Life is meant to be a blissful experience. Our biological design with its internal control system has evolved to ensure harmony between ourselves and our external environment. Through evolution, nature defines a delicate link between man and his/her physical surroundings. Throughout history, civilisation has shaped a sustainable interrelationship between humans. So, through our daily activities, we must attune to the triad of life – body, mind and spirit – to seek harmony between ourselves and our environment.
The innate ability to self-correct and the natural healing power within are the greatest force in keeping us vibrant. The wisdom of our ‘machinery of life’ cannot be surpassed by the most sophisticated bio-medical technology. The best approach is to use today’s leading edge knowledge in supporting these biological systems and modulate it to fit with the external environment so as not to disturb its balance.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as being “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Staying fit is an ongoing process and our daily personal decisions contribute to our personal wellbeing or illness.
Every individual is the author of their vitality or illness history. So a good beginning makes for a good ending. The holistic approach adopted by Anti-Ageing Medicine (Health-Oriented paradigm) emphasises the unity of body, mind and spirit in determining overall wellbeing and longevity.
Basic Biological Principles
Genetics determine individual physical characters, behavior and the likelihood of developing certain diseases; whilst the social and the physical components of the outer environment reshape this interaction. Dr. Francis Collis, director of the National Institute of Health describes this interaction as “genetics loads the gun and the environment pulls the trigger.”
Diurnally and circadian cycle
The different biological systems that control cellular and organ-system functions are built in accordance to an internal clock called ‘circadian rhythm’ located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus. It synchronizes body functions with the environment. This system is vital for the regulation of sleep and wakefulness (reticular activating system) cycles, as well as metabolism and energy consumption.
There are clear patterns of core body temperature, brain wave activity, hormone production (e.g. melatonin and cortisol), cell regeneration and other biological activities. However exposure to electromagnetic waves, unbalanced meal and night shifts timings can disrupt the circadian rhythm. Disturbance of this circadian rhythm increases the risk for cancer, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular and other possible ailments.
The Brain Is The Most Important Organ
Producing a wide variety of neurotransmitters to keep life vital, these brain chemicals are produced by inputs from our external environment. So our daily choices gauge the production of these chemicals. These chemicals include
the energy molecule (adrenaline), the confidence and mood molecule (serotonin), the anti-anxiety molecule (GABA), the pain-killing molecule (endorphins), the bonding molecule (oxytocin), the reward molecule (dopamine), and the bliss molecule (endocannabinoids). This spontaneous response has been disturbed by the frenetic pace of modern lifestyles. This imbalance cannot be readjusted by a pill. It can be managed successfully by introducing smart lifestyle choices and radical behavioral changes returning harmony to the chemistry of the brain.
Physiological Importance Of Sleep
Sleep is an integral part of life. We spend almost one third of our lives asleep. Slumber is a physiological demand and not a personal option. A highly organized physiological event that follows a regular cyclic program each night, the circadian rhythm calls for the strongest desire for sleep between midnight and dawn. The quality and quantity of sleep has a direct impact on health, mood, memory, thinking capability, weight control and sex life. During slumber, numerous restorative biological processes are running to maintain the different cellular and physiological processes that keep our body in optimal condition. It is the only time our bodies regenerate and heal.
Getting one hour less of sleep than the required seven to nine hours per night leads to problems with memory, concentration and attention, putting people at greater risk of cognitive impairment. Chronic sleep deprivation has several negative repercussions ranging from fatigue and moodiness, to weight gain and increased risk of diabetes, heart diseases and other age-related conditions.
From the different social determinants of wellbeing, stress is the most important. Stress increases morbidity. The long-term exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt many physiological processes increasing the risk of numerous problems such as cognitive impairment, sleep disorder and heart diseases. In particular, hormonal changes initiated by continuous stress and manifested by high cortisol levels are bad for the brain. Persistently high cortisol levels cause damage to certain areas of the brain responsible for memory. So don’t let stress control your life. Learn positive ways to cope with life’s stressors. Meditation and relaxing techniques such as Tai-Chi, yoga and prayer are ideal tools to control stress.
Regardless of one’s faith, a spiritual outlook is the path to inner peace. An individual’s belief can influence health outcomes and experts claim ‘believers’ are less likely to suffer from health-related issues. Religious participation is considered essential for psychological wellbeing. According to Jeff Levin, a pioneer in Theosomatic Medicine (a new medical field that deals with spiritual life from a medical perspective), practicing religion or connecting with the Divine promotes healthy behaviors manifested by avoiding smoking and drinking, providing social support and strengthening positive emotions that in turn have favorable consequences on quality of life and longevity. People who follow a spiritual practice have lower rates of chronic illnesses and spiritual people live longer than others.
Family And Social Life
Building a comprehensive active lifestyle at home and at work is complementary to nutritious food and regular exercise.
Healthy Choices At Workplace
We spend eight hours a day at work. And what we do during those hours has a profound impact on our overall health. Fostering a positive wellness culture in the office promotes mental and physical wellness. During working hours avoid being sedentary; get up stretch and move regularly. Take a break from the computer monitor and stretch.
Other Important Choices
Smoking is the first leading preventable cause of morbidity and death. The US expends over $150 billion annually in treating the complications of smoking. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), cigarette smoke contains 4800 chemicals, 69 of which are carcinogenic. In addition, CDC estimates “adult male smokers lose an average of 13.2 years of life and female smokers lose 14.5 years of life because of smoking, and given the diseases that smoking can cause, it can steal your quality of life long before you die”. So no smoking is a necessary step towards sustainable vitality and longevity.
Alcohol. Numerous studies associate moderate alcohol consumption (two drinks for men and one drink for women per day) with protective health benefits on the cardio-vascular system such as reduction of plaque, protection against blood clotting and dissolution of blood clotting. But in excess it is harmful to cardiac muscle and its conductivity among other negative effects. It is better however not to drink but if you drink, drink in moderation.
Sun. Although sunlight helps with the production of vitamin D, over exposure is associated with diseases such as skin cancer and cataract. Reasonable exposure is advised. Sunglasses offer protection against excessive exposure to light, including its visible and invisible raise. The sunglasses that meet this basic requirement are labeled, ‘UV400’. The bottom line: Make a conscious effort towards a healthy lifestyle
Your overall health is the sum of your daily activities. The first step towards optimal wellbeing is to adopt behavioral changes that pave the way for smart choices. Initially, we make an effort to define our choices then our choices ‘make’ us. Wise choices reflect a balanced life. Train yourself to have healthy food choices, exercise sufficiently and sleep comfortably so as to wake up full of energy and enthusiasm to face challenges confidently and control stress.
These choices support the body. Work hard to enforce value in yourself, to foster self-esteem and positive thoughts to enrich the mind and create inner peace for the spirit. Develop the habit of forgiveness, love and compassion for all. A vibrant lifestyle improves quality of life and enhances longevity. Try it!
Dr. Fadi Alshaban is board-certified in Anti-Ageing Medicine and also in General Surgery. He worked as general surgeon in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Dubai.