Is Healthy Living the Privilege of a Few?

February 11, 2014

In these hard economic times, people are watching their dwindling money do less and less. We also continuously hear about living well, eating naturally and preventing disease. These three basic concepts of a healthy life have taken on the aura of out-of-reach luxury. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While natural lifestyle enthusiast ‘A-listers’ like Gwyneth and Madonna can afford spa treatments, detox sessions, trainers, designer supplements, cosmetics and private chefs, most of us just want to stay out of the emergency room and avoid becoming a statistic. So let’s bust some myths. There is no need for healthy living to be the privilege of the few.

While wellness means different things to different people, I think we can all agree that ‘lifestyle diseases:’ heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and some cancers are directly linked to the poor diet so many of us consume and the unhealthy lifestyles we live. With that as the premise, it stands to reason that diet and lifestyle changes would result in lighter, healthier people all around.

This is not a treatise on eating solely organic foods and hiring a personal trainer to get you fit. It’s about the ease with which you can make better choices that will have an impact on your day to day health. It begins with the commitment to yourself that you want to be healthier, fitter and more vital. Even in the tightest economic circumstances, you can make choices that will prevent you from becoming one of the millions of people who die because of the way they eat and live. From convenience store to supermarket there is just about no excuse to eat poorly and subject your body to the swill being marketed to us by monolithic food corporations.

Let’s tell the truth. Junk food tastes great. It’s loaded with fat, sugar and salt and is specifically designed to make you want more and more of it. And sure, now certain companies are labeling their foods as healthy with little ‘screamers’ telling us that the garbage they sell has some redeeming quality. Make no mistake; all they want is for you to buy more of it, not to make you healthier.

But how do you do it? How do you make choices that create health and don’t break the bank? There are experts who say that there are entire segments of the population with no access to healthy food, no time to exercise and no means to access the basic needs of healthy living.

While there are areas of major cities that do not even have supermarkets, even the most humble corner store contains some food with merit. Having toured these markets in my own city with women from underserved communities, we have been able to make better, if not ideal choices for their families in their circumstances. It takes education and incentive, but to be frank, I have not met one mother, one woman, when faced with the better choice, who has turned up their nose at the idea of healthy food. They just had no idea they had access to it, even in their circumstances.

I also know that you can buy a lot more junk food than you can fresh produce for each dollar you have to spend, but you need to change your mindset. A head of broccoli may cost more than a ‘Happy Meal.’ But you need to consider making the decision to invest in the health of your family now so you are not paying for it later.

And while organic produce is the ideal way to feed your family, it’s often out of reach in cost. A lot of people are working to change that, but in the meantime, buy any veggies you can get your hands on, organic, locally grown or commercially produced. The most important thing for health is that you get fresh produce into your diet. (And yes, I know that the carbon foot print of commercially grown produce is large, but the foot print of junk food consumption and its accompanying health risks seems a lot worse to me.)

Local farm markets, where they exist, can also be a great source of fresh food, regardless of your economic circumstances. You can skip the artisanal bread, cheese and honey, but head straight to the fresh fruits and veggies and you’ll get your money’s worth. The same holds true in any supermarket. Hit the produce section and you can load your cart with foods that are delicious, nutritious and will feed your family with food that will fill their bellies and support their health. From good quality oils to nuts, beans, fresh fruit, vegetables, breads and even whole grains, you can find it in a supermarket…at largely affordable prices.

With all that fresh produce now in your shopping cart, you need to cook, as much as you can. While dinner in a bucket, ‘Happy Meals’ and home-delivered pizza is easy and often cheap, if you want to live a healthy life, you need to walk your butt into the kitchen and cook dinner…at least four or five times a week. Make the time and eat together. Your life will change for the better in ways you can’t imagine. From sleeping well to kids with better focus at school, home-cooked meals are life-changing.

And then there’s exercise. Not all of us can afford gym memberships, Pilates and yoga classes or personal trainers, but all of us have the means to do something active. From walking to work to riding a bike to playing outside with your kids to sweeping the street on your block, you can find a way. I don’t believe in the idea that there is no time to exercise. Taking a walk is cheap, easy and might even allow you to de-stress and take a different view of your life’s circumstances. It’s the rare individual who can’t find time for a 20-minute walk each day. Yes, it means turning off the television and video games, but it means your health. And if your argument is that you are too tired to take a walk, get past that. Try it for a week. You’ll find that you have more energy, more stamina, the fitter you become. You can’t lose anything (except your gut) by taking a walk.

Healthy living runs the risk of becoming yet another liberal, elitist trend, looked down on by the mainstream. That would be tragic. Rather than complicate this issue and cloud the reality with studies and statistics, I suggest we help people understand ways that they can make better choices in their circumstances. We can wave the white flag of defeat and say that we are doomed to be an unhealthy, out-of-shape nation because of the economic circumstances…or we can vote with our forks for better food and health…and take a walk.