Three words to improve health: Jostle your organs

Tom West, West Words
Tom West, West Words

Forty or 50 years ago, when Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review, became ill, he wrote about how he cured himself by leaving his job and doing things that made him laugh — a lot.

As with most things, the story became distorted over time. It was said that Cousins cured himself of cancer by being amused. Not true.

Nevertheless, that led me to espouse my philosophy for living healthily. It can be boiled down to three words: Jostle your organs.

My theory is that your body needs to move around enough to keep the blood and any toxins therein from pooling in one place and allowing infections or tumors to start.

I even used the stereotype that overweight people laugh more, thinking of that jolly old elf, St. Nick. My conclusion was that we either need to exercise or laugh regularly in order to stay healthy..We need to jostle our organs every day.

I’m sure that would be enough to get me thrown out of any oncologist convention in the nation, but I still think there is something intuitively correct about the idea. When we are under stress, we tend to hunker down, don’t breathe well, start fretting and forget that we weren’t put on this earth just to be miserable.

Our bodies work well if we use them. Our minds are connected to our bodies, and when our bodies work well, our minds function better too.

So it was that a few weeks ago, the “real life Forrest Gump” Robert Sweetgall spent a day in Little Falls and Pierz preaching the benefits of exercise.

Sweetgall opened the session I attended with a quote from 19th century philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. I’m not a big Emerson fan, but many years ago, I read his essay “Self-Reliance,” and some of Emerson’s words have stuck with me.

Emerson wrote in part, referring to the false god of progress, “The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscle.”

Sweetgall used Emerson as his springboard to talk about the benefits of rolling off the couch and getting a little exercise.

He started by having all of us stand up and walk around the meeting room a couple of times. Then he took out a bunch of foam rubber Frisbees and began tossing them around the room, making sure everyone in the room got in a few tosses.

Then he got serious. Noting that a fifth of the U.S. economy is now spent on disease management, he reminded us that 93 percent of health improvements come from lifestyle changes, and only 7 percent from improvements in technology.

The United States now spends two to three times as much as other nations do on health care, but still ranks 20th in longevity, he said.  “We are in disease management, and they are in prevention,”

“The 70 to 80 percent of Americans who are not moving, are causing 99 percent of the health care problems.”

Sweetgall got the nickname “real-life Forrest Gump” by walking across the nation a couple of times. He said that the good news is that you don’t have to become a marathon runner to get healthy.

In fact, he said, the death rate goes up if one tries to run more than five miles a day.

The biggest benefit comes from walking just one mile a day.

He said even standing, instead of sitting at a desk all day, is better.

The topic of the presentation I sat in on was “workplace wellness.” He suggested a business should buy all employees a pedometer, then encourage them to walk 2,500 more steps a day, and to record their activity in a journal.

Each month, the results would be turned in, and whomever showed the most improvement would get to walk with the CEO for 10 minutes..

I’m not sure if that prize would tempt many workers at the Record, but I was enthused enough by the overall message, that a few days later, I went into our production area on a Thursday afternoon.

I timed it on purpose, because Thursday is known here as “deadline day.” We don’t actually go to press until Friday, but a number of employees work late on Thursday to make sure that the paper gets to the printer on time.

It’s normally a time of high stress, so I realized that I was taking my life in my own hands. Undaunted, I told  all the graphic artists, reporters and typesetters to get up from their desks and form a circle. Like Sweetgall, I then proceeded to march them around the room a couple of times, and then I threw out a couple of foam rubber Frisbees. We tossed them around for five minutes, and then I told them to go back to work.

I couldn’t tell if the resurgent flow of blood to their brains caused a new wave of creativity, but I think most of them were smiling when they sat down, so it was worth it.

Thus, today’s message is: Jostle your organs every day. It will at least make you happier and may even make you healthier.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 632-2345 or by e-mail at [email protected]