When attempting to accomplish something difficult on our own I wonder how many of us have called upon some form of the phrase "mind over matter" — at least in our heads — in our attempt to push on? It seems a fundamental frame of mind in a quest to achieve success. Renowned Texas Christian pastor and educator Chuck Swindoll once put it this way: "The secret of living a life of excellence is merely a matter of thinking thoughts of excellence... it's a matter of programming our minds with the kind of information that will set us free."
Further support for this concept has now emerged from a very unlikely source — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's being applied to an equally surprising topic, the treatment of chronic back pain. Before prescribing opioids in dealing with chronic pain, doctors are now being advised to consider prescribing meditation and yoga in its place. Supporting the recommendation are a series of recent studies that found that exercise, posture training, physical therapy and yes, yoga and meditation may be a better option than pain pills, imaging or surgery for the vast majority of people trying to overcome chronic back pain.
At least eight percent of Americans suffer from chronic back pain, and it is a major cause of disability. For our medical institutions to institute a shift in treatment options away from a "medicalized," pharmaceutical approach and toward an array of nonmedical alternatives is a significant development. Joining the chorus is the American College of Physicians and American Pain Society. These organizations have also issued guidelines suggesting that doctors consider yoga and meditation therapy, along with other non-drug options such as acupuncture, massage and exercise therapy, for patients with chronic low back pain.
The goal is to reframe the way in which patients think about pain from something horrible that will ruin a life to something that can be managed with the proper tools, according to Daniel C. Cherkin, a senior scientific investigator at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle. Cherkin is the lead author of a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on the value of mindfulness-based stress reduction and cognitive behavioral therapy in treating chronic pain.
"I've been doing research on back pain for 30 years," says Cherkin. "The biggest revolution has been the understanding that it's not just a physical problem with physical solutions. It's a bio-psychosocial problem."
The same can be said for the struggle many people face in losing weight and keeping it off in an effort to restore good health. Being seriously overweight or obese is linked to potentially life-threatening conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, depression, heart disease and cancer. Yet while significant weight loss may have a person feeling healthy and physically fit, it is being learned that the end result can affect emotions in negative and challenging ways that are not anticipated.
As Dr. Ed Abrahmson, author of "Emotional Eating" tells the folks at Live Strong, if a person is focused solely on altering their physical state without addressing underlying emotional issues, it can take a lot of time and effort to allow their emotional self to catch up. Emotional healing is often the last aspect to change in such a transformation; and a lack of emotional preparedness can lead to weight regain.
According to Abrahmson, similar to the way someone who's lost a limb can feel tingling and pain where their arm or leg once was, formerly overweight people may continually feel they are taking up excess space. If they felt self-conscious before, this feeling is likely to linger.
Studies show that if a person has dieted away the pounds by following a heavily restrictive diet with harsh rules, they are much more likely to regain significantly more weight back than those on a more forgiving and more flexible eating routine.
Many people who feel insecure about their weight or appearance also tend to gravitate toward others with similar insecurities. In keeping weight off, it is considered essential to distance one's self from toxic influences. Says Abrahmson, when a person's relationship with themselves improves, their relationships with others will as well.
Being seriously overweight or obese should never be looked at as one's own fault. Research by Dr. David Kessler, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner and author of "The End of Overeating," has identified that the reward circuits in as many as 50 percent of obese people and 30 percent of overweight people has rendered them as "conditioned hypereaters," people hard wired by the smell of food to finish eating whatever is on the plate in front of them. For them, resisting temptation is not a question of willpower alone. The good news is that there is evidence that this reaction, through conditioning, can be broken. The problem is that they never learned the skills needed for long-term behavior change. This is now changing.
Not surprisingly, surveys show that most young adults believe that obtaining wealth and fame are keys to a happy life.
Yet according to the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a much more important barometer of long term health and well-being is the strength of the relationships with family, friends and spouses. This remarkable tracking study has been going on for 75 years now. Those participants who remain alive today are in their 90s.
As the researchers looked at the factors throughout the years that strongly influenced health and well-being, they found that relationships with friends, and especially spouses, were a major one. The people in the strongest relationships were protected against chronic disease, mental illness and memory decline — even if those relationships had many ups and downs.
Is it possible that what it takes to live a good life is also a question of mind over matter? That it's within the reach of all of us, sitting there within our heads and our hearts.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Alan Levine