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Health - is our 'normal' good enough?

This time a blog that is slightly more colored by my personal opinion. Because all the different responses on Covid19 has made me question our general health. Whereas one person argues we should do everything in our power to protect ourselves from the virus (wearing face masks, keeping distance, lockdowns, etc), another person argues we should focus on our general health, assuming that Covid19 is not life threatening to anyone who is in good health. However, the latter has brought quite some controversy. Whereas one self-appointed healthy person claims to experience Covid19 as nothing more than a common cold, the other self-appointed healthy person experiences severe, longterm symptoms. But when exactly do you fit the category 'healthy'?

For a while now I've been questioning how healthy our 'normal' really is. This questioning transformed into the desire to write this blog when I recently read that nearly 10 out of 17 million Dutch people suffer from a chronic condition (data in the year 2018 from the RIVM; the National Institute for Public Health and Environment). More than half of this number suffer from more than one chronic condition. A chronic condition, according to the RIVM, being defined as 'a condition in which there is generally no prospect of full recovery'. In other words, 58% of the Dutch population suffers from a compromised health for the rest of his life. To bring some nuance to this number, 5.6 million people (or 33%) in that same year visited their GP at least once for their chronic condition. This means that 33% of the population is under care for a condition that is, or so it's said, lifelong. Add to that the number of people that suffer a non-chronic illness and you may wonder.. who can be called 'healthy' nowadays? Is it 'normal' that the majority of a population doesn't physically function according to what the body should be capable of? Of course age plays a role. The older we get, the higher our chance to suffer from a chronic condition. However, the aforementioned 58% isn't mainly made up by the elderly. More than 40% of people aged 40 or younger already suffer from a chronic condition.

It seems as though we as a population look at chronic conditions as something 'normal'; something we simply have to learn to live with. This is being fueled, in my opinion, by a healthcare system where the doctor is seen as the expert whose statements shouldn't be questioned, and where little value is attached to the unique experiential knowledge of our own body that only the patient himself has. If the doctor says a condition is forever, it'll be forever. Conditions such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases, stomach / intestinal problems, hypertension and eczema, which are all conditions that are greatly influenced by our lifestyle, are all referred to by the majority of doctors as chronic (and according to the RIVM, lifelong). When the patient accepts this stamp of 'lifelong' as a fait accompli, then what is left of the responsibility to search for the cause? One takes his daily symptom-relieving medication and so the chronic condition no longer interferes with one's daily life. Even better, we label ourselves as 'healthy'. Regarding the future prognosis of our health, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment literally states: "Despite the fact that we'll hardly gain any disease-free years, we will gain a number of years in good health and without restrictions". In other words, we can be sick, but as long as this does not limit our daily functioning, we are in 'good health'. But isn't illness by definition the opposite of good health?

Personally, I find this statement of the RIVM hard to digest. Is such a perspective on health 'normal'? Or can this perspective lead to the downplaying of the long-term dangers to our health? Our current lifestyle is full of factors that are clearly detrimental for our health, yet do not immediately interfere with our daily functioning. One year of obesity may not cause long-term health problems, nor does one week of sleep deprivation, or a few years of unbiological, preserved food, or one month of stress. But even though we still function well, behind the scenes our health is slowly crumbling due to factors like this. We live in a way that is scientifically proven to be unhealthy for us, but at the same time we label ourselves as healthy. Even when we experience clear initial signals from our body that it is becoming unbalanced (such as increased blood pressure, poor sleep, constipation, reduced concentration), we still tend to label ourselves as healthy.

A population of which 58% suffers from a chronic condition, 16% of the working population experiences a burnout every year, and more than 50% of adults are overweight, is not healthy in my opinion. In fact, something must be terribly wrong. It is time for a wake-up call (Covid19?) that makes us radically change course. That makes us change our lifestyle. So that we sleep 8 hours a night, feel fulfilled at work, prepare fresh, organic food, get plenty of exercise, spend enough time with loved ones, feel spiritually and creatively fulfilled. So that we do not become overweight, we do not slowly accumulate toxic substances in our body, and do not experience long-term stress that prevents our body from repairing itself when necessary. Let's make that the new 'normal'. Only then will our 'normal' be healthy.

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