3 Easy Health Tips I’ve Learned From the Homeless
“So why waste gas money going to the .99 cent store,” asked Johnny when I offered him a ride to pick up his weekly groceries. “It’s less than 2 miles away,” he said.
I’ve known Johnny for a couple of years now and have seen him move from sleeping on the sidewalks to owning his own 24 foot motorhome, which he parks on the local streets here in Southern California. He keeps his expenses low by not driving around much and tries to walk and take public transportation when he can.
Part of his daily routine includes walking close to a mile a day to pick up the LA Times at the local convenience store, which he reads in its entirety before completing the crossword puzzle with ease. His choice of music, which is always playing in his camper, is classical or jazz, and he is well-versed in the works and lives of most composers.
His cigarette smoking, chronic alcohol abuse, as well as generally poor food choices notwithstanding, I’ve always been amazed at his general good health and humor and wondered why he never seems to get sick.. He is well-read and quick with a joke or opinion. When I’ve taken him to the free clinic for routine checkups, his blood pressure has always been around 110/80 or so.
“But Johnny, I said, we’ll have to carry your supplies all the way back and you’ll have a bit of a load.” He regarded me as one might look at as a feeble old man , shook his head smiled slightly. For the record, Johnny is 65 years old, stands maybe 5’7 and weighs 125 lbs on a good day. He grabbed his worn backpack and said, “Let’s go.”
As we walked on the warm summer day at the beach, I realized how surprisingly fit Johnny was. Like a number of other so called homeless people I know, they don’t belong to fancy gyms with specialized and sanitized machines and environments. They’re not trying to work a specific muscle group or train for a marathon. No, like much of the population of the world, they walk miles every day just for basics like food and water. And many are fit, slim and strong, with an often surprising tensile strength.
In addition, because their activity was occurring outdoors, they were getting plenty of Vitamin D, vital to human health. Vitamin D is not actually a vitamin per se, but a hormone, which helps with bone density, positive mental states and immune system support. Research has shown that proper levels of the sunshine vitamin help ward off depression and work to prevent colds and the flu. Studies have shown that as little as 10-20 minutes of sunshine per day is all you really need, but how many of us are getting this free health benefit?
Another health-smart tip I’ve observed from folks like Johnny who are living on next to nothing is always thinking about and planning your next meal in advance. And, often short of funds, they are consuming fewer calories than most Americans… Good advice for most of us, especially those with busy schedules who only stop to think of food when they’re hungry.
So, in summary three simple things we can all do today are :
~~~Move your body every day. According to a study by the CDC, less than a quarter of all Americans get enough aerobic and strength training every week. Take a walk after dinner. Park in a far corner of the supermarket parking lot and walk an extra few hundred feet. Find a local park where you can walk or jog or shoot hoops. Outdoor workouts are the best because you’re not looking at the clock and it’s free.
~~~Get sunshine daily. You can’t get Vitamin D from your food, and taking supplements should be a last resort only if you’re in the dead of winter in a northern latitude or if you are totally desk- bound. Even then, you should be able to poke your head outside midday at lunch for some sunshine.
~~And, finally. plan your meals in advance to the best if your ability. You will be eating healthier and saving money. Make a daily and weekly menu plan and try to stick with. Staples like rice and beans can be cooked days in advance, for example. They can always be kept on hand and can serve as a base for high quality, inexpensive and easy to prepare meals.
“So, what’re you doing later?” I asked him. “Not sure, just working on getting my groceries for now,” he replied. One thing about Johnny is he’s always “in the moment” just focusing on the job at hand. “Be here now,” I thought and smiled to myself.
We completed our walk to the grocery store and Johnny quickly and efficiently rounded up his supplies: cans of beans, paper goods, a watermelon, some lettuce and tuna fish. “Wow, he said pausing near the checkout line, “Check this out… 10lbs of oranges for .99 cents. What a deal, I can’t pass this up.”
“I think this is gonna be too heavy to carry back to your camper,” I said.
“That’s what you’re for Steve” he grinned, as he handed me the bag and off we went. Functional fitness at its most basic level.