What Does It Actually Mean To Be “Healthy”?
Here’s some health advice that you may have heard:
- “Take fish oil”
- “Avoid gluten”
- “Make sure you get enough vitamin D”
While these seem like disconnected recommendations, they share a common goal: Reducing inflammation in your body — often referred to as “Systemic Inflammation” by medical types.
After consulting with doctors, attending talks, and consuming every piece of top health related material I can get my hands on — I’ve realized that, directly or indirectly, nearly all intelligent lifestyle recommendations boil down to reducing inflammation.
So, I’ll spare you the time.
With the rampant information overload that we all experience on the regular, taking measures to be healthy seems like a complex engineering project. So complex that it’s easy to become paralyzed and do nothing, or act on misleading advice.
I’m a big believer in the 80/20 rule — Pareto’s Principle. 80% of your results come from 20% of your inputs. That means, focus on what I call “Big Wins” — lifestyle changes that give you disproportionate results for your input / effort.
In order to identify Big Wins, though, you need to understand a few basic things about what makes your body tick.
If there is one single concept to understand and accommodate when making lifestyle choices, it’s INFLAMMATION.
Now, you might say that I have a one track mind. My answer: I’m a man, what do you expect?
Well, actually, I think I know the “track” that you’d expect my mind to be running on. After all, I’m a healthy guy in my 20’s — but for some reason, my mind is currently focused on a “track” less traveled, potentially explaining why I’m single. Sorry, we’re getting off topic. I’m suddenly depressed.
Back to inflammation.
You’ve probably heard this term get thrown around, but you may not understand exactly what it means.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is the body’s response to harmful stimuli. The body says “Umm, yo, I think something is wrong. I’m going to send some blood over there”. Think, red, hot, swollen.
Inflammation is a powerful problem solving technique used by the body.
Acute Inflammation – (no biggie)
In short spurts (called Acute Inflammation), something gets swollen, it heals, and you are back in action. That’s inflammation helping you.
Healthy exercise even triggers some Acute Inflammation. A good example of the saying “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”.
Here’s an example of inflammation. Look at this dude’s toes. Not pretty.
Chronic Inflammation – (BAD!)
In long, extended periods (called Chronic Inflammation) bad things start happening. There are many causes, but here are a few that you can control:
- Eating toxins
- Lack of sleep
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Over training (too much of a good thing)
Inflammation Happens Everywhere…Even Deep Inside Your Body.
I used to only think of inflammation as something that showed it’s face on the outside of the body (like that dude’s gnarly toes), but in fact, it happens everywhere:
- Muscle Tissue
- Intestines – (“gut”)
- Fat Stores
- Artery Walls
Inflammation can literally occur on a microscopic level — inside cells.
Inflammation puts stress on tissues or cells. When tissues / cells become inflamed, it’s almost like they become drunk. They get confused, stop doing their jobs, even start attacking themselves. Sounds like me on a Saturday night…
You Can Measure Inflammation
Although the worst inflammation often can’t be seen on the outside of the body, you can actually measure it with a relatively simple blood test. This isn’t really necessary unless you’re sick, but it’s cool to know that you can get an objective reading of how inflamed your body is.
The test looks for what’s called C-Reactive Protein. Bottom line: the more floating around your blood, the more inflamed you are, the sooner you are going to die. Kidding….well kinda…
Inflammation Is Involved In Every Major Disease
When tissues in your body are experiencing chronic inflammation, shit starts going wrong. Period.
Inflammation is involved in pretty much every major disease. Of course, there are other factors, but we are talking 80/20 here, remember?
- Heart Disease — inflamed arteries (swollen) = clogged arteries
- Autoimmune Disorders — inflammation fuels autoimmune disorders, which create more inflammation. Vicious cycle. Think rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, eczema. Autoimmunity is like “drunken immune system disorder”. The immune system gets confused and starts attacking healthy tissue as if it were an invader.
Inflammation Holds You Back
For us younger folks who may be several years away from developing life threatening diseases, inflammation is still a big deal. In essence, inflammation can make you fat, dumb, weak and unhappy. Or, in other words, inflammation can interfere with maximizing your potential:
- Looking good naked
- Unlocking your mental capacity
- Enhancing your overall sense of well-being
- Getting stronger
- Creating amazing baby humans
The Key To Being Lean, Smart, And Disease Free
Overall, I wrote this article to help cut through all the noise and provide you with a simple tool for evaluating health / lifestyle advice.
Also — this should help you put some purpose behind the “health hacks” that you choose to focus on. Instead of aimlessly following advice, you can proceed with an understanding of how a certain lifestyle choice might actually improve your health and performance.
So, instead of saying “Umm, I saw this commercial for fish oil so I figured I would take some”, you can say “I supplement with omega-3 because it helps reduce inflammation in my body — making me faster, stronger, smarter, leaner…”
Now, this is definitely more of a strategic overview than tactical list of actionable steps — However — I’ll cover exactly what you can do to minimize inflammation elsewhere on the site — topics like:
- Avoiding Grains, Legumes, and Diary – (espec Gluten and low fat dairy)
- Avoiding PUFA oils (Soybean, Sunflower — Vegetable Oil’s — among many others..)
- Becoming a Meat Snob (grass-fed, wild caught, local happy animals)
- Sleeping Deeply
- Getting Your D Up (Vitamin D that is. Don’t fear the sun!)
This list above contains some of the most powerful ways known by man to reduce inflammation — no exaggeration. Better than any pill, cleanse, insert bullshit health trend or modern pharmaceutical marvel…
Here’s the sad part — it’s very unlikely that your actual doctor will talk to you about these things. You’re still breathing, right? Then, why should you worry getting the most out of your life?
End rant. Sorry.
You can research health and wellness, even specifically inflammation, for weeks, months, even years. At the end of the day, it’s pretty much this simple:
Inflammation is bad. Minimize it.
When you hear a health recommendation, simply ask the question, “How will that help reduce inflammation?”.
P.S. — I didn’t make this up. Everyone who’s anyone is talking about it. Dr. Mercola, Chris Kresser — inflammation is even the basis for Dr. Weil’s recommended diet — even though he looks a little inflamed to me…
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110419091159.htm — Inflammation leading to cancer