Dr. Jeff Kane: Real preventive medicine
You’ve seen those lists on the Internet: Ten Things You Can Do to Live to 100; Ten Things You Can Do to Avoid Cancer; Ten Things You Can Do If You Have Cancer. I realized recently that these lists are pretty identical. They say: Eat a moderate amount of real food, limiting meat, fat, salt and carbs; exercise; deal with stress; maintain rewarding relationships; find fulfilling work; avoid toxic exposure and so on.
When you think about it, these “preventives” happen to also describe a good life. One of Sigmund Freud’s disciples, psychoanalyst Alfred Adler, asked his patients, “How would you behave if you were cured?” They’d answer, and then Adler would say, “Well, why don’t you do that now?”
Indeed. Why don’t we just lead a healthier life today? Well, first, because any change, no matter how beneficial, constitutes an uncomfortable challenge to our habits. A friend who doesn’t cook was advised, “Learn to cook; it’s easy.” She replied, “What’s even easier is not cooking.” That’s how we all are. When sailing’s smooth, why rock the boat? And besides, our changes can threaten those around us.
“What? You’ve given up sugar? You some kind of health nut now?”
One of the perverse gifts of serious illness is that by reminding us of our mortality it pushes our face into the existential mirror. It invites us to ask, “If my days truly are numbered, how will I spend them?”
I have a friend who was recently diagnosed with a life-threatening condition, so he’s read plenty of ten-things-he-can-do. He told me, “This diagnosis has made me consider my life, especially the quality of the quantity that’s remaining. So I’m eating better now. All organic, no sugar. I work out every day, and I’ve asked for time off from my job.”
Fine. My hat’s off to him. But what if we didn’t wait till we’re diagnosed? Why not make indicated changes now, even aware of the inherent obstacles? The quest is less dodging the Reaper than jolly well feeling good while we’re still in condition to enjoy it. Let’s call the list Ten Practices That Make a Better Life. Frankly, I don’t know of a more truly preventive medicine.
Jeff Kane is a physician and writer in Nevada City.
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