THE CITIZEN IS WELL | 21 OCTOBER, 2019
The Surprising Secret To Wellness
‘The Rabbit Effect’
In a world where ‘wellness’ has come to mean offensively expensive ‘detox’ cleanses and energy crystals -- the secret to a healthy and happy life is inordinately simple: sleep well, eat well and move well.
While an all-juice cleanse or detox tea may have psychological benefits in the form of a placebo self care effect, there’s little evidence to suggest that many of today’s wellness fads actually work. Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and eating a well balanced diet may not get you as many Instagram likes as that gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free brownie you just posted -- but true wellness lies in consistency over trends, and in balance over extremes.
But there may just be a surprising secret to wellness. A new book by Columbia University psychiatrist Kelli Harding suggests there may be a missing piece essential to the wellness puzzle.
We all know genetics and lifestyle, particularly exercise and diet, play a crucial role in enabling a healthy and happy life - hence the ‘sleep well, eat well and move well’ wellness mantra. But back in the 1970s, a study on a group of genetically identical rabbits revealed that there may be more to wellness.
These identical rabbits were given the same unhealthy, high-fat diet to see how it affected their hearts. Scientists noticed that some of the rabbits were doing surprisingly well despite their very unhealthy diet. Genes couldn’t be the factor - they were identical.
So what was it? "They looked around and realized what was different about that one group is that there was a researcher that wasn't just giving the rabbits kibbles. She was actually picking them up. She was petting them. She was talking to them. She was giving them love and kindness," Harding said in an interview.
Her book - on the underappreciated role of kindness in wellness - is titled the ‘Rabbit Effect’
There seems to be truth in this … the key to a healthy and happy life has a lot to do with whether the world metaphorically cuddles you with love or hands you kibbles through a caged door.
"We spend a fortune on medical care … but we're not getting the health results we want ... it's probably because we're really doubling down on the medical care and not investing in our social world the way that we could," Harding says.
Several studies have shown that friendships contribute to a longer and healthier life. Good relationships have a big impact on your health, which in turn can extend your life - and these solid friendships might have more of an impact on longevity and health than even diet or exercise.
Good relationships are characterised by kindness and support - all tying into the ‘rabbit effect’. "The hug you give your child or your spouse when you walk out the door makes a difference, and not only with them. There's this really exciting science of epigenetics and telomere research that shows that loving actions actually change our physiology," Harding says (as quoted by Inc).
And this element of kindness extends beyond your personal life into the workplace. "Studies have shown that the strongest predictor of a man's death from heart disease isn't cholesterol or blood pressure. It's his job," Harding says. "Everyone knows it's important to have a good doctor, but it's also important to have a good manager."
The thing with kindness is that you get what you give … and that’s possibly the most important piece of the wellness puzzle.
If you’re seeking wellness, detox tea and organic kombucha will only get you so far. You’re better off learning to be kind, and building solid relationships underpinned by that kindness.