The more I read about the western lifestyle the more I find myself asking “Why are we so sick when we have so many advantages at our fingertips?” I have decided to try to figure out if there is an answer to this question and if so, what is it, and can we turn it around.

Let’s begin at the start: what typically defines the western lifestyle?

    • Physical inactivity
    • High calorific diet
    • insufficient or inadequate sleep
    • chronic psychological stress
    • insufficient or over exposure to the sun
    • recreational drugs
    • smoking
    • pollution
    • better sanitation
    • better healthcare, vaccination, antibiotics
    • political and social stability
    • less physical trauma

Within the above  list are both the pros and cons of the western lifestyle:

Let’s take a look at the pros:

    • better sanitation
    • better healthcare, vaccination, antibiotics
    • political and social stability
    • less physical trauma

The pros result in the average life expectancy being high but this is not because the western lifestyle and diet is healthier as we can see in the cons below.

Now let’s examine the Cons:

    • Physical inactivity
    • High calorific diet
    • insufficient or inadequate sleep
    • chronic psychological stress
    • insufficient or over exposure to the sun
    • recreational drugs
    • smoking
    • pollution

The result from the cons is chronic disease (diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease etc) and increased rates of cancer.

So why has our supposedly advanced and modern lifestyle become so bad for us, resulting in an increase in chronic disease and cancer? What is it about our lifestyle that makes us so ill and can we change the outcome for ourselves?

Ref: The western diet and lifestyle and diseases of civilisation.

I thought we should start by asking a few questions about our own lifestyle:

  1. How active is your regular job i.e. desk bound, on your feet all day, mixture?
  2. How many hours do you sit at a desk?
  3. How often do you consume alcohol?
  4. Do you smoke?
  5. What proportion of your meals are prepared from scratch i.e. not ready made?
  6. How many meals contain meat?
  7. Do you eat fruit and vegetables regularly?
  8. When you get home do you sit in front of the tv as standard?
  9. How many hours a day of physical activity do you do (now be deadly honest here)?
  10. Do you get at least 7 hours sleep every night?
  11. How often do you get out into sunlight every day?
  12. Do you live in a built up or rural location?
  13. Do you have downtime at some point in your day?
  14. Do you think you have a healthy lifestyle?
  15. Are you overweight?

Now if you look at your answers and then look at the cons listed above the questions can you begin to see how “healthy” your lifestyle is or isn’t?

As a way to share the experience of working through this with you I’ll answer the above questions to see how my lifestyle is affecting my health.

  1. I have a desk job
  2. Sit at my desk for 7 hours
  3. I have the odd glass of wine in the week 1 or 2 glass a week if that.
  4. I have never smoked
  5. I would say 90% of my meals are made from scratch (I cheat when it comes to bread and fruit juice)
  6. With regards to cooked meals I would say 100% contain meat either chicken, lamb, fish or pork and occasionally beef.
  7. I think i eat a reasonable amount of fruit and veg but this can vary vastly – some weeks I am great other weeks I am terrible.
  8. Once my kids are in bed, yup I sit down again. If I am on my own I stick my nose in a book but the outcome is the same. I sit on my bottom again. This is always worse in the darker months. Sitting down of an evening is lessened in the summer months.
  9. Ok, physical activity. I’m going to be honest here, there is little point being anything else. I take my dog out for a brisk 20 minute (I reckon) early morning walk. I have a 15 minute walk to work (reasonable pace) and a 10 minute walk home (much faster pace as walking alone). I take my dog out for a 20 minute walk at lunch. I walk a round trip of 30 minutes to pick my kids up (reasonable but sometimes slow pace). That is the sum total of my physical activity.
  10. I have between 7 and 8 hours good sleep every night.
  11. See answer 9 which equals sun exposure too.
  12. I live in a small town in the countryside, i would say the air is pretty clean ish.
  13. I take a chunk of time to myself just before i turn in for the night.
  14. I believe I eat reasonably healthily, if a little too much and quite often sugary things (waist line can show that). I don’t think I do enough physical activity. Overall I would say I am pretty average but I don’t think my lifestyle is as healthy as it could be.
  15. Yes

Looking over my answers I can see that my job leads to physical inactivity for much of the day and I admit to overeating and being overweight. In other areas I believe I’m pretty ok, so my areas of danger are physical inactivity and overeating. Run through the questions yourself and see what your danger areas are.
I think my lifestyle is pretty typical of a western person, healthier than some perhaps and less healthy than others.

My next step is to consider the following questions:

  1. Why does the western lifestyle lead to chronic disease and cancer?
  2. Can we pinpoint when our diets and lifestyle started to become chronically bad for us?
  3. Is there something we can do about it?

I will write separate posts dealing with each of these questions in turn, so keep your eyes peeled for the next installment.

Coming soon: Why does the western lifestyle lead to chronic disease and cancer?

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