Wellness has exploded into a global $3.4 trillion mega-industry in the last year. A deep desire to be free of disease, live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives is one of the very essences of who we are.

It is not surprising that there are many trying to cash in when there is this much money on the table and an international growth rate surpassing 100% per year in some regions. Many are pure charlatans, others have the best of intentions but are misguided, and then of course there is contradictions and exceptions of even the best studies.

“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called re-search, would it?”

- Albert Einstein –

 

Flooded with an increasingly overwhelming amount of confusing information, the risk is then that we start to follow programs, diets and ideas which are even less sound than those of the experts we love to debunk. As marketers have known for ages, “image” and “fear” sells, and there aren’t many areas where these two meet on such a primal level as wellness. Snake oil salesmen have the added advantage that the average scientist is not the smoothest marketer and of course the average person does not make decisions based on fact.

So what now? Life is tough as it is, many ups and downs, trials and tribulations, it is increasingly confusing.

“Children, be curious. Nothing is worse (I know it) than when curiosity stops. Nothing is more repressive than the repression of curiosity. Curiosity begets love. It weds us to the world. It's part of our perverse, madcap love for this impossible planet we inhabit. People die when curiosity goes. People have to find out, people have to know.”

― Graham Swift, Waterland

The internet is a marvellous place, filled with information and misinformation on anything and everything. If you are truly curious, this is a place of wonder, entertainment and an enormous volume of peer-reviewed information. If you want the right information though, you need to use the right phrases in your search. “Kim’s miracle diet” or “weight loss pills” will probably not contain sound advice.

Always question the semantics of a label. “Developed to aid weight loss” means nothing other than when people threw a lot of stuff in a bowl and started mixing it to make money, they say they had weight loss on their mind. It did not even have to be your weight loss. There are great laws (these actually get enforced!) which prohibit false marketing claims. The problem is just that there are a number of ways to say things which make it look like it says something else. Words like “aid” “towards” “may” “up to”

Choose the sources of information carefully, and consider if anyone stands to financially gain should you buy what they have to say.

I love having a good chat and a think about wellbeing, nutrition, exercise, weight, mental health, sunshine and fresh air. Often though, I find that there is very little logic or valid information behind what people believe.

Nutrition

Never in the history of humanity, have so many people had access to more diverse food, more regularly and as conveniently. If you are reading this magazine, chances are good that you have access to modern culinary diversity as well. To try to give you an idea of what I mean, think of your great-grandparents: where did they get their food when they were growing up? What did they eat in winter? How did they store it? How often could they get their hands on strawberries or sushi or a selection of different coloured peppers?

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

― Hippocrates (he said 2400 years ago – 2300 years before “supplements”)

Although there are certain vitamins, like Vitamin C, which your body can’t manufacture, the average human being can still fast for about 40 days with no ill effect (nil food – only pure water). If you have no intake of Vitamin C at all, the symptoms of scurvy will still take about 3 months to rear its head, and can then quickly be cured with some fresh fruit or veggies (greenpepper is excellent). Increasing your Vitamin C has been shown to help you fight a cold or flu quicker, but has no impact whatsoever on whether you will get it in the first place. Most of the other vitamins are either stored more adequately, or like Vitamin D, can be produced by your body.

Your body is amazing, and the wondrous complexity of it keeps medical professionals marvelling. It stores what it needs, gets rid of what it doesn’t need and often very expensive ‘natural’ supplements just make expensive urine.

There are many false claims made to entice you to buy food supplements, but the truth is, unless you have a medically diagnosed deficiency and need to take supplements short-term, most of these have the potential to do more harm than good.

When choosing what to eat, keep in mind that a large part of your digestion relies on very complex colonies of bacteria working for you in your digestive tract. Food which does not spoil easily outside your body (i.e. the bacteria and fungal spores in your environment don’t’ find it appetising), will probably not be to the liking of your internal culinary army either.

Laughter is brightest where food is best – Irish Proverb

The best way to keep yourself healthy is to have fun with food. Love food. Make it adventurous. Always choose quality over quantity. Get to know farmers’ markets in your area. Keep things creative and fresh. Do cooking classes, or have dinner parties with friends, learn new recipes and always stay curious.

Fat

“If nature had intended for our skeletons to be visible it would have put them on the outside of our bodies.”

- Elmer Rice

To demonise fat is harmful. Many people see it as a dumping ground for the sin of eating, yet experts describe fat as a “beautiful organ” This is because it interacts with your external environment and helps maintain a stable internal environment. Fat controls and modulates your fertility, your appetite and your mood. Your immune response will not work properly if you don't have the right amount of fat.

“ I’m not fat, I’m just so sexy that it overflows” - Anon

Voluptuous fertility goddesses of our ancestors are nothing like the super-thin models worshipped by our modern media. In our world fertility is not celebrated as much as it used to be, but fertility is a very valid measure of health. Women with very little body fat don't have periods, and this is a sensible way for malnourished bodies to protect a potential mother and foetus. Pregnancies can be catastrophic for both if the mother is malnourished.

Too much fat is not healthy, but what is more important is the distribution of the fat that you do have. Fat in the liver and excessive fat deposits in and around internal organs comes with a big risk of ailments like type-2 diabetes and heart disease. The term for people like this is ToFi (Thin Outside, Fat Inside) .Genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors all determine where fat will be deposited, and you can influence this by small tweaks in diet and activities.

Supermodels and scrawny ballerinas are always on strict diets, and this leads to many health related problems. They tend to have a lot of liver fat (this is bad!), and easily pick up colds and flus because of compromised immune systems.

Subcutaneous fat is protective, especially when it is around your bum and hips. If you take a microscopic look at adipose tissue, you will see that it is made up of a honeycomb of enormous spherical cells each filled to the brim with a droplet of fat. Fat is a fairly good insulator and might help to keep us warm, but this is not as important as the fact that thanks to its honeycomb structure, fat is the ultimate biological “Bubble Wrap”. It cushions your joints and heels, and pads out your fingertips and eye sockets.

The more protective areas of fat play little role in metabolism, but served by a network of blood vessels and nerves, the rest of your adipose tissue is highly involved and continually respond to your body’s energy needs, not merely store it. The amount of fat that goes in and out of adipose tissue daily is actually enormous and it acts as a kind of energy buffer, and much more.

Adipose tissue turns the precursors for sex hormones into their active forms, and is an important source of them after menopause in women to protect their bones. Fat tissue is also responsible for making a hormone called Leptin. Leptin briefs your brain on the state of the body’s energy reserves and is monitored by the same region of the brain that is in charge of our primitive motivations, managing food intake, weight, sleep, body temperature and reproduction. Too much of the stuff can feminise men, which I guess is why very fat men can be seen as more cuddly, but it comes at a high cost of increased risk of cancer and other illnesses.

Fat is also a kind of built-in crisis management system. The leptin produced by fat belongs to the same family of molecules that regulate immune responses. It will pick up when you are under attack by a flu virus, say, and raise the alarm. At the same time it will temporarily suppress your appetite and make you feel tired and woolly-headed while channelling the body’s resources to fight the viral invasion.

“When we lose twenty pounds...we may be losing the best twenty pounds we have! We may be losing the pounds that contain our genius, our humanity, our love and honesty.”

- Woody Allen

Research points to fat playing a role in our mood, behaviour or hormonal responses. So fat is a truly multi-talented organ. A jack of all trades, it does everything from balancing your energy books and regulating your fertility, to supplying and commanding your defences. Having too little fat, or having fat in the wrong places, can be as dangerous as being grossly obese.

To make the lifestyle and dietary changes needed to ensure your beautiful adipose organ is working well and sitting right, choose a trusted wellbeing provider, and don’t be shy to change professionals when what they offer doesn’t work for you. Keep healthy, informed and curious.

Stress

Stress has some unexpected health benefits – sometimes.

For more than a century the idea that being under pressure helps us to focus and make us better at cognitive task has been quite popular. However, stress has been proved to erode your DNA, which may add nearly 10 – 20 years to your chromosomal age, and it also negatively impacts your immune system.

Research under Kirstin Aschbacher of the University of California, San Francisco showed that brief episodes of stress can be good for us, and protect us from the effects of aging. This is as long as we are not too stressed to begin with.

Chronic stress can cause damage on a cellular level, whereas people experiencing short bursts of psychological stress have less cellular damage than those with virtually no stress during the trial. “Its like weightlifting, where we build muscles over time” says Aschbacher “ short periods of stress might allow us to become stronger”

Short, stressful experiences also hold some immune benefits, with blood levels of immune cells boosted in those experiencing temporary high stress situations but not suffering from chronic stress.

It seems from all we know at the moment, that chronic stress is really bad for you, low stress is good, but by far the best is to have a relatively low baseline of stress and keep challenging yourself with occasional stressful experience.

The trick lies in keeping the general level of stress low, as our stress levels tend to be much higher than they should be. Advice from Bruce Rabin, and expert from the University of Pittsburg in Pennsylvania is “Be optimistic, fit, have a sense of humour” Most important of all is to keep your friends. “Loneliness is a killer”

The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another – William James

Meditation

Many people see meditation as an exotic form of daydreaming, or a quick-fix for a stressed out mind. A plethora of research, much of it with the help of fMRI to look at brain activity of people before, during and after meditation. Not only does meditation enhance cognitive performance, it seems to have a significant effect on emotional wellbeing. It helps to reduce stress levels, helps with healthy emotional regulation and the spin-off is that it improves physical health. It is an effective treatment for eating disorders, substance abuse, psoriasis, recurrent depression and chronic pain, to name just a few.

Mindful meditation is relatively simple to learn with the right guide, and with only 20min of meditation a day bringing about measurable improvements after only 3 days, it is definitely worth a try.

Retreats

Time spent in the right kind of retreat best suited to your individual needs is more than worth it, it is essential. For some this ‘retreat’ is strapping a tent to the back of a motorbike and hitting the road, for others the supporting professionals of a health hydro helps to address and educate you in a holistic, integrative environment. The health spa industry has exploded in South Africa, growing by almost 200% in the last year alone. Considering how tough the economy has been, this is astounding. The reasons can only be this: It is needed, and it works. The best kind of retreat is almost always found by word-of-mouth. Ask around and someone will know of an earthly paradise where you can recharge your batteries and get your baseline stress where you are comfortable with it.

Change your point of view

Those who don’t make mistakes, usually make nothing at all, yet the fear of getting it wrong keeps us from so much and underlies much of our experience of stress.

The deepest fear we have, 'the fear beneath all fears,' is the fear of not measuring up, the fear of judgment. It's this fear that creates the stress and depression of everyday life. -Tullian Tchividjian

On Ted.com a huge number of wonderful talks are available for anyone to download, watch and learn. One of my favourites is one by Sir Ken Robinson on education. In this he reminds us that we have no idea what the world will look like in 5 years’ time, let alone 50, and our education system is routed in the industrial age. Children are educated out of their creative capabilities. A mistake is the worst thing you can make.

If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.

We are so frightened of being wrong, through an educational system which stigmatises mistakes, that we lose our curiosity, or ingenuity and our creativity.

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
― Thomas A. Edison

Children explore the world around them with all their senses, and it can be risky business, which is why they need someone to keep an eye on them. Watch a toddler pick something off the ground. He will look at it, roll it around in his fingers and really take in the texture, he will put it to his ear and shake it, listening to what it sounds like. Then he will smell it, and try to taste it. Full-sensory experience.

Children are not afraid of being wrong, until we teach them this, often for their own protection. It’s not a great idea to put your hand on a stove’s hot plate, or pull the Rottweiler’s tail, but sometimes we push kids past protection and into fear, a place where they are constantly looking over their shoulder hoping they are doing what they are supposed to do, when they are supposed to do it, seeking the permission to carry on. Staying aware, exploring, experiencing with an open mind and staying curious, is a huge challenge, I dare you to take it up.

Paying yourself first and build long-term wellness wealth.

Take a moment and google the term “pay yourself first” if you have not read up on it or have not thought about the importance of it for a while. Maybe you can gain some inspiration or validation for this valuable practice.

The term “paying yourself first” is widely discussed and the merits of prioritizing your financial self is well known, but very few of us do it. It seems that even fewer of us practice this when it comes to our physical health.

“So many people spend their health gaining wealth, and then have to spend their wealth to regain their health.”

- A. J. Reb Materi

As with financial investments, small, consistent changes are key to success in wellbeing. Build and renew healthy habits slowly and consistently to reap life-long rewards. As with financial partners, find a health partner and mentor you can trust and one that will understand you and your unique long-term needs

There is much that can still be said about the value of fresh air and sunshine, the miracle of the workout “pill” and why exercise is the best medicine. Eat well, exercising enough, laugh lots, give yourself permission to have solitude when you need it, taking time off with friends and family when you need that, and above all, remain curious.