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Too Many Drugs, Not Enough Nature

A trifecta of ideas converged in a perfect storm of muddled thinking a few days ago. In early November, Capital Steps played in Wenatchee at the Performing Arts Center and centrist Republicans and Democrats alike laughed over the satire heaped on both parties. The sputterings of the current administration have made it particularly vulnerable to lampooning, which is exactly what was delivered in songs like the Brain-Mouth Connection (hear the song at the Capital Steps website).

The tune connected to the muddy storm of my thinking, however, was Ten Pills, which satirizes the American propensity to use pills to fix their kids, their spouse, or themselves. No need to go through the sweat of exercising when one pill reduces the likelihood of heart attacks, another the possibilities of strokes. No need to walk outdoors and connect with the natural world for a mood boost when pills can lift our spirits. No need to discipline or place demands on our children when drugs can make them well mannered. Lyrics like these will make you laugh, but their truths should also make you sad.
    (our)Son is on Ritalin and Bextra, we thought he had ADD.
           But it turns out that the whole time he's just an SOB.

On top of this performance, were two interesting articles in USA Weekend. One was about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which makes 30 million Americans sad, lethargic, despondent, or even depressed. It makes many people tired, it helps others pack on weight, and it makes many more vulnerable to becoming sick in winter. The cause is the reduction in light during this time of the year, which according to Dr. Carl Bell, president of the Community Health Council, interrupts your body's rhythm and rate of endorphin production.

The 'easy' American cure is phototherapy -- sitting, working, reading, and/or eating under special lights that are up to 20 times brighter than normal indoor lights.  A Swiss study, however, has found that with milder cases of SAD an hour-long walk in winter sunlight is as effective for kicking the body in line and mellowing moods as 2.5 hours under the bright indoor lights.

Here in Central Washington we've got the outdoors and we've got the winter sunlight, so pull the plug on the artificial, high-tech solution and tap into the far simpler, more effective solution that actually has much more going for it than sitting indoors under lights.

What else does walking outdoors offer? Visual stimulation, and an appreciation of both the small details and the massive forces of the natural world. These fuel one's sense of wonder and well being. And of course walking, like milk, does a body good.

Which brings up the second article in USA Weekend written by Dr. Tedd Mitchell, the president and medical director of the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. Mitchell writes, "What if I told you I could write a prescription for a medicine that would do all of the following: lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and weight; improve cholesterol, sleep, and bone and heart health; and decrease the risk for cancer? Imagine one prescription that could do all of those things and more....Well, that prescription really exists. There's one catch: You'll need  to take 30 minutes each day to take it. Yes, the 'medicine' I'm talking about is exercise."

You want to be physically, mentally, and even spiritually healthy this winter?  Forget the drugs, the bright lights, and maybe even the confessional. Start walking in our immediately accessible places around Saddle Rock, Sage Hills, Freund Canyon, Chelan Butte, and Ancient Lake.

When snow arrives, invest $100 to $200 in a pair of snowshoes (as well as $25 for a   pair of gaiters),  strap those shoes to your cross-trainers or boots, and keep at it. Or switch over to Nordic skiing. All of this is loads cheaper, lots more fun, and far better for you than drugs or lights.

What undermines our national health is the American mania for finding easy,  mechanized, no-sweat solutions. But people who embrace the notion that our bodies evolved (or were designed) to interact with the outdoor environment, move, and exert themselves find their health, body chemistry, happiness, and enlightenment are all interconnected in ways that have little to do with pills, lights, machines, or technology.