5 more

These numbers add up so that healthy/unhealthy living can make a totally unbelievable 60 year difference in your lifespan even while living within our affluent society with its excellent health services. Wow… sixty years is a very long time.

Wealth

Vibrant health obviously leads to increased earning capacity. After all, a fully functional body/mind will be able to add great value to society. Take a look at some of the statistics listed here to see how health influences the wealth of individuals and nations.

Poor health, on the other hand, has a very negative impact on wealth. As shown on the right, the inflation adjusted income of Americans is actually falling (ignore the bumps in 2007 caused by the housing bubble). Escalating healthcare costs play a major part in this very worrying trend. American healthcare spending is fast approaching 20% of GDP and employer-covered healthcare premiums have more than doubled since 2001. Ill health is one of the major factors bankrupting America.

Happiness

Health is the variable which statistically correlates best to happiness. One study found that healthy people are 20% happier than people of average health, while unhappy people are 8.25% unhappier. To give some perspective, people in the very highest income bracket were only 3.5% happier than the average. Being married increased happiness by 10%. If you want to be happy therefore, strive for optimal health. There is literally nothing else in the world that will make you happier. 

Health: Potential for global crisis mitigation

The primary aim of the One in a Billion project is to contribute to the mitigation of the multifaceted sustainability crisis bearing down on us (summarized here). As discussed in the first action plan post, each of the ten major categories covered in the One in a Billion project will be closed by three posts discussing the potential for crisis mitigation, the benefits to individuals implementing the strategy and the primary resistances to change that individuals are likely to experience. This first post will look at the potential for crisis mitigation under five categories:

  • Climate change – carbon footprint reduction
  • Resource depletion – ecological footprint reduction
  • Economic crisis – sovereign debt reduction
  • Social inequality – increase in social mobility
  • Societal complexity – reduction in interdependence and increase in adaptability

The estimates given below represent the potential impact if the average American implemented these strategies and reduced his/her need for healthcare by a factor of five. As discussed in some previous posts (1, 2, 3), this is certainly possible and, as illustrated in the figure below, a number of countries already spend less than 20% of the massive American sum while actually achieving a greater lifespan (you can also confirm this yourself on Gapminder.org). (American statistics are used simply due to the large pool of available data.)

Climate change

Living a healthy lifestyle based on a nutrient-rich plant-based diet and more travelling on foot or by bicycle can truly make tremendous dents in the average carbon footprint, but this will be covered in subsequent categories. Here we will only look at the carbon footprint of actual medical services themselves. The US healthcare sector accounts for roughly 8% of total CO2 emissions, implying that the American carbon footprint could be cut by 6.4% if people simply looked after themselves. 

Resource depletion

About 4.3% of the American ecological impact comes from medicine, implying that a factor of five reduction in health service consumption could slice off a good 3.4%. 

Economic crisis

This is the area in which better health can make the biggest direct impact. Based on the 2011 budget, the US currently pays about 36% of its tax revenues directly back in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. A healthy population would require about 20% of this sum, allowing the US to slash its spending by $668 billion (18.6% of total spending) and slash the humongous budget deficit by 53%. In addition, the increased productivity from a healthy population would increase the tax base. The average American worker takes about 14 days of sick leave per year for own illness and to care for the illness of a family member. Cutting this number by a factor of 5 gives 11 extra days or about 4.5% extra working time. If this translates in a 4.5% increase in the tax base, another $104 billion could be collected to further reduce the deficit. 

Social inequality

Illness is a massive problem for poor people and this is where a culture of excellent personal health can work miracles. Such a culture of excellent personal health within the billion wealthiest individuals will make healthy living a whole lot easier by forcing government and private enterprise to adapt to consumer demand and greatly increase the availability and affordability of organic plant-based whole foods instead of processed meat-based junk foods. This will make healthy living much more accessible to the poor, giving them an honest chance at the radiant health required to build a much better life. 

Societal complexity

Poor health significantly increases the interdependence and vulnerability of society. A person on five different kinds of permanent medication is completely dependent on the manufacturers of this medication, the insurance company financing this medication and the science behind it (which is sometimes dangerously sloppy). On the other hand, healthy individuals are fully independent and will be able to adapt to the future environmental, economic and societal shocks that are heading our way. 

In summary

  • Climate change – 6.4% reduction in carbon footprint
  • Resource depletion – 3.4% reduction in ecological footprint
  • Economic crisis – $772 billion (33.5% of total tax base) saved and gained
  • Social inequality – large potential to alleviate inequality
  • Societal complexity – large reduction in interdependence and increase in adaptability

Fitness: Complete summary

Just like yesterday’s nutritional summary post, this post will present the One in a Billion fitness strategy and link back to more detailed previous posts for easy reference.

As always, the primary aim of this plan is to construct a micro-environment that makes doing the right thing as easy and natural as at all possible. In the case of fitness, we will actually construct two such environments,  passive and active, which also have two distinctly different purposes:

  • The passive fitness environment should be used for weight control and maintaining good health
  • The active fitness environment should be used for having fun and taking your body to the next level

The reason why modern fitness programs almost never last (and the average person gets 4 times less exercise than needed) is because they neglect the passive environment and try to use a (very poorly constructed) active environment to also serve the purposes of the passive environment. This has lead to a very unfortunate stigmatization of exercise as painful and burdensome self-sacrifice and can even be dangerous.

So, here is how it should be done (in my humble opinion at least):

1. Build your passive fitness environment

The basis of the passive environment is the fact that the human body must move regularly in order to maintain good health. Our modern sedentary lifestyles where we sit for hours on end are totally unnatural and it really is no wonder that we are beset by a true epidemic of degenerative disease. You can rectify this matter quite easily by making the switch back to human power (example), cashing in on all of those free exercise opportunities available to you every day and making sure that you avoid long periods of stagnation (example). This type of easy, regular motion is what the body was designed for and is absolutely essential for good health.

2. Build your active fitness environment

Firstly, it must be emphasized again that actively exercising for the purpose of weight loss and health is a highly erroneous strategy and that the typical modern motivation for exercise is totally self-defeating. From this basis, we can explore the two true purposes of your active environment; having fun and taking your body to the next level (1, 2), and also discuss how to correctly measure your progress. I want to stress, however, that it is perfectly OK to only maintain your passive fitness environment and just keep a little active environment on the side by engaging in some fun social sports every once in a while. The “taking your body to the next level” step is completely optional and should be viewed only as an added bonus. For those who are keen, some examples on the four primary fitness components; aerobic, anaerobic, flexibility and skills, were also provided.

So, that’s it. Take some time to understand these guidelines and use them to construct your very own healthy fitness environment within which exercise happens all by itself. You will be very glad you did 🙂

Nutrition: Complete summary

OK, we are now nearing the end of the One in a Billion health plan and will just spend a few more posts to tie things together before we move on to the next category. The following summary briefly describes the nutritional part of the health plan that was presented over the past two months or so, linking to most of the detailed posts along the way. In order to get a broad overview, you can also check out the health contents page.

Firstly, we have to face some hard-hitting facts about where we stand today and acknowledge that the world is getting fatter and sicker at a truly alarming rate despite the totally unethical amounts of resources we consume trying to contain these self-imposed damages. This is a fairly predictable result considering the incredibly unhealthy macro-environment we live in today and the way that our healthcare system has morphed into a collection of corporations thriving on sick people. The One in a Billion project aims to rectify this matter by constructing a healthy nutritional environment within which healthy eating happens completely automatically.

Here it is in a nutshell: First of all, you should bring only healthy, nutrient dense foods into your home (example). You should also make sure that you optimize the way in which you get this food into your home (example). Next, it is essential that you learn to conjure up some quick, healthy and tasty meals using your broad selection of healthy foods so that healthy eating becomes an easy and enjoyable experience. Some examples of breakfast (1), lunch (123, 4) and dinner (1, 2) were also given and the importance of a big lunch and the dangers of a big dinner were discussed. We also looked at ways in which you can maintain, structure and optimize your healthy nutritional environment. Examples of ways to do this were given in the form of a green drink, some strategies for healthy detox, a few healthy snacking recommendations and some examples of good hunger busters.

For some additional motivation, a short account of the lives of some of the healthiest people on Earth was given, together with some key nutritional concepts and motivations.

I sincerely hope that these resources help to keep you on the road to vibrant health. Looking after your body really is the most important thing you can ever do, both for yourself and for your society.