Friday, 3 March 2017

Health - duty of care

Lent - Day 3

I see health and the trajectory of our lives - which all have to end in death - in the following metaphor: the glider. Every glider flight has to end back on the ground. But but every glider flight has a different profile. In some cases, when the tow-rope is dropped, the glider pilot will catch a thermal and will soar to great heights before gently descending on a long and shallow trajectory. In other cases, the glider pilot will not be so lucky and the flight will end quickly.

In each case, it's a question of managing decline. Once you've passed your physical peak, you will never return there. All you can do henceforth is to consciously work on making that glidepath as gradual as possible. But the starting points for that decline can be very different.

Some of us are blessed with great luck; others, sadly, are not.

But whether you've inherited healthy genes or not, there is much that all of us can do knowingly to make the most of that health capital so we can extend the trajectory. Essentially, this revolves around diet and exercise. But also around attitude and will. However close to the ground you are, the power of a positive mind will keep you aloft longer than the person who's admitted defeat. Stubborn resilience and a reason to keep on going - the children/grandchildren, the art, the science - if we are the creative type, there's always an answer to why wake up in the morning.

Earlier on in life, before the onset of thoughts of mortality, we tended to take less care of ourselves. I say this in the past tense, because the young people in their 20s and early 30s that I work with are far more health-conscious than my colleagues and I were when we were that age. When I started work, some people smoked at their desk; many would have a lunchtime drink; very few visited the gym or watched what they ate.

Among the better-educated young today, healthy living is not a fad but a conscious choice to invest in that health capital for later life. Below: a very simplistic, purely illustrative, model. The horizontal axis is human lifespan starting from an assumed biological highpoint of optimal physiological functioning; the vertical axis is health capital (a mix of physical and mental well-being); it's the glider's altitude in my starting metaphor. Taking good care of your health will extend your lifespan to the maximum that your inherited genes have predetermined.

As I wrote, for me the observance of Lent, which began in 1992, was at first a health-driven thing. Only in recent years have I come to realise the importance of the unity of healthy mind in a healthy body and the spiritual aspect to a fulfilled life.

Lent - in its most basic aspect of giving up some regular pleasure - is a bit of a challenge, a bit of building up one's will power. The spiritual quest is equally important; the two go well together.

Cutting back on alcohol (not entirely, mind, as death comes sooner to the totally abstemious than those who drink moderately) makes sense from the point of view of improved health plus stronger will power; twice-daily exercise is also entirely beneficial. Building muscular strength to  I have now made Lenten exercising more of a year-round thing. Starting in the New Year, I power my way up to the beginning of Lent, then all the way through to Easter - and then as far onward from Easter as possible, using the previous year's result as a target to beat. I keep a daily score of units of alcohol consumed, paces walked, portions of fresh fruit and veg eaten, and the sit-ups, push-ups, chin-ups and weights on an Excel spreadsheet. And I have done so for the past 38 months.

If we are conscious of what we have, what we are, how we live, eat and breathe, discipline coming from within rather than imposed upon us, we will be able to make the most of our lives. And fulfilling our potential is the greatest commandment.

This time last year:
Cognitive bias in the search for God

This time two years ago:
A spiritual frame of mind

This time three years ago:
Sunday in the City

This time four years ago:
God's teachings

This time eight years ago:
A week into Lent

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