A Flourishing Life

June 7, 2015 at 11:29 am | Posted in Health, Psychology | 2 Comments
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As the CHIP program is a Complete Health Improvement Program, the last classes have covered emotional health and changing your environment to better support your improved health. The same principles of eating nutritiously and getting enough exercise come up over and over again. Good sleep habits and exposure to natural environments also help life balance and health.

Class 16 covered stress relief, including the Relaxation Response. This is a technique that was developed in the 1970’s after early research on Transcendental Meditation at Harvard. In a broader technique context, it would be classed as a body-awareness technique. This can be very handy for simple relaxation. It’s also used in classical meditation as a way to handle strong purification events. However, it’s not recommended as a long term practice because too much tends to dull the mind. A good first step, but I’d suggest graduating to an effortless meditation practice to get the best long term benefits.

In the last class, we explored the results of research on happiness. They outlined 5 domains, each of which bring us progressively deeper and more sustained happiness.

1 – Positive emotions – favouring the positive can be developed as a habit. But the positive always ends.
2 – Engagement – having something in our life we enjoy where we get focused and immersed.
3 – Achievement – paying attention to what we have accomplished brings greater satisfaction.
4 – Relationships – bring deeper connection to our lives. We become like those around us, so choose our social relationships well.
5 – Meaning – the feeling of belonging to something bigger than ourselves brings the most lasting contribution to our happiness.

To this list I would add self-knowledge. Not just superficial details but a deeper sense of our larger Self within. This connects us to a deep well of inner happiness. Like the above, an effortless meditation can be a key way to connect to our deeper values. This also has the advantage of supporting all of the prior domains, like bringing that greater-then-self meaning, more positive emotions, and so forth.

I’ve made good progress with the recommendations of the program. My doctor has been impressed and I’ve avoided the need for the medications he expected to have to prescribe. There is still more to come, but the approach to make lifestyle changes rather than temporary fixes like diets is clearly superior.

To your health!
David

Forgiveness

June 2, 2015 at 2:26 pm | Posted in Health, Psychology | 3 Comments
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An entire lesson in CHIP is on forgiveness. Very simply because if we carry old resentment and anger, it will not only interfere with emotional health, it can directly effect our physical health and well-being too.

For example, if we’re carrying chronic anger, we’re much more likely to have high blood pressure and heart disease. As well, with the fire burning, the body releases fat for energy. If that’s not used because it’s not actually expressed, it floats around in the bloodstream as cholesterol. Through the mechanisms discussed prior, this can lead to a host of diseases.

As another example, if we have old unresolved fears, they may thwart our ability to get healthy or to keep weight off. They used the example of a woman who felt unsafe when she was slim and attractive.

The lesson itself was given by Dr. Dick Tibbits, the author of Forgive to Live. I notice his book is available in a couple of styles – as a secular and a more Christian version. But the approach itself is based on science and is used in his hospital.

Forgiveness does not mean condoning or accepting or forgetting what happened. They describe “forgive and forget” as a myth. Forgiveness means letting go of the charge and our investment in it, not forgetting.

This is not just about people. You may need to let go of old unhappiness about past (or present) circumstances too.

They explained that anger is not stored. What is stored is memories and associations. When we bring the memory up again, it triggers the ideas and emotions we’ve associated with it. Thus the primary approach Dr. Tibbits noted was reframing. Shifting our frame of reference for the memory. Seeing it another way. That shifts the associations too and thus how we remember those past hurts. Seen differently, we can release the charge.

Myself, I found culturing gratitude very useful for raising the emotional tone. Not making a mood of it, just thinking of different things in your life you are grateful for here and there in the day. Humor is also benefical. This helps shift our attention off dwelling on past struggles and opens the door to release as forgiveness.

As may be obvious here, self-reflection is a valuable tool. Part of this process is becoming conscious of our inner dynamics. We don’t have choice if we’re in unconscious reactivity. But with a little self-reflection, we can become conscious between stimulus and our reactive response. And then we can choose.

It also helps to recognize we’re doing this to ourselves – that’s the part we want to heal. Waiting for someone else to say sorry is just giving them the power over you. Forgiveness is taking back your power. That’s one of the surprising revelations about this process. As they noted, you can’t take a poison pill and hope the other person dies.

Also, remember that “letting go” is not a concept. We can’t think our way through this. This is a release of energy, usually experienced subjectively as emotion. We’re letting go of the charge, the emotion. Then the idea of it, the memory, becomes more neutral.

Our life is defined by the choices we make, not the cards we’re dealt. We always have the choice to forgive. We can point to those born into poverty who became happy and successful. And those born into wealth who self-destruct. It is just a long series of small steps that take us down our chosen path.

The class also explored various details, like handling anger and the stages of personal change.

Now we’re getting to the last couple of weeks of classes.
David

Some CHIP Science

April 13, 2015 at 11:57 am | Posted in Health, Psychology, Science | 9 Comments
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As I discussed prior, CHIP is one of the best researched lifestyle upgrade programs available. They lean on a lot of other research. Let’s see if I can explain the basics of the value proposition for health.

Essentially, the bodies immune system produces inflammation at an injury point while the healing is underway. But lifestyle factors like smoking, high fat or sugar in the diet, inactivity, excess alcohol, salt, obesity, poor sleep, and stress can all lead to chronic low-level inflammation. Similarly, the same lifestyle factors create more “oxidative stress”, an imbalance between damaging free radicals and the antioxidents that manage them. If free radicals get the upper hand, all sorts of problems can arise, including higher cancer risk.

We most notice inflammation in the joints when we have discomfort and pain. But one of the primary sites where chronic low-level inflammation develops is in blood vessels. Over time, this damages the vessel walls protection. LDL (“bad”) cholesterol influenced by free radicals becomes sticky and adheres at these points, causing narrowing of the arteries, atherosclerosis. That impedes the circulatory system and the distribution of oxygen and nutrients required by all areas.

The trick is – where that is occurring more is what leads to a chronic ailment in that area. The best known is of course coronary artery or heart disease. But in the brain, it’s senility or stroke. High blood pressure. Kidney disease. Hearing loss. And macular degeneration in the eyes.

The main point – “most chronic diseases have a common cause in chronic low-level inflammation linked to oxidative stress.” This is backed up by a lot of research.

For example, several long term studies, like the Adventist study and the China study, have demonstrated that every step closer to being a straight vegetarian you are, the lower your rate of chronic disease: by a 4 and 5 to one ratio to meat eaters. Meat eaters, for example, have a 5 times higher likelihood of developing high cholesterol (somewhat obviously). This means a 5 times higher likelihood of a lower quality of life. Spread that over multiple issues and you get the message.

CHIP feels these chronic diseases can be moderated and potentially corrected with diet, sufficient activity, emotional health and stress management. They hope to wean you off any related medications for symptoms.

I’ve been surprised how thorough they’re being. They want to really drive the points home. It’s completely your choice how far you want to take it on the diet and exercise scale. But they want you to understand the choices you’re making and their benefits.

And we’re not just talking a longer life but one of higher quality too.
David

The CHIP Program

April 13, 2015 at 11:39 am | Posted in Health, Media, Psychology, Science | 9 Comments
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I’ve been blessed with a robust constitution from a “successful” gene pool. But this has meant it was easy to be lazy about taking care of myself. Although I’ve been “reasonable”, my lifestyle choices have slowly caught up with me. I’ve gradually become more sedentary with a little too much fill the bucket eating.

I’ve tried several diets that made a lot of difference. Loved the Reboot program, for example, but didn’t make the long term changes to keep it off. Once I finished the juice fast, things gradually went back to the old habits. And because basic lifestyle patterns were not changing, things just slowly got worse. It finally started to catch up with me.

The basic problem is, our modern western “healthy” diet is very simply not. The major diseases of western countries are diseases of abundance and excess, ironically. But because it’s common, we see it as normal.

The western medical system is allopathic, designed to treat things like infections and broken bones. But MD’s are not typically well-trained in lifestyle and nutrition, nor are they set up to guide a patient through such changes. When people come to them with chronic issues related to lifestyle, they can offer some advice to loose weight or relax, then pills to treat the symptoms. But none of this addresses the cause. As a result, in most cases the patient does nothing or doesn’t find anything effective long term and fails. The chronic conditions get worse, the prescriptions climb, and people keep returning to their doctor for help. Yet they do little to help themselves, often because they don’t know how.

We need to change our thinking and recognize we have to take responsibility for our health. Often, we take better care of our cars than our bodies. It’s estimated that 70% of doctor visits are related to lifestyle issues they’re not set up to address. The major health issues of our time are dominated by lifestyle-related ailments like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, developed over many years of bad habits.

Why is our diet so bad? In the 50’s, researchers determined that our western diet was too high in fat. They introduced lower fat recommendations. Not only did this lead to the low-fat craze but it also lead to far more processing of foods. Taking out the fat also took out the flavour. So they compensated with things like sugar and salt, massively increasing our intake. Food research sought the “bliss point” of sweetness to be appealing, even in baby food. They also discovered that sugar and caffeine could make a food addictive. Many foods became increasingly unnatural designer foods, made to appeal to our base tendencies. The long term result – a massive increase in obesity.

When someone begins to realize how their lifestyle is affecting their health and quality of life, they may look to make changes. Most visible is gyms and diets. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the right resources and motivation to make the changes needed before there’s a health crisis. But often, people end up trying a long list of fad diets and programs that have more of a yo-yo effect than long term benefit.

What many need is some support and filling in some of the gaps in our self-care skills. We need a dose of preventative medicine.

In my own case, I needed lifestyle changes, but an approach that was straightforward and real. This is when I ran into the CHIP program, recommended at the end of a health article.

CHIP stands for Complete Health Improvement Program. It began some years ago as a heart-health program similar to  Healthy Heart. The second is mainly for people already with a serious health issue, often offered at hospitals and the Y. CHIP broadened the approach because the principles are true of many common chronic health issues, not just the heart. While Reboot had paid support programs, this was in-person groups working together.

CHIP is also one of the best researched programs available and arose out of a history of prior research. Large, long term studies have shown that the greater the amount of animal fats in the diet, the higher the risks of developing chronic illness. This science is well understood but not widely known. I’ll write more on this shortly.

What has really impressed me about such a mainstream program is that none of the advice I’ve objected to. I’ve studied traditional health systems like Ayurveda and the advice aligns very well with it. It is really good advice: whole, plant-based, unprocessed foods, variety, and plenty of exercise.

The principles are very straightforward but do ask for real change. And not temporary change either. This is not a diet to try but a change in lifestyle. Not a temporary fix but a long-term shift.

There is no calorie counting and no starving. You can eat lots and loose weight, if you choose the right whole foods. Without the addictive foods in your diet like sugar and caffeine, you won’t get the cravings that ruin many a diet.

But also, diets without exercise are not a solution. Your body is not designed to be a slug. We’re built to be active. Yet lots of exercise without changing what you put in your mouth isn’t a solution either. This is about improving your whole quality of life long term. When you get into the swing of exercise you like, it feels really good. And this doesn’t take long.

If you’d like a metric, under 5,000 steps a day is sedentary. That includes most of us. 10,000 steps brings you an “Active” status. Unforced, it also brings the yummy experience of stepping into “the zone”. The program comes with a pedometer. Worn throughout the day, it will easily track how you’re doing.

CHIP is 18 classes, packed with tips and research to back up the recommendations. A cookbook too. For me, I’ve lost weight, waist size, and feel quite a lot healthier than I have in awhile. And we’re only at class 4. Fun stuff like dancing isn’t exhausting now. I use the car much less. My food bill has dropped markedly. And many are telling me how great I look. While I’m still in the keener phase, I can heartily recommend the program. It’s taught all over North America.
David

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