I had two great conversations the other day, one with a dear friend about the challenges this particular generation of children is facing. Her theory as to why children have more sensory challenges, obesity, attention deficit – in other words, why are these children so darn unhealthy – is, in her mind, a mixture of things: environment, too much stimulation, schedules that are like an adult, too much of making the child a miniature adult, diet, lack of physical work and movement.
Then I had another conversation, this time with a dear friend and physical therapy colleague. She is in geriatrics, but specifically wondered why she is seeing more and more dementia and Alzheimer’s-type symptoms in patients of even younger ages than before. “The people I am seeing, HAD those kinds of childhoods that you wish for – eating local, farm-raised food before agribusiness became huge, collecting eggs and walking to school, playing outside for hours on end in rivers and creeks and the mountainside. So why are these folks getting dementia at such a relatively young age?”
Of course, no one knows for sure; these are the kind of rhetorical things physical therapists and I am sure other health care professionals sit around and ponder. We all wonder.
I am sure it is all the things of childhood, but also mixed with all the things of adulthood: taking adults who were used to moving a lot to moving them into jobs that were more sitting than usual, more modern conveniences than ever that also cause decreased movement, a more toxic environment, an increasingly over-stimulating environment ( the friend from my first conversation was remarking that now when you go into a grocery store, there may be TV’s in the shopping cart, cows mooing in the diary section, dancing vegetables with loud thunder that mists over the veggies! How true!)
But I think it is also community – or lack thereof. The church or synagogue may not be the same hub of the neighborhood it once was, which is a shame for many reasons and on many levels but also on a health level: one six year study showed that those who attended religious services once a week were 46 percent less likely to die than those who did not. You can see an article about this here: http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/spirituality-may-help-people-live-longer. This article points out, though, that community and having personal inner practices may also lead to the same benefits as those who attend religious services: less depression and anxiety, better health. I think this is important as we raise children; to think about our own health and to find meaningful ways to keep ourselves vital, active, healthy.
Community is also about friendships. Friendships are a huge social buffer against dementia and Alzheimer’s. Here is an article about that: http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/guide/20061101/strong-friendships-may-help-you-live-longer and this really interesting one about how seeing friends and family outside of your spouse and children is a buffer believed to buffer Alzheimer’s disease: http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/guide/20061101/social-buffer-against-alzheimers. My favorite part of this article is this quote: “Participants with larger social networks tended to have scored higher on their mental tests, even if they were later found to have more severe amounts of brain plaque and tangles. In other words, a participant that would have been expected to have more severe Alzheimer’s based on their brain analysis, didn’t when they had a large social network.”
I think simple is enough this year. Simple schedules, the simple warmth and pleasures of community, of having enough but not extravagant. Form a community, join a community, make a community.
All kinds of thoughts to ponder today!
Many blessings and happy and beautiful wishes for a splendid New Year,