Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Primer on Being Rich and Healthy


In the iconoclastic film, A Fiddler On the Roof, Tevye, the main character, a poor farmer, sings a song titled, If I Were A Rich Man. Some of the stanzas are notable for what they say about Tevye's perception of what it means to be rich.

Foremost, he sings that if he were rich, he "wouldn't have to work hard." Prized among his possessions would be "chicks and turkeys and geese and ducks." These fowls would signify wealth to the other townspeople. Finally, in describing what the wife of a rich man would look like, he says "about his wife, Golde, looking like a rich man's wife, With a proper double-chin. Supervising meals to her heart's delight."

Simply put, to Tevye, being rich means being fat, lounging around, and eating a lot. My, how things have changed.

According to the British Telegraph, a leading London newspaper, "Over the last century – for the first time in history – an odd phenomenon has emerged in developed societies: the richer you are, the more likely you are to be thin. Wallis Simpson nailed the phenomenon several generations ago, when she said, "You can never be too rich or too thin."

George Orwell noticed a related phenomenon in 1937, in The Road to Wigan Pier:

"The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn't… When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don't want to eat dull, wholesome food. You want something a little bit 'tasty'. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let's have three pennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a two-penny ice-cream!"

But the British are not the only ones experiencing this sea of change, As Americans struggle with an obesity epidemic and related illnesses often referred to as "diseases of affluence" such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, a paradox has emerged. Today, it appears that it is the truly more affluent who seem to have a better handle on the effects that food has on one's health and are in the position to make better lifestyle choices. Buying organic fresh produce and wild salmon imported from Alaska, balancing work-life demands, taking time to stay physically fit or indulging in a personal trainer or even a gym in your own home seem to be only the domain of the wealthy.

Unlike in ancient times when wealthy landowners and monarchs like Henry the Eighth could satisfy their every gastronomical craving by feasting on the beasts of the land and in turn, develop their characteristic double chins and pompous bellies consistent with their coveted status, the smart money now sees the world differently. Living a healthy lifestyle now seems to cost more, not less. Those with money or those who value health are taking the smart steps to live longer and healthier lives.

It would seem like a disturbing paradox, if it were true, but it's not. The truth is that most anyone can make the choice to avoid fast food and sweets, stay physically fit, work on friendships, etc. Money helps, but it's not the end to end all. Okay, so if you don't have the budget for organic, you will have to eat conventional fruits and vegetables over the pricier stuff. That's not a big deal because they are both equally nutritious. There are always farmer markets and farming cooperatives about that offer fresh produce at affordable prices. Walk whenever you can. Do jumping jacks and sprints if you can't afford a gym membership. Don't believe everything you think is a fact. It's not. Smile more. When people ask you how you are doing, answer absolutely fantastic. Believe it.

Yes, it may be easier to do all these things when you are rich, but don't be fooled for a second that money offers any guarantees. There are still plenty of overweight wealthy people whose money has failed to increase their intelligence or decrease their illnesses. These people, who are none the smarter for their fatter wallets, continue to ignore the daily warnings and consume what they please with reckless disregard to consequences.

So the question for you is simple: Which would you prefer? To be a rich person who can afford to live a healthier lifestyle but chooses not to or a not so rich person who has the smarts to do so? It's not that you can't have both money and smarts, but just recognize what's more important. You see money can't buy you health (doctors don't make you healthy) any more than it can buy you happiness. Whether you have lots of money or not, the most priceless asset will always be your health.

Therefore, please indulge me as I rewrite a few of Tevye's stanzas to reflect how a rich man should really be:

"If I were a rich man,

Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.

All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.

If I were a wealthy man.

I wouldn't have to stop being physically active

Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.

If I were a biddy biddy rich,

Yidle-diddle-didle-didle man.

I'd fill my yard with organic kale, nuts, berries, and avocados

For the town to see and smell.

And each aroma would delight the senses

As if to say "This is what it means to stop and smell the roses like a wealthy man."

If I were a rich man,

Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.

All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.

If I were a wealthy man.

I wouldn't have to stop being physically active.

Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.

If I were a biddy biddy rich,

Yidle-diddle-didle-didle man.

I see my wife, my Golde, looking like a rich man's wife

With a slender figure, positive demeanor, and looking well slept.

Distributing meals to the homeless to her heart's delight.

I see her helping others and bringing joy to those around her.

Oy, what a happy mood she's in.

Laughing with and smiling at people, day and night.

If I were a rich man,

Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.

All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.

If I were a wealthy man.

I wouldn't have to stop being physically active.

Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.

If I were a biddy biddy rich,

Yidle-diddle-didle-didle man.

As far as I'm concerned, the greatest wealth is our health. If you don't believe me, just ask someone with failing health what they would give up to restore their health. Their answer will be priceless.

 

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