Right now there are a number of conversations going on about how your physical address might affect your health. Which begs the question – if you’re experiencing bad health, or bad health seems to be the trend in your community, should you move to a so-called healthier community? city? or even state? What if your neighborhood is being redeveloped; might factors like building healthier spaces be considered?
A recent finding from a study done by the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) concludes that the very address where you live may be a significant determinant of health. Says Tom Frieden, CDC’s director, “Your longevity and health are more determined by your ZIP code than they are by your genetic code.” And reviewing 5 leading causes of death, one of the CDC’s conclusions is that in the Southeast United States premature death rates from those causes are twofold what they are in states like Utah and Colorado.
It would be easy to read the CDC’s recent prognosticating on health and zip code and, depending on your physical address, throw up your hands in resignation or breathe a deep sigh of relief. But studies such as these obviously aren’t definitive. There are people in Boulder struggling with their health, and there are people in Atlanta running marathons.
What do these people who don’t conform to the study’s conclusions tell us? Is it possible for us to change our address right where we are? Of course. And, what role does our mental state play in determining our health – no matter where we reside? A big one.
In Colorado two initiatives – Mariposa and Learning Landscapes – highlight how people can actually make the place they live healthier.
Mariposa (formerly known as South Lincoln Homes) is a Denver Housing Authority (“DHA”) 15 acre redevelopment project slated to be complete in 2016. One of DHA’s state goals, which ties directly into the CDC’s concern regarding the health of a zip code, is to improve health for the existing South Lincoln residents.
Lynne Piccard, director of Workforce Development and Community Initiatives, DHA, speaking about Mariposa at the Association of Health Care Journalists in Denver a few months ago said, “Place matters – where you live has a dramatic affect on the length and quality of your life.” So The Mariposa Healthy Living Initiative focuses on establishing physical, mental, and community health through its redevelopment plans.
Another initiative, Learning Landscapes, is through the University of Colorado Denver (“UCD”) College of Architecture and Planning. Led by Professor Lois A. Brink, MLA, Learning Landscapes is focused on redesigning schoolyards. The collaboration of UCD students, elementary schools, and community members has helped to transform 96 Denver schoolyards into healthy spaces for kids. The effort is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as part of its ongoing effort to eradicate childhood obesity, which has been tied to increasingly serious health problems.
Mariposa and Learning Landscapes are good examples of challenging the notion that your zip code will de facto determine your health by actually working to change the very address where you live. But studies are still being done on the long-term effects of programs such as these.
Where does that leave us if we are stuck in a so-called “unhealthy” community where no initiative such as the two described above exists and we can’t really simply pick up and move? Even common sense says, “of course we don’t need to move”. But below are a few examples of how our thought affects our health regardless of our mailing address.
Deepak Chopra makes this statement in a recent article where he talks about reversing our perception of the physical world: “To restore our actual experience of life – where we have free will, discover new ideas, and invent a future of our own choosing – it’s necessary to reverse the picture.” He asks, “Can it be possible that mind creates matter rather than the other way around?” and he answers, “Absolutely.”
It’s a thought-provoking idea but not one of which we aren’t already aware. Some POWs, for example, mentally reversed the pictures and conditions around them that should have led to death or, at minimum, permanent damage to their mental and physical well-being. It didn’t. Many of them tell us that it was actually prayer, a process of communing with the Divine, that saved them – you might say they found their spiritual address amid the violence and squalor around them.
A prisoner of war for seven and a half years during the Vietnam War, former U.S. Senator and retired Rear Admiral Jeremiah Denton, endured years of torture, including 4 years of solitary confinement in the Hoa Lo Prison, or Hanoi Hilton. He said of his experience that it was his Catholic faith that sustained him and that his rosary “held [his] mind together.” He was 89 when he died just last month.
Former Senator Denton didn’t have the option of moving; he had to find his sanity somewhere else. He of course had to find it and keep it in the very place he was imprisoned. I’m sure a familiar Biblical story would have resonated with him – of a man who was so ill he couldn’t move, and this went on for 38 years! His family would place him close to a certain pool because there was a story in the community that every year the water would be troubled by a divine presence and the first person then to enter into the pool would be healed. But year in and year out, he would just lie there waiting because no one would help him to the pool in time.
Ultimately, health came to him in the form of a change in the mental – in this case spiritual – view of his condition. The result was that he didn’t need to go on a journey for better health nor did he even need to get to the pool. He was told to take up his bed, and he did and he walked.
Maybe this seems too religious or Biblical to be practical for everyone, but isn’t it worth considering any approach that might solve the riddle of bad health right where we are? And even if these examples are the exception and not the rule, they give us a glimpse into how we might reverse our perception of our circumstances to improve our health in everyday life.
Take for instance a recent interview of a friend who found great results by changing her perception. Catherine, who works for a local accounting firm, found herself in an office where everyone including clients were either dealing with tragic family situations or they were downright ill and missing work. A vendor dropping off a package actually sadly stated, “You can’t work here without getting sick.” So it seemed no surprise that at the end of the day she began to feel as if she were coming down with a cold.
Well-versed in the mental nature of health, this friend decided to take a stand – instead of focusing on the physical atmosphere of tragedy and sickness she would focus on the “mental atmosphere” – where she felt she had more control. One idea she meditated on was from a hymn which said in part, “In atmosphere of Love divine, we live, and move, and breathe…” In so doing, she was able to feel a connection with her sense of a Divine presence. This strengthened her to the point that she slept peacefully. The next morning she awoke with no symptoms of sickness. A side note, when she arrived at work that day, her personal observation was that the office atmosphere felt more uplifted.
What is definitive is that taking control of our health, whether it is through our physical environment – like the building projects in Denver, POW camps, or a contagious office – can have palpable and sometimes even healing results. So, before we decide to move to a different part of the city, state or country, let’s try to improve our health by simply changing our mental zip code.
David Price writes on the connection between health, thinking and spirituality. A former attorney David is the media and legislative representative for Christian Science in Colorado. David is also a Christian Science Practitioner with an expertise in prayer based healing.