On average, we spend only about five percent of our time outside. And that time could include things like taking out the trash. Not necessarily what we would call quality time. The other 95 percent of our time is spent indoors and, for some reason, this got me thinking about an interview I once read.
It was with an avid outdoorsman and elder statesman (whose name I don't recall). The gentleman was asked about the key to his longevity. His answer was no smoking, not much drinking and lots of exercise. He went on to say that he'd never been to the hospital, nor broke a bone, or ever had an operation, though he was then well into his eighties. We might say that he's an exceptional case. But then, is he really? What is the key to his path to good health?
A recent report in the Lancet medical journal has proclaimed that the people with the healthiest hearts in the world are the Tsimane people; a band that lives on an isolated tributary of the Amazon River in Bolivia. According to the report, an 80-year-old Tsimane has about the same heart and artery health as the average American in his or her 50s. Tsimane men had lower coronary artery calcification scores than Japanese women, a population previously regarded as having the lowest coronary artery calcification scores reported for any ethnicity.
The Tsimane people get around by walking, riding bikes or canoeing. Their staple foods are homegrown rice, plantains and corn. If they want meat, they go catch it. It might not be surprising that a people who eat no processed food and who exercise all day long and spend the majority of their days outdoors have little heart disease. What this study did was to systematically demonstrate it.
Today, cancer and heart disease remain as the two leading causes of death in the U.S. Both diseases are strongly linked to poor diet and too little exercise. Could an answer to reversing these two troubling health issues lie just outside our living room window?
Dr. Tim Chico, a cardiologist at Britain's University of Sheffield, who was not involved in the Tsimane study, tells the Lancet that what he takes away from it is that a person's risk of heart attack is largely determined by what they do, not who they are. That all of us can greatly reduce our risk of developing a heart attack if we are regularly active, eat a diet rich in vegetables and low in processed foods, maintain a healthy weight, and don't smoke. And, we should add, spend as much time as possible in the great outdoors. It seems that nature has not been given proper consideration as an antidote to declining health. More than half of all people now live in cities, a number that is expected to grow. At the same time, our understanding of the importance of the natural world has been slipping away. Some even say that we are witnessing an epidemic disconnection from the importance of the outdoors to our wellbeing.
Florence Williams, a contributing editor at Outside Magazine and author of
"The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative," believes we are caught in a vicious cycle. As she recently told the New York Times, we don't spend enough time in nature to let us know how good it makes us feel, and then because we don't know how good it makes us feel we don't spend enough time in nature.
Our sensory system evolved in the natural world, Williams says. When we're in those spaces, our brains become relaxed because these are things that we were designed to look at, hear and to smell. It's no fluke that studies show that people who live near green spaces are generally happier and report better physical and mental health.
So much attention is spent today trying to prevent things like depression and suicide, obesity and chronic disease; and rightly so. Take diabetes. Many in the medical community believe that the spiraling costs of diabetic care could cripple our health care system. About 95 percent of the diabetes cases in the United States are from what is known as Type 2 diabetes. It's a form that doctors view as a reversible disease. Researchers in Australia have recently demonstrated that just avoiding prolonged periods of sitting and finding ways to increase activity across the day can prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes and prevent complications for those who already have Type 2 diabetes.
As noted in Williams' book, according to a London study, in urban areas with more trees, doctors prescribed fewer antidepressants. While in Denmark, people living within 330 yards of green spaces were less likely to be obese and more likely to engage in rigorous exercise. In a study in Japan, immune cells that fight cancer were found to increase when people were in a forest. As a result, Japan created "therapy trails."
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic recently conducted an experiment to gage the toll that aging takes on a body. What they found was the cellular health of muscles associated with aging was "corrected" with exercise; especially if it was intense. In fact, older people's cells responded in some ways more robustly to intense exercise than the cells of the young did. What can we take away from this? It's never too late to benefit from exercise. Combine that exercise with the sensory power of the great outdoors and a healthy diet and you can't go wrong.
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.