5,000. – The number of adverts the average Londoner is exposed to everyday, according to a study by Media Dynamics in 2014. We live in the age of information; our environment continually shouts and flashes at us to be smarter, fitter and richer. We are surrounded by images of the ‘perfect person’, one who has absorbed the entire back-catalogue of the Economist, who’s house looks like it has just been plucked out of the suburbs of Scandinavia and who begins the day with a spin class, ends it with yoga and still has time for all the everyday ‘stuff’ that comes in-between. Walls of every bookshop/newsagent/supermarket are built with self-help books. What do you mean you haven’t read ‘The Goldfinch’ yet? Now we must navigate our way through a world geared towards our new, quantified selves.
We are encouraged to become as efficient as possible, taking shortcuts to achieve the new metropolitan dream. Starting the day with vitamin supplements, a protein shake, answering a few emails and listening to as much of the news as we can so that we can impress colleagues with our personal insight into the inevitable lunchtime question: ‘are you in or are you out?’ Absorbing information at a phenomenal rate, our senses are constantly stimulated; we rush. Fitbit-laden, we are constantly trying to discover the quickest and most proficient way possible to reach our destination, which is always just on the horizon. We find ourselves caught in a modern-day paradox; we have no time although we have gained far more than we needed before.
Unsurprisingly, this way of life is fast proving itself to be unsustainable, regularly affecting our mental and physical health. Our stress levels rise and we find ourselves reacting to situations instead of working on ways to prevent them. Today’s accelerated society increasingly calls for a ‘quick-fix’. Whether it is a power-nap, bulletproof coffee or a supplement of some sort, we all want to get past a problem the quickest and easiest way possible. Efficiency is one thing, but could this just be laziness disguised?
Many of you may have seen the recent BBC program ‘Doctor in The House’ (the slightly higher-brow choice over a simultaneously run program of a suspiciously similar title…). If not, then I urge you to watch it. Dr Rangan Chatterjee spends time with three different families in order to get a true insight into the daily lives and habits of the average UK citizen. He examines the food they eat, exercise routine (or lack of) and their general health and wellbeing. The programme delves into the personal lives of various individuals in an effort to promote the idea of ‘personalised lifestyle medicine’ as a better way to move forward with public health. By investigating the everyday decisions people make towards their health, Dr Chatterjee aims to get to the route of a problem rather than just prescribing a solution to the symptoms.
Perhaps the problem runs deeper than our personal health dilemmas; instead it runs deep into the mentality of our fast-paced society. Today, Google has become everyone’s personal doctor as we frequently self-diagnose to save ourselves time at the Doctor’s. More often than not, discovering that if you aren’t pregnant, then you are almost certainly going to die a lot sooner than you originally anticipated. Marketing predictably fills the space that our GP once held. Dr Chatterjee questions ‘How do you navigate conflicting information about health and decide what will help you recover from illness, increase energy and keep you healthy?’ After 14 years of practising medicine, he has decided to take a new approach to his work, focusing on finding the root cause of an issue rather than just suppressing the symptoms.
This alternative approach to healthcare feels refreshingly simple compared to our current methods of taking care of ourselves, and each other. It seems like common sense that we would try to prevent bad things from happening, before they have a chance to happen. The truth is that the majority of us do not approach our health in this same way and often we discover, the hard way, the consequences of our spontaneous (short-cut) decision-making. A common example of this, and frequently covered by the news, is diet pills and the real danger they can have to a person’s health, particularly the strain put on the heart. This mentality of the ‘quick-fix’ has spread rapidly across our society and brings with it real dangers we are not yet aware of, or prepared for.
In order to achieve the new goal of health and wellbeing that Dr Chatterjee prescribes, it is necessary to become more aware of our present selves, and our surroundings. This proves itself ever more difficult with: unmonitored supplementation; increasing amounts of chemicals added to our foods (when did ‘yellow’ become an ingredient?); governments failing to meet emissions targets; manufacturers lying about their products; and the true effects of our impact on the world hidden beneath corporate financial blankets. We know that the consequences of our current way of living are uncertain. In essence, the key to ensuring our future is the one we are striving for, is to make the right decisions for our future selves. Believe me, future you will thank you when you get there.
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