Increasing wellbeing through a healthy lifestyle
BY INES ZORMAN
For a long time, people in the economic, political, and social gear mechanism were assigned the role of constantly calling up and improving their performance. The fact that this approach demands too high a price while impairing the quality of life has since been recognised. With this change in conscience, humans are again taking centre stage. Having been familiar with the efficacy of plants since her childhood, Ines Zorman is strongly focused on natural medicines to support a healthy lifestyle. In a conversation about alternative forms of therapy and the frantic strive for perfection, Prof Dr Dietrich Grönemeyer shows how to lead a healthy and happy life in a performance-orientated society.
Prof Dr Grönemeyer, you are seen as the “Father of Microtherapy”, you founded the Grönemeyer Institute of Microtherapy in Bochum, have published many works and were a visiting professor overseas. Where do you get this energy from, and what motivates you?
I am a passionate doctor, and the sixth generation to do so on my mother’s side. And as a doctor, I always deal with the human as a whole entity, with body, mind and soul. A fact which we as both doctors and patients are unfortunately not as aware of as our ancestors. Just think of Paracelsus, who once said: Every person is their own doctor, and any medic can only help them be this as best as possible. In other words, doctors and patients should meet as equals. The patient has to have enough medical knowledge in order to be able to take responsibility for their own health. Doctors must also ensure this. Society, politics, the education system and health economy must all meet these requirements by laying the foundation. Yet we all expect the doctors, the “demigods in white”, to heal us. This misconception is the downside of the progress of high-tech medicine, the success of which is not appreciated enough, and which has also led us to neglect the holistic view of humans. But this is precisely what is essential to me. Medicine, or the art of healing, as it used to be known, is one of our oldest cultural assets. And I think it demands more of doctors than a perfect command of old and new medicines, operation methods or technology-based healing methods.
You are a supporter of the connection between high-tech medicine and forms of therapy from the area of natural healing and other cultural environments. What does this look like in practical terms?
I’m a high-tech medical professional, an orthodox medical professional, but one that uses modern imaging procedures in order to provide the smallest possible scale of outpatient treatments. The guiding principle for my treatment is “as little as possible, as much as is necessary”. In general, it can be said that in Germany the decision to operate is made far too quickly, according to current studies by health insurance companies. In this respect, it should be emphasised that in many cases there are alternatives to operations, there are gentler outpatient procedures, such as microtherapy.
What does microtherapy mean?
Microtherapy is a specialised form of miniaturised medicine combined with medical imaging, which was ultimately a step along my path to a gentler, less invasive form of medicine. The consolidation and development of interventional radiology, endoscopy and pain management as ambulant procedures. For back injuries in particular, these procedures are very successful and gentle to the patient. In radiology, the computer or MRI scanner is normally only used for diagnostic purposes. However, as the image resolution is in the millimetre range, the tiniest of instruments can be controlled using these visibility methods. At the same time, the instruments for operations and other treatments have become smaller and smaller in recent years. We also work with interdisciplinary doctors at the Grönemeyer institute, which include radiologists, orthopaedists, pain therapists, physiotherapists, osteopaths and naturopaths.
The movement towards a healthy and active way of life is paving the way for various trends that promise a better quality of life, such as the chokeberry, for example. How important do you think natural remedies are?
The holistic approach at the core of my medical profession requires bridges to be built. In my opinion, it is crucial that we view medicine as a cultural asset in order to be able to use the therapeutic traditions of the healing arts. Whoever heals is in the right, whether they have a natural healing or a modern high-tech medical background. A millennia-old massage technique can sometimes achieve more than a wrongly diagnosed surgical procedure. You just have to be aware of it, one party has to be prepared to learn from the other. The arrogant attitude that conventional medicine has held towards naturopathy for far too long helps patients just as little as the rejection of progress in the opposite case. This applies now more than ever, when we as doctors operate in the area of conflict between the opportunities we owe to medical technology and empathy towards the patient.
Isn’t it also true that orthodox medical practitioners like us could learn a thing or two about human affection from advocates of alternative medicine? That’s because they take the time, time which we always believe we have less of. This willingness to “engage yourself” is the decisive factor. Of course, the same applies to naturopathy as well as to conventional medicine: the procedures’ healing result has to be certifiable and reproducible, even if the effect mechanism might not always be explicable. In situations where it could possibly help, the treatments of the respective other side should also be considered. Nobody has the right to rule out any possible treatment based on theory alone. Always providing that the therapist has a high level of experience and is willing to have their results and treatment methods and remedies scientifically proven. A lot can be learnt. I am open-minded, especially since I got to know interesting therapies while travelling in other countries.
As a back expert you have dealt with “backs” a lot. Why is this widespread disease still on the increase?
For most of us, it’s due to our lifestyle. We move too little and sit too much, for example in the office, and on top of that we’re often sitting incorrectly. This tenses the muscles that support the spine and absorb the majority of the weight carried by the spine. When combined with obesity, the back is particularly compromised. The correlation to the psyche mustn’t be ignored either. The back has to “carry” everything, so that includes stress and mental strains. Those who are under constant stress instinctively hunch their shoulders, which is a natural, subconsciously defensive stance. All the muscles and fascia of the back tense as a defensive or escape reflex. If this tension isn’t loosened through movement, warmth or massages, it can really hurt. Trapped nerves, slipped discs and one-sided strains can also cause pain, as can dislocations or even fractures caused by accidents.
There shouldn’t be a cost explosion in the healthcare sector if we were to think and act in a more foresighted way, in politics and as patients and doctors. At the moment it’s more the case that we have an illness system rather than a health system. We save the child once it’s fallen down the well. The healthcare system only takes action in the event of illness, isn’t that absurd? And can we really speak of a patient-orientated approach if everyone provides therapy willy-nilly in their highly specialist narrow field, instead of us interconnecting not only between the disciplines of conventional medicine, but also with naturopathy? There is a lot of untapped potential. The literal translation of therapy is care. And care begins with prevention. If someone really wanted to do something for the good of mankind, they should do everything to ensure that illnesses don’t occur in the first place. I therefore strongly advocate that we finally stop comprehending investments into the healthcare systems primarily as a cost aspect, but instead highlight the associated economic benefits. Investments into the healthcare system are after all investments into the development of society in the holistic sense, economically, ecologically, and socially.
Many people miss personalised medicine in our healthcare system, where they aren’t just sorted according to diagnosis. How can this be implemented?
The same way there isn’t just one person, but an endless number of individuals, there also isn’t just a single state of health or illness. Nobody is a hundred per cent healthy. The absolute was, is and always will be an ideal, a challenge. In fact, us humans have always and still continue to live in an area of conflict between health and sickness. The Jewish doctor Maimonides knew this as early on as the 12th century; and Plato explored this state from a philosophical perspective much earlier on. Subjective wellbeing is crucial, something which is comprised of the interaction between body, mind and soul in the social environment at any age – from the acceptance of your own existence. And that can’t be prescribed. As doctors, we are simply overwhelmed, this requires transgressive synergy, a societal convention that grants an individual their own essence.
What about the cooperation between doctors and patients?
Can’t we just be content – doctors and patients? Medical progress has enabled unimagined possibilities. We now have illnesses under control which would have previously caused great suffering, if not immediate death. We can transplant livers, kidneys, even hearts. A slipped disc can often be treated with microtherapy, without the need for large-scale surgical procedures, and now we can even transplant cartilaginous tissue. Even illnesses such as polio, tuberculosis and leprosy can be healed, as can many more. And despite this great outlook there is a gloomy atmosphere. Patients no longer feel as if they are properly understood, and feel as if they have been reduced to an “economic factor”, while doctors feel overwhelmed and mistreated as “conveyor belt medics”. Administrative work itself takes up over 50 per cent of the doctor’s daily time. The healthcare system itself has become a problem. But that can’t be all. It must be said that doctors and patients have lost sight of one another and no longer work together in the way that the art of healing requires.
Seduced by the unforeseen possibilities of expanding high-tech medicine, we have fallen victim to the illusion that everything can somehow be solved by technology. But humans aren’t just soulless machines, they aren’t motors that can be repaired simply by replacing its “components” when they start “sputtering”. Anyone who goes into treatment with this expectation is overwhelming medicine from the outset, especially since the globalised industrial society is also the source of new illnesses. Unexpected allergies and unknown infections often present new challenges for doctors. Patients’ assistance is required in order to overcome them. Both should be ready and able to meet as equals. Personal responsibility and self-learning cooperation can be expected of the patient. The possibilities to do this are greater than ever before. If you don’t want to be treated like an object – and who would want that – you shouldn’t treat yourself as an object that you pass to others for repair. Medicine isn’t a secret doctrine that only insiders can possess, instead, it is a cultural asset that belongs to us all. Paracelsus, the greatest doctor of the Renaissance, told the sick: “You are the doctor. The doctors are merely your assistants”. We should remind each other of this, doctors and patients with respect for one another.
Realising new life concepts in a performance-orientated society isn’t easy. Executive staff and their direct environment in particular suffer from an unequal work-life balance. What effects does stress have on our wellbeing?
We are living in a time where performance, fitness and productivity are the priority, where everything has to be quicker and better while becoming more. Except life doesn’t work along the same principle as competitive sports: further, higher, faster. Everything can’t constantly be increased! On the one hand, stress motivates us to do something. Being active, shaping our own lives, being in motion both physically and mentally is necessary. But chronic negative stress is what leads to strain, then tension, and then possibly to chronic pain problems. The back is also a psychosomatic organ, everything is connected to it, the inner organs through the nerves – but anything that depresses us mentally can also be expressed by the back. We need time to ourselves. It is often said that “strength lies in tranquillity”. I remind myself of this from time to time. I never understood the saying as a warning to slow down or as a message of outright convenience. Instead, it reminds me to save energy during stages of serenity for tasks that could require quick action to be taken.
Do you know the story about the exhausted lumberjack? He hastily does his work hour by hour with his last remaining energy and a blunt axe. The result is poor. When he is asked why he won’t sharpen his axe, he groans “I don’t have time for that”. In other words, there’s no point in increasing the speed if you act recklessly. You will only gain the energy and certainty to effectively overcome imminent problems if you know the goal and the practical way there. In order to stay balanced, we need both: the fast and the slow. We allow ourselves to be torn out of our productive tranquillity far too often. We are constantly intruded on by stimulating things, upbeat songs even try to get us going when we go shopping at the supermarket. At the same time, every one of us knows how much time and quiet we need, the small “time outs” to find ourselves again, in order to “come clean”. This applies even more in an age where rampant communication, interconnection, technology and consumption relentlessly distract us from ourselves. This progress has opened up unimagined possibilities, without a doubt. Today, we can virtually travel anywhere in the world and we would never arrive back at ourselves. But that seems the most important thing to me: our journey to ourselves. This requires proverbial calm. Everyone could find their way to themselves if they were prepared to pause more often. I have been trying this for a while by not letting myself be driven by time pressure and hecticness. I gain time and energy by letting go.
What advice can you give for a balanced and healthy life?
Stay in motion, both physically and mentally. Have a healthy diet. Think positively and shape your life with joy. Look for opportunities where you can systematically reduce your stress and really shake it off. This could include yoga, tai chi or gymnastic classes, or dancing and other group activities, as an example. Choose a type of movement that really appeals to you, so that you stick to it in the long term. Perfection isn’t a priority, it all depends on your own personal feeling of wellbeing. Hold on to it, keep thinking positively, and begin and end every day with a smile! Take time for yourself, your friends, your loved ones.
Prof Dr Dietrich Grönemeyer
Prof Dr Dietrich Grönemeyer is a practising doctor, a professor emeritus for radiology and microtherapy at Witten/Herdecke University and the author of numerous best sellers. He represents the teamwork between various medical disciplines, as well as the holistic perception of body, mind and soul to the benefit of patients. The back expert founded the Grönemeyer Institute for Microtherapy in Bochum in 1997. He has been the chairman of the Ruhr Science Forum e.V. for years.
Ines Zorman is the founder of petitberryorganic and distributes organic fruits from Croatia in the German-speaking region. Having been familiar with alternative therapies from an early age, she advocates a reversion to the efficacy of high-quality organic produce. The young Croatian is firmly convinced that she can help people feel better. The entrepreneur is currently setting up her digital presence with new organic fruit products.
This article was published in The Produktkulturmagazin, issue Q1 2018. Picture credit © Ascent/PKS Media Inc. /Getty Images