Mar 172010

Much of the conversation regarding health care in our country revolves around cost and what the government’s responsibility is towards the citizens in providing health care.  Sprinkled throughout are bits about greedy doctors, litigious lawyers, and rich taxpayers.  Very little is said about the role that you and I play in maintaining our health.  We are looked at as helpless consumers, too immature to do or understand simple things to keep ourselves healthy.  If we are unwilling to take even the most basic of steps to maintain our health, how we can we castigate doctors and government for not doing enough to help us?  Just as I look to Hellenismos for inspiration on how to manage my finances, I’ve also found wisdom in how to be an active partner in maintaining my health.

In Hellenismos there are several gods that attend to health and wellness because it is such a complex and interconnected issue. Apollon could bring plagues or avert them.  Young men spent hours at the gymnasia, exercising as a devotional offering to Apollon, honing the body along with the intellect.  Healer-priests and physician descendants of Asclepios, such as Hippocrates of the temple at Cos, used the arts of surgery, medicine, prayer, dreams, diet, mineral baths, and songs to heal patients.  Asclepiops’ temples were the first hospitals.  I won’t name all of Asclepios’ divine children, but Hygeia was often worshiped along side Her father.  Hygeia helped patients with prevention of sickness and the continuation of sound physical and mental health.  She encouraged good sanitation practices.

Basic sanitation, surgery, preventative care, diet, medicines, mental health, exercise, prayer and divine intercession, public health initiatives, and what we call alternative medicine are related and interconnected through Apollon’s divine family.  Government, Doctors and Healer Priests, and Citizens all had roles they were expected to play.  Back then, more of the burden was shouldered by individual citizens than by doctors or the government.  Today, almost none of the burden lays with the citizen.  Perhaps it’s time to combine the best of the old with the best of the new?

Apollonian Medicine: Immunizations and Exercise
Immunization: The government should offer free immunizations to all citizens.  Health professionals can either be employed or reimbursed by the government to administer the immunization.  Citizens have a responsibility to get the immunization.

Exercise: This, along with diet, is the number 1 area that Americans need to work on to improve their health and it’s not something that the government or doctors bear much responsibility for.  It’s all on us. Even walking for 15 minutes just 3 days a week can yield remarkable benefits and costs us nothing. How many of us do even that little bit to manage our health? How can we ask others – such as the government, fellow taxpayers, and health care professionals – to spend time, money, and skill to help us when we show almost no desire to help ourselves.   As Nick said in a comment to my previous post about health care, “healthy eating and frequent exercise cost less, and do more good, [than] heart transplants.”

Seven out of ten Americans don’t exercise regularly.  We know the benefits of regular exercise to both our physical and mental health we just don’t do it.  To name a few of those benefits:

Lack of regular exercise not only hurts our health, it hurts our pocketbooks. Physical inactivity, overweight, and obesity were associated with 23% of health plan health care charges and 27% of national health care charges.  In 2000 an estimated $117 billion in health care spending in the USA was due to inactivity and obesity.  To bring it to a personal level, the average active 75 year old female with no physical limitations spends just over $1900 per year on health care costs. The average inactive 75 year old female with no physical limitations spends just over $3,200 per year on health care costs. That’s a difference of $1300 per person per year.

I have a confession to make.  I hate to exercise.  After I got out of the military I swore that the only way I would ever run again would be if someone was chasing me with a knife.  But I do stay active.  I see it as part of my duty to myself, my family, to my community, and to the Gods to stay fit.  Most every morning, I do 12 Sun Salutations while chanting prayers to Helios.  That’s not a huge effort in time or energy, but it it does the job.  Like my coreligionists from long ago, I dedicate this exercise as a devotional offering.  Also like them, reciprocation plays a large role in how I live.  I give so that I may receive.  I receive improved mental health from some quiet, meditative time before the chaos of the day starts along with improved physical health.  I certainly receive more than I give.  But first, I have to be willing to give.  We all have to be willing to give.

Hail Apollon Akesios!

Next blog post: Asclepios Medicine – Combining Traditional and Alternative medicine with a spiritual component.

  19 Responses to “(Divine) Family Health Care Practices”

  1. It’s interesting that this is part of this–I think some of the objections to health care come from the idea that it’s the fault of the individual that they are ill. Which, first of all, isn’t necessarily the case. But second, there needs to be more done to make the personal responsibilities accessible. Thinking about it, a few thoughts that occur to me are:

    1. Nutrition. Healthy food needs to be more affordable than junk. At my grocery store (a regular chain, not a fancy organic store), right now, a carton of orange juice costs over $3.00. A carton of milk, I believe, costs about the same, though I’m not positive, as I don’t drink it myself. A 2 liter of soda, on the other hand, is 99 cents. A carton of berries is $2.50 or more and won’t last long with hungry kids. A big bag of chips is under a $1. That is not the way to encourage healthy eating.

    2. Exercise. I don’t like it either, but the biggest difficulty is how to fit it in. I’m what would be solidly middle class anywhere but the SF Bay Area. I can’t afford a gym comfortably. but I also don’t feel safe walking or running around my neighborhood during the early morning or late night hours (which is when I’m home). My solution is to try to move, but not everyone has that option–so how have options for exercise when people aren’t living in safe areas?

    3. Immunizations & Care. I agree with what you’ve suggested, but also would argue that preventative care and care for minor illnesses should be available and accessible to all. If you can see a doctor regularly, you can catch things (preventable or not) early enough that lower cost, less invasive treatments may be more effective than if the patient waited until things were really bad to go to a doctor.

    4. Sick days. This, I think, is one of the biggest. Everyone should be able to have sick days and then be able to use them. So many people don’t have sick leave, or have it bundled with vacation time, so that they decide to come to work when they’re ill, and make everyone else sick too. We might not be able to prevent or cure all illnesses, but maybe we could at least stop spreading them around so much.

    • I agree that some people have a hard time telling the difference between being asked to be more responsible for their health and feeling like they are being blamed for being ill.

      Some suggestions for exercise (of course you should talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program) that are low cost and you don’t even need to leave your home:

      1. Jump rope
      2. Get an exercise tape – you can find them for $1 or so at used book stores
      3. Hula hoop – trust me, keeping a hula hoop going for just 15 minutes is a work out
      4. Do 30′s. 30 sit-ups, 30 push-ups, 30 jumping jacks, 30 reverse push-ups
      5. Yoga – Adding chanting turns it into exercise, prayer, and personal meditation
      6. Turn on some music and dance
      7. Live in an apartment? Go up and down the stairs

      Have a bit more money or a car? Sure you can join a gym. Or you could take dance lessons. Once a week, my husband and I take a Salsa lesson. Most people who are there don’t have a partner so not only are they getting a great work-out, they are meeting new people. $15 a lesson at in Minneapolis. You just show up, no need to sign up. Perhaps there’s something like that near you. Or you could just go to a dance club with friends.

      Remeber dodgeball? There are now adult leagues springing up all over the country. Some teams are hard core and want to WIN, but many teams are being formed just to have something fun to do. Just google “dodgeball” and your city or town.

      There’s lots of other ways to get active – really the sky is the limit. The important thing is to get active in a way that is best for you.

      • I’ve always rather disliked exercise myself, one of the reasons being that it seemed awfully mindless and uninteresting; if I don’t have something to think about, I get bored easily. The Sun Salutations you mention sound like just the sort of thing: physical activity with mental focus and an objective (a religious one even, which makes it all the better).

        I’ve found that martial arts are a good way of keeping myself active, because they do require thought and mental focus, and they have purposes beyond just physical maintenance. They can also be good for experiencing mental states (and perhaps “spiritual” states) that one doesn’t necessarily encounter every day.

      • 5. Yoga – Adding chanting turns it into exercise, prayer, and personal meditation

        I usually do mine to some low music, with my wife and daughter (and getting a three year old to do ‘yogurt’ can be a lot of exercise in and of itself).

        The other thing that I do is bike to a bus stop, and take the bus to work. I know that isn’t practical for everyone, but that short bike ride in the morning wakes me right up and gets me going, plus the added benefits of less pollution, it’s cheaper ($1.60 round trip vs. $2.85/gallon, and my car gets gas mileage almost equal to the round trip), and it means that I can’t work ridiculously late :)

      • Stairs are a great way to exercise; you can get a real work out in a short amount of time, and they’re pretty easy to find. Another way if you’re really crunched for time is to get a cheap pair of light ankle weights and wear them while you’re just going about normal activity. If you can’t get hold of a pair that fits your budget, and you aren’t worried about looking a little DIY, you can fill up a pair of old socks with sand and make some that may not be gorgeous, but are functional.

        Yoga rocks too, and you can find routines on Youtube for free.

  2. Agree with Ivy’s observations about blame, about the cost of healthy food vs. junk, and about sick time.

    One of several reasons I like to promote farmer’s markets is that at most of them, I can get fresher, better quality produce, eggs, and meat much cheaper there than a large chain store. It means you may adjust your menus some to allow for seasonal produce, but that just keeps you conscious of the time of year and living with the seasonal shifts, and can be a way to help offset the year-round indoor, largely uniform light and temperature environment many people are accustomed to.

    The one thing I’d add to that: I think there needs to be a change the way people view eating healthy. A lot of people, especially kids, still see eating vegetables, or anything actually good for you, as uncool or lame, or only for trendy yuppies.

    As for sick time, I know people who have to juggle sick days to take cars of small children or ailing parents, and feel like they’re damned either way. But the thing that blows my mind is the number of people who work jobs where you don’t get any sick leave, or where your boss can require you to come in anyway, and you can lose your job if you don’t show up. One job I had required you to show proof you had been seen by a doctor, nurse practitioner, health clinic professional to be out, period, which might cost me $45 – $120 in addition to losing the day of work. Being hospitalized isn’t necessarily an excuse; if you’re out long enough, or if you relapse and are readmitted, you’re “unreliable” and you’re gone.

    I have no comparison for states that are not “at will” employment, but I hear enough about similar situations from people other than North Carolinians to think it’s a wider problem. I sometimes hear “that’s what you get for being unskilled labor”, but I’m hearing about the same scenarios from people in professional positions that require degrees.

    • Maine is also an ‘at-will’ state, and I had a friend, a professional engineer (i.e. 4 years of college, 4 years apprenticeship as an EIT), get fired for having meningitis and refusing to come to work so as not to get other people sick. He used all his vacation time, but still wasn’t well, so he got fired. And because of the economy, he still hasn’t found a job, and is running out of unemployment :(

    • I’m with you 100% of the way on local, seasonal foods. That is a topic near and dear to my heart! And food issues. Oh my. That’s part of what is going into later posts in this series.

      As for blame. Blame is reactive and serves no purpose. Asking people to take more responsibility for what they are able to do in caring for thier health is proactive. I’m entirely suggesting a proactive approach. I don’t blame smokers for getting lung cancer, but I don’t see it as blame to suggest that quiting smoking would positively impact their health.

      • I would love to see more articles on local seasonal eating and food issues. I would say that diet trumps exercise in terms of current health issues, and regarding both, not to disregard personal responsibility, but it is a fact that the systems of modern living have contrived to make both harder to access regularly, and I believe the solutions can only come from addressing both the individual actions and the actions of the industrial food and social systems in which we live. Back when nearly all food was local and seasonal, village life was also the norm, and most people walked everywhere they needed to go, because they could. Thanks to today’s suburban and urban sprawl and rural isolation necessitating car travel, and the industrialisation of the food supply, finding time to exercise outside of work and commuting, and locating good clean food to eat is now a challenge. When you had to work your own fields to raise your own food to eat and had to walk to get anywhere, exercise and fresh healthy food came naturally and easily, it wasn’t contrived or strategised. Today’s social and food systems get off easy when we put our focus on individual responsibility and muti-million dollar food corporations don’t have to take any responsibilty.

        I also question the efficacy of receiving immunizations. They have been useful in areas of poor water, hygiene and diet quality, but in areas where they are adequate immunizations are too heavily invested in, and too aggressively administered, and they come with their own health drawbacks and risks.

        I would suggest growing some of your own food, seeking out meaningful walking destinations in safe areas, and being in touch enough with your own body to sense imbalances and practice self-treating when possible, with self-grown herbals in lowest possible doses, or with simple rest as needed. For myself, I grow as much food as I can, take weekend walks with my boys when they take the dog out, and use belly dancing videos at home several days a week for an enjoyable way to be physically active, and keep a well-stocked herbal garden for healing teas. Happily a new community garden is about to be added to my neighborhood, so now I have even more space to grow food, and a regular place to walk to (my neighborhood provides precious few walkable destinations) coming this summer. :)

        • Agree pretty much item by item. For people who have a hard time with exercise or diet because of injuries or other medical conditions, as opposed to just not wanting to deal, it’s easier to find healthier foods that accommodate dietary problems than find exercises that you can do with a herniated disc or a blown out knee. Eating more locally grown food can also help with some seasonal allergies.

          And you’re right about the role cars have taken. One of the things I really liked about the UK West Midlands area (we were mostly in Solihull, Walmley, and Shirley) was that even though they’re clustered around Birmingham, they all still have village centers where you can walk easily to things. And the prevailing attitude is that walking or biking is the smart thing, and getting in a car to go someplace within walking distance is a bit silly. Around here, power walking and biking are getting to be a trend, but you’re supposed to be wearing workout clothes and an iPod, and walk in a shopping mall, or bike out on country roads instead of being a traffic nuisance in town. The advertising campaigns we’ve had for the last several decades to sell more cars by making them a status/patriotism symbol and create a social perception that people who don’t use them are losers, haven’t done anyone any favors except the salesmen.

          • I remember hearing, some years back, about a town in Norway that didn’t allow car traffic in town. People had to park outside of town and walk or bike in.

            • That’s easy to believe from peeps who are mostly above 58 n latitude, and have a national saying “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing”!

              A lot of Europe has town centers and streets that were built long before anyone needed to pass anything bigger than a pedestrian or a horse between the buildings. There’s a running joke about the tourists who rent large cars and then complain about not being able to drive everywhere.

    • While I can’t speak for your area, I can tell you that here In Akron, Ohio, the local farmers markets being cheaper is absolutely not true. We have a local farmers market two days a week, that I shop at over the summer. the produce there costs twice as much as it does in the store, on average.

      I think part of it is a class issue. The people going to the farmers markets are not poor. They are middle and upper middle class. The farmers know they can charge a premium for their local produce, and they do.

      Another part of the higher prices is that a lot of them are organic. And the Organic produce is even worse, price-wise. Organic produce, eggs, and meet at the farmers markets costs probably three times as much as the regular stuff in the store.

      That’s why I am participating in our Community gardening program. I will get food just as fresh as the farmers market, and I won’t have to pay their prices. I’ve been growing my own cooking herbs for the last several years for the same reason.

      • *Ugh* that’s “Meat”, not “Meet”

      • @Aurifex: “I think part of it is a class issue. The people going to the farmers markets are not poor. They are middle and upper middle class. The farmers know they can charge a premium for their local produce, and they do.”

        That’s a possibility, but another is that the food prices you see in the grocery store are actually unreasonably low. There is a big drive in this country for food to be cheap, and that’s one of the things that has given big agri-businesses the advantage over small family farms. For more on this topic, I can recommend the author Wendell Berry.

      • In my area, you can find places that cater to the trendy crowd, and you can find tarp and pallet table setups in the parking lots of closed businesses and flea markets, where a lot of the fashionably health conscious, or the people who won’t buy from Hispanics or Asians don’t go. Since I’d rather avoid most of the trendies, I got a win-win.

        There’s a community garden allotment project in northeast Charlotte that’s been negotiating for a Saturday sale on the property for the members, last I heard. Wonder if that’d be practical where you are?

  3. I’d love to have more time to do exercising, I get up at 4:30am to leave for work at 5:30 to get there by 6:30 when I sit infront of my computer for 9 hours, almost straight, I don’t move much during that time, because unfortuneately I can’t do my job moving, I suffle reports electornically and if I don’t the whole team is held up. Then four nights a week I go to school for 2.5 to 3.5 hours more, I get home, walk the dogs, and it’s 11pm and I’m exhausted. I spend the weekends cooking, cleaning, brushing dogs and doing homework. And no that’s not enough exercise for me, I was bred to work 12 hours a day at hard physical labor, from sunup to sundown,
    And that’s one of the things folks in this country don’t understand, is that the different races need different amounts of exercise, but the good jobs that make buying decent foods are the ones where folks sit for most of the day. What we need are treadmills instead of cubes in our offices, no more offices in basements with no windows, (like mine).

    I do however take advantage of a local CSA, (community supported agriculture) where I get fresh organic fruits and vegetables, grown locally and seasonally. This has helped a bit, but I would like to be more physically active, just don’t have the time right now.

  4. I have been eating in a healthy way for years, and moved into growing more of my own produce. Didn’t feel like it reduced my number of days with stuff like colds. Start jogging for a 5k run? Biking 30 miles? Yeah, then I saw the number of sick days drop.

    My husband is using his lunch hour for walking, and moving into a couch to 5k program. (lntervals of walking and jogging.)

    (We live in the SF bay area, and this place is THICK with opportunity.)
    But I came here to post the Hermes notes for you:
    I found the Hermes gymnasia stuff:

    Here’s the citation:
    Pausanias, Description of Greece 4. 32. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
    “Hermes, Herakles and Theseus, who are honored in the gymnasium and wrestling-ground according to a practice universal among Greeks, and now common among barbarians.”

    Btw, that wasn’t the “hero” Herakles, but the daimone “DACTYL HERACLES”

    (Gaia is the mother)

    Plato, Lysis 203a & 206d (trans. Lamb) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
    “I was making my way from the Academy straight to the Lykeion (Lyceum), by the road outside the town wall . . . and they [at the Lykeion gymnasium] are keeping the Hermaia (Festival of Hermes), so that the youths and boys are all mingled together . . . I took Ktesippos with me into the wrestling school, and the others came after us. When we got inside, we found that the boys had performed the sacrifice in the place and, as the ceremonial business was now almost over, they were all playing at knuckle-bones and wearing their finest attire.” [N.B. The festival of Hermes, who was specially honored in wrestling schools.]

    Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 2. 5 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
    “One of the porticoes [of the Kerameikos of Athens] contains shrines of gods, and a gymnasium called that of Hermes.”

    2) You may also want to read up on Arete


    This book argues:

    That our brains were evolved to be healthy if one is exercising, and if one isn’t getting enough exercise, it tweaks the chemistry in unhappy ways. I think it’s the science that supports that athletics is an important part of Arete.

    -Zoe, who blames Yvonne for the kool-aid