We must embrace a life of health and responsibility (LOHAR) not only to ensure our health and happiness, but also the sustainability of our world.
ALTHOUGH my main interests are in the realms of health, religion and spirituality, over the last decade, I have been incessantly drawn towards eco-friendly and sustainability initiatives.
I guess it is a natural progression, as health means also having a healthy environment; and included in our religious and spiritual responsibilities are the care and respect for nature.
The need to live a healthy lifestyle cannot be over-emphasised, as modern affluence has bred many unhealthy people. The latest statistics show alarming and worsening prevalence of non-communicable or chronic lifestyle diseases like obesity, hypertension, dyslipidaemia, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, lung disease, arthritis and cancer.
With billions spent on medical drugs to combat these diseases, and the seemingly insurmountable problem, more people have started to look for alternatives, and also to re-look at diet, lifestyle and healthcare models.
We now realise that the Western meat-based diet (hamburger anyone?) has been largely responsible for the escalating prevalence of the chronic diseases listed above. Coupled with the modern sedentary lifestyle, the scenario is set for disaster.
The US, for example, has an overweight/obesity rate of about 70%, leaving only a third having healthy weights. Only the men of the Pacific Islands are heavier than the Americans. In South-East Asia, Malaysians and Thais are the champions, at about 45%. And we are catching up fast with the Americans.
Much has been written about the four pillars of achieving and maintaining good health – healthy lifestyle, healthy diet, exercise and optimum weight (and body composition).
Much has also been written about health supplements to supplement the nutrients which are deficient in our diet.
Much more has been researched and written about the drugs that many have to consume because of various health problems.
In the face of the ever increasing health problems that confront us, it is time that we return to the basics of good health, and be reminded of the good practices our religion and our parents taught us.
Some of these are enough to help us achieve our ideal weight, and avoid many diseases.
I can share some tips taught to Muslims, and hope that others will write in and share the teachings from their religions or traditions. Most of these teachings can be adopted by people of all religions.
Muslims are taught not to eat unless we are hungry. The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to start his meals with supplications, and then tasted a little bit of salt. This practice may help us reduce our overall salt intake because the pure salty taste in the beginning will make it unnecessary to have much salt in the rest of the foods.
Salt intake is correlated with hypertension, and therefore heart disease.
Imam Al-Ghazzali taught us to eat fruits first, and then the rest of the meal. This is now acknowledged as a good practice because the fruit enzymes can assist in our digestion.
We are to fill up one-third of our stomach with food, another third with liquid, and leave one third empty. We must stop well before we become satiated.
If we don’t eat until we are full, there is no feeling of lethargy and sleepiness after each meal. We will be able to continue with our daily chores efficiently.
Unfortunately most Malaysians overfill their stomachs! They become sleepy and tired, especially after lunch.
The Prophet advised us not to eat too much; not to sleep after meals; not to sleep too much; and not to have a big belly. We should be physically active (indulge in sports and/or exercise), sleep early, and rise early.
Well, if you over-eat and are inactive, you will end up with a big belly. We now know that a big belly denotes central obesity, which is associated with insulin resistance, diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, heart disease, stroke and possibly cancer.
Living by these guidelines will guarantee that we will not become obese. Unfortunately, obviously many Muslims themselves are not following these teachings, and we even see many ustaz (religious teachers) and ulama (scholars) who are obese, with big bellies.
Let us also be reminded by the teachings of Hippocrates, the father of Modern Medicine. About 2,400 years ago, he was the first to separate medicine from religion and philosophy, and was the first to recognise that disease was the product of environmental factors, diet and living habits.
He thoroughly believed in the healing power of healthy living, and the healing power of nature. Below are some gems of his teachings that we can all benefit if we abide by them.
“A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thoughts to derive benefit from his illnesses.”
“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
“Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease.”
“Walking is man’s best medicine.” (Even better than laughter, if I may add.)
He was also the author of the Hippocratic Oath, which remains an important guideline for all doctors in our practice. Included in this oath are:
“I will prescribe dietary regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.”
“I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel.”
It is amazing that his wisdom and teachings remain true to this day. What modern science has yet to catch up to is his teaching that it is the healing forces within us that actually heal.
We now know that all the drugs, including antibiotics, only assist the body’s own defence and healing systems, but what science has not yet understood is that it is the life-force or qi which drives these systems.
Until science investigates qi, we will never understand how qigong has cured many cases of cancer even after the best of modern medicine failed.
Halalan Wa Thoyyiban (permissible and beneficial)
Most people are now aware of the concept of “halal” (religiously permissible) for the Muslims. However, when it comes to many things, it is not only permissibility that matters, but also whether it is good and beneficial. Muslims are exhorted to only subscribe to things which are permissible and good/beneficial.
For example, while slaughtered meats are halal, eating too much of it is not good. There are many things we are allowed to do (i.e. halal), but we are reminded to do things only in ways that will benefit the spirit, the soul, the mind, the body, the family and community, the environment, the earth and the universe.
Islam prohibits doing anything that is harmful. For example, most Islamic countries have issued fatwas (religious edicts) declaring that smoking cigarettes is haram (forbidden). Some things which are halal in general, may become haram in certain circumstances, which render them harmful.
Healthy and responsible living
When it comes to food and lifestyle, and concern and care for the environment and Mother Earth, Muslims are to adhere to these principles which ensure goodness to himself and everything else around him.
This is also in line with the current trend towards a life of health and sustainability (LOHAS). The realisation that the earth’s health is on a frightful downward spiral and that the health of the environment is closely linked to our wellbeing have spurred many initiatives towards a wholesome values-based lifestyle incorporating healthy living, organic farming, eco-sustainability, green initiatives and other efforts towards ensuring better health, and a better future for ourselves and our children.
It was reported recently that if we continue our present rate of carbon emissions, about half of the living space available for over 55% of plants and 35% of animals will disappear by 2080 due to global warming.
Other problems of climate change – storms, floods, droughts, aberrant seasons, extended summers and winters and pests will make things even worse (reported in Nature Climate Change).
That may mean that these plants and animals themselves will become endangered or even extinct. Already so many thousands of species are on the danger list, or have disappeared from the face of the earth.
The rape of the forests and the pollution of the atmosphere and oceans will certainly have grave consequences on all life on planet earth.
And we, the culprits, will not be spared.
We must therefore urgently embrace a life of health and responsibility (LOHAR). We must not only ensure sustainability of our home planet, but also take responsibility for many other things that determine our health and happiness, and survival of the earth and all its inhabitants.
In the next few articles, I will share with you about organic farming, living foods, biodynamic farming, permaculture, agnihotra, reforestation, species rescue and other subjects of interest that will help save our earth, while helping us become healthier and happier.