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One Size Fits All?

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The Phoenix heat makes bike riding difficult for a good portion of the year.  During summer, my bike lives on our patio, waiting to break free once the weather cools down.  This year, as summer was ending, I brought my bike to a local shop to get fixed.  After all, the Healthy Challenge was starting, so I needed to get my cruiser in top shape.  Stepping through the shop’s threshold, I seemed to be the only novice in the place, as all the other customers were dressed head-to-toe in full biking garb.  As I walked around, I noticed that many of the helmets for sale were labeled as “one size fits all,” which got me thinking.  The concept of one-size-fits-all makes some sense, as many products have traditionally fit most people the same and companies save on costs of manufacturing a variety of different sizes by creating a uniform product.  But this idea took root over 50 years ago, when people were more similar in size.  Nowadays, this seems to apply less and less.

After re-watching Michael Mosley’sThe Truth About Exercise” on PBS, I noticed that Mosley’s colleague Jamie Timmons categorizes the current government guidelines for exercise as a one-size-fits-all-model.  The guideline states that every person is encouraged to perform 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise.  What we are finally starting to realize, however, is that like most things, people have different needs.    Does a 16-year-old male have the same metabolic requirements as a 67-year-old female?  What about a person who weighs 115 pounds versus someone who weighs 350 pounds?  How about someone who has type I diabetes and someone who has exercise-induced asthma?  You get the point.

What if we apply this concept to medicine?  Take sinus infections for example.  In this country, over 250 million antibiotics  are prescribed per year.  Approximately 15-20% of these are for sinusitis, which equates to roughly 40 million antibiotic prescriptions annually.  However, nearly 90% of all sinus infections are viral and are thus unaffected by this form of treatment.  In fact, studies have shown that antibiotics used for sinusitis are often only as effective as a placebo.  So why do doctors prescribe antibiotics for sinusitis if we know they probably won’t be effective?  One reason is that the standardization of medicine is much easier to implement, allowing physicians to see a much higher volume of patients.  But what if it doesn’t provide optimal health, or even worse, isn’t effective at all?

Even though we all function more or less the same, it is amazing how much variability there is between human beings.  Though the basic requirements to sustain life are uniform, we all have different needs.  When it comes to treating disease, employing individualized medicine is key.  That is probably why I am so drawn to homeopathy.  Employing individualized medicine is just as important for prevention of disease, however.  To prove my point, let’s do a quick comparison.  I am a 32-year-old male, with a low BMI, am fairly sedentary, and have a moderate risk of cardiovascular disease due to my family history.  Are my exercise requirements, nutritional needs, and sleep demands the same as a menopausal female in good health, who goes to Zumba class daily and has no cardiovascular risk? Certainly not!  We have different metabolisms, genetics, hormone patterns, blood sugar regulation, physical limitations, and interests.

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There are undoubtedly healthy guidelines that we can all live by regardless of who we are:  Being mobile is better than being stationary.  Eating natural foods like whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes are better than processed foods that are full of artificial flavors and colors.  And sleeping 7-8 hours per night is sufficient for most people to recharge their battery.  However, we need to consider that we are all different in many ways.  We are different genders, races, and have different body sizes, metabolisms, physical limitations, and risks for disease and chronic illnesses.

So what does this mean?  It means that you are unique, and to function optimally you have different requirements than others.  Not only in the clothes you wear, but also in how you exercise and the foods you eat.  Rather than rely on ‘one size fits all’ measures of health, work to find numbers that work best for you.   When the time is right to make positive lifestyle changes, think of the bike shop.  Bike sizes vary greatly and can be adjusted.  Even the helmets that claim to be uniform in size can often be adjusted with straps.   Find what lifestyle fits you and when you are ready, wear it comfortably.

Written by Dan WARREN, Adjunct Faculty, Center for Sustainable Health; Physician, Southwest Naturopathic Medical Center

Written by Dan Warren, Adjunct Faculty, Center for Sustainable Health; Physician, Southwest Naturopathic Medical Center