Chapter 27

Are you living a healthy life?

We long to feel good in our own skin our entire lives. And we can do a lot for that: we can see life as unity of body, mind, and soul, refrain from living at the expense of our older years when we are young, make physical activity and healthy nutrition part of our way of life, overcome our inner couch potato and resist the tempt­ations of the world around us. And: Spread joy!

The unity of body, mind, and soul

Being healthy is not limited to just your body. Our mind and feelings also affect our well-being. During their time on earth, humans are an insepa­rable and inter­woven unity of body, mind, and soul. People who ignore that during their younger years risk having to pay the price later, such as when they have damaged their body.

As children and teenagers, we are not yet able to take on respon­si­bility for ourselves. Children need to be reminded over and over again to brush their teeth regularly and thoroughly. Teenagers can ruin their lives even before they become adults. It is the respon­si­bility of the adults, parents, teachers, society as a whole, and parti­cu­larly the media, to not give children and teenagers a bad example but to show them how to handle the gift of a healthy body.

Physical activity that does not strain the body one-sidedly and is not done overze­a­l­ously is one way to develop the awareness of your body necessary for your health. This allows teenagers to grow into taking respon­si­bility for themselves at an early age.

A good awareness of your health also includes confi­dently accepting your body the way it is. Nobody made themselves. While doctors may be able to change quite a few things, what right do they have to do so and at what risk does it come?

Our physical appearance changes over time. You cannot hold on to your appearance of your youth and young adulthood. But everyone should take care of their body throughout their lives. To do so, you need to get to know it and under­stand it better and better. For example:

  • What does my body react to sensitively?
  • When does it feel better?
  • How adaptable is it?
  • What can it be asked to do?

Doctors and trainers can help to find out the strengths and weaknesses of our body. But only we ourselves can acknow­ledge their findings and translate their advice into action. You have to overcome your inner couch potato do so.

Companies are interested in their employees’ fitness

The scien­tific study of causes of death due to an unhealthy lifestyle shows that in four out of five cases one of the following is a key factor:

  • smoking
  • lack of physical activity
  • high blood pressure
  • obesity
  • alcoholism.

All of these causes have to do with inherited traits, with life habits and with the environment we live and work in.

Companies that value their employees’ health – examples for this can be primarily found in the United States – offer both a compre­hensive education program for prevention and also targeted support for concrete health risks.

Some companies pay both for weight loss programs and rehabi­li­tation and regular exams and checkups. Infor­mation services and events are intended combat ignorance and carelessness. Literature and audio­visual media are provided in health centers. Consul­tants provide infor­mation and tips on aspects like nutri­tional issues.

Sports facilities also provide preventive health care. Track and field and swimming are some of the preferred sports. Some companies include their employees’ family members, well aware of the fact that their home environment and family tradi­tions have a strong impact on life habits.

When companies are interested in their employees’ health to such a degree, it benefits the employees, the company, the insurance system, and society as a whole. In Germany, only very few companies so far have started to offer support and preven­tative measures. Most the company board­rooms assume that is rather their employees who are respon­sible for taking care of their physical and mental capacity.

Do not consume your health!

Health is a highly subjective matter for which the government and companies can and should provide assis­tance, but they may not shift away the focus for the respon­si­bility for prevention by collec­ti­vizing the consequences.

Bad habits can be best controlled by clearly and constantly highlighting the conse­quences for self-respon­si­bility and ignoring the warning will result in the loss of social support. Everything else will result in delusions along the lines of “What can happen to me?” or “My grand­f­ather was a chain smoker and lived to be over 90.”

The frigh­tening increase in addictive disorders shows how diabo­lical it is to give in to your addic­tions without taking the conse­quences into account. The issue of “alcohol” is an example for which specific damage can be done within your group of colleagues, at the company, behind the wheel, and in the family.

Nearly everyone thinks that they are a social drinker that can certainly handle a beer or two and that they can stop drinking whenever they want – until it is too late.

Care of your health yourself!

Health is a valuable asset that everyone has to take care of on their own. Thus, employers can certainly expect employees to do justice to this respon­si­bility for themselves. But just like the government and society, they should express their expec­ta­tions speci­fi­cally: infor­mation, counseling, preven­tative measures, check-ups, sports options and a corporate atmos­phere that does not allow for bad habits.

Neither govern­mental health policies nor preventive measures on the part of the employer relieve you of the respon­si­bility of taking care of your health yourself. This requires, first of all, getting some clarity about your consti­tution and your state of health. Doctors can help you, but it is ultimately up to you to make experi­ences and develop and adhere to the correct conclu­sions from this.

Health and well-being are expressed very indivi­dually: Life situa­tions play a role; your genetics have an effect; and  behavior, prefe­rences, charac­te­ristics and role models have an effect. Some things must be accepted as the equipment nature blessed us with; but this is by no means a prede­ter­mined destiny but can also be influ­enced. It is important to penetrate into these contexts as deeply as possible.

Some unhealthy influ­ences come from our surroun­dings. Not every neigh­borhood is healthy, for instance, if the air quality is poor. Should you move away? Fight for something to change? In addition, tradi­tions from long gone times such as drinking habits, do not work for everyone.

What you should pay attention to: Social pressure, such as that arising from socia­bility, must not damage your health. Therefore: You need to be able to say “No” – confi­dently and demanding respect. It is better to break off contacts and give up affilia­tions than ruining your liver, damaging your lungs, or becoming addicted.

Do not let yourself be stressed out!

Stress makes you sick. People who only see themselves as someone who is constantly rushed should get out before they do any more damage to themselves. They won’t be able to benefit the restored energy until they have regained their inner peace and quiet. This feeling of calm will be able to  restore the joy they used to have at work and return their perfor­mance capability. Former Audi head Wolfgang Habbel once said, “In order to perform, you need to be relaxed and balanced.”

Many people are no longer able to enjoy their vacation as relaxation. They have become stressed for such a long time that the smooth switch from tension to relaxation is impaired. Even peace and quiet gets on their nerves. They no longer find contem­plative silence. At night, they have a tough time falling asleep, and their sleep itself is fitful. The only thing that works here is to unplug and vacation in a monastery or go into nature to find back to yourself.

Dealing with yourself is an entre­pre­neurial task that funda­mentally has to do with survival. For example nutrition: Some people today eat and drink themselves to death or become cripples who no longer have any joy in life. Even the speed at which most people eat is not really healthy. And there are bosses who believe that they can draw conclu­sions on their employees’ working speed based on how fast they eat. This is hogwash. But insights about and principles of healthy nutrition are incre­a­singly being accepted.

Despite the growing awareness that health is a good that requires care and prevention, all the care and preventive measures in the world will not be able to eradicate illness and frailty. This is due to human weaknesses and our failure-prone nature that is charac­te­rized by both life and death and by pain and suffering. Therefore, it is all the more important for everyone to take personal respon­si­bility for their own health.

For this reason, a govern­mental organiz­ation system is required that uncon­di­tio­nally puts the respon­si­bility on indivi­duals. And those who fail to meet this respon­si­bility will have to suffer the consequences.

The quint­essential aspects of a healthy life include
lots of physical activity and the right nutrition

We know that physical activity and nutrition are crucial for our health. But who really lives like that? We sit at our desks, in front of the computer, in the car, on a train or a plane, in meetings or confe­rences, in front of the TV, at the bar and so on – we have become sedentary.

And what do we eat? We love sweet, greasy, and spicy food. We eat irregu­larly, on the run, and hastily. We eat too much and a lot of us do not drink enough. Some people prefer alcohol, but they drink exces­sively. They don’t practice moderation. And they lack disci­pline. People use medication to keep the conse­quences in check. But taking on respon­si­bility for yourself? We would have to get over ourselves to do that.

Bitter experi­ences have taught me that this will not go unpunished. When I first started working for myself, I priori­tized the acqui­sition of orders and carrying them out perfectly over everything. And that included my health. Until I one day suddenly had such severe back pain at some point that I could neither stand nor lie down. Fortu­n­ately, I met a doctor who didn’t beat around the bush: Injec­tions will give you a temporary fix but they won’t heal you.

“Don’t take a taxi back home, but walk, no matter how painful it is. Start going for a walk for an hour every day, go for a hike on the weekends, go for a run through the forest and on bike tours and go swimming. Get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning and do some stretches; you will find the instruc­tions on how to do them on the handouts I’m giving you.” The doctor explained to me why only regular and cardio­vascular exercise keeps your skeleton, muscles, and circu­lation healthy and ready to perform. (In fact, the walk home that day nearly did me in!)

The freedom of a self-deter­mined life

In addition to the damage to your health due to a lack of physical activity, you also need to be aware of damage due to a false sense of ambition. Doing compe­titive sports unpro­fes­sio­nally is dangerous. The best example is running a marathon. To find out what is helpful for you, you need to observe yourself, have personal experi­ences, collect, sift through, and try out the useful tips from the plethora of guides.

A “Health” category is helpful in your diary where you record the experi­ences with the fitness program. Keep in mind: People who do not force themselves to stay healthy will ultimately be restricted by the results of their unhealthy lifestyle. Overcoming yourself gives you the freedom of a self-deter­mined life. Cigarettes and alcohol have the risk of being addictive.

I also had to learn a bitter lesson in terms of nutrition. I was not able to keep to the regular mealtimes when I was working in the German Bundestag. Lots of my meals were “work meals” and most of them had to be very fast. While the food served there may have been delicious, it certainly was not always healthy. I started to suffer from chronic gastritis as a result. I only got rid of it more or less after years of discipline:

  1. regular mealtimes
  2. three main meals, two snacks
  3. eat in a calm atmos­phere, and with gratitude
  4. find out when you are full
  5. always drink lots of water with your meals.

I made it clear to myself again and again that acquiring the best orders in suffi­cient numbers is all meaningless if I do not have the health and resilience to execute them as perfectly as possible.

Everyone has their very personal condi­tions for their health. And you need to find them. I used to envy people who seemed to have an “indest­ruc­tible” health. You meet these kinds of people in politics in parti­cular. Very few of them had the mind and character to pay attention to a healthy lifestyle. They did not notice that they were harming themselves.

There is no lack of helpful tips for leading a healthy life. The task is as follows:

  • Find out your individual condi­tions for a healthy life more and more precisely
  • Develop a fitness program, keep improving it, and practice it flexibly
  • Overcome your inner couch potato and gain the freedom of sacrifice
  • Make good nutrition and suffi­cient physical activity part of your life habits.

Radiate a zest for life!

It’s unusual for a healthy person to die – unless it is due to an accident. But is it necessary that for many people aging and illness are part and parcel? Is suffering in old age not an eventual conse­quence of an unhealthy lifestyle? The demise of the extended family has pushed the elderly out of the daily realm of experience of the active generation. This makes it easy for young people to repress the fact that they will also be old at some point.

The opinion that you have to forgo the pleasures of life to have a healthy lifestyle is nonsense. The question is: Which lifestyle is appro­priate for me to both experience the present and my future years as a senior citizen in terms of the present oppor­tu­nities without limita­tions? This is what you have to do: Don’t turn a blind eye to the prevailing risks to your health, explore your personal risks and then create healthy life habits.

Create habits – this also means not spending all your waking hours scruti­nizing your health and possible risks. Lead a healthy life! This will allow you to forget about having to constantly think about what might make you sick. People who are in good shape are healthy; they don’t talk about it.

And finally: Health is closely related to a person’s state of mind. People who love life do not make a sickly impression. And they do not focus on occasional ailments. They do not run to the doctor for every little ache and pain. You have experience with yourself and know what will go away again on its own or what you did wrong and have to pay for later.

Part of the effort to live a fulfilled life entails staving off grumpiness and not letting yourself be infected by other people’s bad moods. We all like to be with happy and even-tempered people and we let them captivate us with their humor, their confi­dence, and their cheerful approach to life. Why don’t we try harder to be that way ourselves?

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