Getting Your Health Back into Alignment
By Laura J. Bagby
CBN.com Sr. Producer
Did you know that genetics account for a mere 2 percent of degenerative disease like heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and arthritis, while the other 98 percent is due to our poor lifestyle choices? Did you know that simply exercising aerobically for only ten minutes several times a week can have a powerful effect on your overall health? Did you know that a healthy spine is directly linked with healthy internal organs?
All of this incredible information and more tidbits are what Dr. Ben Lerner, chiropractor, nutrition specialist, and author of the New York Times bestseller Body by God, told me in a phone interview about his latest book, One Minute Wellness. Dr. Lerner sheds light on how we can make adjustments to our daily lives to get our health back in line.
THE VALUE OF CHIROPRACTIC CARE
I was looking over your book the One Minute Wellness book, and there is so much I want to talk about, especially the area of chiropractic care. I had no idea that the alignment of your spine has so much to do with health.
DR. BEN LERNER: So much of what we do with our bodies is unconscious and we are not necessarily thinking through it, but your spinal cord runs everything. If your spine degenerates, it begins to compress your cord and your nerves, and then you not only have potentially pain and muscle and joint dysfunction, but obviously organs begin to shut down.
I was reading some of the testimonies of people who had lupus, fibromyalgia, and all these conditions that weren’t getting healed through prescription drugs, and an adjustment to the spine has basically helped them. I wish that more people knew about that.
Dr. LERNER: Well, of course, we are trying to change that. We’ve definitely made some strides. Because the chiropractors aren’t necessarily unified, similar to Christianity where there are a lot of denominations, it makes it challenging to get your message. So the same challenge that Christianity has today in reaching the lost is the same challenge chiropractors have in reaching people with their information.
I admit I have had a bias against chiropractic myself.
DR. LERNER: It’s kind of like before I was a Christian, I had a real bias against Christianity. I had run into a varying amount of information on Christianity from different denominations, and it seemed kind of scattered and not really straightforward. Those that I had met didn’t necessarily live in a way that was appealing to me, so that had me putting off Christianity for a good 10-15 years.
TEN MINUTE EXERCISE
Here is the thing that gets me about your program, and you talk about it in Body by God also: Ten minutes of aerobic exercise and just three minutes of resistance training can go a long way to giving you healthy benefits for your body.
DR. LERNER: Right. The ten minute thing was really nice research. To me it is always about trying to make it not so hard. I have actually had people look at the cover of my book and say, ‘That looks really hard.’ Just because it is about wellness, they assume it is hard. What makes our stuff unique is that we do so much of it clinically—we have worked with tens of thousands of patients over the last 15 years, so we know that we have got to recommend things that people will actually do.
There was some exciting news I had heard years ago that people who are actually in phenomenal shape—like Olympic athletes, professional athletes—have a lower life expectancy than the average person. That’s bad news if you are an elite athlete, but good news for the rest of us in that it is telling us that you don’t have to train that hard to be getting healthier. The idea is to be doing exercises providing better function, not necessarily putting you in top shape. So when you talk about needing an hour of physical training, needing an hour of aerobics, that is kind of that mindset that I am training like an elite athlete. And that is not necessarily what provides better wellbeing.
In terms of getting super fit, the more ambitious you get time-wise and intensity-wise, the better off that you are. But the reality is that coming from a health perspective, they found that ten minutes—which was just phenomenal news—ten minutes provided significant health benefits.
Now, when we hear health benefits, what exactly does ten minutes do for me?
DR. LERNER: Health is function, and that is what we establish in One Minute Wellness. Real wellness focuses on function. Organ functions that have been depleted some way, that are dysfunctional, regain better function and even normal function during the period of exercise. So if you are only going for ten minutes, suddenly a pancreas that wasn’t kicking out the insulin like it was supposed to on a normal level begins to normalize to some degree during that period of ten minutes and for quite some time afterwards, versus if you sat there and did nothing, it would just continue to be dysfunctional. Things like circulation, cardiovascular health, and lung function improve in just a matter of ten minutes. By consistently doing that, you can actually begin to recondition those organs and see better and better health through consistency and persistency.
PLAN YOUR EXERCISE
You state it very clearly both in Body by God and One Minute Wellness that God made us to move. In this country, we are not that way. How do we get around that? I know that at my job, I sit at a computer most of the day, which is terrible for my spine. What are your suggestions for how to get moving?
DR. LERNER: Immobility, particularly as you shift your head forward over a computer (we talk about forward head syndrome in the book, too), really is damaging to your nervous system. When you look at countries that are healthier than us, you find that they are much more mobile. They are not sitting there allowing their spines to decay all day. One reason they are healthier is the movement, but a second reason is that that movement is equivalent to a healthier spine.
That’s why both books have a time management section. My real passion is for life management. My sense when I am dealing with unhealthy people or working with pastors who are having trouble with their lives or anybody that I am working with these days is that they have lost control of their lives. We are so busy that we aren’t making time for movement.
It really does take scheduling it, looking at a week and committing time to movement. When I wake up in the morning, I know what time of day is going to be my exercise time. Sometimes that might mean setting the alarm early, sometimes it might be at a lunch break, and sometimes it might be as soon as I get done, but at some point of the day, I have scheduled a block of time to exercise.
When we teach how to get results after only three minutes with a body part or ten minutes, it makes it easier, because you don’t have to set aside hours. You can set aside minutes.
DR. LERNER: Your wellness program isn’t just about nutrition and exercise, although that is part of it. But it is more holistic. It takes the whole person. You also talk about relationships and dealing with stress.
When I look at the stuff that comes across my computer and the things that I research, you always find that stress is always the predominant problem. At lot of our clinics, we do a lot of testing where you test people’s blood and urine and stool and saliva to test what is happening with their bodies. You would think that you would predominantly find nutritional deficiencies, and there are some of those, but what you find consistently with people who are unhealthy are imbalances in their stress hormones.
Really? So, what is going on?
DR. LERNER: They have just smoked their adrenal glands, essentially, which is the fact that we are just so stressed that we are driving our nervous systems to the brink, and so as a result, you start to have hormonal problems and fatigue and depression. The predominant problem with most people is stress. You can be eating well and exercise and then you do these tests and you find that the fact that your life is so hectic is destroying your health anyways.
We are so busy as a nation. How do we slow down? Or maybe it’s a better way of reacting to stress.
DR. LERNER: There is really both. The failure with stress management is that we teach more of a positive affirmations or a positive attitude, but as you know, if life is getting out of control, then it is stressful. So I could say, ‘God is in control’ or ‘If God is with me, who can be against me?’ I could repeat all of my positive affirmations, but the reality is that it is still stressful.
For me stress is when I feel like I am not doing my job as a husband or a father. Anytime and every time that I look into that, it is that I have not plugged into my schedule what we call ‘solid yellow lines’ where you can’t cross—there are my date times, whether that be with my daughter or my son or my wife. I go back to committing to those places in my schedule for that, and, of course, primarily my time with God.
As far as I am concerned, if you are avoiding that time with God, you are probably going to be having trouble managing your stress. I think that is one reason why people are coming to Christ more than ever is that they are realizing, ‘I am doing all of these stress management techniques, so why isn’t this working?’
Yeah, people might think, 'I meditate, but I am still stressed out!' That’s because they are not meditating on the Word of God.
DR. LERNER: Exactly, so there is no power. Tonight is date night with my wife. I woke up in the morning at the right time and pulled my Bible out and did my Bible reading and my prayer time. I prayed with my wife. She sees patients on Wednesday morning. She went off to work and my daughter got up. I have an hour of time that I set aside for her. I was able to hit my work really feeling things are balanced today, things are at peace. I am going to work my tail off until 6:30 p.m. tonight feeling like I am free to do so, but it’s day time. I will feel good about the fact that even though I worked hard today, I got back to my primary job, which is as a husband. Tomorrow has several hours set aside for my daughter. These things give you a sense of peace.
You talk about it being peace management, which I thought was a good term.
DR. LERNER: Stress management is what we started with, which is trying to think positively through disaster, and we do teach our ten instructions for peace by God, which is taking a biblical view of the stuff that gets thrown at you no matter how good you are at this, how to look at that biblically and turn things over to God, and we have very specific ways of doing that. Ultimately, if you are not managing your time, it’s going to catch up with you.
DISEASES FOR DUMMIES
You talk about a new paradigm versus the medical establishment. What we typically do is we try to look at symptoms and cure illnesses instead of looking at the root. Maybe we need to look at healthcare in our own bodies differently.
DR. LERNER: There is a term called ‘diseases for dummies’ because what we are really suffering from in a huge way are degenerative illnesses. The reason that they call degenerative illnesses ‘diseases for dummies’ is because 98 percent of those illnesses are not hereditary. As you study genetics, they will tell you that only 2 percent of disease is due to a single-gene issue, so 98 percent is lifestyle. A lot of what we call genetics is living exactly like my family did.
My father when he was my age and my uncle and my grandfather—everybody had triple my cholesterol and double my blood pressure. So everybody was telling me, ‘Genetically, you will be on blood pressure and cholesterol medication by the time you are 35 like they were.’ I am 39, and I have very low cholesterol and very low blood pressure, proving that the gene thing is really a myth to some degree. And those are the two percent.
So the idea with degenerative illness, which is heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, arthritis in your joints and spine—these are things that occur as a result of neglect and abuse over a lifetime.
The old paradigm is that you wait until you feel something. I have ignored myself for 50 years, and now things hurt and don’t work. I enter into the healthcare system. And then what they utilize are expensive, high-performance medications that will either cure you or kill you, and maybe a little bit of both.
I guess we have to change the way that we view wellness. It is not disease necessarily, but what you call dis-ease. Can you explain the difference between those terms?
DR. LERNER: Disease is what medicine treats, which at that point, what they are really treating are the symptoms of disease because we really don’t have a cure for diseases. To cure something means getting you back to normal, healthy function, and there is no way to do that with chemicals. So what dis-ease means is that you look at the body and you may be free of symptoms and may not be currently suffering, but is there anyway that you are not functioning? Is there not ease? So function and normal health means there is ease. If there is dis-ease, then there is dysfunction. When someone gets diagnosed with heart disease or cancer, there is typically decades of poor function, or dis-ease that has now become a full-blown disease.
For me, I think this came from a deep-rooted sense of look what my future is going to be like if you don’t take care of yourself, looking at my genetics and my family. I knew that I had to live the mindset of disease now. What would I do if I had heart disease now? What would I change? How would I live so that I didn’t currently suffer from dis-ease and I would not in a short period of time end up with disease?
It is not just eating well, because eating well without exercise isn’t functional. It is not exercising and eating McDonald’s. And it’s managing your stress and managing your time. You put the whole thing together as well as making sure the central nervous system is healthy and functional.
I have seen that happen a lot, too. You have got someone who has really taken good care of themselves, but some portion of their spine is completely decayed. Now they are in so much pain. We see this every day in the chiropractic clinic: people coming in who have taken good care of themselves, smart, multi-millionaires sometimes, and some portion of their spine is completely decayed and it is destroying their life.
I am currently thinking of a patient I just saw last night. He is a CEO of a major international company, a fantastic guy. He eats well and exercises, but his lower spine has developed stenosis. That’s when the spinal column that encases the cord actually closes in and essentially chokes the cord. It’s really a challenging situation. Medically, you can’t do anything with it, so his legs are failing him. Because it is choking him, it is cutting off the nerve supply to the legs, bladder, and reproductive organs. So he is just failing from the waist down. Had he been under some sort of chiropractic care earlier and had he taken care of his lower spine, he would be fine. It is all due to old injuries, a lot of sitting in front of computers. It’s one of those diseases of dummies. It is allowing degenerative disease to strike part of his body. It is unfortunate.
Can you even give a percentage of how many people in America probably have spinal problems and don’t know it?
DR. LERNER: Over 90 percent of Americans have lower back pain at some point in their lives. It is from sitting too much. When you sit, you reverse your lumbar curve. You put a lot of pressure on those lower discs. Your hamstrings tighten, your quadriceps weaken, the abdominal muscles weaken, and you develop a pretty severe lower back problem. I can’t imagine what percentage of people is at a computer all day. All those people are most likely sitting hunched over, head shifted forward. I don’t know how many years you can do that before you develop a problem in your cervical spine.
Fifteen years ago, when I got out of school, I really didn’t see the level of problems in the lower back and neck like you see today. Everybody wasn’t at a computer 15 years ago. Today’s culture really produces a lot of spinal problems.
DOES SKINNY EQUAL HEALTHY?
People can often equate skinny with health, but you explain that it has more to do with the fat to muscle ratio.
DR. LERNER: People will do crazy diets and take crazy diet pills to do things to their bodies to cause it to lose weight thinking that that is a solution for something. But losing weight without getting into better shape just means that you will die lighter. We say the same thing about losing weight without managing your stress – you will be a thin, miserable person.
When it comes to your body, health is equated to how much lean muscle compared to body fat you have. So that is why a lot of studies have shown that people who are in shape but overweight are much healthier than people who are thin and out of shape. That is a study that they did at the Cooper Institute. We site it in the book One Minute Wellness. These studies are always inconclusive, so it is hard to get that.
Why are overweight people healthier here and less healthy here? And essentially you find that the common denominator is conditioning. When I was getting my nutrition degree, they took two groups of people: one that was overweight, and one that was in good physical condition. They gave both of them a ton of cholesterol to ingest. In the overweight group, that caused the blood cholesterol to increase. But in the fit group, it did nothing to their serum cholesterol because their bodies were healthy and functional, so they were able to just absorb the cholesterol.
I work with the Olympics and the pro guys, and these guys can eat anything. Their cholesterol levels and blood pressure are irrelevant because they are lean and muscular and are staying in shape. People have a tendency to think that elite athletes are eating healthily, but really they are eating whatever garbage they want. They are training so hard that their bodies are utilizing what they need and getting rid of what they don’t.
So being lean is critically important, which is why one concern is that people will do aerobics to lose weight and burn fat, but they will not build lean muscle. They will not do resistance exercise.
THE VALUE OF RESISTANCE TRAINING
That’s what we have got to do to build muscle?
Dr. LERNER: Yes, we have to do resistance exercise.
You mean weightlifting?
DR. LERNER: Exactly. Working with a lot of women who really want to tone up, they tend to do a lot of aerobics or treadmill, but they will still have problems with cellulite, flabbiness. They key is that they should really be doing more weightlifting.
Some women don’t want to do that because they are afraid of looking bulky.
DR. LERNER: That is one of those age-old myths. It just doesn’t work that way. There is something that we call a pause set. We teach a decline set and a pause set. A pause set is a way to radically increase muscle tone without building muscle because it is an endurance type of lifting. One body part only takes three minutes.
Don’t you talk about that on your Body by God Extreme Makeover DVD?
DR. LERNER: We go over decline sets and pause sets. With decline sets, you can tend to build some muscle that way, though it is unlikely that a woman is going to build too big muscles. You just don’t see that that often.
Any last thoughts?
DR. LERNER: We have utilized our principles for lifting or exercising, nutrition, aerobic exercise – all those things are principles we believe in and have had good results with. But what really makes what we are trying to do with people different is that we are really looking long-term. Is this something that we can live with? That’s what people really need to ask themselves.
I work with patients all the time who come to me with very unique types of diets, very challenging types of programs, and say it has been working for me. But you ask them a week or two later how it is going and they are usually off of it. It is very restrictive stuff, lots of strange foods, lots of organic things that are hard to get. The idea is to find something that you can do for the rest of your life and that is not stressful. If you are really getting stressed out by your diet and exercise program, then that stress is bad for you.
All good advice. I really appreciate your time today.
DR. LERNER: Laura, I really appreciate it. Bless you.
CBN IS HERE FOR YOU!
Are you seeking answers in life? Are you hurting?
Are you facing a difficult situation?
A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.