Three Little Things That Pay Back Big

Three Little Things That Pay Back Big

by Kevin Ferguson

2012 Kevin Ferguson

There are three little things that maybe most people know, and I kind of did. Once I became more attuned to them and took action accordingly, they improved my life immensely daily, and continue to do so. When you read them, you might think, "Yeah, I already know about that." If so, maybe you're like I was, and didn't think to look a bit deeper at first. Or, if you take similar actions accordingly and live in the United States, you are in the tiny, but rapidly growing, minority to which I now belong.

Using your own energy as much as possible to get around is the first of the three. For me, this means commuting by bicycle and doing the majority of regular trips such as for buying food, etc. by walking or biking (with a bike trailer when neccessary). The second little thing is stretching, including preparation for stretching when required and sometimes this includes proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). The third little thing is eating right which, after learning more and more about nutrition, means eating a well balanced diet based almost exclusively on plants.

Move Yourself

You may be suprised by the health, wealth and ecological (gift to the world) benefits that come from moving your own body when you can, instead of using a car or other expensive, fossil fuel based transportation. It seems strange to me to see people drive a car to a gym to get cardiovascular exercise in cases where a safe route by bicycle or foot is available to at least some regular destinations for an equivalent or better workout. If you don't have a job, the money saved can be significant. If you do have a job, consider the pretax equivalent income in order to get the money you save, and it can be significant, especially if you adopt it as part of your daily life for the rest of your life. My doctor gave me a physical recently now that I've hit the half century mark. He told me "your heart -- it's not normal." "Oh crap." I thought during the dramatic pause..."It's beating less than 60 times per minute. Your an athlete." he said. Hmmm...I haven't been to a gym to work out in decades...kinda cool...maybe this can be you, too?

The first time I tried commuting by bike, it was not very pleasant. It rained. I had some awkward rain gear that condensed my sweat. My body was not used to the ride nor being drenched inside rain gear and couldn't regulate my temperature very well: too hot here, too cold there...yuck. So, I tried different things and kept riding anyway and after a while it felt normal to ride. Then, if for some unfortunate reason I had to take the car to work, I felt like I lacked proper stimulation...Oh, this is why people drink coffee.

Just think for a minute what the world would be like if everyone could get used to moving themselves and using the car only as an exception rather than the rule. Think more money for better uses, less pollution, less health issues due to pollution and lack of exercise, which in turn means less health care costs, so even more money for better uses... Think of the nasty conflicts in the world where there's oil, maybe that oil would be less valuable to fight over. Energy independence starts with your muscles.

Swap Loose and Tight

This topic is as big as the number of joints and muscles in your body. Most of us learn that we need to stretch our muscles to avoid injury. What I didn't know, is that after an injury to my back in my early thirties, I'd ruptured a disc. And, after going to a doctor because of severe lower back pain that was accompanied by rather dramatic onset of constipation, I still didn't know that I had a ruptured disc because the doctor didn't want have X-rays taken. A long story short, I came across Robin Mckenzie's "7 Steps To A Pain-Free Life" in a local library, skimmed it then and there and got the 7 exercises I needed to mitigate my back problems. The first 3 stretched the stomach muscles and were the main actions for "restoring lordosis," the curvature of the back. Before discovering this easy little maintenance trick I had doctors tell me they could fix it with surgery, though there could be complications. I had a doctor tell me to stop exercise of all kinds and take a heavey duty laxative for the rest of my life. Again, I was in my early thirties, and this sounded like a death sentence (and it probably would have been). So, since using the McKenzie method, I've been pain free apart from occasional times I have forgotten to stretch for longs periods because there was no pain to remind me.

And I have found that I had many other joints that started to hurt and I'd apply similar methods to stretch the muscles in and around the area of pain (often 4 muscle groups: 2 opposing pairs). The shoulder joint is tricky. I had one doctor do all kinds of things including several prescriptions for physical therapy and slamming my back with a formidable hypodermic needle. It pretty much all was a waste of time. I figured out, about a year after the shoulder pain appeared, that for several days after an accident involving my shoulder, I had spent separate bouts of minutes that accumulated to hours leaning on my elbow while turning to my side and working on a second computer. That leaning eventually stretched the smaller muscles of the joint such that the larger ones did damage when moving my arm in certain angles. The fix was to stop leaning this way for so long, do some smaller muscle strengthening, and give it some time to heal. Robin McKenzie points out that back and neck pain that we discover a few hours after excercise are not the result of injury during the exercise, but rather the result of injury of tissue made vulnerable due to joints and muscles being a bit looser after exercise. Bad posture, leaning (like I did on my elbow) awkwardly, and other such bad form can make things worse and cause injury. Knowing that can help prevent injury, and help recover faster.

After my experiences with most doctors not telling me about the healing and preventative effects of stretching (one finally did agree and recommended stretching), I can't help but wonder what the world might be like if everyone tried simple stretches to prevent and/or mitigate joint pain and related discomforts before resorting to taking pain relieving drugs or visits to the doctor. Think of all of the time, money and livers that could be saved.

The Right Input

This is a touchy, touchy, topic. One of my children has a severe casein allergy, which means he can't eat dairy or foods which contain the dairy protein. This and other motivations brought me to create software that facilitates making recipes for food substitutes, giving flavor profile, nutrition, gycemic load and inflammation estimates ( At first I used it to create many diary substitutes: milks, creams, butters and ice creams mostly from combinations of nuts and juices. I was suprised at how good the substitutes were, often as good or better than the dairy. Then I noticed that on average the nutrition was much better than the original dairy. Meat substitutes where more challenging for flavor, but many were quite good and the nutrition was nearly always better. This lead to me deciding to try a diet of these substitutes and other plant based foods using the software as the guide. So, as an experiment to see how well the dairy substitute creation software worked lead me to become vegan. Nearly a year later, I'm still vegan and the experiment has been extremely interesting and rewarding to me.

It's hard to keep track of all the benefits of a vegan diet. There are many books on the subject, and my experience in terms of most of the health benefits appears to be fairly typical. Most books and films on the subject mention dramatic mitigation of most inflammation related chronic disease, leading causes of death, excess weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes/blood sugar levels, allergies and other indications of improved health. Here is a partial list of the benefits I see:

Yes, this is a touchy, touchy, topic. When I mention that I'm experimenting with a vegan diet, often people get defensive, as though I'm personally going to come and take their meat and dairy away. No, I'm not going to take anyone's food away. And perhaps you can understand my enthusiasm for sharing how the experiment has been going so far. From what I've learned about long term effects of vegan vs animal based diets, it appears that much more can be saved in health care costs over time. Imagine how many how fewer people would be sick, how much more energy everyone would have if they all saw these same benefits.

And every calorie of animal food requires about 10 times the calories of feed grain. The land and water required to raise an agricultural animal is similarly disproportionate. How many more people could be fed if we all ate mainly plants?

And without massive agricultural subsidies, what would meat really cost? What if most fruits and vegetables were subsidized instead of meat, dairy and sugar?

Be A Hero: Save Yourself, Save The World

So all together, these three simple little things can save you money, potentially save you the pain and aggravation of chronic diseases that are otherwise "normal" with aging. And the resources saved and your inspiration to others might just help to save the world.