No Health in Us …

-an article for the September 2001 Deep Cove Crier

Growing waiting-lists for needed surgeries remind us of the crisis in our current health system.  One doctor summarized the essence of modern medicine as either removing something (surgery) or putting something in (medication).  All of us want to be healthy.  But do we want to be healthy badly enough to radically change our lifestyles?  Are we willing to give up junk food and start heading to the gym on a regular basis?  Perhaps true health begins when we get out of denial and admit, as the BCP puts it, that ‘there is no health in us.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines ‘health’ as ‘soundness of body, from the West Germanic ‘hailitha’ (whole).  The ‘Canadian Global Almanac 2001’ notes that 25% of Canadians see themselves as having excellent health.  Only 44% of Canadians age 20-64 were an acceptable weight for their height, according to the 1999 ‘Statistical Report of Health of Canadians’.  As someone who just turned age 47, I was sobered to read that twice as many baby-boomers have a weight problem compared to Canadians age 20-24.

During the period from 1985 to 1997, the percentage of overweight Canadian men has gone from 27% to 35% (and from 14% to 23% for women).  I remember having lunch with another man who told me that, in contrast to women, being overweight looked good on men.  Perhaps this kind of rationalization explains why Canadian men are almost twice as likely to have a weight problem as women.  Health Canada research has shown that ‘overweight and obesity are linked to a wide range of health problems, especially cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer’.

There are many other health challenges faced by Canadians than just being overweight.  Twenty-six percent suffer from high chronic stress.  Twenty-eight percent still smoke and despite years of cancer education, smoking tragically seems to be on the rise among female teens.  Nine percent of Canadians consume 14+ drinks per week.

In the face of all these health challenges, only 21% of Canadians are physically active.  Our physical inactivity as Canadians is bearing a huge toll on our health system with each Canadian costing $2,512 in annual health expenditures.

The good news is that it is never too late to turn this around.  I have personally experienced considerable benefits in pain and stress reduction by consistently going to the gym for the past sixteen months.  Statistics Canada reported that "there is accumulating evidence that indicates physical activity may have multiple beneficial physiological and metabolic effects on heart health.  These include ‘advantageous effects on atherosclerosis, plasma lipid/lipoprotein profiles, blood pressure, availability of oxygenated blood for heart muscle needs (ischemia), blood clotting (thrombosis), and heart rhythm disturbances (arrhythmia)."  There are also indications that increased physical activity can help reduce depression through "exercise-induced changes in brain neuroreceptor concentrations of monoamines (norepinephrine, dopamine, or serotonin) or endogenous opiates (endorphins and enkephalins)".

Thank God for the wonderful array of weight rooms and gyms available on the North Shore, especially at Ron Andrews and Parkgate Rec Centres.  The clean, spacious, well-stocked facilities are a tremendous encouragement when one is struggling to get to the gym.

One of my favorite new workout machines is the stationary bike.  I enjoy it because it produces a good warmup and also allows me to read without crashing!  I have recently been experimenting with doing Morning Prayer on the stationary bike.  I have found a real wholeness through this experience by bringing health to my whole person: body, mind, and spirit.  Silently reading the Book of Common Prayer not only makes the workout go much quicker, but also brings my spirit more alive.  It has shown me that both in the physical and the spiritual, we can ‘dissemble and cloke’ our laziness and ‘follow too much the devices and desires of our own hearts’.  Perhaps that is why the Bible says that ‘workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.’ (1 Timothy 4:4 Message Translation)  It’s time to say no to being a spiritual and physical couch-potato!

My prayer for those reading this article is that each of us may find fresh encouragement to get up off our couches and begin a healthy workout of our bodies, minds, and spirits.

The Reverend Ed Hird, Rector, St. Simon’s Anglican Church

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North Vancouver, B.C.