We All Die

We All Die…

While it may sound slightly morbid to lead with the heading “We All Die,” we all know this to be true. I’m a big believer in a lifestyle that promotes health and long life but no matter what we do there will eventually come a time when we will no longer be alive on this earth.

There are things almost everybody agrees on when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. It helps us to eat well, it helps us to sleep well, it helps us to exercise regularly. We know these things. Few of us do these things. We often need help and motivation to do them.

But even if we do all these things we all die at some point. A healthy lifestyle reduces the chances of early death but it does not eliminate them. We can do everything, or most things, right – that are in our healthy best interest, and still die earlier than we’d hoped.

We could get hit by the proverbial bus or we might have a body that, despite our best efforts, is challenged in a way that does not lend itself to longevity. I recently read a report that children who have survived cancer have several times the normal risk of developing cancer again. In fact, children who survive cancer generally die younger than the average age of mortality.

As someone who had cancer when he was 13 (and again at 39) this idea is particularly sobering. What I believe is that my healthy lifestyle choices will help me increase the odds of a longer and healthier life, but I know there is no guarantee. That guarantee may be especially true for people like me but it is true for most of us. Most of us are unprepared for death, an event we know will come, though the specific time and place is often unknown.

While it is hard on the person who dies, it is also difficult for the people who remain. To make it easier on those people who loved and cared for us, I hope you’ll consider immediately doing the following things:

Make or update a will: We all know we should have a will. Make sure you do and make sure your wishes are explicitly known to others. Make sure your companion animals are cared for. Support your causes. My suggestion would be to use an attorney for this but there are also websites and books that will help you get things in order.

Create an Advanced Care Directive: This may be called a medical power of attorney but get this done so people know how you want your end of life issues handled. Do you want to be resuscitated? Do you want every possible thing done in an attempt to keep you alive? Leaving these questions open is not only irresponsible, I might go so far as to say it is selfish. It takes little time, little cost, so just get it done. Relying on others to make these decisions and hope they get it right puts a huge burden on those left behind. This website may be helpful. 

Make a List of Passwords: We are all connected to everything these days via passwords. Our bank accounts, our credit cards, our mortgages, email, social media, etc. etc…If you leave this life suddenly and those left behind do not know about or have access to your accounts it will be more difficult to get these things in order.

Finally, make sure your beneficiary information is up to date. You should be able to make sure retirement, medical or insurance policies go to who you want especially if these wishes are different than what the state would do in your place.

We do not, I do not, like to talk about that time when we will no longer be here. Yet, we all die. I hope you will get good rest, exercise often and eat in a way that truly nourishes you. But I also hope you will get your house in order. Your loved ones will thank you.

This website may also be of help. Anyone want to guess at the website’s acronym?

Until next time, I’m…

Wishing you well,

Russell


Rev. Russell Elleven, DMin, BCC, CWP is a Board Certified Coach and Certified Wellness Practitioner. He helps individuals obtain health and wellbeing through his coaching practice The Minister of Health, LLC and through congregational work as the executive director of The Genesis 1:29 Project.


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Bad Habits

“We love to hear good things about our bad habits,” said Dr. John McDougall. I was sitting in a class he was teaching at a retreat in Santa Rosa, California. About 40 other people were there learning how to eat in a way that helped us be healthier. 

I do think we like to hear good things about the habits we may instinctively know are bad for us. Think about all the hubbub that occurred when Time magazine declared we could once again “Eat Butter.” We love butter. It is thick and creamy, it adds a flavor many of us crave, we cook in it, we bake with it, we slather it on foods which are otherwise healthy.

The bad news is that when you ask real nutrition experts there is a great deal of consensus that butter is not a health food. I think most people know that but we love to hear good things about our bad habits.

There is also a great deal of ink spilled on the benefits of alcohol. You mostly hear this about red wine but articles are also written about how the type of alcohol doesn’t matter. As long as you keep your drinking to one or two there may be some health benefits. I’d like to emphasize the word “may” in that last sentence. It appears we are drinking more than we used to (link), that the studies of alcohol’s benefits can be confusing or downright misleading (link), and that drinking too much alcohol can lead to a variety of cancers and other major health risks (link). 

But because we love to hear good things about our bad habits we will look for and latch on to most any article that touts the benefits to alcohol. We’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve just completed reading a fascinating book titled, “Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol.” The writer is definitely pro-alcohol and provides a spectacular commentary of boozing through the ages. If you are like me and enjoy this kind of cultural examination I would highly recommend the book to you. You will laugh out loud at some things, be surprised, saddened, and offended at others.

Although I don’t believe the author intended this, he has shown how we, again and again, look for good news about our bad habits. And there *may* be some health benefits for someone who drinks very moderately. But it may just be that someone who drinks very moderately has a lot of other healthy behaviors which contribute more to their health than the red wine. They may actually be healthy *in spite of* alcohol consumption. 

You may remember I’m infatuated by The Blue Zones, a book that looks at small geographic regions which have within them the largest numbers of people who live to the age of 100 and beyond. Most of these people do moderately drink alcohol (mostly a locally produced red wine). But they also have many other healthy behaviors which contribute to long life. And there is one Blue Zone, in Loma Linda, California (the only blue zone in the U.S.) overwhelmingly populated by Seventh Day Adventists. This population completely abstains from alcohol so clearly booze is not required for a long and healthy life.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should never drink alcohol, that you must be a teetotaler in order to be healthy. Just as the majority of people living in Blue Zones drink alcohol and live a long life so can most of us. I’ll also not say you should never have a (vegan) cupcake with (vegan) butter because you’ll ruin your health. I suggest these are treats some folks in good health might enjoy occasionally. If you eat too many cupcakes or use too much butter then health is generally compromised. The same is true for alcohol. Used occasionally and moderately it may not be too harmful. Drinking alcohol too much and too often is detrimental to health. 

Not only are we looking for good things about our bad habits we are fond of trying to find the Silver Bullet for health. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. Good health today, in our current environment, takes hard work, dedication, and determination. It’s difficult, partly because alcohol and cupcakes and butter are so enticing. Additionally, there are no health guarantees even if you do everything “right.”

But at the end of the day, and at the end of my time here on this earth, I want to be able to say I tried to the best of my ability to make the health affirming decision. I wasn’t always perfect. I didn’t always choose what I knew to be the better choice. Yet, on most days, most of the time, I mostly chose the healthy path.

I hope you’ll let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Until next time, I’m…

Wishing you well,

Russell


Rev. Russell Elleven, DMin, BCC, CWP is a Board Certified Coach and Certified Wellness Practitioner. He helps individuals obtain health and wellbeing through his coaching practice The Minister of Health, LLC and through congregational work as the executive director of The Genesis 1:29 Project.


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Love Is All You Need?

As I kissed my wife goodbye and headed to the airport I was, once again, thankful for the wonderful relationship we have. There has been a lot of traveling lately. Both of us headed in different geographical locations but, thankfully, not in different emotional directions. Even our 25th wedding anniversary took a backseat this year (we will be celebrating in Vancouver, BC later) because of international meetings, conferences, and presentations at professional meetings. We both work hard, she more so than I, but we both know we can count on the other for support. This is part of the reason I took an old book along with me during one of my latest trips. It was Dr. Dean Ornish’s book titled, Love and Survival: 8 Pathways to Intimacy and Health.

Now, if you are like me, when you hear the name “Dean Ornish” you think of the well-known health and lifestyle physician, most famous for his work in reversing heart disease with a plant-based vegetarian diet, meditation, and mild exercise. There are many physicians today who understand his work (though most do not) and are now suggesting plant-based vegan diets and lifestyles to their patients for better overall health. Dr. Ornish, though not the first to publish research in this area, is the first person who became well-known for doing so.

The book I have was published way back in 1999 and I have to say, it’s not a book I would highly recommend. Not because he didn’t make a good case for love being an important (if not the most important) indicator for overall health and as something that, when strongly present, lowers risk of all causes of mortality – he did. It’s just that he did it so well, I found myself thinking, “Alright already – I get it! Love is good for the soul and the body…”

What Ornish writes about most in the book is the loving relations that come within good marriages. However, he also makes it clear that marriage is not the only place where love can be found. I’d also like to say that “love” is not the only word we should be using. Strong and constant “support” can also be of great aid for our emotional and physical wellbeing.

The opposite of these positive relations are those lives lived in isolation, some (like Thoreau) might say lives of quiet desperation. You need not be living alone on Walden’s Pond to feel alone. You can live in the big city, you might work at a firm with hundreds of employees, the geographical location is not of great importance for those who are isolated. It is the lack of support where we find ourselves to be most vulnerable.

My sense is that most of the people who read these posts are not isolated individuals. Most comments I’ve received lead me to believe many are in good relationships, are connected to community, and receive support, if not all the time, when it is needed.

I’m very fortunate that when I come home from my travels, or my spouse comes back from hers, we are able to pick up where we left off, that we do not question the support of the other, and that we are (most often) headed in the same direction. While love may not be ALL we need, it is a great gift nonetheless when present. 

I’d be very interested to hear what steps you might take if you found yourself living an isolated life. Please do me the favor of using the comments section below so others, who might be isolated, can read your ideas.

Until next time, I’m…

Wishing you well,

Russell


Rev. Russell Elleven, DMin, BCC, CWP is a Board Certified Coach and Certified Wellness Practitioner. He helps individuals obtain health and wellbeing through his coaching practice The Minister of Health, LLC and through congregational work as the executive director of The Genesis 1:29 Project.


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Excuses!

Hey Everybody!

I know it’s been a while since my last post. My apologies! I have two excuses, and they are just that, excuses. The first excuse is that my spouse and I are in the middle of moving back to Chicago from Puerto Rico. There is a great deal still left to do but I am certain when I write again I will be doing so from the Windy City.

The second reason I’ve not communicated in a while is that I’ve actually been in the Chicago area getting our place in order so we can move back. But more importantly, I was able to conduct my first Healthy Basics cooking class series at a congregation just outside of Chicago. It was a wonderful experience and getting that first series of classes under my belt was a huge boost to my confidence. It was definitely a challenge to conduct a cooking class with only one arm but I also now know it is entirely doable.

Here is a picture of the lovely participants:

In the class I shared the idea of Hara Hachi Bu. Have you heard of this?

As some of you may remember from other posts, I’m completely enamored with the concept pf Blue Zones. Blue Zones are those places in the world where the inhabitants have a greater proportion of people living to be 100 years old.

There have been five regions identified as Blue Zones but the most famous of these is Okinawa, Japan. They have a saying in Okinawa, born out of Confucianism, that is roughly translated into English as “Eat until you are eight parts (80%) full.”

Hara Hachi Bu…

This ancient wisdom reminds us of the physiology we are familiar with today. You probably already know this but the indicators which tell us we are full from eating are not immediately received by our brain. There is actually a delay of time between the stretching of our stomach walls that occurs when we eat until those signals suggest to our brain that we are full and should stop eating. We are, very likely in most cases, eating more than we should because we continue to eat during this signal delay.

The Okinawans must have figured this out ages ago by eating until they are 80% full. While they  still easily get their nutritional needs met, they stop eating before the “full” messages reach the brain. This makes overeating much more difficult. Ingenious!

This is also, I believe, the reason we should eat more slowly. If we eat more slowly, and the stomach stretching begins, there is an opportunity for this signal of fullness to reach our brain prior to overeating. I’ll be the first to admit I have difficulties eating slowly (mindfully) but I think there is good reason to do so.

Well anyway, I was nervous about teaching the classes but am very glad I did. I think sharing the ideas of healthy eating will be something I’ll enjoy even more as my experience grows.

I’d love it if you would consider sharing something have you done in the past that may have been  difficult but you found greatly rewarding after it was all said and done? Please use the comments section below. If you reply to this message it often winds up in my spam folder.

Until next time, I’m…

Wishing you well,

Russell


Rev. Russell Elleven, DMin, BCC, CWP is a Board Certified Coach and Certified Wellness Practitioner. He helps individuals obtain health and wellbeing through his coaching practice The Minister of Health, LLC and through congregational work as the executive director of The Genesis 1:29 Project.


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You Have High Blood Pressure

It is a phrase people in the United States hear all too often, “You have high blood pressure.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 75 million adults in the US, approximately 1/3 of the population, have high blood pressure. Another 1/3 has what physicians call prehypertension, numbers higher than normal but which have yet to reach official high blood pressure (HBP). Additionally, the CDC says over 1,000 deaths occur in the US each day which are attributable to HBP and that we, as a nation, spend well over $48 billion dollars each year on this problem.

Like carrying too much weight, having high blood pressure (or almost having high blood pressure) has become the norm. Most of us will to have to deal with the effects of HBP unless we do something about it.

But isn’t HBP going to occur anyway as we age, you might ask? The answer is no, it doesn’t always have to be that way. Scientists looked for a culture which ate well and exercised. The people studied lived in a remote area and did not have modern electrical or mechanical conveniences. They had to do things by hand and, because of this, movement (i.e. exercise) was part of their everyday existence.

These people rarely had high blood pressure. In fact, their blood pressure often lowered as they aged!

So, high blood pressure is not inevitable. But with our modern lifestyle of convenience most people will deal with HPB. We all know we must eat right and exercise in order to keep blood pressure normal but who has time for that?

I hope you do. Just taking a pill does not really fix the problem very well and those pills often come with side effects. The side effects are such that doctors report a great deal of noncompliance in taking the medication because having high blood pressure doesn’t make us feel as bad as the pills do. You probably already know that HBP is referred to as “The Silent Killer” because we do not often feel poorly because of high blood pressure.

I struggle with this myself. For years my blood pressure was perfect. There was never an issue. I ate well, almost all vegetables, whole grains, fruits and nuts and seeds. I exercised, much of that time I rode a recumbent bicycle many miles four or five days a week.

But then my life circumstances changed and I moved from Texas to Illinois. There are many days (months even) where I have no desire to ride my bike out in the cold weather of the North Shore of Chicago. And while I continued to eat well, my blood pressure started to rise. Now I know I must do both in order to keep the pills away and it serves as great motivation for me. There may come a day when I must take some form of HBP medication but that day will not come without a fight.

There are other things we can do to naturally lower our blood pressure. I have two books that might be of interest. The first is called, Thirty Days to Natural Blood Pressure Control. It is a very interesting and helpful book based on science. However, the authors are committed Christians and a portion of the book talks about how The Beatitudes of Jesus can be used for blood pressure control. I found this fascinating but other may not. So, I’ve also provided the Mayo Clinic’s, 5 Steps to Controlling High Blood Pressure (2nd Edition). This book has much of the same science and strategies but without the religious overtones.

If you have high blood pressure, you can almost certainly lessen or even eliminate the need for medication by doing some pretty simple things – things you know you should be doing anyway. Yes, it takes effort but the results are very satisfying. I love working with people who change habits which ultimately changes their lives. If you do not have high blood pressure then keep up the good work. One of these books might very well still be good for you to pick up and read. I’ll be rooting for you either way!

Until next time I’m…

Wishing you well,

Russell


Rev. Russell Elleven, DMin, BCC, CWP is a Board Certified Coach and Certified Wellness Practitioner. He helps individuals obtain health and wellbeing through his coaching practice The Minister of Health, LLC and through congregational work as the executive director of The Genesis 1:29 Project.


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