Many health complaints, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or joint problems seem inescapable diseases of old-age, but originate mostly from our lifestyle. A lifestyle that is dictated much in part by our environment. The mismatch between our 'old' genes - our evolutionary heritage - and the 'modern' environment is the reason that we cannot resist the constant stimuli that seduce us to make unhealthy choices. Do's and don'ts cannot help us.
This health course will take a radically different approach to showing you how to secure a lifestyle, which will keep you healthy through the ages. We have to let the environment do the work for us. By making small changes at our home, work, school or neighborhood, healthier choices can become easier or even unconscious.
Practical assignments will give you the skills to re-design your daily environments to promote healthy, longer lives for you and your family, colleagues and neighbors with whom you share your re-designed environments. You will learn how to create your own healthy living zone!
We will take you on excursions to Copenhagen, Denmark and to Ghent, Belgium to show you hands-on how the environment can help you live longer, healthier and happier lives!
Start the course anytime, and complete it at your own pace!
What you'll learn:
- Understand how the current ageing process is different from the ageing process of the past.
- Gain insights on how your lifestyle and environment is influencing your health and ageing process.
- Understand the importance of the environment in the ageing process.
- Re-design your daily environment to nudge yourself and other people to healthy choices.
- How to advise policy makers on the health impact of day-to-day public environments.
Quotes on this course
"Challenging insights on healthy ageing, different from what you normally hear. Complete with practical assignments that made me feel how my environment was driving my ageing process. It provided me with tools to take control. A practical and fun course to experiment and challenge myself and others to live healthy for the long term." – previous student from an offline version of the course
Week 1. Old genes in a new environment
In this week we will first look at how people used to age in the past. We will share the insights of our 9 years of field work in rural Africa, in the upper east region in Northern Ghana. Next we will look at how different people age in our modern environment, characterised by low levels of physical activity, high levels of calorie-rich food, by chronic stress from our 24 hour economy and the changed rhythm of wake and sleep that accompanies that. Our modern environment makes us ill.
Week 2. The medical reflex and the alternative
And when we become ill, we visit the medical doctor. In what we call the medical reflex, he or she treats the symptoms of our unhealthy lifestyle with pills. This seems like putting the cart before the horse. Why wait till our lifestyle makes us sick and then correct the symptoms with pills instead of fixing the problem, the lifestyle? We will view ageing and age-related diseases as emergencies in slowmotion: Just as deadly as acute emergencies, but they take twenty years instead of twenty seconds from the first symptoms to death. This means there is a window of opportunity to steer away. But not by telling people what to do
Week 3. From conscious to unconscious health behaviours
We have been told for thirty years that what we should and should not do to remain healthy up to higher ages. The trick is to maintain the healthy behaviour in the long term by integrating it into daily routine. We have been told what to do, but our bodies don't want to and never will. We can try to control our body with our brain, by telling it not to eat too much chocolate every day. But this is not very fun nor very effective, especially in the long run. In this module we consider an alternative, what if these healthy options could become easier, maybe even automatic, unconscious. We will review how, although we like to think of ourselves as conscious, rational individuals, many of our choices our much more influenced by the environment than we think.
Week 4. Hacking everyday environments
In this module we look at some common environments. We will start with the home environment and review how redesigning our kitchen can change the way we eat. We will study how changes in the bedroom can make us sleep better. Next, we will look at working environments. How can you convert your office into a place from which you gain health instead of one that increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes? And how can the workers canteen be employed as a place to promote a healthy diet?
Week 5. In the neighbourhood, public environments and transits: the case of Copenhagen
In this module, we will look at the neighbourhood and the public environment and transits, How can small changes in the neighbourhood promote social contact with neighbours? How can a city seduce its inhabitants to use the bike more instead of the car? And how do we get more people on bikes to work? We will take an in depth look into Copenhagen, a city that has dedicated itself to become to cycling capital of the world. They have not told anyone that they should bike more often, instead they have created an environment in which biking is the most easy, cheap, fun, accessible and fastest way to get from A to B in town.
Week 6. A new public health
In the previous module we studied the case of Copenhagen. When promoting health in a radical different way, not by building hospitals and employing doctors but by converting a city in a cycling city, large investments have to be made in infrastructure. This requires a holistic view on public health, health that is not delivered only by doctors and hospitals financed by the ministry of health but also by the train company that facilitates commuting part of the trip by bike by providing easy bike-access to platforms and facilities for taking bikes on trains. Although such investments do not pay themselves back directly through increased revenues from train tickets, their substantial health benefits and reduced sick leave benefits create a net positive return on these investments. In this module we consider a new public health, one that emphasizes healthy populations instead of sick individuals.
David van Bodegom MA, MD, PhD
Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing
Rudi Westendorp MD, PhD
University of Copenhagen
This is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that runs on edX.