Keeping healthy

Everyone knows how important eating healthy food and exercising
regularly are. Then why do so few people do it?

Work. The way the workplace is currently structured makes it very difficult for people to live a healthy lifestyle. The human body was not designed for long commutes and sitting in cubicles all day. It was designed for movement, for physical work. We have gotten so alienated from the idea that the body was made for movement that we think "exercise" is this very artificial activity on machines in an expensive gym, instead of walking, running, biking, gardening, building, and other activities that should be part of daily life. It is almost impossible for a tired office worker to go exercise in the evening. Even a careful diet and a workout each evening probably can't undo the damage caused by that whole day of sitting. And someone trapped in a place with gray fabric walls is going to find a vending machine with junk food the highlight of the day.

Any employer that does not embrace part-time and telecommuting is seriously harming its employees and driving up the company's healthcare costs. Some jobs do require physical work, and may be quite interesting, but those employers grossly underpay their workers so that no sensible person would hold onto such a job for the long term. Ultimately those employers only hurt themselves, since employees treat customers the same way they are treated, and no customer loyalty sooner or later means no customers.

What can you do? See if you can make your daily schedule include more physical activity and less time in front of a screen. Talk to your employer, or switch to an employer that has a clue. If you already have a more flexible schedule, don't pack it with errands and work and vaguely important stuff. Incorporate normal activity that happens to be exercise into your daily life in a nonhectic way. If you find what is fun, you will stick to it.

For more on rethinking food, see Lowering expenses.

Forms of exercise are stretching, strengthening, and aerobic. You need them all. For stretching and strengthening, I have been very impressed with Pilates, and take a class every week. The exercises are very well thought out and effective. They can also be fun. You learn a lot, not just about how to exercise, but also about body mechanics—how to hold and use your body all day long. This is a much bigger deal than you might think. Using your body the right way can make many minor problems with pain or flexibility go away. If you are having more serious pain or a problem moving, you need to see a doctor and possibly a physical therapist. Physical therapy is highly effective. According to a 2007 consumer survey by the American Physical Therapy Association, 88% of physical therapy users say the care they received helped them return to normal activity, increasing their range of motion and relieving their pain. The therapy clinic, however, needs to have top quality staff and spend considerable time with each patient. Some corporate- and doctor-owned physical therapy services do not do that. The ideal is a company owned by a therapist.

In addition to promoting sedentary work, society at large encourages horrible eating habits, with fast food commercials, junk food in schools, and poor eating being the norm everywhere around you. People who don't want to die young from heart disease are called "health nuts," as though it is normal to voluntarily poison and cripple yourself.

One reason that people don't eat their fruits and vegetables is that they have never tasted any. Those frozen prepared things aren't real vegetables. Try just-picked cherry tomatoes or locally produced apples, and you will realize that eating plants can be very cool. You may need a farmer's market or a garden to fully experience this.

Exercise is seen as a drudgery thing that one just must do. But as I sit here typing, I look forward to my daily exploration of our neighborhood, its little trails through woods, and interesting people to talk to, while walking several miles. I am also antsy to go practice some basketball. Put some thought into making daily exercise fun, and you'll find that you will do it, and not just for a week.

Although many forces are at work to make you into a giant ameba instead of a human being, you don't have to let them run your life. Only you decide what you eat. Only you decide what physical activity you do.

There is nothing you are in charge of more than this.