When I was younger I had several misconceptions about health and the human body. The first was an overzealous faith in the state of medical knowledge and the abilities of physicians, the second a belief that taking shelter from the environment was the best way to prevent declines in health.
Death, I initially thought, was simply another name for when people couldn’t get to the doctor in time. Maybe they were stuck somewhere far away or were hurt so badly by an accident that they never made it to the hospital. The hospital was a mystical place where, on the several occasions we visited, people seemed to run around with purpose, always knowing what to do. Every time I went there they seemed to know what to do. While medicine is a fascinating, constantly evolving, and highly dynamic field, the amount that we know is dwarfed by what we do not know. In fact the things that medicine knows with the most certainty is when an intervention is unlikely to work and what is bad for you. For example there is still disagreement of what you should eat in an ideal diet, however we are sure that chips and soda pop are not good for you. We are sure that if someone is found without a pulse or electrical activity in the community, resuscitation efforts are unlikely to be successful. Incredible advances in interventional procedure related to heart attacks, strokes, and bleeds coupled with fantastic therapies for treating formerly life ending infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C make medicine a fantastic field, but there is much to learn and explore. Often it can feel like you are watching people slowly die in the hospital as one organ after another slowly shuts down. Medicine still has a long way to go and much of what can be known has yet to be discovered.
My initial notion was that the toxins from the environment including radiation from the sun, smoke from cigarettes, smog from cars, lead from paint and water, chemicals in your food, and dust in the air accumulated causing the overall decline in health as people aged. I then imagined that the one could live for a much longer time by being put into a coma and laying in a box with filtered air and water and sterile food fed through a tube. While the notion is partially true as smoking, radiation, and chemicals can all limit your health and longevity, health requires much more than that. Beyond genetics and environmental factors, movement is absolutely key. After surgery, or even in people who are bed bound for significant amounts of time, significant complications including blood clots in the legs and lungs, backing up of the gastrointestinal tract, sores from microvascular compression and skin breakdown, not to mention mental decline from not engaging with an interactive environment can all cause problems. Movement and motion is critical to being human and maintaining both the physical and mental person (see Barbara Tversky’s Mind in Motion for more). In reality, my idea of a sterile tube is probably one of the easiest ways to guarantee both a short and an unfulfilling life. You and I were made to move.
So learn from my foolishness. Recognize that medicine is incredible though has limitations. Make movement and activity, in whatever way makes you happy, a part of your life.