Inflammation is defined as a condition in which part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot and often painful, especially as a reaction to injury or infection. This seems to be the perfect personification of what’s currently happening to the environment and landscape, forest fires (red, hot), coastal flooding (swollen) mass extinction (we may not feel the pain yet but it’s coming).
There’s a popular debate over whether preservation or conservation of the natural world is best approach to offset these negative changes and create a world that fosters human, animal and plant life into the next few decades.
Another common area of conjecture across the healthcare industry, is that physicians are actually ‘fixing’ people rather than guiding a patient on their path back to health.
These two topics seem to be utterly unconnected, but when we look below the surface we start to see that there are more than enough dots to connect in order to build the foundation for an idea I call health conservation.
When a doctor or therapist helps guide a patient out of pain or disease and to improved function, they are merely helping that person better adapt to their current environment.
Gray Cook is a physical therapist that has spoken at length about shifting a patient’s environment to allow for injury limitation and more appropriate adaptation toward a specified goal. This environment is usually thought of as the immediate daily inputs, i.e. food, positions, movements, furniture, rest, recovery, hydration, etc…
Why are we not accounting for the ACTUAL environment.
The natural world, as a whole or in a particular geographical area, especially as affected by human activity.
We tend to change our immediate surroundings and personal inputs, but just as our movement output is preceded by neurologic input, our personal environment is predominantly determined by THE environment at large.
The air we breathe, the water we drink, the natural light we are exposed to (or, the quality of food we eat…all of these things will determine exactly to what degree we are able to alter our personal environment.
What if I decide to focus on improving my hydration protocol, but my local water supply is barely potable?
What if I want to take up the ‘eat what you kill’ ideology, but when I hit the forest looking for a tasty little critter, the habitat has been so disturbed by urbanization and industrialization that none are to be found?
What if I want to start eating more fruits and vegetables, but my ability to obtain locally sourced fruits and vegetables has be disturbed due to cross-contamination with non-organic farms, or the crops were devastated by drought or wildfires?
What if I sign up for that marathon and begin training, but every time I step outside to run my Air Quality Index is in the purple or maroon?
It is human nature to focus on our immediate needs and environment first, then we are allowed the luxury of altruism. This follows the Maslowian hierarchy that helps us conceptualize or maybe just simply rationalize a ME first approach in life. Although humans did not start off with this personal drive for numero uno. For millennia Homo sapiens were a tribal hominid that not only preferred putting the needs of others first, it was actually crucial to survival of the species.
From taking down a woolly mammoth, to co-parenting the tribes children, a non-nuclear approach to life has long been key to our survival. As we have spread across every continent, rapidly developed technology and continued to consume our Earth’s resources at break-neck speeds, each individual within the organism known as the human race has somehow lost their way along with their health.
Have we have forgotten that we are not the only living thing here? Need we be reminded that we still reside on this rock hurtling around the sun with almost 400,000 species of plants and 8.7 million species of animals. We turn a blind eye to the fact that over the course of the last 50 years, a third of the species on this planet have become extinct. We also maintain blissful ignorance that we are currently operating at 150% capacity of what our planet can maintain in the next two decades (link to Forbes article).
Are you asking yourself, WHAT IN THEE HELL does all this have to human health?
Well, good luck fostering better health when the organism you live upon and draw sustenance from is adapting in a way that is becoming more and more volatile for humans to reside upon and within.
I firmly believe that the answer to the ‘5 Why’s’ of fixing human health as well as the environmental crisis at hand lies in the simple concept of mutualistic symbiosis. Put in other words, your personal health is symbiotic with with the planet’s health and vice versa.
Now there are three types of symbiotic relationships.
Mutualism - both organisms benefit, a good example of this is would be an oxpecker (it’s a bird ya’ filthy animal) and a zebra.
Commensalism - one organism is benefited while the other is neither harmed or helped, this would be the case of a remora and a great white shark.
Parasitic - one organism benefits while the other his harmed or killed, our current relationship with the planet.
A shift from a parasitic symbiosis to one of mutualism would echo the thought processes of a conservationist. The conservationist mindset is that we absolutely use the resources of the planet, therefore it is our responsibility to conserve as well as cultivate those resources. With this type of paradigm in place it becomes extremely difficult to maintain an unhealthy lifestyle when you have to grow your own food, support local farms, stop buying shit you don’t need, ,break your reliance on fossil fuels, aid in protecting local waterways and generally clean up after yourself.
The idea of conserving your health rather than taking a reactive approach to treating disease and injury is the exact same concept. The industry may label it differently; wellness, preventative, longevity medicine, etc… No matter what the descriptor is, the movement in healthcare to a more proactive mindset that is focused on maximizing health and vitality and reducing overall expenditures both fiscally and environmentally.
Any way you look at the issue, something needs to change. For those people who have either been decidedly bull-headed about the issue of climate change, the latest report from the Trump administration lays out a bleak future if a shift in our ways doesn’t happen lickety-split. Here is a link to the full 1,656 page assessment (Fourth National Climate Assessment).
The Great Law of the Iroquois urges people to look beyond the effect of their actions on today, instead ask how will this affect people seven generations from now. I leave you with the charge to live deliberately and intentionally, conserve your health and our environment; for yourself, for me and for many generations yet to come.