Researchers are great at finding correlations between lifestyle and health. Here are four study results you’ve probably seen.
- People who have a drink or two each day live longer.
- People who own pets live longer.
- People who exercise 20 minutes a day live longer.
- Religious people live longer.
What do all four of those lifestyle choices have in common in terms of a possible root cause explanation? Read the list again and see if you can find it. What you’re looking for is some characteristic that is common to the people own pets, exercise regularly, have an occasional drink or two, and practice religion. What could be inferred about all of those people?
I’m interested in your answers because the readers of this blog are good at pattern recognition. You’ll probably come up with several plausible answers. The pattern I noticed is that each of the lifestyle choices directly lowers stress by improving a person’s attitude.
My hypothesis is that stress is the root cause of most health problems.
People use food to self-medicate against stress. So-called comfort food is loaded with fattening carbs and artery-clogging deep fried deliciousness. A person who has a sweet tooth finds peace through dessert. I wonder if obesity is simply a way to identify a person who has trouble handling stress.
To make matters worse, stress makes you lose sleep, and feeling tired causes you to eat too much, say researchers. In so many ways, stress is the root cause of our health problems, either directly or indirectly.
Consider cigarette smokers. I can’t relate to feeling the need for a cigarette, but I would imagine it’s stressful to crave one during a long meeting, or a long flight. No matter how relaxing the smoke break itself is, you pay for it ten times over by needing a cigarette all of the other times. Smoking seems stressful to me. I wonder if the people who can’t quit smoking are the same people who have trouble managing stress in general.
After I’m elected President of the United States, and my advisor, Bill Clinton, is handling all of the hard, wonky stuff, I’ll be reminding citizens to exercise every day. I’ll tell people it is their patriotic duty to manage their own stress through exercise.
Drinking, taking care of a pet, and finding God are activities that don’t work for every person. But mild exercise is something that nearly every person can do. Take a walk, ride a bike, join a gym – do something. And do it every day, to keep your attitude and energy up.
In hard times, we all have to be a little bit smarter, a little more creative, and a little more productive. Your country needs you to actively manage your stress, and to elevate your attitude and your can-do optimism, so you’ll be better equipped to help rebuild the economy.
As a professional humorist, I realize pundits will turn my elegant discussion about the benefits of stress reduction into “That cartoonist idiot says we’ll cure unemployment and lung cancer by jogging.” So just to be clear, all I’m saying is that daily exercise will reduce your stress levels and help your mind and your body. Your country needs you at your best.
[Note to Libertarians: Exercise is still optional. You’re free to be a miserable drag on society if you choose.]