The Good Health Issue: From The Editors

Mind + Body + Community

Mind + Body + Community

Feb 3, 2016

Winter can be a difficult season. Shorter days and bleak weather leave us drained of energy. And then come the holidays, with celebrations and family get-togethers, which are a source of joy for some and anxiety for others. If we succumb to the weather and the stress, we might start mistaking our mental and physical struggles for personal failure. We’ve all heard the message that our health is our own problem, that if we get sick or depressed, it’s because we did something wrong or are not “taking care of ourselves.”

This seemed like a good time for YES! to ask what actually nourishes a culture of good health. As we explored this question, we learned that we don’t have to go it alone. In fact, we can’t go it alone. Research says our vitality is affected by every little thing in our lives: not only our bodies and minds, but also our culture, our economy, our relationships, and our environment. Research suggests that we’re more affected than we previously thought by these diverse systems, which can be as small-scaled as cells and as large as our socioeconomic institutions. Our well-being is as influenced by income inequality as it is by the nutrients in our food.

Even the dirt covering homegrown vegetables could bolster your health and mood, writes Dr. Daphne Miller. Microorganisms found in plants, animals, soil, water, and air might help regulate our immune and nervous systems and reduce anxiety and depression. Although this research is still new, evidence suggests that both physical and psychological health depend on healthy and diverse microbial ecosystems within us.

Our health also depends on nurturing social networks. Author Jasmine Aguilera describes a fascinating paradox: Despite experiencing high poverty rates and cultural marginalization, Hispanics tend to live longer on average than any other group in the country. How is that possible? Culture and community. From eating whole, traditional foods to caring for mothers after their babies are born, these Hispanic families pass down customs that sustain good health.

The stories in this issue might upend some of your ideas about what makes real and sustainable health. To be healthy, we need to embrace our emotional ups and downs; we need to look around and trust that what surrounds us also sustains us; we need to let go of conceptualizing health and instead experience it firsthand, listening to the rhythms of our minds, bodies, and spirits, and honoring everything we see, hear, touch, and smell as vital to who we are and how we live. It’s humbling to realize that our well-being relies on these systems — larger than us but also smaller than we can imagine — so much more than our health insurance company or choice of doctor. But it’s also empowering.

Sarah van Gelder
Sarah van Gelder is a co-founder and columnist at YES!, founder of PeoplesHub, and author of The Revolution Where You Live: Stories from a 12,000-Mile Journey Through a New America.
Erin Sagen is a freelancer and former associate editor at YES! She lives in Seattle and writes about food, health, and suburban sustainability.
Clo Copass is a former managing editor of YES! Magazine.