It wasn’t that long ago that doomsday preppers were considered part of the lunatic fringe. Extremists whose minds only operate in the context of a perpetual worst case scenario. And then SARS-CoV2 happened.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of doomsday prepping, it is essentially preparing yourself and your family for any disaster or pandemic that would require extended periods of self-sustenance. This means it’s entirely up to you to have a power supply ready in the event of a crippled energy grid. You would also need a reliable source of heat. Potable water would be essential – and lots of it. A plentiful food source would be an absolute necessity, whether canned, dried, salted, or manufactured MREs. And then there’s the matter of protecting your family, your goods, and your shelter from those desperate folks who lacked your foresight.

But even as the concept of doomsday prepping begins to gain more mainstream acceptance, there is still seemingly abject disregard for personal prep – that is, fortifying your own health and building a more resilient body.

As the COVID-19 crisis has ripped its way through our nursing homes and ravaged select individuals of all ages, it has exposed the one glaring weakness in our collective armor. Metabolic disease.

Treating your physical health with indifference will always put you at a disadvantage when it comes to fighting off an infectious agent, as it will inevitably lead to ruinous comorbidities like diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and more. If your plan is to lean on the development of a new drug or a vaccine, or to put your fate in the hands of overwhelmed front line workers, you might want to rethink your strategy.

Imagine for a moment that a high-level terrorist or a deranged dictator launched an attack on the US. Nothing with enough devastation to bring the entire country down, but with sufficient punch to put certain sectors of the nation out of commission. Now let’s say that same lunatic took to the airwaves to declare his actions a mere warning of worse things to come. Would you prepare yourself for the next attack?

SARS-CoV2 was that warning. It’s time to start prepping.

Pinning your hopes on a vaccine

Like weeds, viruses are opportunists. They tend to thrive where there is fertile ground. Applying weed killer to your lawn can help you keep up appearances, but until you stabilize your dirt’s pH there is always an underlying threat of another huge proliferation of weeds.

Vaccines work by inciting your body’s immune system to mount an attack on the injected invader. Upon exposure to the virus or bacteria in the vaccine, your immune cells spring into action and ideally, not only overcome the foreign invader, but also remember it so that you’re protected against a future attack. The critical point here is that the vaccine doesn’t offer direct protection. Rather, it triggers your immune system to provide protection against its specific offender.

So optimizing the effectiveness of a vaccine requires starting with the healthiest immune system possible. Many are disheartened by the fact that a viable COVID-19 vaccine is at best months away. The blessing in disguise is that if you plan to get the vaccine, this buys you some time to prepare your body to best receive it. Waiting for a vaccine to rescue you from the throes of metabolic disease is not only misguided, but downright disempowering. Doing so is like driving down the street with rattling lug nuts while you wait for your mechanic to show up with his air wrench. Remember that wrench that came with your jack kit in the trunk? It’s time to start using it.

You can’t afford to wait for a bailout

As a small business owner whose livelihood has been impacted by the coronavirus crisis, I have been forced to navigate the muddy waters of relief funding. While created with the best intentions, the relief programs have been anything but easy to traverse.  Like trying to cross a murky swamp, just when you think you’re progressing onto dry land, you find that you’ve hit another patch of quicksand.

While I appreciate the existence of these programs as a lifeboat, I am thankful that I still have the ability to swim. My heart goes out to those who don’t. Many small business owners have already been forced to close up shop.

It is not a front line worker’s responsibility to bail you out of a lifetime of poor health habits. Are you willing to put your life into the hands of harried doctors as they scramble to develop new treatment protocols under the suffocating weight of a broadening crisis?

Living with metabolic syndrome is like limping from paycheck to paycheck. Should the scales tip even slightly against you, you are at much greater risk of impending disaster. Investing in your personal health and wellness is like stockpiling a rainy day fund. When adversity does come looking for you – whether it be a virus, a slip-and-fall, or the cumulative stresses of day to day life – it might leave you a bit bruised, but it won’t deliver a crippling blow.

Living a New Normal

This version of SARS was termed a novel coronavirus because we’ve never seen its particular iteration before. But also new to us is some of the terminology that the pandemic has sprouted. Perhaps second only to “social distancing” is “new normal”. This term is most commonly used to describe our public practices. Things like extended periods of distancing. Prolonged restriction of large gatherings. Indefinite mask wearing.

While these actions are suggested for the greater good, they reek of inherent weakness, all but saying, “When my fragile body succumbs to the virus, I’m doing what I can to protect your feeble body.” The gesture is noble, and I don’t feel it is a big ask for me to wear a mask to protect those at higher risk. But what has been conspicuously absent from the PPE discussion is the most personal of all protective equipment – your own immune system.

It’s the same old rhetoric. This is an election year, and much has been made by inflamed individuals on both sides of the aisle about how this has influenced our response to the coronavirus crisis. But what’s also all but guaranteed leading up to an election is the debate over which candidate offers the best plan for prescription drug coverage. It happens every 4 years like clockwork, and it irks me every time. It’s not that I find fault in the candidates for pandering to our wants. It’s that we continue to ask the wrong question.

Instead of wondering who is going to provide the cheapest patch for our ill-advised ways, we should be asking ourselves what we can do to avoid the need for prescription drugs in the first place. Progress lies in preparatory thinking, not in a reactionary response.

So when it comes to a new normal, it’s time to start thinking in terms or prevention.

How about a new normal that looks something like this…

  • Consistent, daily exercise of some sort. This can range from walking to powerlifting. It doesn’t matter. Just move your body. Your activities will evolve along with your ability. The important thing is to just get started.
  • A regular sleep schedule, ideally as closely in sync with the rising and setting sun as practically possible. Lack of consistent, quality sleep will put you on a fast track to stress induced ailments like fatigue, anxiety, weight gain, and compromised immunity. All of which leave you more vulnerable to opportunistic infection.
  • Frequent exposure to the natural world. This means plenty of sunshine on your skin and fresh air in your lungs. Your hands and feet in the dirt. Taking a break from technology and reconnecting with the healing power of nature. This is truly addition by subtraction.
  • Fueling your body with real, unprocessed food. Eating well isn’t that complicated. But it does require discipline. Start by simply removing the worst offenders. Things like soda, cakes, candy, cookies, ice cream, and energy drinks. Then move on to processed grains like crackers, breads, cereals, etc. (If you need to, you can transition to a healthier version, such as a sprouted bread.) Then you can clean up inflammatory oils such as safflower, sunflower, canola, corn, and soybean, opting instead for healthier versions like olive, avocado, macadamia nut, or coconut oils. Ultimately, you’ll be left with healthy protein sources, veggies and fruits, berries, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, and healthy fats. In other words, nothing but real, nutritious food.   What a concept.
  • Some form of stress mitigation. Although exercise can fit this bill to some degree, exercise itself is a stressor. Getting quiet and resetting your nervous system goes a long way toward rejuvenating your health. This might come in the form of meditation (Ziva is one of my favorites), prayer, or simple breathing exercises. (This is a great podcast episode on the importance of healthy breathing.) The point is to just get quiet, free your mind of as much distracting noise as possible, and reboot your internal supercomputer.
  • A social safety net. We humans are social creatures. Some more than others. Admittedly, this is something I have struggled with. Not only do I tend toward introversion, but I have also developed a reputation for being just bullheaded enough to think that I can accomplish even the most challenging task entirely on my own. But experience has taught me that there is a fine line between self-sufficiency and isolation. The spring quarantine has sparked incredibly innovative social workarounds. Zoom meetings, balcony concerts, virtual game nights and book clubs, and birthday parties and graduations celebrated from a distance. We have learned to be social from afar. We adapt because we need to. We crave connections. They are good for our health and longevity. Being social doesn’t require that you be a butterfly. But maintaining a strong connection with a core support group can carry you through the toughest of times.

Storms are inevitable. But how you weather them comes down to your level of preparedness. If the novel coronavirus crisis has taught us anything, it is that we can no longer afford to relegate our health to a mere afterthought. Please take this lesson to heart.

The wolf will come knocking at your door again. You can continue to live in a straw hut or you can start building yourself a stone fortress. I suggest you start laying a new foundation.

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Dr. Joe Tsai
Dr. Joe Tsai

Dr. Joe Tsai is a chiropractor and health coach dedicated to helping you live up to your maximum potential. You can contact him directly at drtsai@backtolifechiro.com.