It is no secret that people today are more unhealthy than they have ever been considering our overall economic affluence. If you listen to the radio or watch the news, there is always a new statistic about how diabetes among children is increasing, that cancer is now the leading cause of death and that 1 in every 50 children are autistic. While it is tragic that such a prosperous country is so unhealthy, I also believe this ‘national health crisis’ is the precise reason why there is a resurgence of health conscious people. The natural health industry is exploding. Now that is something to hope for.
People are slowly, but finally waking to the fact that they are the drivers when it comes to their health. Not only are they choosing healthier foods to eat, they are even questioning the Canadian food guide, they are asking what is in their food as well as how it is processed and packaged. We as a people are realizing that we are largely the creators of our health. This wild and beautiful idea of taking responsibility for your health has a name and it’s been around for awhile; it is called Active Health Care.
Obviously, we all know smoking is not a great way to avoid lung cancer and eating at McDonald’s each day is not heart healthy. Yet the idea that serious diseases like cancer or heart disease is anything but a result of the ‘genetic lottery’ never occurred to many of us until now. We believed health or disease happened to us and the doctor would take care of our health—or lack thereof. This is Passive Health Care. Seeking out professional advice or treatment is one thing. But when we do not take an active role in nurturing the unique and individual needs of our bodies we are setting ourselves up for a life of chronic health issues. When we teach Sex Ed to students the common mantra is ‘Your body, your responsibility.” We need to remember the same is true of overall health—not simply avoiding STI’s and unplanned pregnancies.
Several years ago I was doing some research about health care in the 1930’s and this is where I came across the terms Active and Passive Health Care. I was amazed and inspired to read how much our philosophy towards health care has changed. In the 1930’s, people regarded health as one of the great blessings in life and one which needed to be protected dearly. Health was prayed for and offered as a blessing constantly, whether it was a short journey, a wedding toast or a New Year. Watch the old movies or read any historical fiction and you will quickly see how closely one guarded their health. Before the mainstream medical community came into power in the 1930’s, the prevailing philosophy was that the individual was the main caretaker of their health and they had to have an active role in their own healthcare. They sought out a doctor only when they had exhausted all of their active healthcare tools.
Before free health care was readily available throughout Canada a doctor’s visit was extremely costly for most people. More than that however, people took more responsibility for their health because they understood that not doing so could cost them their job (in a time when there were no unions or social assistance) and they could therefore lose their house, their farm, everything they worked for, even their children—not to mention their life. Children and young adults alike could die from a seemingly innocent illness like a flu or cold if they did not take care right away. If they had a cold or flu, they stayed home and rested up instead of going out. They didn’t have the luxury of modern medicine, its antibiotics and other medical advances to fall back on.
Taking responsibility for their health was their only choice. I used to volunteer at a home for the elderly. If you have ever had the privilege of spending any amount of time with old people you will have heard (sometimes annoyingly) their snippets of precautions not to go out with wet hair, to make sure you wear a hat, to stay in and rest up instead of overworking yourself and to make sure you eat your vegetables or your chicken soup. What seems like unnecessary fussing and paranoia to us was precaution, responsibility and common sense to them. As an advocate of Active Health Care I can now appreciate that the elderly have a wisdom, a sense of personal accountability for their health that I had never considered as a child or young adult. I had been raised in the generation of Passive Health Care, as had my parents generation–but to a lesser extent.
As far as most of us are concerned health is really not something that we think about—until it is failing. Most of us view health as a random ‘happening’. If we come down with a flu or cold many of us carry on (taking our Neo Citron and Gravol) knowing if things get really bad we can always see our family doctor or visit the emergency room at no additional cost. Unfortunately, we don’t just have this attitude with minor things like the cold and flu. We have this attitude with all matters of health today. Most of us don’t worry about becoming deathly ill because the fact is that most of us don’t die prematurely. No, it seems today we have a different beast. We become chronically ill. We have a vast array of disorders that were practically unheard of until recent times. Ask any elderly person if there was the epidemic of auto-immune disorders in their time. If you don’t find them to be a reliable source of information. Look at the statistics. These days it seems everyone has something, whether it is IBS, Crohns, Diabetes, MS, Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Autism, Infertility, ADHD, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome—need I continue?
Thankfully, we are at a crossroads and many of us are choosing Active Health Care as we buy real food over processed food, choose Yoga and Zumba over TV and practice preventative measures instead of running for the cure. We are learning that it is no accident that as our food became more processed and our lifestyles more toxic our overall health as a nation declined as well. It seems that the old dead Greek philosopher, Hippocrates, from centuries ago had something right when he said “Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”