11/09/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Health Care Change Available Now

The political elite seems unlikely to really fix health care anytime soon. But while the ongoing media carnival shows political angling and compares the failings of our system (soaring costs, high infant mortality rate, not the highest life expectancy) compared to what other countries offer, no coverage offers us any hope of a better system to come. In fact, there's enough finger pointing (special interest control of Congress, palm greasing, monopolizing) to make our country seem fully as corrupt as some Third World countries we often deride.

Instead of helping us understand how we can make a difference, media coverage of the health care debate focuses on how our traditional party system has given way to special interests that don't serve the country the way democratically-elected politicians ought to. Instead of talking about delivering care, everyone's either arguing about whether President Obama is advancing a socialist agenda or complaining about unaffordable insurance and that fact only the rich receive America's much vaunted high-tech medicine.

It sure does seem true that much of what happens to our bodies is outside of our control. A competitive fervor grips our overpopulated world, driving many of us to struggle for a place in the sun while the toxicity of our environment (industrial pollutants showing up in the blood of newborn children,, heavy metals in our rain and rivers, antibiotics and steroids in our meat, pesticides in fruit and vegetables, radioactive molecules in our soil and more) increasingly leads to cancer and other autoimmune diseases. As if that's not enough, there's an ever-clearer link between stress and disease, and managing that stress is getting harder all the time

Despite all that, the news is not all bad. While it may remain the government's job to make public policy and intercede on our behalf in the event of catastrophic illness, each and every one of us actually has the opportunity to make choices that keep us healthy. Despite great challenges there is still a great deal we can do for ourselves. As we sit helplessly on the sidelines of this great debate, why not focus on the things we can do for ourselves?

The first step is to examine the presuppositions, values, beliefs and priorities we hold most dear. Our internal world has a huge effect on our physical health as well as our circumstances. Most of us have been taught that we are powerless to change things that are in fact changeable, and to accept dogma and authority that ought be questioned. Yet there is a quiet revolution unfolding in medical science, and the importance of mindset and belief is coming rapidly to the fore. Michael Singer's The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself and Bruce Lipton's The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles, are good introductions into this new and empowering way of seeing the body, the mind, life and health.

In addition to questioning the presuppositions, assumptions, priorities and beliefs that underpin our state of health (how much money do we really need, what work really interests and fulfills us) it may be helpful to examine your lifestyle choices, in particular diet and exercise. There's a lot of room for improvement there. For example, did you know that the average American consumes the equivalent of 22 teaspoons of sugar per day? file://localhost/p/ You read that right, and teenagers consume even more. Sugar is linked to diabetes, one of the most prevalent chronic diseases, and of course obesity.

So might you consider snacking on a banana instead of a brownie? What about taking the stairs instead of taking an elevator? What about going for a walk instead of turning on the TV? Could you join a gym? What about riding your bike to work? Choosing pure dark chocolate over the sweet, milky kind? Limiting the time you spend at a computer? Saying no to a second glass of wine? Skipping dessert? Replacing butter with olive oil, eating fish instead of red meat? Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and nuts? Getting up and walking a bit on a long airplane ride? How about learning to breathe properly (most of us don't) and relax (most of us can't) as ways of lowering blood pressure and mitigating the effects of stress?

Perhaps you might engage a mind/body practice that gives you a framework for your progress, something like tai chi that teaches you mindfulness and internal focus. Are you willing to turn off your cell phone off while you eat? Is there some good work you might do about managing your anger? Would you be willing to eliminate late-night TV in favor of a long, restful, and regular sleep? Perhaps you might give your boss a list of what you're already doing when she adds something new to the list and ask her to prioritize the tasks so you don't feel overwhelmed. Why not join a support group so that you don't feel alone and adrift? The list of choices we can all make is nearly endless.

I spent much of my childhood suffering from severe asthma, and struggling for a simple breath of air. Genetic, environmental, and emotional components of asthma brought me to the brink of death more than once, and I am grateful for the wonderful care, medications, and technology I received. I'm glad my parents could afford it and that later, insurance paid for it. Without those benefits, I would not be here to write this. I am keenly aware that many of us get sick for reasons we cannot control, and need help to get well. I am most definitely not suggesting we blame corporations or insurance companies or doctors for all our woes, nor that we should throw the medical profession out the window and reject the great benefits science and technology have brought in beating back diseases that once decimated the human world.

I am suggesting, however, that in partnership with caregivers as diverse as medical doctors, acupuncturists, massage therapists and more (yes, we should lobby for health insurance plans to cover a broad range of proven resources) we do all we possibly can to take responsibility for our own health. While the boondoggle in Washington continues, the best way to avoid being victimized might be to go for a walk, take a deep breath of some clean air, and eat an apple.