“Health cannot be defined as the absence of disease”, “loneliness kills more than obesity”, “too much medicine makes us sick” and “most nutritional supplements are not effective.” These are some of the surprising health statements made by doctor Borja Bandera, a specialist in Endocrinology and Nutrition.

He is a health content creator on social media and has more than a million followers on YouTube. He has published the book Let habits be your medicine (Grijalbo), where he reviews his recipes for dying young as late as possible, that is, to age in the best way or with maximum health. With Borja Bandera we reviewed some of his advice “to optimize health and prevent disease.”

He says that having good health goes far beyond having or not having diseases. What does it mean, then, to be healthy, and how can we know if we have it?

There is no clear answer. The WHO definition is very ambitious, it says that health is a state of complete physical, social and mental well-being. This is unbearable for the majority of the population. I encourage everyone to think about what it means to be healthy, whether it is just the absence of a medical diagnosis or whether it goes beyond and relates to your purpose in life and how satisfied you are with how you are.

According to this, you can be healthy even if you have illnesses…

There are people who have a pathology and have a good quality of life and are satisfied with their life, they consider themselves functional. Perhaps these people are healthier than others who have no diagnosis, but are dissatisfied. I think it is more up to each of us, not the doctors, to say whether we are healthy or not.

He says that change is urgent to optimize our health. Why and in what sense?

What needs to be changed are our habits, a very easy thing to say and a very difficult thing to do. It is urgent because the human being, sadly, only changes when he feels compelled by an illness, by pain. But until we get here there is a long time in which we do not take action. Change is urgent when we do not feel the urgency, health has to be taken care of when we have it, not when we lose it. We have to change our habits when we are well, and that will get us closer to optimal health and away from the point of illness or functional disability.

Physical exercise: they tell us that we have to walk, run, do cardio… But you say that strength exercise is essential to combat aging. Because?

Strength is essential and one of the best markers of healthy aging is muscle function. Muscle is an organ that is not only locomotor, but also endocrine, generating molecules that help the body function correctly. A good locomotor system, evolutionarily, meant more chances of survival (it allowed hunting, fleeing from an attack…). When there is muscle decline, aging is greatly accelerated. When we lose muscle mass, the probability of dying increases greatly. What needs to be done to extend the years of healthy life? Train the muscle. The size of the muscle is not important, but its function, strength. We must train strength if we want to age well.

As? It can be done at home, right?

Yes, it can be done anywhere. You have to assess the context of each person, there are those who have been going to the gym for twenty years, others have never done it, and at 50 they want to start. You can start without weights, with the same body weight, doing leg curls, push-ups, pull-ups with a bar that can be bought for only 30 euros, with elastic bands, with small weights… It can be done on the beach, at home, in the gym… You can do more intense weightlifting or calisthenics exercises, but I don’t recommend starting here.

How many minutes per week do you need for strength training to be effective?

Two thirty-minute sessions per week focusing on the entire body, all muscle groups, with a well-planned circuit that works on the lower body, abdominals, core and upper body. It is the starting point to improve muscle function.

Regarding nutrition, what is the most important guideline to age well?

85 or 90% of the calories have to come from unprocessed or optimally processed foods. Here we do not make distinctions between diets with names, this has to be followed with a vegan, paleo, ketogenic diet… You must eat enough fiber, vegetables, fruits and legumes, antioxidants and bioactives from vegetables, avoid cooking techniques such as frying… Also Alcohol must be avoided, as we already know.

What about dietary supplements? Many people take magnesium or silicon without any medical indication!

Supplementation makes sense if it is done in a targeted and meaningful way. If you are tired, we look at the reason, and then we will see if you need to supplement. Most supplements are useless, a few are useful, and those that are useful are not supplements. But there are people who have a poor diet, do not take enough vitamins or minerals, and may benefit from taking supplements. It may make sense to supplement with magnesium if there is hypertension, type 2 diabetes…

Why are set schedules and constant rhythms so important for the body?

We have evolved following schedules limited by light and darkness, until there was electricity. Our biology is adapted to function according to circadian rhythms, which occur in a 24-hour period. When we violate rhythms, with artificial light or screens, working at night or watching series until late, our biology suffers. We are made to have activity and energy intake during daylight hours and to rest, shut down our system and repair tissues during the night. Maintenance is done at night, and if we do not respect it, the risk of pathologies increases. Circadian disruption is related to more psychiatric, cardiovascular, metabolic disease and any chronic disease.

“Little medicine kills, much medicine makes you sick.” What does it mean?

If we did not have access to basic medicine we would die, as happened years ago. But a society focused on medicine and medical care, which is medicated with opioids in the face of any pain or adversity (such as a breakup), is a society that will have problems derived from medical iatrogenesis. Furthermore, there is suffering due to the fact that we are a hypochondriac society, which in the face of any discomfort seeks salvation in medicine. If we think that any discomfort can be solved with surgery or medication, we take away individual responsibility, which is the boring and uncomfortable work that must be done to have good health.

He says that you have to do a dopamine fast and put your cell phone aside a little, eliminate hours of connection on the networks. What effect does ‘hyperconnection’ have on health?

There is more and more addiction to new technologies and at younger ages and there are more and more scientific studies that show the effects. It has many consequences, beyond the lack of physical activity. The more connected we are, the more alone we feel, because the relationships established on social networks are substitutes for real relationships, substitutes for meeting a friend, talking, listening to them, empathizing. They use networks to escape from a less attractive real environment, and this is related to the worsening of mental health, which is seen in general and especially in younger people. Technologies are stimuli so powerful that if we are not aware, they consume us. How many times do you pick up your phone to look at it when you don’t have to check anything? It is a compulsion that we have generated.

The concentration problems that all this entails also affect health…

Yes, our life now looks like a Twitter thread. Stimuli are becoming shorter and the brain is getting used to the exaggerated and absurd multitasking of watching the news while checking Twitter, or watching First Dates while watching TikTok. Doing two or three things at the same time, so that the brain no longer has the capacity to do tasks that require concentration to read, study for two hours, listen to a person, or study for a degree. It is a problem that will be talked about a lot, we must be aware.

You want to promote good health habits, but it’s very difficult! How do we do all this?

The first thing is to avoid paralysis by analysis, that is, not to get overwhelmed by having to change 15 things at once. You have to do an internal reflection: what do I need right now? Maybe it has nothing to do with exercise or diet, maybe it’s some issue of anxiety, burnout at work, or getting out of a toxic relationship. You have to focus on the most debilitating issue and attack it. It is very important to change your identity with very small actions: if you want to be someone who exercises, you will have to use willpower, and after a month increase the time you exercise a little, and slowly you will assume the identity of someone who exercises. sport. But this doesn’t happen overnight.

Any other advice to get into good habits?

Being empathetic with yourself also helps. Another tip is to be specific: it does not work to say “from now on I will do physical exercise”, but it is better to say “Monday and Wednesday, from six to seven, I will go to body-pump class.” Picking up many good habits in one year is not very realistic, especially if you have to make structural changes in your life. We must thoroughly analyze the reasons for our bad habits (if, for example, they are eating ultra-processed foods), understand ourselves, and do deep inner work. Changing habits is not quick or easy, sometimes it is not possible. You have to say things how they are.

This article was originally published on RAC1