The Power of Love & Purpose: The True Path to Health & Longevity
We often focus so hard on the outward things that we miss the more important things of life. It’s so easy to look at diet, exercise, and nutrients as the keys to health.
For Christmas, my son and daughter-in-law gave me a cookbook from “The Blue Zones.” This book details foods eaten by those who live in areas of the world that have an especially large percentage of centenarians. After reading the introduction, I realized that it was a propaganda piece on a vegan diet. The book says they live to be over a hundred because they eat a vegan diet, but they don’t! They have milk, cheese, fish, eggs, and meat regularly. I suspect their longevity has little to do with their diet.
There are hundreds of diet books written every year. Everyone has their idea of the perfect diet. There are whole religions that are centered around a certain diet. It is easy to believe that “you are what you eat,” and assume that all your health problems are about something you ate.
Studies with specific centenarians do not show a certain diet. Those who live to be over 110 years old often credit their longevity to eating raw eggs every day, smoking, beer, cookies, chocolate, wine, or pork. It’s funny to ask people to reveal their secrets of longevity because they don’t know. The fact is, there is not consistency of anything regarding diet and longevity.
However, there are definite connections between diet and health. Type II high blood sugar is the fastest growing illness in the world. It is epidemic and comes primarily from three sources: eating too much processed sugar and starch, eating fat with starch or sugar, and eating at night. So, while there is no perfect diet for everyone, there are principles of diet and health.
Exercise is very important. However, it is not a panacea for health. The man who wrote the book on running that started the jogging craze of the 1970s went out for a run and died of a heart attack at age 52. I had a Cross-Fit coach who exercised all day with his clients but had pre-diabetes and abdominal fat. He was so amazed that he could work so hard to get six-pack abs and not be able to get there. We had to change his timing of eating to the morning instead of night, and everything improved.
Regular exercise is important to maintain muscle mass, balance, and to prevent disability. It also helps us to regulate metabolism, and even moods. However, there is controversy about how much and what types of exercises are healthy. Exercise causes inflammation in the body, damaging muscles, joints, and tendons. But not everyone repairs that well. Light exercises like walking, sit-ups, push-ups may keep up muscle strength without doing damage, but there isn’t a single recommendation for everyone.
Maybe the answer is supplements. Every day there is a new nutrient peddled that supposedly ensures a longer and healthier life. One supplement claims to stave off Alzheimer’s disease, another prevents Parkinson’s disease. Many of them claim to prevent aging. They are all overrated. They make promises they can’t keep. Some people need supplements because of deficiencies or a greater need. But most people don’t need them, and will not benefit from taking them. Some will get toxic from taking too much of them every day. Mostly, I recommend supplementing on an intermittent basis, like once per week, to ensure adequate nutrition.
The Doctor of Medicine states: “If you don’t take this medicine, you’ll die.” But the reality is that if you do take them, you’ll die younger and have poorer health. Do people take medicine because they are in poor health, or are they in poor health because they take medicine? Both. Medications are toxic substances that affect a change in some part of the metabolism. The problem is that this has multiple effects on the body. There is the desired effect, and then there are what we call “side-effects,” which is the toxicity of the medications. Cholesterol medications lower cholesterol, but also testosterone, cortisol, Vitamin D, coenzyme Q10, and other important hormones. Medications for osteoporosis kill bone cells that remodel bones causing brittle bones and osteonecrosis (bone death). Antibiotics kill you’re your good bacteria. There is not a single medication that increases life span, or even health span.
However, there is wisdom in using medications judiciously. Some people with familial hypercholesterolemia may benefit from a statin drug. Some people with hypertension may need a drug to bring down their blood pressure. Those who have infections may need to be on antibiotics. Drugs have their use, but, like diet, supplements, and exercise, they are not for everyone, and are definitely overused.
The Longevity Gene
Genetics are a big part of longevity. Our genes determine:
- How we feel
- How we think
- How we process energy
- How we fight off infection
- How much inflammation we make
- Getting cancer
- And so forth
But genetics is not that simple. Not everyone in a family with the same genes is going to live long. One man in Indonesia, who claims to be 146 years old, outlived 4 wives, 10 siblings, and all his children. He may not have passed on the “longevity gene,” but we don’t know that there is one. This man attributed his longevity to the people who love him.
Love Brings Health
The outward things that we eat and do are easier to manage than the inward things. Maybe all the longevity gurus are something like what Jesus told the leaders of His day: “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:24) Changing the diet, working out, and popping pills are not the answer for most problems, like trying to “swallow a camel.” While they may have some effect on health, by far the biggest effect is emotional.
Why Choose Love
In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl noted that those prisoners in the prison camp who loved everyone were healthier than those who lived in fear and hatred. All prisoners were given the same food, had the same environment, slept in the same beds, and had to work the same amount, but those who loved had more muscle mass, were stronger and fitter than those who did not, even though they sometimes sacrificed their food for those in need. Emotional status affects health a lot more than we think.
However, more than just living longer, love gives purpose and meaning to life. This takes all we do out of the hopeless realm of “survival” and gives it a purpose. All that gives us value is in connecting with others. No matter what your accomplishments or achievements are, they don’t mean anything unless there is someone else to share them with. Love gives us a reason. Friedrich Nietzsche penned the bottom line: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
If you want to live long and prosper in life, the way is not to seek these directly, but rather to have a goal, a mission, and a purpose that includes loving others.
How to Love
If you can define something it goes a long way to understanding it. Love is not hard to define. I think M. Scott Peck, MD defined it best in his book, The Road Less Traveled:
“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”
If love is a choice, then it is not a mystery. It precludes the twitterpated falling in love of fairy tales and Hallmark movies. It’s not how we feel about others, but rather what we do to and for them. This is what Viktor Frankl found, that between the action and reaction there is a choice. We can choose not to react. We can choose to react differently. We can choose to love anyone at any time.
Parents make the choice to love their children by sacrificing for them. Parents give up what they want to nurture the growth of their children. These are the two essential ingredients of love:
Jesus said the same thing in His definition of love: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (KJV John 15:13)
Notice the two elements: the greatest love is the greatest sacrifice – to lay down your life. But, it also requires a benefit, which is implied in “for his friends.” If I sacrifice my life by committing suicide, I provide no benefit to anyone, and it is not love. Likewise, if I benefit others without a sacrifice it is also not love. Both must exist together to be called love. Individuals make sacrifices by learning and growing, and then giving what they have to others. I also like the way Ralph Waldo Emerson defined love:
“Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Gifts: an essay
Love Brings Health and Happiness
There is an inscription in stone above the entrance to the Greek temple at Delphi that reads: “Know Thyself.” Another Greek philosopher put forth the maxim (variously attributed to Socrates and Plato), “Control Thyself.” And Jesus taught, “Give Thyself.” These are the three steps of love, and thus, a stress-free life. One cannot be happy unless he is able to give to others from his heart. However, until you know who you are, you can have no control over yourself; and you cannot give yourself to others until you possess your own self. Happiness is found not in the giving of things, but rather in the giving of the self, from the heart. Most put the cart before the horse, trying to give what they do not have. Even parents are often seen trying to control their children when they have no control of themselves.
These do not come quickly or easily. Divesting yourself of the very things you need is a daunting task. The rich, young ruler who asked Jesus what he needed to do, having kept all the commandments from his youth was told to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. He walked away in sorrow. Love is a hard path to take! But, as Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.”
The goal of meditation exercises is to come to understand yourself. Coming to know your heart isn’t automatic, it’s something that must be sought with passion. Since all understanding of the world around us is filtered through our own experience, we must understand our own filters. It is essential to understand fully our own motivations, why we do what we do. The heart is the motivation for action. We come to know our heart, or our wants, needs, and desires, as the motivation for everything we think, say, and do.
I have found writing in a journal has helped me to know myself. Over the years I can go back and look at my thoughts and ideas and see my motivations. I know my weaknesses. I know my strengths. I know why I say and do certain things because I have them written down. It takes discipline to write regularly. I get up at around 4:00 AM to do it because it is the only time I can be alone.
Once I know my heart, I can begin to love myself by exerting self-control. We learn self-control by delaying gratification, or putting off things we want or need that are in our heart. It’s the simple things that we do daily that make a big difference. We choose to do the right thing every minute of every day. This is hard work, the real work of life. It is taking responsibility for our own feelings, and even monitoring every thought. The mind is like a stage that only allows one act at a time. While some thoughts are intrusive, we can change the act by deciding to think of something else. If we control our thoughts, then we control our feelings, and controlling our feelings allows us to control what we do.
These are the things that make a big difference. For example, just doing the things we already know, such as eating right and exercising, will improve health – not because of the specific foods or exercise, but because of the discipline it takes to get there. We are learning to love.
Unless you control something, you can’t give it or share it. You must possess it first. A three-year-old at her birthday party gets many gifts, and all the children want to play with them. She cannot possibly use them all at the same time, but she insists that nobody touches her new toys. She needs to possess them first. She needs to know that they really belong to her (which could take years) before she can share them with the others. That’s why smart parents have little toys and games for the invitees to a three-year-old’s party.
When you control yourself, you can give, but what you give, and how you give, is entirely individual. The same way it doesn’t help to push a three-year-old to share her toys, nobody can be coerced to give anything, it must come from within. Giving comes out of the gifts and talents that we have. If I don’t know music, I cannot teach another how to play an instrument. Each person has a unique set of gifts and talents. Knowing and controlling these gifts allows us to help others.
Some give through their work or profession. I listened to a lecture series by a musical composer about the history of western classical music. It was apparent that his joy came from sharing what was in his heart, he loved music. Most have had at least one teacher like this. I also knew a mason who loved to create beautiful work with tile and stone, putting his heart into his work. He would drive by buildings on which he had worked and point out what he had done with joy. Whether the work is intellectual or physical makes no difference. The important part is that it comes from the heart, the gift of the self. Some write books which share their love. Others give through family, church or civic organizations, clubs, sports, or any activity at all. The list of possibilities is endless. We give what we have, the gift of love.
If Mozart had not grown up in a musical family, he would not have known he had a talent, or if he had not disciplined himself to practice (at the insistence of his father), we would not have some of the most beautiful music ever created. Beethoven wrote his best work when he was deaf, and never heard them himself. Through a lot of suffering, Mozart wrote his music. Yet he shared his gift of love with the world. In the same manner, the gifts we give to the world come from knowing and having discipline of ourselves.
I give to you from my gifts and talents every month. I love every one of you. I work hard to give good information that will help you grow. I know myself, and I have studied extensively and developed enough discipline to be in control of the things of the body and understand the principles of health. I have worked to understand biochemistry so I can bring clarity to health claims. You can avoid the fantasies of the day: that supplements, drugs, surgery, a special diet, a miracle patch, or whatever new health fad can bring health and longevity. The true principles are simple, but they take discipline, which are the sacrifices we make so we can grow:
- Eat two meals daily, at 8:00 AM and 4:00 PM
- Avoid unhealthy food (processed foods)
- Chose healthy food (fiber, whole foods)
- Exercise regularly (5 times per week)
- Fast for three days in a row every month
- Go to bed by 10:00 PM every night
I know that choosing any one of these will improve your health. All of them would be amazing! You would never need to worry about aging or inflammation or degenerative diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, or diabetes. This is one way to love yourself – you sacrifice what you want for what will help you grow and be healthy.
Then, if you love yourself, you will have the power and ability to love others, finding peace and joy even in the difficulties of life. Viktor Frankl found love in a Nazi prison camp, having peace, and meaning in the most grueling environment. Love brings peace. Love brings joy. Love is connection. Loving others is the same thing in concept, but very different in individuals. It is letting go of what I want, what I like, what I need, and giving my time and talents to others. I need to know what will help them. Just giving money to the poor, for example, may not be helpful. It is simply going out of my way to help others grow, knowing their needs. This is the true way to health. If you have something to offer, you can love, and if you love, you will be happy, and if you are happy, you will be healthy.