"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
-- attributed to Albert Einstein
The Problem: Americans are sicker than ever before, and despite throwing tons of money at the problem, we continue to be sicker than citizens of most other affluent countries. According to the Institute of Medicine:
The United States is among the wealthiest nations in the world, but it is far from the healthiest. For many years, Americans have been dying at younger ages than people in almost all other high-income countries. This health disadvantage prevails even though the U.S. spends far more per person on health care than any other nation.
The Solution: Americans are being prescribed, taking and spending more money on medications than ever before. Staggering fact for the day: More than 10 percent of Americans (and more than one-third of those 60 and older) used five or more prescription medications in the past month, according to this 2008 CDC/NHCS survey.
Note to self: It's not working.
Our "one ill-one pill" solution is expensive, ineffective and (in an increasing number of cases) unsafe. We need a new approach. I'm proposing a new solution, one that is more affordable, accessible, effective and safe for the chronic health conditions I see in practice every day -- conditions that in most cases are caused or exacerbated by stress. It's a solution that is truly preventive rather than reactive, one that creates health and wellness. It's participatory and collaborative. I'm calling it "Rx Life."
The Rx Life Solution:
1. Rx Food: Eat real food, not a long list of processed ingredients mashed together masquerading as food. Teach your children that food comes from the earth, not from a can. Grow and prepare your own food. Cultivate a garden or a farm. Buy and eat locally-grown, chemical-free food. Learn why Dr. Mark Hyman believes in the "power of the fork" and spread the word. Teach your kids that eating is a mindful process, not only about ingesting calories but also about nourishing your body, mind and soul. Eating is and ought to be a community activity.
2. Rx Activity: Move your body. Start with something -- any amount, as much as you are able, and build on that foundation. Get your heart rate moving and see what it feels like to be so active that even your hair sweats. Get outside. Experience what author Richard Louv calls the "transformative power of the natural world" and refuse to let your children suffer from nature deficit disorder. Support school recess and encourage free play in natural settings. Inspire creativity -- dance and sing, draw and paint, make things with your own hands, and cultivate your children's imagination.
3. Rx Rest: Make sleep a priority. Create opportunities for rest, especially for teens; they always need far more sleep than they get. Instill good sleep habits from the beginning. Create a quiet, calm place for restful activities. Take time to simply be. Unplug and recharge. Value downtime. Remind your kids -- and yourself -- that it's OK to stop. Listen to Dr. Aviva Romm when she tells you to stop pushing, pushing, pushing... and just breathe.
4. Rx Mindfulness: Be here now. Pay attention to the process. Realize that the most important time is now, the most important person is the one you're with and the most important thing to do is what are doing right here, right now (thank you, Jon Muth -- oh yeah, take time to read stories to your kids like The Three Questions). Practice yoga and meditation -- anything to cultivate what Elena Brower calls the "art of attention." Accept that you will never make all the stress in the world disappear and help your children build their stress-coping toolboxes. Take time to look someone in the eyes, listen to her story, and let her know that you hear her. Be willing to sit in the mud until it settles and the water clears.
My promise to my patients and their families -- and to my family and to myself -- is to spend more time prescribing and living life, to honor the power of food, activity, rest and mindfulness to promote healing and prevent illness. I am fully and authentically committed to walking this walk. Will you join me?
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