Although this needs to begin as a good practice from childhood, it becomes even more essential as we get older. So many of the illnesses that can otherwise ravage our lives, can be prevented or halted if detected early enough. If you have risk factors such as a family member who has had heart disease or breast cancer, if you’re post-menopausal or live a particularly stressful life, please add a regular appointment with your GP to your diary. There are well-persons’ clinics where you can have your blood pressure checked along with other non-invasive investigations. However, having a regular blood sample taken to test liver, kidney and thyroid function is wise, as is having stools examined for occult blood (microscopic amounts of blood invisible to the eye) as you get older. Breast examinations, easily carried out at home on a monthly basis, need to be augmented by a professional examination and mammogram from time to time. Talk with your doctor to see what they recommend. Dental check-ups and eye exams are also part of your responsibility in taking care of the extraordinary machine you’ve been given. It never ceases to amaze us how much more care many of us take of our cars than our bodies! Go and have an MOT for yourself!
Intimate Committed Relationships
We know that for some people this seems impossible, especially if you live alone, are less mobile than you’d like, are grieving or confined in some way. But it just is a fact that without some meaningful contact with others, our spirit becomes weak and we become ill. There is incontrovertible evidence that those who have good relationships live longer, recover more easily from illness or surgery and stay healthier. In one study it was found that people suffering from malignant melanoma (a virulent form of skin cancer) who attended a support group for only 6 weeks, survived years longer than others who did not, simply because they developed a feeling of belonging, being useful to others and being committed to someone else’s wellbeing apart from their own.
If you are not in a relationship or live alone, could you have a pet? (There are programmes in some hospitals that allow pets to visit those who have had heart attacks or who are having painful procedures or chemotherapy, with quite dramatic results.) Could you look after someone else’s pet? Could you join some club or organisation that allows you to meet others regularly? Could you go to a day centre? Could you do some voluntary work? The essential is to develop a sense of belonging and commitment.
Be of Service to Others
We who work in the caring professions are very lucky, for we’re fulfilling this very necessary human need all day long. Mothers with children at home, those who have someone to care for, who work at the local hospice or rattle a tin for a charity on flag day, are all living out this basic human need. Look at what happens to many women when the children leave home and suddenly they aren’t there to cook for. So many of the mid-life difficulties for both sexes are exacerbated by no longer feeling useful.
Whatever your age, you can find some way of being of service, not in a co-dependent way, but to render some useful function in the world. Someone walks along the road, smiles and says ‘Good morning’ and brightens someone’s day. The cashier hands us our change and smiles. Someone on the telephone takes time to open with a pleasantry and end with ‘Have a nice day’. Service. It’s so easy, benefits the whole world and not just ourselves. What a gift to give and receive, to be able to improve our own lives while improving those of others.
Supporting and Enhancing Your Immune System
Your immune system helps protect you from illness and infection and also ensures that your whole self stays in a state of good maintenance and repair. When for some reason our immune system is low, we’re more vulnerable to illness. However, sometimes our immune system is too sensitive and we’re then at risk of allergic reactions, asthma, ulcerative colitis or autoimmune illness, where our bodies start to attack parts of themselves as though they were foreign.
The immune system consists of a complex network of organs (thymus, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes), specialised white blood cells and substances found in serum (the fluid part of the blood in which blood cells and platelets are carried) such as complement, interleukin and interferon.
We are becoming more aware through the study of psychoneuroimmunology that our thoughts and emotions also have a great impact on our immune system and our ability to stay free from illness. In short, happy people with a positive attitude and who laugh a lot have a better chance of staying free from illness or recovering quickly should illness strike. If you’re able to live by the basic tenets already described, then the likelihood is that your immune system will be strong. However, all of us from time to time forget to take care of ourselves, work too hard, are hit by a series of stressful events, are grieving or shocked. At such times becoming ill may almost be a kind of safety valve which makes us stop and listen to our bodies and take stock of our lives. In most cases, your immune system will be able to take care of things and get you well if you let it, but that means you need to stop, rest, drink lots of water and take care of yourself — or better still let someone take care of you for a few days while you conserve your energy to fight whatever ails you.
Smoking and alcohol threaten your immune system, as does refined sugar, so these need to be cut out. Free radicals, formed as by-products of fighting infections, of breaking down food to release energy, by ultraviolet light and pollutants such as exhaust fumes and smoke left to their own devices, can cause damage to cells and also to the very stuff of life, DNA. So dealing with them by the use of antioxidants is essential, especially if you’re stressed or ill. Fruit and vegetable juices and, when you’re ready, nutritious food, will help you right yourself, although the addition of echinacea, astragalus and vitamin and mineral supplements will help. Adding Vitamins A (1000 IU twice daily), B complex (one tablet of strong Vitamin B Compound), C (2000-3000 mg daily), E (8001200 IU) daily, with 50-100 mg CoEnzyme Q10 (CoQ10), carotenes (naturally occurring pigments in fruit and vegetables which are powerful antioxidants), selenium (200 mcg daily) and zinc (30 mg), plus some thymus extract if you have a viral illness, or spleen extract if you have a bacterial illness, will top up your armoury and give you the best chance of getting well quickly. If you’re pregnant or a sexually active woman of child-bearing age and not using contraception, don’t take Vitamin A since at high doses it can be associated with birth defects.
There are times, however, when our immune system fails to deal with the situation, when we’re overwhelmed by infection, when our bodies are under attack, for instance by cancer, when we’re grieving and needing our energy to deal with that; at these times we need extra help in the form of antibiotics or other medication. If that is where you are, then taking care of yourself includes using the best that modern medicine has to offer and incorporating it into an active plan of self-healing It is that integration of the two.