What's Healthy?

Jun 21,2012

I just got back from a bout of medical interpreting at a local clinic, and the man for whom I interpreted humourously suggested I do a blog post about his checkup and how wonderful his results are going to be. In all seriousness, though, it was pretty interesting in that we got to talking about how he shouldn't be surprized if his blood test levels came back a bit abnormal, because Asians and Caucasians have different standard or average levels for the various things for which blood tests test. I know because I was shocked that my markers were all over the place until the doctor assured me I was 'fine' without much further explanation (isn't the Internet great, when you want to satisfy your curiousity?) and that all I had to do was reduce my body fat in order to be in splendid shape. (So I did, through an intense diet and exercise regimen, after which people commented that I had lost weight and asked if I was sick. You just can't win.)

We also got to talking about the famous cycling star Lance Armstrong, who apparently waited a heck of a long time before going to the doctor, while coughing up blood and suffering a painful growth where the sun don't shine. This got me to thinking about my brother, a former personal fitness trainer, reminding me that health and fitness are not the same, and are often opposed to each other. To take a glaring example, one of the big stories in the fitness industry is that one of the most popular bodybuilding sites in the English-speaking world was just hit with a whopper lawsuit by the American Food and Drug Administration after it was found that they had been concealing steriods in the supplements they marketed.

I see that a lot of my college students are very thin, particularly if they are male. I do remember, vaguely, when it was difficult to gain weight, but now I can gain it in my gut without really trying, and it sometimes seems an uphill battle to stay in shape. In this connection, the topic I tried in a couple of my conversation classes this week was health. The lesson included some reading comprehension and a list of interview questions for partners to ask each other and symbiotically evalate the respective healthiness of their lifestyles.

Surprizingly for me, quite few people seem to drink much water. Some of my students, drink only tea, while others weigh in at two litres a day, which apparently seems like a lot. (I tip the scales at four litres a day, plus a litre of green tea first thing in the morning, and in this weather it seems to all turn to sweat.) Nobody gets much of a workout in our modern society, either, that shouldn't be too shocking. Of course, I probably will be shocked the next time I visit the US and see plenty of people doing even less.

Of all the interesting viewpoints raised, one of the most fluent students in one class was quite vocal about the belief that the Japanese, as a people, have to eat rice for genetic purposes. He observed that the Japanese have eaten rice for thousands of years, and that the Japanese have the highest life expectancy in the world, and so in order to continue to enjoy a long life expectancy the Japanese must continue to eat rice. Post hoc ergo propter hoc. (His partner, who happened to be female, wanted to lose weight and thus wanted to reduce her consumption of carbohydrates. It should be pointed out that white rice contains almost no nutrients, having been stripped of the husk which is naturally quite nutritious.)

Now, this brings me to another interesting fallacy that I first heard in a conversation class but I've since heard in a number of places, which is that the reason the Japanese are passive and Westerners aggressive is that the former are a farming race and the latter a hunting race. I'd like to debunk this right now, if I'm allowed, with the observation that the best archaeological evidence seems to indicate that agriculture was developed by occidental and oriental civilisations at approximately the same time.

So why all this rambling? Well, we should all pay attention to our health, and probably our fitness levels, too, but maintain a healthy scepticism through it all. I say you should drink litres of water every day and get as much exericse (and sleep) as you possibly can, but don't take my word for it. I've been told by some students that I 'get too much exercise'--when in perspective the amount I get would have been barely sufficient to merely keep me alive during the last Ice Age.

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