As a rule Americans don’t save. We spend. More than half of us (56% according to Forbes magazine) have less than $1000 between their checking and savings accounts, and would be hard-pressed to cover a significant expense.
This of course means that we as a nation are forever teetering on the edge of disaster. Most of us are carrying an average of $6k in debt, which over time costs us thousands in interest. We are borrowing against our futures. If we need a little give, we’re not going to get much.
The same can be said for our health.
Having “something in the bank” — in case of a major illness, for example -goes far beyond your finances.
If you experience a debilitating disease or are badly injured, how much health do you have in the body bank to support your healing?
We Aren’t Saving for our Future
By most accounts, not much. Barely 3% of Americans actively take care of themselves through regular exercise and proper diet. A few more give it a go for a while, then drop it because of the challenges of discipline. It’s not fun. Or it’s boring. Or, our fascination our devices is far more engaging than taking care of our bodies. We’re way too busy watching others exercise than putting the remote down and doing it ourselves.
What this does is undermine the body’s ability to heal itself. The natural setpoint is wellness, but that wellness depends on the responsible care and feeding of our brains, muscles, nervous systems and all the bits and pieces that work so effortlessly to keep us upright and happy.
Our Body Bank Better Guarantees Resiliency
In August of 2015 I fell down 32 concrete stairs and landed on my head. Besides giving myself one hell of a concussion I also fractured my pelvis, broke my arm and my wrist. My treating physician in Iceland, where I’d been adventuring at the time, told me that had I not been in such good shape, I’d have been dead or a quadriplegic. I was 63. In less than six weeks I was back on a horse, running stairs, and in full recovery as though nothing had happened.
Last year on two occasions horses nearly took me out. First I got my ribs, teeth and shoulder smashed, then I broke my back in four places. I was briefly hospitalized for both, but exercising and well within a relatively brief time. The only reason for this is “health money” in the body bank. It’s nearly a full-time job. This isn’t bragging- believe me, it’s hard damned work. I can think of lots of things I’d like to be doing other than slinging iron, running steps, jogging, swimming. I love to exercise, but to be able to carry off the kinds of adventures I do, I’d better get after it a lot harder than most. But that’s my choice. I don’t expect anyone else to do what I do; I’m simply making a point: when we make investments in our bodies, they pay off with interest.
Especially as I enter my mid-sixties, these shenanigans have taught me that a well body can handle an enormous amount of abuse and illness. The more we push ourselves as we age, the better we can handle the inevitable, life-conformable sideswipes that happen as our bodies break down, or we fall, or go play hard. We’re going to die. However we don’t have to exist poorly on our way there.
Aging is Tough Enough
The aging body is hard enough to maintain. Today’s health challenges have a great deal more to do with lifestyle choices rather than genetics. I personally believe that genetics are not destiny. Attitude, and an investment in our health, have far more to with our quality of life than the genes we were bequeathed with when we were born. (The Biology of Belief 10th Anniversary Edition: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles, by Dr. Bruce H. Lipton, SuperGenes, Unlocking the Astonishing Power of Your DNA for Optimum Health and Wellbeing, Deepak Chopra and Rudolph Tanzi)
People undergoing treatment for chronic diseases or pain are already experiencing demands on their bodies to heal. This is single most important time to eat well, moving as much as possible and get plenty of sleep. It’s harder, but even more important than before. It will likely save your life. Moving delivers oxygen and nutrients to those parts of us most in need.
Without a regular exercise program, good food habits and adequate sleep (which in and of themselves invite illness), when a devastating illness or injury does strike we are hardly prepared to handle the challenge. This leads to more complications, more drugs and even more complications from those drugs. Each drug we introduce shoves a domino over, and other things happen. It’s inevitable. The body has few if any resources.
As I prepare for shoulder surgery this coming Tuesday, part of the plan is to begin exercising immediately. The more we move the faster we heal (For a discussion on this, see https://health.stackexchange.com/questions/4577/how-does-getting-up-and-moving-help-me-recover-from-surgery). Especially as we age, pneumonia can develop from bed rest and lying down too much after a procedure. You’re damned right it hurts. But what hurts more? Dying too soon? Or inviting our healing bodies to utilize the every effective properties they have naturally?
The Great Indestructible Me
So many of us treat our bodies as though they are indestructible through poor habits. Then when that comes home to roost there’s hell to pay when our hard-working systems don’t have the reserves to fight off infections, additional bacteria that are unleashed due to antibiotic use and the damage that drugs and treatments cause.
My boyfriend’s other brother, who is 52, has a bad shoulder. He’s been to the physical therapist. Came home with a slew of exercises which likely would have done the trick. That sheaf of papers sits at the bottom of a pile of mail. He doesn’t have the time or patience, he says. I wonder if he’ll have the time and patience for surgery, which is where he’s headed? What about shoulder exercises after surgery? No time for that either? Then he’ll live with more pain and less joint movement. He recently woke up with what he thought was a hernia. It’s far worse than that. He eats badly, sleeps badly, doesn’t exercise, and drinks a lot. What does he think is going to happen?
A Gorgeous Late Model Vehicle
I don’t plan to get thrown from a horse and break my back. We don’t plan to get cancer. We don’t plan to develop Alzheimer’s. My boyfriend’s brother isn’t planning to have reduced mobility and lifestyle illnesses as he ages, but he might as well be. It’s the same as buying a great car, never changing the oil, never maintaining the engine, doing basic upkeep. Over time that prime machine just breaks down. Just like our bodies.
However we can have a well-oiled machine that rises to the occasion when we do need to recover from the unexpected. Like this gorgeous 1953 Buick Roadmaster Skylark-which happens to be as old as I am- I plan to rock my roadster for the long run.
That’s money in the bank.
As the Capital One ad goes, “What’s in your wallet?” The investments you make in your health today will most assuredly pay off big time, allowing you to live well, play hard, and laugh hearty the older you get.