Good health is more than the absence of disease

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Opinion: Doctors don’t usually prescribe yoga, tai chi, or meditation to their patients, but maybe they should

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Finally, it seems, there is a light at the end of this long, dark pandemic tunnel. With the lifting of health restrictions, British Columbians are breathing easier, they plan to travel again, or maybe even attend a concert or a hockey game.

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While we should all be on the safe side, this is definitely a much-needed mood boost for all of us. But as a lifelong doctor, I hope it won’t just be a return to normal. That’s because the “normalcy” that many people experience is marked by unhealthy foods, high stress, insufficient exercise, poor sleep, and burnout. The results are obvious: widespread obesity, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and many other chronic diseases. The South Asian community, of which I am proud to be a member, is considered a high-risk population for developing type 2 diabetes. We all know that COVID was especially difficult for those with underlying health conditions like these.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s not sustainable for our health care system and it’s not healthy for us.

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As we emerge from COVID and its many restrictions, I advocate a meaningful reset in how we think about our health. There is no miracle vaccine that will cure us of our food addiction or free us from our mortgage stress or work anxiety. But there is a better path to better health.

In addition to traditional medicine, emerging evidence suggests that mind-body medicine can improve health, prevent disease, and contribute greatly to our well-being.

Good health is more than the absence of disease. It is about the overall health of the body, including physical, mental and spiritual health. Think of it this way: If healthcare was a three-legged stool, one leg will always include external interventions such as surgery, vaccines, and pharmaceuticals. A second stage is lifestyle, involving things like nutrition, sleep, and stress. But for true balance, we need the third step – self-care – which connects body, mind and mind. It is an integrative approach known as mind-body medicine.

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Doctors don’t usually prescribe yoga, tai chi, or meditation for their patients, but maybe they should. Stress and unhealthy lifestyles represent a huge public health burden. We can create healthier outcomes if we encourage better nutrition, daily exercise, and adopt practices that improve mental health.

The Canada India Network Society believes that we can improve health outcomes through the acceptance of this integrative thinking. It’s about empowering people to take an active role in all aspects of their health.

For generations, Western medicine – and I have been a practitioner for over 40 years – has focused on what you can see, the physical body, and developed interventions to improve health.

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But for centuries, Eastern health practitioners have focused on the brain and the role the mind plays in our overall health. Evidence proves that self-awareness and self-care taught through techniques such as yoga and meditation improve well-being.

Yes, there are skeptics and those who would call this fairytale nonsense. Frankly, for most of my career as a physician and medical leader in BC, I failed to recognize the life-changing benefits of mind-body medicine. But there is clear evidence that the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems communicate with each other, which is why our emotional well-being and belief system can affect our physical health.

I sincerely believe that we can improve our health by marrying the best of Western medicine with the best of the East. The integration of mind-body medicine is still relatively new, but it is being taught in some health care institutions and at universities like Harvard.

Much more needs to be done, and I encourage my healthcare colleagues – doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals – to embrace the transformative power of mind-body medicine. I ask policy makers to explore this low-cost way to improve health outcomes and reduce costs.

For me, it’s not about “fixing” our broken health care system. Now it’s time to heal ourselves.

Dr. Arun Garg is a clinical professor at the University of British Columbia and chair of the Canada India Network Initiative (thecins.org).

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