What Does Healthy Even Mean?
A new study from the Mayo Clinic revealed that only 2.7 percent of Americans live a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps the problem is their definition of healthy.
The term ‘healthy’ is one of the most overused yet ambiguous around. Companies desperately want you to associate their product with it. Take a walk through any supermarket aisle and thousands of products scream the word in bright colors, even when laden with thirty grams of sugar per serving. One company once told me its beverage is ‘lightly touched.’ At twenty-seven grams, two above World Health Organization’s daily limit, that’s quite a jab.
Things become more complicated when considering the human body. Navigating the literature proves impossible with so many conflicting reports. One of the more known entities, Mayo Clinic, recently published a report on ‘healthy lifestyle characteristics’ in regards to cardiovascular disease biomarkers. You’d think something as simple as avoiding heart troubles would be commonsense. And you’d be wrong.
Not that the report is useless, but any study that concludes only 2.7 percent of Americans live a healthy lifestyle should raise eyebrows. Researchers defined the term with four markers:
First off, the healthy diet marker is based on 24-hour recall. Subjects were asked what they ate and drank over the last day. There are two reasons this is flawed: people lie, especially when it comes to bad habits, and they simply could have had a really good eating day.
If you know Thursday is study day, you might decide that a salad for lunch and a slice of grass-fed beef for dinner surrounded by vegetables is the way to go. If your normal eating patterns are more like take out and a pizza, one good day in a horrible month is not going to provide an appropriate measure of health.
Perhaps I’m being too critical, as researchers discovered only 37.9 percent of subjects consume a healthy diet. Smoking is the largest consensus: 71.5 percent do not smoke. Nearly half are sufficiently active (46.5 percent), while only 9.6 percent have an appropriate body-fat percentage. And that is the real problem with this study.
Reading the report, you’re initially startled (or for many, relieved) to find out that only 2.7 percent of Americans are healthy. Over three times that number (11.1 percent) did not meet any marker. We all know smoking is unhealthy, just as we’re aware excessive sugar consumption leads to a host of problems. But we’re also culturally obsessed with body fat, and our measurements, and expectations, are off.
Researchers used DEXA, Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry, to measure body fat. This involves aiming two X-ray beams at a subject’s bones and subtracting soft tissue absorption to evaluate bone mineral density, though measuring body composition and fat content is also possible. It’s the best method researchers have, though there are still problems.
Theodore K Kyle and Fatima Cody Stanford published a rebuttal. They remind readers that body composition is largely inherited, subject to genetic and environmental conditions. Body compositions also vary greatly “by sex, age, race, and ethnicity, which may account for the differences ascertained in this study.”
While the authors agree that composition levels play a role in cardiovascular disease risk, they warn of not writing off people with a higher number as unhealthy. Many obese individuals can and do practice healthy lifestyle behaviors, and we do not all carry fat the same way. Low body fat composition due to an eating disorder might statistics within the healthy range but is in no way healthy.
Kyle and Stanford conclude that headlines like this stifle progress fighting obesity. It’s an understandable complaint, as many read no more than the headline. Seeing that only 2.7 percent of Americans are healthy makes the pursuit of such a lifestyle seems impossible, creating guilt in the observer. Emotions associated with guilt, such as anger and sadness, raise cortisol levels in your blood, which in a vicious feedback loop stores more visceral fat in your abdominal region.
As someone who deals with hundreds of students every week with a wide range of body compositions, I’ve recognized that it’s all about how you carry your weight. Body fat is useful in predicting disease but concurrently destructive thanks to our cultural obsession with the ‘perfect’ body. If perfection means anything, it’s being comfortable in your skin. The satisfaction of taking care of yourself is healthier in the long run than being plagued by a few percentage points.
Derek Beres is working on his new book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health (Carrel/Skyhorse, Spring 2017). He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch @derekberes.
What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.
The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
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Vanchurin interview:<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="539759cbfd8fcd5b6ebf14a3b597b3f9"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bmyRy2-UhEE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Vanchurin on “Hidden Phenomena”:<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="18886ffd5e5840bb19d4494212f88d82"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2NDVdNwsHCo?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>Vitaly Vanchurin speaking at the 6th International FQXi Conference, "Mind Matters: Intelligence and Agency in the Physical World." The Foundational Questions...
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