Loa‘a ke ola i Halau-a-ola (‘Ōlelo No‘eau, 2017)
“Health is obtained in the House-of-life”
“Life is obtained in the Houseof-health”

Kawena Pukui reminds us that our Hawaiian ancestors paid rigorous attention to the “soundness” of their bodies. And, the ʻŌlelo Noʻeau remind us of this conscious thought of our ancestors. This ʻōlelo uses a play on the word ola, as it means both life and health. That is how directly both were connected by our kūpuna.

Our ancestors depended on their bodies to be physically able to work hard, each and every day. Whether farmer, fisherman or hunter, there were no machines or large animals to help. All paddling, lifting, planting and carrying of materials and crops depended on healthy, energetic human bodies. There were no supermarkets, no substitutes or temporary help to keep farms producing, fishnets filled and families fed. And, thus, no joint or muscle aches and no pains or injuries went without immediate treatment. The ancestors also knew that their medicine and healing methods worked best when used immediately on injuries, not later, when healing got complicated. It’s the same today. Paying attention to your body’s health just makes sense.

Today, older adults often think it is too late to work on strengthening aging muscles. As a result, they stop doing some household chores, playing golf or shopping at malls. Research has proventhat’s unnecessary. A recent study divided 141 very-overweight and sedentary elders (over 65 years) into two groups. First, a “control group” that got healthy eating advice. Secondly, a weight-loss diet group with a choice of one of three exercise programs: aerobic, strength training or both. The diet cut 500 to 750 calories a day. After six months, all three diet-plus-exercise groups lost about 20 pounds. However, those who got strength training (with or without aerobic exercise) gained the most strength and lost the least muscle and bone. Those who got aerobic exercise (with or without strength training) had the greatest increase to aerobic fitness. Thus, for the best results, these scientists recommend that elders do both aerobic and strength training, no matter age or fitness.

Another study followed the health of nearly 540,000 AARP members, 50 to 71 years of age. After 16 years, those who ate the most red meat (5 ounces/day) and 2000 calories daily, had a 26 percent higher risk of dying during the study, compared to those who ate the least red meat (5 ounces/week). The red-meat eaters had a higher risk of dying of cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, diabetes, infections, chronic kidney disease and chronic liver disease. In contrast, those who ate the most poultry and fish (“white meat”) had a 25 percent lower risk of dying. The researchers estimated about 20 percent of the link between dying and unprocessed red meat (steak, hamburgers, chops, etc.) was due to its heme iron (the iron-holding part of hemoglobin), which can aid carcinogenic compounds in the GI tract. And, they estimated that roughly 50 percent of the link between dying and processed red meat (sausage, ham, bacon, etc.) was due to the preservatives, nitrites and nitrates. The researchers considered age, weight and exercise, and agreed, for healthiest results, it is worth cutting back on red meat. Additional study is needed to delve further into other reasons red meat eaters have a higher risk of dying.

Our ancestors survived for thousands of years on their own skills and practices as humble farmers and fishermen. They highly valued being healthy and physically active. They gained much wisdom about maintaining health and life. Most importantly, they heeded the advice of those who had the most wisdom. Hawaiians today seem to have lost that wisdom and are the least healthy group in Hawaiʻi. To be more like the ancestors, we need to heed the advice of wise ones. And, remember, it is never too late to change for health’s sake.