I’ll be in Washington, D.C., the week of the Washington Spa Alliance’s annual symposium, Tuesday, March 17, 2015. Gathered in one room, I and the other leaders and presidents of spa industry groups from around the country will have a remarkable opportunity to venture beyond the walls of our industry’s business concerns and reports of innovations that can make the spa experience better.
This year, for the first time, Symposium attendees (on the day after our gathering) will walk a mile or more through the halls of Congress visiting various elected representatives and seeking their advice and updates on what is being done about chemical safety reform in the U.S. today. A “rising tide” of inadequately tested contaminants is escaping into our waterways, agricultural lands, and foods. Chemicals remain on the key ingredient lists of products we put on our skin and in our mouths.
We’ll be on the Hill, seeking ways that we—the health practitioners, believers and activists (all 360,000 of us!) in an industry devoted to mind, body and spirit wellness—can be heard. How can we become an army of “Davids” fighting for a safe environment when industrial Goliaths fund their own lobbying efforts with hundreds of millions of dollars? How can we influence lawmakers regarding the urgency of enacting bipartisan updates to Acts that more fully empower existing agencies such as the EPA and FDA, while not undermining the regulations of individual states?
We in the spa industry are looked at as paragons of good health and disease prevention. And yet even the staunchest practitioners of a healthy lifestyle cannot avoid this “rising tide” of chemicals when it hides almost everywhere in the environment. That’s frightening: when even your best efforts won’t avoid being exposed to some of “the smidgens.”
What’s a smidgen? Well, one of the most popular blogs I’ve done on this site in the past year was my “theory of smidgens. On the eve of this conference, here it is again. If you want to start your own movement for a safer, chemical-safe America, start with your smidgens!
A Theory of Smidgens
Achieving overall fitness and well-being is built choice by choice, one "smidgen" at a time. So are disease and infirmity. In fact, the small choices—repeated often enough and over time—have the greatest impact. The cumulative effect of actions and non-actions shape the person we are today and the person we are in the process of becoming as we age.
Think of a slope rising, or in decline. It can be steep or gradual. Now judge yourself by how you feel today. Think back 10 years. What was your life like?
By looking at the differences, you may be able to project the speed at which the next 10 years will improve, decline, or stay steady. Whatever your conclusion, you will be inspired—especially if you’re in decline.
I’ve experienced it. I feel younger today than I did 15 years ago. I take a walk: my legs don’t ache. I don’t breathe as hard when I climb to Alex’s Oak—a lone tree high on a ridge above Rancho La Puerta. (This photo is from a hike to Alex's Oak earlier this year, testing to make sure my "theory of smidgens" is still working!)
A good climb up a hill (or mountain, depending on your fitness level) is a great measurement of your progress toward better fitness, or decline year after year. Some guests who come to the Golden Door or Rancho La Puerta every year never miss taking the same hike on the morning after they arrive. They want to know if they’ve improved their fitness level in the past year, slid back, or simply kept up.
Smidgen. The word dates back to 1835-45, but its origins are unknown. The definition is “a very small amount, as in ‘a smidgen of jam on your toast.’”
I refer to smidgens a lot. As I am not a doctor and I don't have a perfect memory for facts and figures—there are too many in my head already—this term serves as a catchall to explain the cumulative effects of choices made and not made. Aging is not something that kicks in suddenly when we turn 65; it is a progressive accumulation that builds over a lifetime of eating, breathing, exercising (or not), “stressing out,” burning the candle at both ends, and a myriad of other actions and choices.
A dietary example: take the ubiquitous packets of artificial sweetener found on virtually every restaurant table across the land. A packet or two added to your coffee or tea each day means by year's end you will have consumed almost 750. Ten years later: 7,500. Imagine ingesting 7,500 packets of a compound that doesn’t exist in nature. That’s how fast those smidgens can and do add up into quite a few pounds of “stuff,” and often their long-term affect on the body may still be fundamentally unknown.
The leading causes of death worldwide—cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic lung disease—are often the result of behaviors such as smoking, obesity, and inactivity. These lifestyle choices bring us to our knees one smidgen at a time, and are not inevitable.
At first glance, our daily choices—the cheeseburger rather than the salad, the hour spent working late at the office instead of working out in the gym—may seem inconsequential. Over a lifetime, they can make the difference between sickness or health; between growing older and sicker or staying vital and full of energy. Each one leaves behind a smidgen, unnoticeable at first but undeniable over time. Arteries harden...smidgen by smidgen. Lungs scar...smidgen by smidgen.
Don’t make the mistake of pointing to someone you know who did everything wrong. Because genetics play a huge role in longevity, there will always be an Aunt Tilly in your family who smoked, drank bourbon, and sat in her chair on the porch until she was 101. Don’t count on you being the next Aunt Tilly.
Do count, however, on doing all you can to be healthy and comfortable by outsmarting the smidgens. And do feel free to comment below and inspire fellow wellness warriors with how you have outsmarted some of the smidgens in your life!