If Not Now, When?

Hourglass

Rabbi Hillel, one of the greatest teachers in Jewish tradition (110 BCE-10 CE), is the author of the well-known saying: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”

This pithy expression asks us to examine our role in the world, where we fit in. Although these words are over 2000 years old, they are compelling today as well. We must be willing to put in the effort to advance ourselves; we should not rely on others to look out for us. At the same time, we should not be so self-centered that we forget our obligations to those around us. Finally, there is a time to philosophize over these matters, and a time to act.

It occurs to me that Hillel’s words do not just address our spiritual or emotional status, but our physical well-being as well. As readers of this blog know, the interplay between body and soul in Judaism is a fascinating one. Our tradition recognizes that body and soul need each other; our souls require a body to “house” them during our sojourn on earth, and our bodies would only be dust (according to Genesis 1) were it not for the soul.

When it comes to our health and fitness, it is up to each of us to make sure that we care for the body given to us by God. We must make sure that we eat properly, exercise, and get appropriate rest; we cannot abuse our bodies and expect someone else (a medical professional, a personal trainer, a magician?) to make it all better. We also run the risk of being so concerned with our own physical wellness that we forget about the needs of others. This is a natural human instinct; we are afraid to give up something of our own lest we need it later. It is not a zero sum game, though; for one person to be healthy does not mean that someone else has to be denied access to healthcare, good food, vaccines, etc. There is enough to go around (at least in the United States) if we have the will to make it so. Finally, we should not put off taking better care of ourselves for later when we think we will have more time, or more energy, or feel more motivated.

This last point is perhaps the most important. A journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step. That step may be joining a gym, downloading an app to eat more healthfully, simply going on a walk, or scheduling a mammogram or colon cancer screening. We can come up with hundreds of reasons for why we cannot do this or that when it comes to fitness and health; sadly, we often come to know the danger of putting things off only when it is too late.

If not now, when? Whether I am only for myself or only for others is a moot point if I never act. Hillel asks us to think about ourselves and about others; even more importantly, that thought must move to action. Our health and welfare should always be a priority. Let us treat them as such by not waiting any longer to be the best version of ourselves–emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and physically. If not now, when?

The Health Hazard Posed by Racism

RACISM

Over the last few years–but certainly more intensely since the killing of George Floyd–our nation has begun to recognize the serious damage that has been caused by racism. The brunt of that damage, of course, has been felt by minority groups, but many recognize that racism harms all of us.

Although I consider myself an open-minded and empathetic person (who happens to belong to a minority group too), I do not fully understand the challenges faced by others who do not look like me. I have been shielded from much of the hatred, violence, and injustice. The last couple of years have made me more aware of the insidious ways in which racism has infected every corner of society; it has impacted jobs, public safety, self-esteem, the arts, and politics to name just some areas. I have become more attuned to how widespread the problem is.

As someone who is in an allied health profession, I know that the health challenges faced by minorities are different than those faced by the rest of society. Yes, there are certain diseases that are endemic in various communities (Sickle-Cell Anemia among African-Americans and Tay-Sachs among Jews), but socioeconomic conditions almost always contribute to worse health outcomes as well. For instance, lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables in some neighborhoods while fast-food is readily available affects poorer Americans more than others. Scarcity of affordable housing and healthcare as well as substandard education can also contribute to the problem.

An article published last week on http://www.nbcnews.com highlights a recent statement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) that calls racism a “serious threat” to public health. In particular, the CDC claims that racism has “profound and negative impact on communities of color” and is contributing to disproportionate mortality rates among people of color. The article is worth a read for its explanation of why exactly this is an issue. Racism in our society has contributed to the very challenges listed above. One cannot help but pause to consider why minority groups suffer worse health outcomes across a variety diseases (when comparing apples to apples).

I have not read the report from the CDC yet, but from my experience as a personal trainer I know that people from lower socio-economic status are less likely to be able to afford a gym membership, fitness equipment, or access to a trainer. Many minority groups find themselves in that lower socio-economic segment; racism since the birth of this nation has certainly contributed to that overlap.

As a country, we must continue to confront our sad and on-going legacy of racism. As we do, we will more fully understand the myriad ways in which it affects its victims. Ultimately, it affects all of us; as we have seen with COVID-19, viruses do not understand skin color, national origin, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. How is it then that minority communities were so disproportionately affected by the pandemic? Let us be aware of the role that racism plays in all of this; until we recognize it, we cannot hope to find solutions.

Let My Diet Go? Planning for Passover

Olives, Matzoh, Radishes, Liver Pate, and Sweet Pickled Peppers

The holiday of Passover is about 10 days away and for most Jewish people across the globe, preparation is in full swing. Why is this Passover different than all other Passovers?

You might think the reason is because of the pandemic, but by Passover last year we were already in “lockdown” mode and most Seder meals were done with only a few people and/or virtually with family and friends. The real difference this year has to do with the changes that I have made in my diet over the last five weeks or so. As I have noted in previous posts, I have been tracking all my exercise and all my calorie consumption; as of this morning, not only have I taken off all my COVID weight, but I am also 2 pounds away from my goal weight. It is an amazing feeling; I like the way I feel and the way I look!

This year, my wife and I are approaching Passover in a different way when it comes to food. For those not familiar, during the 8 days (7 in Israel), we eat no leavened foods: no bread, no pasta, no cake, etc. Over the years, however, many substitutes have been produced so that now it is possible to make Passover “bagels,” brownies, noodles, etc. They use ingredients that are permitted on Passover, but from the standpoint of being healthy…well, let us just say, that maybe they should not be permitted. It is still a carb nightmare. We are planning ahead so as not to lose all the progress we have made since we began this journey.

Typically, we make lots of recipes that use Matzoh (unleavened bread); recipes call for using it in “lasagna,” desserts, and even (the ever-popular) Fried Matzoh. This year we mapped out EVERY. SINGLE. MEAL. You read correctly. For the entire 8 days, we have charted out what we will eat, and it involve as little Matzoh as possible (which clocks in at 140 calories/piece). We are going heavy on vegetables and lean proteins (lots of fish since we do not eat meat or poultry). During the Seders, we are supposed to drink 4 cups of wine; we will not use such big cups this time around. Most years, Passover seems like a lost cause when it comes to eating healthy…and when it comes to the Passover Seders, think Thanksgiving-sized feasts two nights is a row. This year will be different from all other years. We have planned for it to be different.

Of course, it will not be easy. We are only shopping, though, for what we will eat (as listed on our menu) so that we do not have the temptation of lots of junk food to snack on. We are also going to drink LOTS of water to combat the famously constipating effects of many foods served on the holiday.

I will keep you posted on how it goes during the holiday, but I am actually looking forward to not feeling bloated and stuffed for much of the week. It will be worth the effort for that reason alone. Continuing to make progress toward my health goals will be icing on the (Kosher-for-Passover) cake!

Gratitude and your Health

universal thank you note

Here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving and this promises to be different than any one in the long history of the holiday. The pandemic has changed almost everyone’s plans. For most people, the big feast will be curtailed–not only in the number of people attending, but also in the amount of food being served. It just doesn’t make sense to make a huge turkey, 5 side dishes and 8 desserts for 2 or 3 people.

Perhaps–as I blogged about in a post at the beginning of November–we can try to make this holiday a little healthier, rather than a total lost cause.

When we think about improving our health, Thanksgiving does actually provide us an opportunity to take steps in the right direction. The holiday is all about recognizing the many blessings we have and giving thanks for them–to whomever or whatever you believe/don’t believe made it possible. At the heart of this holiday is a reminder of the importance of gratitude.

We usually think of gratitude as being more of a manners thing or a religion thing. It is, for example, polite to send a thank you note for a gift or simply thank someone for opening a door, helping out with a project, etc. Many religions stress gratitude as a key component to achieving holiness. In Judaism, we traditionally recite blessings before and after eating in order to thank God for the food. Those who pray on a regular basis the Amida prayer also thank God for: health, wisdom, justice, redemption, hearing our prayers, and peace. Judaism even has a prayer to thank God after using the bathroom!

Did you know that developing an “attitude of gratitude” has physical health benefits as well? Do an internet search of “gratitude and health” and the articles and research confirming this come from such illustrious institutions as Harvard, UC-Berkeley and USC. Gratitude has been shown to have the following positive effects on our health:

–Improved quality of sleep;

–Lowering Blood Pressure in those with hypertension;

–Increased levels of energy;

–Reducing stress and symptoms of Depression;

–and actually raising our life expectancey.

Don’t take it from me! The research shows that living with a greater sense of appreciation can make you healthier! Thanksgiving is a reminder to us of our history, but it can also be a catalyst to better–more grateful–attitudes and behaviors in the future.

While being thankful can make us feel better in the long-term, I wish I could say the same about the stuffing, pumpkin pie, green bean casserole….

Wishing you all a happy and healthy Thanksgiving Holiday.

Reasons to be Thankful…Really

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As the Jewish year draws to a close, many of us are thinking about our successes and failures, triumphs and tragedies over the last 13 months (it was a leap year). We also begin to think about the changes we want to make in the coming year.

One area upon which we should be reflecting is “what are we grateful for?” For sure, we have no problem coming up with what didn’t work right, what is annoying, and what is just a hot mess. Most of us probably spend a lot less time thinking about what is going right: the people in our lives, the many blessings we enjoy, the love that surrounds us. It reminds me of people who complain when a flight is delayed (which is an annoyance for sure), with little thought for the wonder of flight and little regard for the fact that just 100 years ago the same trip might have taken days or weeks.

A study reveals that developing a greater sense of gratitude is good for our health–mental and physical. It is described in this article: https://dailyhealthpost.com/gratitude-rewires-brain-happier/?utm_source=link&utm_medium=fb&utm_campaign=sq&utm_content=dhp&fbclid=IwAR1Jaqb8PoCWfKtVmcG8YprLSbpisoYATjfM1mR1byrtV8lVtg5C-lPcXvU.

People who developed a practice of recognizing and expressing gratitude had a more positive outlook and had less health problems according to the study. The more optimistic you are the less likely you are to have sleep disorders, inflammatory diseases and heart failure.

The neuroscience also shows that it is possible to nurture our sense of gratitude and actually rewire our brain (through new neural pathways) so that we can strengthen these healthy tendencies. Of course, this means we will emit more positive “vibes” which will rub off on others. This can create what the article calls a “virtuous cycle.”

This will not happen automatically. We need to create patterns of thankfulness. In the study, participants were asked to keep a log of positive things that happened, or things for which they were thankful each day. This along heightened the sense of gratitude. It went beyond just the rote recitation of the words “thank you,” often stated quite thoughtlessly.

Psalm 92 says “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.” This is true, but now there is scientific truth that backs it up…and we can achieve that “good” by thanking those around us too.

Thanks for reading this!