Lifestyle medicine is an evidence-based science that advocates habits to promote healthy living. Some say that Hippocrates is the father of lifestyle medicine when he stated “let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food” and “walking is man’s best medicine” (Hakim, “The Traditional Healer’s Handbook, 1988). Practitioners of this science advocate for behaviors that lead to a reduction in chronic disease and an increased quality of life. Some of the main areas of focus are smoking and alcohol, eating, stress reduction, sleep, healthy relationships and exercise (American College of Lifestyle Medicine, click here).
I incorporate all six areas in the list above in my counseling practice as an integral part of a health and wellness approach to psychotherapy. For those that read my blog faithfully, you will also notice that I repeat these themes throughout the posts and through many references to Dan Beuttner’s book, The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer. The “bella vita” I talk about from my experience learning about the positive contributions of the Italian lifestyle are those that I share in the context of what science is teaching us about how the food we eat, the sleep we get, the exercise we do, the mindful meditation, and our healthy relationships impact our health.
Today, Marco and I began our morning with a gentle ride along the an argine (levee) through farm country along the river Po. As we were traveling forth, taking in the fresh country air, I said “here is a prescription for anxiety.” Now, I know that anxiety is a complex problem that doesn’t go away with one bike ride in the country, but it can certainly help. And, what can help even more is if something like this bike ride is incorporated into everyday life.
I often teach my clients a technique that Herbert Benson termed, the “relaxation response.” It is a simple, 10 minute breathing exercise that soothes the body and calms the brain. Research shows that it also lowers blood pressure, reduces the heart rate, changes the brain chemistry, and contributes to healing from so many medical conditions. The deep breathing combines with a body scan and a mental focus on a word or phrase. It is a simple thing to do. To introduce the technique, I often lead clients in a 10 minute relaxation response during our session. All agree, it is an easy thing to do. The challenge is scheduling the 10 minutes each day!
Our bicycle ride in the outskirts of Cremona was much better than a 10 minute relaxation response in my Lynn office, but I’m convinced that they both produce the same effects on the body and overall health and wellbeing! What’s more, the experience of this bike ride can be brought to bear in a future meditation with the addition of visual meditation. A visual component is added to the meditation. So, as in the photo below, I will see the wide expanse of the sky, I will hear the clicking of the spray irrigation system, I will smell the ripe corn field of the humid summer day, I will feel the wind on my skin, and taste the country air on my lips. . . all in my mind’s eye.