I was having a great conversation on That Paleo Show the other day with a guy by the name of Paul Thompson (aka The Barefoot Podiatrist) about our health care system and why we seem to be so keen to go for the quick fix, the bandaid solution rather than try and resolve the underlying issues. As we discussed the various mechanics of consumer demand, our education system (including our health practitioner education system) and the external influences of Government and commercial enterprises it really got me thinking. Is it just these external factors that are pushing us towards seeking quick fixes or is there something else going on.

The more I thought about it the more I was drawn towards one conclusion. The reason we are drawn towards these short term solutions is actually the very reason we are unwell in the first place and it is all to do with stress.

Our modern lives are stressful. Maybe not in the way that a hunter gatherer was stressed out (being chased around by a sabre toothed tiger) but chronically stressful.

Physically – We sit far more than we are designed to. Statistics say that the average office worker sits for more than 16 hours a day! Even when we do move it is often in unnatural ways, on unnatural machines or surfaces and wearing unnatural shoes. This is not what our body was designed to do!

Chemically – You only need to walk into a supermarket and ask yourself ‘what of this food would have been around when my grandmother was born?’, let alone my hunter gather ancestors. These foods are incongruent to our biology and hence can be stressful to our body.

Emotionally – Whilst the sabre toothed tiger would have been super stressful, I am tipping that the encounter wouldn’t have lasted too long. You would either fight or flight ( I’d be running) and you would either get away or you wouldn’t. If you survived the movement would actually help you switch off the stress response again and return to normal. Our modern stressors like time, money, work, loneliness and societal pressures tend to be much longer lasting keeping that stress response going way longer than it is designed to be used for.

The net result of this is that our stress response is elevated for way longer than it is designed to be. This has a plethora of implications when it comes to our health. The stress response leads to increased blood pressure, increased blood sugar, increased anxiety and decreased cellular immunity just to name a few.Doesn’t sound like a recipe for great health does it?

But what does this have to do with our decision making around health?

Not only does this stressful lifestyle lead to ill health, it may actually be preventing us from the very long term thinking about the way we eat, think and move that might help us undo all of that damage.

You see another effect of the stress response is that, in sending us into fight and flight, it activates the most primitive part of our brain (often referred to as the Lizard Brain) at the expense of the most evolved part of our brain. Your lizard brain is the part of your brain that is designed to keep you safe in a crisis. It thinks simply, it think instinctively and it think quickly (often falling back on very well ingrained learnt habits). It doesn’t think about the long term consequences,it only wants to survive the current crisis and live to fight another day. Just what you need if you want to have a chance of escaping the Sabre Toothed Tiger or an acute health care crisis. Not so good if you want to find a long term solution to a chronic lifestyle related health crisis.

So we get stuck in a catch 22. We find it hard to invest the time and effort to change our chronically stressful lifestyles because our stressed out brain is screaming out to us to forget the long term consequences so we can deal with the current crisis and we find it hard to de-stress our brain because of our chronically stressful lifestyles.

So what is the answer…?

Maybe you need to do both?

You can still go for the band aid solution to help you get through the day or to survive the crisis if you need to. Be it a pill or a cream or a food.

But at the same time you need to look at making some sustainable lifestyle changes, one small step at a time so that you can positively influence the stressed state that your body and mind is in and avoid ending up in the same situation over and over again.

The good news is that each step you take helps your body move back out of fight and flight. It helps turn off your lizard brain and switch back on your frontal cortex so that taking a long term perspective and doing what is right for the future (as well as the now) gets easier and easier.

P.s. did you know that one of the best ways to switch back off the stress response is movement? When you move it fires little nerves endings in your body called proprioceptors that send messages back to your brain and help it de-stress.

Did you also know that 80% of those proprioceptors are in your spine?

If you are in Adelaide and want to get your spine and nervous system checked then you can click here to get a voucher for a $20 initial examination with me. If you are not you can send me an email and I will help you find someone great close to home.