The ultimate vaccine

A few basic habits can help us live longer and better lives…

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

You may have noticed that a major talking point for several prominent politicians is a vaccine for COVID.

It’s very strange when you think about it – since when were politicians concerned about medical developments? Let alone, presumed experts in the field?

As most of us, even those of us without extended medical background, know, vaccines take years to develop and are, to put it mildly, not always effective (or safe).

The flu vaccine, available every year, works for one flu season (if that) and is designed for a particular strain of the flu that may (or may not) be the dominant strain.

And the vaccine for other, far more common viruses, is as elusive as ever.

Would a COVID vaccine be an annual affair (like the flu) or a once in a life time dose – like polio? Or as needed for high-risk populations? Or so expensive that only select groups have access to it?

The reality is that no one knows, and we won’t know for a long time, probably several years.

But we Americans love the idea of a “magic bullet” that will fix everything immediately.

If you remember the movie “The Wizard of Oz”, the first time we see the character who turns out to be the wizard is as a huckster selling miracle cures from his wagon.

There are few items more American (at least historically) than these elixirs that promise to cure every ailment.

Most of us want instant solutions for difficult, if not intractable, problems.

We flock to hucksters, preachers and politicians that promise the “one thing” that will cure every illness, repair every relationship, restore the economy and, if possible, give us whiter teeth and help us lose some weight.

And maybe even live longer.

It turns out that there are few, if any, “tricks” that will lead us to longer, healthier more prosperous lives (in spite of all the spam-worthy emails you might be getting).

But a few basic habits can help us live longer and better lives. These are the kinds of things your mother has probably been saying forever.

Research published in 2011 in the American Journal of Public Health showed that adopting a few healthy lifestyle behaviors—regular exercise, a wholesome diet, no smoking—can increase lifespan by 11 years.

The ultimate vaccine, it turns out, is a foundation of quite boring, not-at-all exciting, activities.

You can’t get more basic than the first principle of aging well – keep moving.

Decades of studies show that just 30 minutes of moderate to intense daily physical activity lowers your risk for physiological diseases (like heart disease and cancer), as well as psychological ones (like anxiety and Alzheimer’s).

Few things in life are as accessible and immediately restorative than a brisk walk (or bike ride).

The trick is to actually do it.

And you don’t need to do it much.

Eat real food.

Processed and packaged foods may be cheap and available, but how do you feel after you’ve eaten them?

A regular menu rich in vegetables, whole grains, fish, and leaner meats with regular but not excessive consumption of fruits, nuts, and healthy oils will not only make you feel better, it will also taste better.

Food writer Michael Pollan has a simple principle when it comes to food; only eat food that your grandparents would recognize as food.

Spend time with friends.

Social connections are associated with reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, improved sleep quality, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, slowed cognitive decline, lessened systemic inflammation, and improved immune function.

Isolation is not good for us. Mortality risks associated with loneliness exceeded those associated with obesity and physical inactivity and were similar to those associated with smoking.

Friends remind us who we are and what is important to us – or maybe what used to be that we have forgotten about.

Vitamins?

Get the bulk of your nutrients from real food – not dietary supplements. The vast majority don’t work – and they can be expensive – Americans spend more than $30 billion every year.

Sleep.

Get a good night’s sleep, and keep on a regular schedule.

I do my best work when I can schedule a mid-afternoon nap. Surprisingly enough, the better my nap, the better I sleep at night.

Don’t forget to play.

Do something just for the fun of it. We get so tied up in work either for money or at home that we easily forget to just enjoy ourselves. Either with friends or by yourself, do a few things that are enjoyable and unnecessary.

Get outside.

Get moving, get outside, get a good night’s sleep and eat well.

Look beyond your own horizons.

Read books, travel, see movies from other cultures and countries.

They will help remind you that challenges can be met, difficulties may seem overwhelming, but they do not last forever.

In fact nothing, diseases, trends, even empires and civilizations, lasts forever.

And one final health tip, do something for someone else. Take care of yourself and take care of others.

Your mother couldn’t have put it better, but in these crazy days of diseases and hazards we live under conditions our parents – and their parents – never could have imagined.

You don’t have to spend much, or maybe even any, money for most of these.

Protecting and preparing ourselves is half the battle.

COVID has emphasized weaknesses in our economic system, our schools, our health care and maybe even our life priorities.

Our lives on the other side of COVID are going to be very different – in more ways than we could even begin to imagine.

The most powerful work any of us could take on right now is to take care of ourselves.

Viruses, like every living thing, quickly adapt to challenges.

Not every vaccine works forever. As in other areas of life, from sports to business, the best offense may often be a strong defense.

Don’t wait for some magic potion to keep you healthy; get out and get moving.

And as flight attendants remind us, take care of yourself. You’ll be doing us all a favor.

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