From the Desk of Dr. Wheeler: The Secrets to a Long Life

From earliest times, people have sought the fountain of youth. We have purchased many millions of dollars worth of products, supplements and therapies. We have bought advice books and gone to seminars, asked our doctors and visited other practitioners. But, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, maybe the answers we’re looking for don’t exist outside of ourselves, but inside of our daily lives.

One of the privileges of my work is to be in a position of being able to see how individuals’ choices play out in the long run. There are some patterns I’ve identified in those who’ve enjoyed good health in their eighties and beyond. I’ll let you in on the secrets I’ve discovered. They’re surprisingly simple but profoundly important for having lifelong vibrant health.

  • Regular Exercise. Yeah, I know, but it’s so much more than calories in and calories out. Our bodies are endowed with a lymphatic system, a network of vessels that carry lymphatic fluid. They generally run alongside the circulatory system, but unlike the circulatory system, there is no pump but muscle movement. The lymphatics’ job is to carry toxins from our everyday metabolism and also those that get in from the outside world so we can eliminate these before they cause DNA damage and other harm. This whole design worked well when we were hunters and gatherers, but most of us don’t get enough physical movement these days for adequate lymphatic circulation. I encourage my patients to remember the joy of physical movement they knew as a child and relate that to their exercise of choice. To keep it fresh, mix it up a little and do something different. If you walk for exercise, but don’t want to go out in the cold or rain, put music on and move to it. Remember, for a long healthy life, exercise is more about getting rid of toxins than calories!
  • Eat Clean, Nutrient Dense Foods. Thinking again about our original design, we were made to be outside, picking vegetable matter to eat and supplementing with protein when available. Raw plant foods provide enzymes that help many of the other enzyme systems of our bodies work better, affecting everything from energy production to the immune system. We’ve been designed to store energy from carbs, to use in case of a famine or intense prolonged exercise. The more we shift our diet toward maximizing raw plant type foods and healthy protein, the better we feel. Carbs have a place, but should be more complex carbs, as simple carbs promote inflammation and blood sugar instability. Also, extremely important in this day and age, is to eat organic whenever we have a choice. The agriculture toxins used in pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and hormones in meat and dairy can have a devastating long term impact on our immune and endocrine systems. Just say no to this stuff whenever you can. Also, use a water filter that will remove chemical toxins from your drinking water, as this is another big source of exposure.
  • Stress Management. Notice I didn’t say to avoid stress, as this is unrealistic if you’re alive. Sometimes we do need to change a situation to decrease exposure to stress, and where possible, we should. But as important, maybe even more important, is our response to stress. Much of this has to do with how we identify and relate to the stressor and how it triggers our subconscious mind. Our nervous systems were designed to help us get through the short term stresses we encountered early in our history, such as fighting or getting away from the other tribe or a predator. Long term stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and its ‘fight or flight’ response causes inflammation, endocrine disruption, breakdown of bone and muscle tissue and can even affect changes in the structures of our brain. The Cliff’s notes version: bad for long term health. The same goes for ruminating on upsets we’ve had in the past; it generates all the same stress response and is just as damaging. Holding a grudge is like shooting yourself in the foot. There are groups that help us evaluate and redesign our stress response, such as Conscious Transformation with Joey Klein. Meditation and prayer help us get out of the sympathetic overdrive that we experience under stress and encourage the calming, restorative parasympathetic response. From a calmer place, we can often find creative solutions to problems that we may not have even considered.

So, in the final analysis, the foundation of the healthspan of our lives consists of these three pillars that are common to every person. Each one of these are derived from understanding our fundamental physiology and working with it, not against it. These are things that are under your control and can make the difference between dancing or sitting (or not existing!) when you’re in your later years. Customized treatment programs, the kind practiced at Rock Creek Wellness, is the perfect complement to a conscious, active approach to living a long, healthy life!