The long Lake Vesijärvi restoration project is an excellent example of Lahti’s dedication to the cause: the lake and its surroundings are now among the most picturesque places in Finland and a popular destination for both local residents and numerous tourists to enjoy the reinvigorating effects of nature. Even CNN tipped Lahti as one of the world’s most interesting destinations in the spring of 2022!
Lahti is taking advantage of this springboard and raising the bar even higher with an intriguing new project launched in the summer of 2022. The project explores a concept called ‘planetary health’, which recognises that human health and the health of our planet are inextricably linked, and that our well-being ultimately depends on the well-being of all living things on Earth, both flora and fauna.
The project challenges five plucky and adventurous local residents to test personalised health plans devised by a doctor specialising in planetary health to see if greener choices in nutrition, physical activity, nature connectedness and living environment have an impact on their health and well-being.
While planetary health explores the interconnections and impact of the lifestyles and choices of all humankind on our planet as a single ecosystem, ‘lifestyle medicine’ studies the impact of an individual’s lifestyle on his or her health.
Lifestyle has a huge impact on a healthy and long life
A particularly long-lived group of people was identified in Sardinia, Italy in the early 2000s. Four more of these so-called ‘blue zones’ have since been found (in Japan, Costa Rica, Greece and California). People living in these areas typically reach an age of between 90 and 100 years, and chronic diseases (heart disease, diabetes, cancers) are rare among them. Although blue zones are not exactly medical science, it is curious that these groups of people living in totally different parts of the world lead very similar lifestyles: they follow a largely vegetarian diet, engage in high levels of physical activity on a daily basis and build lifelong social relationships within their community.
Medicine has shown decades ago that lifestyle has a huge impact on well-being, health, disease prevention and the success of treatment. The WHO estimates that chronic lifestyle-related diseases are responsible for 70% of all deaths globally. The role of a healthy lifestyle in the treatment of conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes is just as important if not more important than that of medication. This naturally does not mean that we should stop prescribing and taking medication, only that we recognise the significance of a healthy lifestyle as a foundation for treating illnesses.
Six key areas of lifestyle
In an ideal world, we would prevent or at least slow down the onset of diseases altogether. This, too, is possible with a healthy lifestyle. Lifestyle medicine identifies six key areas of lifestyle: nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management, risky substances and relationships. In respect of nutrition, numerous studies have shown that a plant-predominant diet is beneficial for human health and well-being. With regard to exercise, the latest recommendations focus on the benefits of ‘incidental activity’ (simply avoiding being sedentary). The vital role that sleep plays in terms of our health is well known these days, and society values sleep more than ever before.
What makes lifestyle medicine such an exciting concept is that while it focuses on the health of the individual, the choices that individuals make in their pursuit of a healthy lifestyle also benefit the natural environment and our entire planet. Lifestyle medicine and planetary health are a natural fit.
Adopting a new lifestyle can sound challenging, but there is no need to change everything at once. It is important to remember that even small changes on a daily basis can have a big impact on our health over time. Lahti provides a wonderful setting and world-class opportunities for enjoying life in a healthy way – without jeopardising the health of the planet!