Five Things You Already Know About Wellness

Monday, April 30, 2018 2:11 PM

All my wellness news feeds lit up this week with articles on research just featured in the journal Circulation published by the American Heart Association. It’s been interesting to see how different news outlets have positioned and summarized the findings.

Titles have run like “Five Ways to Increase Your Life Expectancy” and “Five Healthy Lifestyle Habits Can Extend Life More Than a Decade.”

Most interesting to me is how the research has been positioned as news at all, when I’m pretty sure it’s not news to anyone. More on why that bugs me in a bit.

Straight from the abstract of the study, here is the background: “Americans have a shorter life expectancy compared with residents of almost all other high-income countries. We aim to estimate the impact of lifestyle factors on premature mortality and life expectancy in the US population.”

Here is the conclusion: “Adopting a healthy lifestyle could substantially reduce premature mortality and prolong life expectancy in US adults.”

And here are the five factors that compose a healthy lifestyle: “never smoking, body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m2, ≥30 min/d of moderate to vigorous physical activity, moderate alcohol intake, and a high diet quality score (upper 40%).”

I’ll translate that last one:

  1. Don’t smoke.
  2. Maintain reasonable body weight.
  3. Exercise most every day.
  4. Use booze moderately or not at all.
  5. Eat a good diet.

Turns out these habits may lead to increased life expectancy of 12 to 14 years according to the correlational estimates of this research team from Harvard and other fine institutions. Further, gains in life expectancy appear to be “dosage dependent”—in other words, the more consistently you do these behaviors the better your longevity.

Now here’s what bugs me—two things, really.

Thing one: this isn’t news. No one can or should be surprised by any of it. These findings confirm what is best thought of as common sense or conventional wisdom these days. Now I’m happy and grateful that researchers look into health and lifestyle issues, and if this study changes even one person’s mind, I’m all for it.

But “Americans will die less soon if they adopt healthy lifestyles”? Come on, news organizations—no news here.

Thing two: it’s the wrong question. A better question is this: why don’t we do the things we KNOW we should be doing for our good health and happiness?

That’s the question that has obsessed me for the last decade as a wellness coach. And while I was trained in the social sciences and could go at it from a research perspective, I’m just more interested these days in finding out what works by reading a ton, trying things in my own life and with my own body, and sharing those findings with clients and readers.

Here’s what I’ve found regarding why we don’t do the good health practices we know we should be doing:

  • We haven’t connected these practices to our greater meaning and purpose.
  • We have definitions of these practices that make them unnecessarily hard or unpleasant to do.
  • We have deep beliefs about ourselves and the world that hold us back from doing what is best for us.
  • We don’t know how to put together a plan that actually works in our busy over-committed lives.

Solving these four issues is the whole Easing In Lifestyle approach in a nutshell.

Oh, and a third thing that bugs me about these life expectancy studies: I believe life is more about quality than quantity. And foundational health practices are the best way to improve quality in every aspect of our lives. We find energy and vitality and positivity to apply to everything.

As one of my mentors said, “It’s not about the time you’re here, it’s what you pack into it.”

Today’s take-away:

Do the right things.

Together, let’s end the fight to get fit!