It is worth noting that as a community of modern humans, our desire for health forces us to acknowledge our relationships to certain industries, especially those that become more powerful as we make unhealthy choices. Beginning when we are young, industrial food companies purposefully entice us with manufactured “treats” that in turn empowers the industry of medicine. This could be viewed as a symbiotic relationship embedded in our community. Therefore, to achieve the best health possible, we must reflect upon our relationship to both natural and unnatural forces.
Unlike more primitive times, diseases for most people these days are man-made conditions created by individual lifestyle choices. The burden of unhealthy lifestyles weakens our community.
We have reached a point in our society where healthcare costs are compromising social happiness and personal health. The overall cost of sickness is about 20% of our GDP. This means that every full-time employee is giving away one day out of five working days to sickness. Consequently, we are less able to afford time off for healthy activities and self-improvement. We also have less money for positive things such as general education (an important determinante for community health), bike paths, sidewalks, and environmentally based health programs.
Recently, many people in our community became acutely aware of their dependence on the largest industrial-medical conglomerate after it decided to terminate its relationship with a large insurance company that served thousands of patients. I have seen a great deal of insecurity and anxiety over this outcome. The solution is to take responsibility for our health and improve our physical nature through natural means, such that we become less dependent on the medical industry. Darwin once said that in nature it is not the strongest or smartest that succeeds, but the one most able to adapt. The healthiest and happiest communities across the globe consume less than one-third of our medical care.
Natural health could be made a community value. But be careful because health as a meaningful concept has become distorted in our culture. I am not speaking of “healthy values” as in the normalization of esoteric laboratory numbers and body scans through procedures and pharmacology, but real health as in being less medicated, less studied, and less costly.
We affect the health of each other – it has been shown that your friends tend to influence your propensity for obesity more than your family, especially women. Community matters.
Inculcating social values for real health by natural means (embracing natural foods and routine physical exertion) is superior to the promotion of medical tests, medical supplies, or access to medical facilities. Real health is freedom and expansive, yet we are too often persuaded that health can be purchased, invented, or improved through industry and reductionism – the belief that health can be achieved by the consistent manipulation of laboratory numbers in isolation. This not only places health in the abstract, but also debases the holistic notion of community health. Following reductionism is dangerous because we become reduced ourselves (less free and made perpetually dependent on an industry with powerful control), less fulfilled, and less happy.
Here in the Blue Ridge Mountains we have substantial opportunities to improve our health through a better connection and dependence upon the largest community on the planet — Mother Nature. Eating fresh, whole foods from local farms improves our body’s tissues while coincidentally improving the environment. Social time can be found in athletic games and fitness challenges. But I remind people that any outdoor activities, such as simply gardening or hiking through the myriad forest trails being mindful of the earthly scents, can nourish the soul and strengthen the body.
Let’s celebrate every aspect of our community so that we can all be healthier. Let’s acknowledge the health we have now and can have in the future, if we choose wisely today. Where we spend our time and money reflects our values. We have great power over our health and that power can propel WNC to thrive.
– Dr. Charles Harpe