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We are living longer, but are we healthier?

While we often congratulate ourselves on living longer, the question is, 'are we healthier?'

If the evidence is anything to go on things are not looking great. There is no doubt that when faced with a medical crisis there is no better place to be than in the hands of our modern medical system. It's unlikely anybody reading this would not have experienced that brilliant and often lifesaving safety net we call 'modern medicine'. 

The problem is that our healthcare system has become a chronic disease management system. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 70 per cent of chronic degenerative diseases are caused by diet and lifestyle, which includes the environment in which we live those lives. That could be an underestimation, and those diseases are largely preventable. 

First some disturbing facts. Cancer and heart disease are still the major killer, with one in two men and one in three women being diagnosed with cancer by 65. Disturbingly, even allowing for increased life span, the incidence of cancer, including children under 19, has increased by almost 30 per cent since 1975.

Diabetes, obesity and mental health issues like depression and anxiety are also on the rise and affecting people at an ever younger age. There are now over 80 autoimmune diseases, like multiple sclerosis, under or over active thyroid, coeliac, Alzheimer's to name a few. This is basically the body attacking itself. 

Children are the most vulnerable in our society on many levels, not the least is their health. It's sobering to see how they are doing as they are the 'canaries in the coalmine' so their health in many ways reflects our collective future.

One in three children have allergies; one in four have asthma; one in 10 have ADHD and one in 100 are being diagnosed with autism. In parts of the USA that number is approaching one in 50. Type 2 diabetes used to be referred to as 'late-onset diabetes' but is now affecting children at an ever younger age. Obesity, depression and anxiety is a problem for young and old alike, and also on the rise. 

Most people today acknowledge that we live in stressful times, and that stress is affecting their health, but what do we mean by 'stress'. I would define a 'stress' as anything that compromises the immune system and promotes inflammation within the body. In order to solve the problem, it is always good to know what that problem is. So, let's look at stress and offer a framework for some solutions.

A useful model of stress identifies 5 stressors:

Emotional stress

While we may not have control over events and people in our lives we do have control over how we think. Focusing and nurturing relationship, being engaged with what we do, expressing gratitude for all that we have are all more powerful focuses for our emotional wellbeing...a consistently good night's sleep helps.

Environmental stress

In our air, water, food, furniture, clothing and much more, we are exposed to thousands of chemicals on a daily basis; we also surround ourselves with electromagnetic radiation. We assume it has all been tested and safe; they haven't and aren't. Certainly not as we use them in our modern world. Together with household mould and dust mites they can all impact on our physical, mental and emotional resilience. Knowledge is power, and avoidance is empowering.

Nutritional stress

An overabundance of seemingly cheap and highly processed foods come at a cost; our health and environment tells the story. All disease starts in the gut, now referred to as our '2nd brain' and the home of 80% of our immune system. A focus on real food, lower carbohydrates and healthier fats are excellent guiding principles.

Postural stress

We sit for hours, our heads are forward or down as we engage with our devices with poor posture affecting our ability to energise our cells. Look up, engage with the world and move regularly.

Dental stress

Implicated in how well we sleep and breathe; affecting posture, chronic headaches and neck aches; the first step in digestion; the site of the two most common chronic infections and chronic inflammation with surprising connections to general health. Take your oral health seriously because your body already does.

The key is to identify those things that stress the body and to minimise exposure to them. The flip side of the coin is to focus on the pillars of health; sleep, breathe, nourish, movement and thought to build the physical, mental and emotional resilience to deal with the challenges of our modern world. We are living longer, but there is no reason why we shouldn't be healthier as well. Take control of your health and be the best you can be.

Dr Ron Ehrlich is an author, holistic medical practitioner and keynote speaker. 

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