Harmonize (Like Simon and Garfunkel) with Good Eating and Physical Activity

Blog #38 by Andrew Siegel, M.D.

Harmonizing is combining simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords having a blended, soothing and pleasant effect. In my opinion, Simon and Garfunkel harmonize like no other two singers—each alone have amazing voices but together they combine with a powerful chemistry to create a really special sound—think Scarborough Fair: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYQaD2CAi9A

The mathematical metaphor for harmonizing (synergy) is 1 + 1 = 3.  I am reminded of one of my favorite sci-fi movies, The Fifth Element, directed by Luc Besson, in which a climactic scene shows the harmonizing of the four elements earth, wind, water and fire with the fifth element (a character played by the actress Milla Jovovich) to create a unique and memorable synergy.

I borrow these music, mathematical and cinema metaphors and apply them to the wellness arena.  Here, the two players are healthy eating and exercise.  There are four permutations of these two players:

Healthy eating + exercise

Healthy eating + no exercise

Unhealthy eating + exercise

Unhealthy eating + no exercise

On the wellness index, the top combination reigns supreme; the middle two, less so; and the bottom clearly ranks as a bad duo.

To put it another way, if Paul Simon’s voice represents healthy eating, Art Garfunkel’s voice represents exercise, my tonally challenged voice represents unhealthy eating and my wife’s tonally challenged voice represents no exercise, then we have the following combos:

Paul Simon + Art Garfunkel = Simon and Garfunkel

Paul Simon + my wife = not so good, as my wife will poison Paul Simon’s sound

Me + Art Garfunkel = not so good, as I will poison Art Garfunkel’s sound

Me + my wife = disaster (lol)!

The foundations of wellness are the combination of healthy eating and exercise.  Healthy eating means the right quality and quantity of the food that we consume.  Healthy eating and maintaining a healthy weight are very important, but are simply not enough to achieve wellness, in the absence of exercise.  By the same token, subjecting our bodies to exercise on a regular basis is fundamental to our good health, but not sufficient to maintain wellness.  Physical fitness has everything to do with how much we exercise and does not bear a direct correlation with our weight. (Of course, if we are obese, there is no way that we can be fit since fitness demands a reasonable weight.) There are very lean individuals who eat well but never exercise and are clearly in a poor state of physical fitness; if they had to run a couple of miles, they would likely end up incredibly winded. By the same token, there are very athletic and physically fit individuals who exercise daily but do not eat well, consuming excessive calories and carrying too many pounds. So, wellness demands healthy eating, maintaining a reasonable weight AND exercising to achieve cardiovascular health (endurance) and strength (involving our core and skeletal muscles).

A human body is far better engineered than the most expensive Mercedes Benz.  Both the costly vehicle and our bodies need to be cared for.  They both require high quality fuel in their tanks.  They both need to be used regularly—the way they were designed to—not sitting idle in the garage or couch, respectively, wasting away and gathering dust.  They both thrive on being taken out on the road for sprints as well as long rides.  They both demand being cared for and not abused.  If their engines and their bodies are kept clean, shiny, bright and humming, they will both last a very long time. Both the car and our bodies may have a lot of miles and years on them, but if attended to properly, they can run like new for many more miles and years.

It makes sense to fuel up with premium fuel so that our engines run as efficiently as possible.  We are most fortunate to be alive and only go through life once, so it behooves us to eat quality, nutritious foods that will provide us with energy and the proper balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals to allow us to live a healthy and long existence.  Unlike our vehicles, our bodies are in a constant state of flux—tissues are continually being destroyed and remade.  The building blocks for the repair process come from the makeup of our diets.  So we literally are what we eat.  Furthermore, we are what we eat eats, and what we eat eats eats as well.  In other words, if your salmon dinner last night originated from the Pacific Northwest and dined on krill and other natural foods, its composition was very much different from the farmed salmon brought up on corn products and processed salmon feed.  The point is to have your building blocks be high quality components, just as you would use if you were replacing vital parts in your car.

Our food choices go a long way in terms of forming the foundation of our wellness destiny. Healthy eating is a lifelong experiment that should continue to evolve if one eats mindfully.  It is not so much what we choose to eat, but what we elect not to eat—essentially, by avoiding the “bad,” by default we will be fueling ourselves with the “good.”  In other words, there are a great variety of quality, healthy foods that can nourish us, and it is not that important what our specific choices are as long as there is balance, sufficient intake of macro-nutrients (protein, fats and carbohydrates) and micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals), and avoidance of excessive calories. The key is to stay away from processed, reconstituted, unhealthy, mystery, fake foods. Processed food is real food that has been altered in order to lower its cost, lengthen its shelf life, make it look more appealing and make us want to eat more of it, resulting in a reduction of nutritional content and an increase in chemicals, dyes, preservatives and toxins.

Like our vehicles, our bodies also need to be used the way they were meant to be.  We were not designed to be sedentary creatures, but were given the gift of motion to help us survive.  Whether this motion is organized into exercise, sports or fitness pursuits, or is integrated into our lifestyles matters not; what matters is that we keep on moving.  Exercise burns calories, improves our strength and fitness and makes us feel energized.  The short-term positive effects of exercise are the psychological and physical benefits of stress busting, improvement of mood, fatigue reduction, and increase of energy. Long-term benefits include reduction in risk for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, hypertension, some cancers, osteoporosis, chronic medical problems, falls, and physical disability. An exercise regimen is also useful for increasing muscular strength and tone, reducing body fat, and helping with weight control. Exercise will help lower blood pressure and our “bad” cholesterol (LDL) as well as raise our “good” cholesterol (HDL). Biological aging is thought to be partly on the basis of oxidative stress, which is reduced by exercise, so exercise can keep us looking and acting youthful.

When our physical fitness improves, it seems to help inspire good eating habits. Equally so, good eating habits seem to motivate many of us to exercise. So, there seems to be a harmony between exercise and healthy eating—healthy habits engender more healthy habits and unhealthy habits promote unhealthy habits. Many of those I interviewed for Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship With Food reported that if they were actively engaged in some sort of exercise regimen, they were less likely to binge or eat poorly, and if they were not exercising, they were more likely to succumb to unhealthy eating behaviors. The military term cascading system failure refers to a failure in one area causing a failure in a different area that would not ordinarily fail. That is precisely what often happens to our eating habits when we fail to maintain our exercise regimen and what often happens to our exercise regimen when we are not vigilant about our eating. Hopefully, the cognitive dissonance that occurs when healthy eating occurs without exercise or exercise occurs with out healthy eating will act to promote the harmonious incorporation of both into our daily routines.

Why do exercise and healthy eating harmonize so nicely together?

Many of those who have the self-restraint to eat a healthy diet and maintain a good weight come to an understanding that adding exercise improves the way they feel and their overall well being.  Those who are ardent exercisers usually come to the realization that they need to fuel up with quality nutrition to maximize their performance and keep their weight steady.  Additionally, those with the discipline and perseverance to put in the hours and the effort to exercise on a regular basis simply do not want to spoil their hard work by poor eating.

Bottom line: healthy eating and exercise harmonize in a way that will make your heart sing!

George, age 53

“When I exercise, I am more careful about eating.”

Justin, age 35

“Exercise drives my healthy eating; when I fall off my exercise regimen, I start eating pizza, burgers and deli sandwiches. The combination of exercise and healthy eating creates great rhythm.”

A wonderful Christmas and Hanukkah to all!

Andrew Siegel, M.D.


“Health and wellness sure beats wealth and hellness.”

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