Why I don't talk a lot about wellness

The US wellness economy is estimated to generate over $200 billion annually. Wellness brands are heavily advertised in all media, wellness promoters have become celebrities, and celebrities have become wellness promoters. Many acupuncture practices have wellness in their names. Healthcare thinkers have been critical of US healthcare, calling it "sick care" when it should strive to be "well care." My colleagues point to the example of old China, in which the Emperor's physician was only paid when the Emperor was well, and was not paid if he fell ill.

According to US media representations, we should all be pursuing a lifestyle that promotes wellness. The trappings of that wellness lifestyle include things like yoga, juicing, spin class, kettlebells, oxygen therapies, high end skin care, a low carb diet, superfoods, and many, many more. Then of course you need the stuff that goes with that stuff, like the yoga clothes, the gym membership, the juicer, the free range meats, imported acai, etc. The implication from advertising is if you do all these things properly, you won't age, you won't get disease, and you'll be happy. The thinking is if a good diet is good, a great diet must be great. If some exercise is good, a lot must be great. If reducing chemical exposure is good, strict avoidance must be ideal.

So why aren't I on this bandwagon? I mean, I'm an acupuncturist. I should be all over the wellness thing. I should be raking in my slice of that $200 billion pie selling wellness. What gives? Don't I believe in wellness?

To a point, sure, I believe in wellness. But the media would have us blow well past that point into the realms of obsession, and I just don't see the research to support that as being so much more important than a meaningful life with fulfilling relationships. It isn't that I have a quarrel with the benefits of wellness practices. If you pick one and do it, you will probably feel better. My quarrel is that all of those practices, including coming to acupuncture, take time and money away from having a meaningful life with fulfilling relationships if your closest humans aren't doing them with you. 

The evidence suggests that for the average person in average health, the difference between taking an hour's walk a day, and doing gym workouts plus six classes a week, isn't that great as far as disease avoidance and mortality. The evidence suggests that a low carb diet is not superior to any other diet, including the much more moderate "Mediterranean diet" for promoting a healthy life. Yoga is not better than tai chi, and it isn't better than dancing, and it isn't better than walking your dog on forested trails. Eating an all-organic diet, while it has its own merits for benefits to the agricultural environment, has not been shown to be better for your health than non-organic foods. 

So where is wellness found? 25 years into my healthcare career, this is my current opinion. Eat real food. Be vegetarian or not, be low carb or not, it's up to you. But eat real food, ideally prepared at home. Don't go to restaurants too much. It isn't that restaurants are bad, but unless they are specifically health food restaurants, they will use way more sugar, salt, and fats than you would at home, so over time will bring you trouble. Your daily food should be simple, and ideally eaten with friends and loved ones. 

Get some exercise, again ideally with friends and loved ones. It doesn't really matter what it is. Whatever you can find time for and enjoy will work. Be sure to include some aerobic conditioning (brisk walking is fine) and a bit of strengthening. A few times a week is fine.

Go to sleep. You know who you are. You stay up too late. Just go to sleep. If you can't sleep, come see me. 

See if you can reduce stress. Some stressors are not in our control, but lots of them are, and we should take that control to make our lives better. See a counselor to get some ideas on how to reduce your stress; oftentimes we create stress within through mistaken notions of our self-worth, strengths, and responsibilities. Read some books or articles about stress. If you are parenting, think about reducing stress in your kid's life, too; they may need to do less.

You need to do less, too. That's the crux if why I don't talk a lot about wellness. If you use all your time doing wellness things that do not promote your own feelings of happiness and human connection, then that's less time you have for the things that do. For so many Americans, wellness activities have become the tasks we must do before we are allowed to engage in our happiness, like spending time with loved ones, engaging in hobbies, or just having down time. They become a stressor in their own right as we feel them looming over us, undone, when all we yearn for is hanging out with family. 

Of course there is a minimum of body maintenance we should all do. Of course we should stave off the slide into sickness and disability if we are able. But the ridiculous standards promoted in media take us away from the things masses of research say bring longevity, health, and happiness: love, purpose, and connection. 

My patients are always welcome to come in for a treatment. Acupuncture is fantastic, and is really good at helping us feel well. But if you don't have illness or injury, I don't want it to be another thing on your to do list. I want you to be out engaging in the pleasures of good company, play, expression, and nature. I'll be here when you need me.