Our ability to adapt to life’s challenges is our superpower: Healthy No Matter What
August 3, 2023
In Healthy No Matter What, authors Dr. Alex Jadad and his daughter Tamen Jadad-Garcia make the fascinating argument that our “natural gift of adaptation” is a form of superpower, one that can help us live a healthy life despite the many challenges we face.
They note that health self-assessment — in which you are asked if your health is excellent, very good, good, fair or poor — has led to some “groundbreaking” findings.
Those who are positive about their health tend to be healthy, the book explains. But those who negatively self-assess their health “have twice the risk of premature death than someone who rates their health as positive,” and tend to live at least 23 years less than those who say their health is excellent, the book notes, citing U.S. research.
The book takes a detailed look on why some of us live longer than others, and much of the focus is on our ability (or lack of ability) to handle stress.
A chapter on “Toxic Stress Load” or TSL explains that stress plays a key role “in how long and healthy your life could be.” TSL refers to “the physical and psychological reaction of a person to long-term threatening situations or events, especially those that start in early childhood… the wear and tear your experience from grinding through life.”
Wealthier people tend to have less stress and lead longer lives, the book notes.
“In 2021, the female citizens of Monaco had a life expectancy of 93.4 years. At the time, their home country had a Gross Domestic Product of more than $190,000 per capita (U.S. dollars), with the fourth lowest infant mortality rate, the 10th most powerful passport in the world, and zero homicides per year from 2007 to 2018,” the book says.
Another long-lived group are those who live in “Blue Zones,” such as Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy, Icaria, Greece and other locations. “Apart from being isolated places, with communities that draw from a somewhat related genetic pool, the Blue Zones are all places that encourage physical activity in natural settings.” Those living there “put their family ahead of other priorities, have a clear life purpose, have low rates of smoking, drink alcohol in moderation,” and eat healthy diets and engage in stress-reducing activities, the authors note.
Research on those living to 100 and beyond found “a tendency to react with low anxiety to stressful situations” and eating smaller portions of food, the book notes.
In the chapter “You Are What You Think,” we learn that money is “the main source of psychological stress for people in the richest country in the history of the world,” the U.S.
Research from south of the border found that “financial concerns have trumped health, family and work as the main source… of stress for Americans since 2007.” Having “insufficient savings for retirement (51 per cent) and excessive debt (30 per cent) are listed as the top two money concerns, the book explains.
A startling stat from the book is that 52 per cent of Americans under 40 are “more afraid of retirement than death,” even though they have two decades ahead of them to save for retirement.
The book lays out ways to overcome stress and fear about life events. The “BASK” acronym refers to Behavioural tasks, Attitude Changes, Skill Development, and Knowledge Acquisition.
Exercise, the book explains, is an antidote to anxiety. Yoga is another.
Optimism is also cited as a natural way to defend against anxiety. “Optimists tend to engage more often than pessimists in healthy behaviours such as exercising and eating nutritious diets, and they are less likely to smoke or drink alcohol in excess. Optimism is also associated with proactive strategies that can improve adaptability, including problem-focused coping and seeking social support…as well as with better psychological and physical function later in life.”
A later chapter looks at the value of friendship, “the single most important factor influencing our health, well-being, and happiness.”
We need to watch out for negative behaviours, the book warns, since “negatives attract.” A U.S. study found that “72 per cent of adults report having at least one unhealthy behaviour or avoidable risk factor, including insufficient sleep, obesity, physical inactivity, smoking or excessive drinking” had double the risk for premature death than those without such behaviours. Compulsive buying and binge eating were said to be the top two negatives to watch out for.
The book concludes with a chapter on how to get the most out of doctor visits by being a “good patient” and making sure you get answers to all your questions.
There is a lot of ground covered in this interesting read, but the message that comes through is that there is a lot of non-medical things we can do to stay healthier, better connected, and more focused — and together, a better attitude and handling life’s stresses will help us live longer and better lives.
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Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.