Effects of lifestyle changes on health

Effects of lifestyle changes on health

by Sanjay B

Real comfort and happiness is experienced when we are in a sound health. Although modern man has developed sophisticated machines, medical equipments and powerful medicines, he is deprived of health and therefore he is far away from happiness. He has conquered the diseases like typhoid, malaria, leprosy, tuberculosis, small pox etc. by inventing antibiotics but he is still struggling to control diseases such as hypertension, insomnia, heart disease, diabetes, asthma where the cause of disease is not a particular germ or bacteria but the mental tensions or the stress due to our faulty lifestyle.In a quest to achieve more pleasure and happiness we adopt a wrong lifestyle and increase the risk factor and stress in our life. Our Rishis and Munis (saints) have given specific guidelines through Ayurveda and yoga and have suggested an ideal daily routine (Dinacharya) and also the life style as per the seasonal changes (Rituchorya) so as to maintain a perfect healthy condition. Scientific studies have revealed that the appropriate change in lifestyle can even reverse the process of heart disease and enhance the healing potential in the human body. Yoga was a part of life style in India from the ancient time to promote and maintain healthy state of body, mind and happiness.

In the present paper, these scientific evidences have been presented to make people realize the significance of a proper life style for health and happiness, instead of depending merely on the drugs. An ideal lifestyle includes moderation in exercise and /or yoga, diet, sleep, physical and mental relaxation, positive thinking and cultivation of a proper mental attitude.

The man has been trying his best to bring more and more comfort and happiness to his life by discovering various devices so as to get the work done in minimum time and with least physical efforts and expenditure of energy. He has also invented sophisticated medical equipment as well as powerful medicines for the accurate diagnosis and cure.

He has conquered diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid, small pox, leprosy etc. through vaccines and antibiotics. In spite of the well-developed modern technology, the happiness is far away from him. The life has become so fast and full of competition that it has disturbed the peace of mind. Instead of pleasure and comfort he is suffering from hypertension, insomnia, heart disease, diabetes, asthma where the cause is not the germ or bacteria but the restless and tense mind which gives rise to stress. It is mainly due to wrong ideas about comfort, entertainment and the happiness. For more happiness and pleasure more money is required which compels him to work more. While doing so he adopts a wrong life-style that leads him ultimately to exhaustion, stress and unhappiness. Various studies indicate that chronic emotional stress disturbs the blood pressure mechanism and cholesterol level. Various scientific studies have revealed that appropriate changes in the life style on the basis of yogic principles can even reverse the heart disease and would help us in maintaining our healthy state of body and mind and to prevent such stress disorders.

What is life style?

The way we eat, perform exercise, take rest, play, behave with others, think, plan, drive a vehicle, sleep, carry out our routine work and commitments and the total living style etc. are all included in the term ‘lifestyle’. It is true that our routine work and day today life depends on various environmental factors such as social, political, economical, ecological, family background. When the basic necessities are not easily fulfilled, it is but natural that the man would try different strategies to achieve them. Our time schedule for working hours, rest, eating habits, concepts of entertainment and comfort and the nature of the people around us would change the mode of our life pattern. Today we hardly find time to pay attention to our health unless something goes wrong with it. Our values for our own health care, job, self esteem, relationships with our family members and others would change totally when we adopt this fast and competitive lifestyle. On one hand we try to be more comfortable and on the other we face the challenging situations in our life. When the result of the adopted lifestyle is not as per the expectations, modern man adopts an easy way of escapism by taking narcotics like tobacco, cigarette smoking, charas or ganja, alcohol and soon becomes addicted to these drugs. The lifestyle which leads to more and more tensions and unhappiness as well as psychosomatic ailments like heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, asthma, depression etc., is definitely an improper lifestyle.

Effect of improper lifestyle – stress

The word “improper lifestyle” indicates irregularity in all the components of the lifestyle, particularly the food habits (junk food consumption), insufficient sleep or rest and hyper-reactivity to every stimulus as well as poor interpersonal relationship and no control on emotions. Luxurious lifestyle increases laziness, lack of exercise on one hand and occupational hazards due to tight schedule and mental pressure on the other. Dr. Brown and Goldstein have mentioned that a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol produces double trouble ie. it will saturate the receptors and also decrease the number of receptors which metabolize and remove cholesterol from the blood stream. These lifestyle factors can activate all the mechanisms, known to cause coronary heart disease and heart attacks. In other words, what we eat, how much we exercise, whether or not we consume tobacco, alcohol or other drugs, how much do we relax, will affect our ability to respond to stress. Our inner environment is conditioned by nature to cope with an acute stress better than a chronic stress. Emotional stress is mostly chronic in nature. When an individual is struggling hard to meet his basic life demands and living such irregular life, he is more susceptible to emotional stress due to failure or frustration. A recent study of Dr. Peter Schnall revealed that workers who faced high psychological demands without having control over day to day decisions had 3 times more risk of high blood pressure and had thickened or enlarged hearts.

When our stress mechanism is chronically affected, the same response which is supposed to protect us in danger now becomes harmful as we do not relax and come to the base line or the normal level. The levels of adrenaline and nor adrenaline remain high, causing anxiety, insomnia, spasm of the coronary artery, increased levels of Cortisol which build up the blockages in the arteries more rapidly. After a few years of continuation of this lifestyle, when the body is unable to tolerate, the immune system is greatly impaired and therefore the natural body resistance to the infectious diseases is reduced. Most of the muscles including the large muscles and the smooth muscles of the alimentary system, the coronary arteries and even the fibers of the heart muscle constrict due to chronic or intense emotional stress. Dr. Jay Kaplan and his colleagues found in their study on cynomolgus monkeys that they developed coronary artery blockages due to emotional stress. These monkeys, in their social organization, are aware of their social rank or status just like humans.

In hypertension, the blood hits the side of the arterial wall with increased force (due to high blood pressure), thereby causing injury to the lining of the artery and in response to these injuries blockages begin to form.

Recent studies of Dr. Judith Ockene show that the lining of normal coronary arteries produces a substance, known as Endothelium-derived relaxation factor (EDRF) which dilates the coronary artery, even during the exercises, allowing more blood-flow to the heart. When the lining of the coronary arteries is damaged by atherosclerosis, the production of EDRF is reduced. Now the arteries cannot relax, on the other hand constrict during the exercise under the sympathetic dominance and reduce coronary blood flow. Smoking also reduces release of EDRF. In such a situation, it is likely that the artery will go into spasm at the site of the blockage, causing an heart attack. Stress decreases the level of HDL ie. a good cholesterol.

The effect of interpersonal stress on 20 women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who differ in the quality of their relationship with their husbands was studied by Zautra AJ and his colleagues. They found that there is an aggravation in RA, following an increase in. interpersonal stress. Women having stronger marital relationships were less affected by such stressors.

Thomas Holmes was the first physician who studied the association between stress and tuberculosis in 1990s. He found that individuals undergoing stressful situations in their life like divorce, death of a spouse, loss of a job etc., developed tuberculosis and could not recover from that. His studies reveal that the stress may lead to decreased immune function and thus to clinical disease. Studies conducted on 50 first year medical students by Malathi A and Damodaran A revealed that the increased anxiety level of these students at the time of examination which probably affected their performance and when they practiced yoga regularly prior to the examination, the number of failures was significantly reduced, compared to the control group. The improvement in other parameters such as better sense of well being, feeling of relaxation, improved concentration, self confidence, improved efficiency, good interpersonal relationship, increased attentiveness, lowered irritability levels and an optimistic outlook in life was also observed in yoga group by way of feedback score.

Thus it is seen that the stress is the product of our nonstop reactions to the stimulations from the external environment as well as the type of internal thinking process. In the search of happiness all of us have adopted revolutionized high technology and yet we are not satisfied with our own standards of living. This gives rise to anxiety and unrest in mind. That is why we are unable to face the stressful situations and easily fall pray to diseases. Maintenance of a positive health is the only solution for this, ie. healthy condition of body, mind and spirit. Such well being chiefly depends on the body-mind equilibrium. Yoga and Ayurveda have suggested long back an ideal life style (dinacharya) which establishes a flexible relationship between ourselves and our surroundings thus making ourselves stress-proof.

Effects of lifestyle changes on health

During various stress management studies it was revealed that the fundamental cause of the illness (even the heart disease) was the sense of isolation. When someone feels isolated and alone, as if lacking something in his life, it leads to self-involvement, disappointment and lastly the frustration and hostility. This changes our behavior pattern and the way we react to any situation around. In short, perception of isolation or lack of love and support from others can lead to a chronic stress. The self-destructive behavior pattern is the only result of this stress. Best way is to decrease our wants and demands. This will reduce our disappointment and unhappiness. Intimacy, social support and love on the other hand will increase our emotional sharing and will enhance the process of healing.

Yoga is a powerful system which coordinates our scattered feelings, inner peace and relations with others in a systematic way so that we become aware of many things inside us. Yoga techniques are based on the stretching principle which would create balance in all the opposing factors and to bring about equilibrium, peace and unity in body and mind. Yoga teaches us how much should we respond to a stimuli in what way and then how to relax again. This is why now the emotions are unable to stir us as before. Yoga gives us a different kind of viewing ability during any situation. Pranayama mainly involves special breathing techniques so as to balance our body and mind. Now the emotions would not be able to influence your mind or disrupt harmony in body functions. The energy level is enhanced which can help the process of healing and thus the maintenance of health. Meditation directs this energy for developing strong will power and better creativity. The meditator can observe equanimity in all the aspects eg. achievements and non-achievement, pain and pleasure, comfort and discomfort etc. and can employ proper visualization to open our heart and feelings for effective healing.

Ayurveda also insists upon cultivation of a Satvik nature ie. noble, honest and selfless attitude for ideal mental health. Patanjali, the father of Yoga has advocated four important things to be observed, viz. Friendship (maitri), Compassion (Kanma) Joy (Mudita) and Forgiveness (Upeksha). When we are friendly with everybody there cannot be any anger, hatred or jealousy in our attitude which otherwise would lead us to the social isolation, a negative emotion. Compassion and forgiveness are the most powerful tools to develop an ideal positive attitude of love. This will keep us free from sense of isolation.

Dr. Dean Ornish for the first time showed the reversal of the coronary artery blockages by making comprehensive lifestyle changes. He conducted his first study on 10 heart patients and found that the blood pressure and the cholesterol level dropped significantly and the exercise capability also improved after changing the lifestyle. He conducted his second study on 24 patients in control group and 24 patients in the experimental group who followed his 24 days lifestyle program. The lifestyle group showed 91% reduction in chest pain, 55% improvement in exercise capability, 21% reduction in cholesterol level and significant reduction in blood pressure at rest and in emotional stress. Patients felt well being along with reduced anxiety, fear, worry and depression. Control group remained at the same level and became slightly worse. He included Yoga practices like asanas, pranayama, relaxation, meditation as well as the dietary changes like low fat diet and ‘attitude changing’ based on yogic education, in his lifestyle program.

Mahajan A.S. and his colleagues investigated lipid profile of 52 patients of angina before and after yogic lifestyle intervention for 14 weeks. They found that the subjects who practiced yoga showed decrease in triglycerides, serum cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, compared to 41 control patients. Schmidt T and his associates also studied the effect of comprehensive residential 3 months kriya yoga program along with low fat vegetarian food and found substantial risk factor reduction such as reduction in body mass index, total serum and LDL cholesterol, fibrinogen and blood pressure. Similarly urinary excretion of adrenaline, noradrenaline, dopamine, aldosterone as well as serum testosterone and luteinizing hormone levels were reduced while Cortisol excretion increased significantly. Garfinkel MS and his colleagues evaluated yoga based regimen for treatment of osteoarthritis of hands for 8 weeks and found that the yoga group showed significant improvement in pain during activity, tenderness and finger range of motion.

All these studies indicate that the risk factors can be successfully reduced by making proper changes in the lifestyle, based on the yogic principles. Those who have crossed their age by 40 years, may begin to think right now and bring necessary changes in their lifestyle as a preventive measure.

Changing the lifestyle

Now it is clear that our own faulty lifestyle is responsible for unhappiness, stress and diseased condition. The best way is to correct our lifestyle. However, it is not that easy to adapt totally different lifestyle from the next day but once you decide to follow proper lifestyle pattern, the following guidelines will help you to make necessary changes in your present lifestyle.

l. Know your own nature and your ambitions. Assess your both positive and negative qualities. Accept your faults and mistakes you might have done. Work as per your capacity and be aware not to repeat same mistakes again and again.

2. Learn to calm down yourself. Remain peaceful in your mind so that it is easy to control your emotions, thoughts and actions. Learn to gain control on your reactions to any event around you. Slow breathing in pranayama will enable you to control your mind and innermost responses. Analyze your own performance honestly.

3. Be courageous and determined to make positive changes in your overall out look towards others, in your style of communication, home arrangements, clothes, timings for yoga, other exercises and hobbies etc.

4. Organize your work. Plan it properly for the whole year, considering seasonal changes, festivals, holidays and family functions among relatives. Use the planner.

5. The circadian rhythms like dark and light, sunrise and sunset always influence our sleep pattern and arousal, hunger. Setting a body clock is very important. Therefore plan your timings for work, meals, rest, recreation and sleep as they can influence each other. Do not forget the word ‘ytikta’ which means proportionate or moderate quantity as a ‘measure’ for all the activities.

6. Do not forget the comfort and pleasure components in all the activities. Indian classical music, pleasant fragrance, scents would definitely help you to make your moods, temperament and behavior suitable for the environment. Weekend picnic programs with family and friends would bring you more happiness and freshness.

7. Assess your own diet. It should be well balanced (Yukta) from nutrition and quantity point of view. Avoid processed and fast foods. Avoid too much spicy and chilly food. Beware about the fat contents of the food. Eat with pleasant and relaxed mind. A short prayer or a thankful remembrance of the almighty God before taking food is always better to cultivate the devotional attitude.

8. Honesty, mutual trust, loyalty, respect for the elders, affectionate and friendly approach for all, wishing and greeting others on various occasion, are good qualities which would improve your interpersonal relationship with others and would bring you more happiness and contentment. Then there would be no seat for negative emotions like hatred or jealousy. Open your heart to your best friend and elder members of the family such as grand father/mother and seek elderly advice frankly as and when required without hesitation.

9. Daily routine (dinacharya) is a major part of our lifestyle. Do not forget the saying -‘ early to bed and early to rise makes you healthy, wealthy and wise’. 30 minutes morning walk would improve your stamina and would keep you cheerful and fresh through the day. It will also regulate the level of cholesterol in the blood.

10. Cultivate a habit of rational thinking from all the angles before arriving at the conclusions of the decisions. Altruism, compassion and forgiveness would empower you for healing yourself against stress and feeling of loneliness.

11. Enjoy the humor and comedy. Share the jokes with your friends and family members. Laughter is the best medicine as it relaxes us quickly and makes us sportive for any kind of situation. It helps our healing process

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