You Are Your Own Doctor
By Dr. Benedict Francis D. Valdecañas
Medical Director, Aegle Wellness Center
Whoa, before my colleagues react all at once, I’m not encouraging our patients to consult Dr. Google instead and self-diagnose and self-medicate! There’s a subtle difference—I’m actually encouraging everyone to take their health in their own hands. Yes, you can all do that by knowing what is making you ill and doing something about it in terms of modifying your lifestyle. Information is much more of a premium in health care than it is in the business world.
Nature vs Nurture
Let me start by telling you that all your diseases can now be determined through a laboratory test called genomic testing, the nature of our being. All the possible diseases you can get in your lifetime are encoded in your DNA as changes, or mutations, in an otherwise perfect genetic code.
Our genes have been evolving over the last hundred thousand years when homo erectus eventually became homo sapiens. Because of how our ancestors eventually lived their lives, our species acquired distinct miscoding in our genomes, particularly for diseases like diabetes, heart disease, early degeneration of the brain and nervous system, even effects on our offspring such as autism and attention-deficit disorders. Even the genetic miscodes for various cancers—which we all have, mind you—have been pronounced over the past couple of centuries, and exponentially over the past couple of decades.
But these disease-associated codes need not necessarily be manifested in our lifetime if we can help it. That’s where nurture plays a bigger role. While we have identified the diseases in our DNA, we have also identified with absolute certainty the factors in our environment that cause them to manifest. I’d like to put them in three general categories—the three A’s, if you will: Air, the environmental space you live in; Activity, your physical movement or lack thereof; and Alimentation, that part of the environment you deliberately put inside your body—your food!
Air - The Environment We Live In
There’s not much we can do about the quality of the air we have around us, in our homes, in our work spaces. But we can definitely prevent further deterioration in terms of polluting our communities, and choosing products, and food, free from toxins and contaminants.
Activity - Our Movement in Our Environment
The human body was designed to move. Otherwise, why would the lubricant in our joints be activated only by moving that joint? The fluid in our knees, for example, gets pumped in only when we start using our knees. I’m sure you’ve experienced difficulty initiating a walk after being in a prolonged sitting position, or getting out of your car after driving through traffic for two hours. And the smooth, shiny cartilage lining all our joints gets nourished only from this joint fluid. So the less we move, the less healthy our joints become. Here’s a fact: office drones get degenerative arthritis earlier than construction slaves. Move it or lose it!
Exercise is the single most effective factor in not just preventing disease but slowing down ageing. Studies have shown that exercise done regularly helps lower blood sugar in diabetics and even reverses damage to blood vessels in hypertensives. Regular exercise is best done daily rather than the three or four times a week recommendation of yore. Aim for 30 minutes of cardio on a bike or treadmill and 30 minutes of resistance exercise lifting weights or your own body weight through pushups and situps. This should be light enough to do every day.
Now, in terms of intensity, do your treadmill or stationary bike to bring your heart rate to your target beats per minute (bpm). Your target heart rate (THR) is 80% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). Subtract your age from 220 to get your MHR then multiply that by 0.8 to get your THR. For example, a 50-year old will have a MHR of 170bpm and a THR of 136bpm.
Exercise is best done in the morning. Our hormonal balance depends on getting good sleep. In fact, many of your body’s repair processes happen when you’re asleep. But only when you’re getting good-quality sleep. And exercising in the evening interferes with good-quality sleep without us knowing it. The best gauge for this is if you still feel tired when you wake up, then your sleep was not restful nor “repairful”.
Alimentation - That Part of the Environment We Put Inside Our Bodies
Adages abound when it comes to this subject.You are what you eat! Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food. Anything in excess is opposed to nature. Excessive simple sugars not only lead to diabetes, but get converted to storage fat by our liver and block our arteries and cause obesity. If you want to delay ageing, the most proven method is caloric restriction: eating only what the body needs to function daily. This is defined by our basal metabolic rate, the amount of energy in calories or joules needed to fuel daily bodily functions at rest; the average for a middle-aged Filipino is about 1500 calories. And yet the average Filipino diet is 2500-3000 calories per day in 3 meals and 2-3 snacks. We are eating twice the amount of food we actually need! And we’re wondering why we cannot lose weight.
And since the body heals itself, yes, at night, it has to have everything it needs to do so. But not everything our body needs for healing we get from our diet, no matter how well-balanced we think it is. So don’t hesitate to supplement; heavily if you must. And stay away from food substances that cause inflammation to your gut, like grains (gluten) and dairy. They harm your digestive and absorptive system to the point where they lose their distinguishing capacity for nutrients and against toxins.
Being one’s own physician is as easy as understanding what your current lifestyle is doing to your body, and changing everything that not only continually harms it, but prevents it from healing itself. Strive to achieve full control of your three A’s: your air, your activity, and your alimentation. This, for me, is the best formula. And for my final sage adage... Physician, heal thyself!
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