TEDxGlasgow Health & Wellbeing Roundup

March 19, 2012 Off By Chris Hinton

Following on from my previous post about the goings-on at TEDxGlasgow, I wanted to give you a roundup of the talks from the second segment of the day. This time we were looking at Health & Wellbeing.

The demise of guys? – Phillip Zimbardo

We started off with a video of Phillip Zimbardo talking about some of the difficulties facing males today:

What do you think?

The great porn experiment – Gary Wilson

This talk sounded intriguing, and actually followed on quite closely to what had been spoken about in the previous video. The upshot is this: pornography is very, very accessible these days. It’s easy to get hold of, and it’s easy to explore a variety of “scenarios” offering unending novelty.

The speaker, Gary Wilson, said that pornography is quite different and distinct from real courtship arousal and could also be seen as distinct from “sex”.

The big question is, “what effect is this easy access to unendingly novel pornography having on people?”. Well, Gary is seeing evidence of addiction – including neurological changes in people’s brains and, in some cases, erectile dysfunction. Is this because of the pornography, though? The problem is that there is no control group for this. It’s supposedly difficult to find a large group of subjects who haven’t used porn!

This was all particularly interesting because it asks what the psychological and physical impact of the Internet is… and the short answer is, at the moment, we just don’t know.

Why are Scots so sick? – Richard Weller

Next up was dermatologist Richard Weller. Richard himself said Gary’s act would be a difficult one to follow, and the introduction of a dermatologist didn’t bode well. He needn’t have worried, though.

Richard started off by presenting us with some statistics on likelihood of death in certain regions. The statistics showed that the further North you go in Britain, the earlier you are likely to die. That is, people in the South have a longer life expectancy than those in the North. One of the key factors, he said, seemed to be the amount of sunlight at higher latitudes. Sunlight exposure leads to the production of Vitamin D, and the people who live longest tend to have higher amounts of this in their bodies, so why not try Vitamin D supplements on Scots? The weird thing is, when this was tried, it didn’t seem to help – so could the Vitamin D be a by-product of the real key factor? Could it be sunlight itself that is the influencing factor here?

Richard then ran through some fascinating research about Nitrates stored in the skin which are then broken down by sunlight into NO2 (laughing gas). NO2 has the effect of widening the blood vessels and, therefore, lowering blood pressure. So exposure to sunlight could be leading to higher amounts of NO2 in the body and lower blood pressure… and a longer lifespan.

There is still some research to be done on this, and Richard did finish with an interesting dilemma. He spends much of his time telling people to be careful of the sun, as too much exposure can lead to skin cancer. On the other hand, his research is suggesting that we need to get more sunlight. The trick will be working out the safe “dosage” that brings the benefits of NO2 production without an unduly high risk of skin cancer.

A musical portrait of a conversation – Sax Ecosse

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and we had some entertainment up next. A great saxophone group called Sax Ecosse played a piece designed to evoke the feeling of having a conversation. I have to admit it wasn’t really my cup of tea, but there was no denying the talent of the group themselves. They also played in the next conversation/tea break and were absolutely brilliant.

Exploring the last lap – living and dying – Dorothy Runnicles

The next section of the day was an on-stage conversation with 86 year old Dorothy Runnicles. Dorothy is heavily involved in initiatives and consultations with the UK Government on the improvement of care for the elderly. Here she shared some of her thoughts on the needs of the elderly, and why it’s important to care for the older people around us.

She suggested that one of the best things we can do is simply get to know our favourite older person, and that doing so would enrich our own lives and the lives of our children (if you have any). I can attest to this, as I’ve got to know a number of older people well over the years and love the conversations we have together.

Dorothy also made mention of the fact that the elderly give back to society in a range of ways which more than mitigate the care they need. The elderly pay back financially, as they can be quite big spenders, and they inspire compassion in society. They care for grandchildren, for each other, and often volunteer in various roles.

What can we do to ensure we help make older people’s lives as meaningful as possible? We can keep them in the loop as to anything that’s happening in the neighbourhood, we can offer them practical care where needed, and we can ask them to share their knowledge, lives, and concerns with us.

The question of death also came up, and Dorothy encouraged us to place the subject on the table – not treat it as a taboo. The thing is, people of all ages are incredibly diverse, so we can’t assume that an older person will want a certain type of funeral or ritual. Ask them what they want.

Dorothy finished with a lovely line: aging’s not for sissies!

On hope & hopelessness – Murray Watts

Last up in this section was Murray Watts, a playwright and director who lives in the North of Scotland. He started off with an interesting line: Our physical survival may depend on our spiritual revival.

Now, I know Murray Watts is a Christian, but he was by no means the only one during the course of the day to touch on the area of spirituality, and his message came down to this: we need hope. So, how do we get there?

First, he asked us to consider that hope and despair were not opposites. Rather, hope and cynicism are. He used the example of Mother Theresa, who regularly a
dmitted to despair but then turned that into a catalyst for action. She wasn’t, however, cynical.

He then offered some cultural shifts that he thinks we need to see if we want to live a life of hope:

  • We need to move from a bad news culture to a good news culture – it’s always the bad news that makes the television… how about if we concentrated on the good that’s happening instead?
  • We need to move from a culture of celebrity to a culture of celebration – rather than holding people up for nothing more than being famous, we need to start celebrating the things worth celebrating in life.
  • We need to live in the present – this moment matters, while agonising about the past or worrying about the future doesn’t really make a difference. The only thing we can really influence is what’s happening right now.
  • We need to learn to silence our chatter and learn to listen.
  • We need to move away from the idea of “big society” towards “one person at a time”, concentrating on the little, local things we can really make a difference with.

And with that, we were off for another conversation and refreshment break. What do you think of the subjects from this section of the day? I think this was the most rewarding segment for me – the thoughts on how we can engage with the elderly, or how we can connect with people on a deeper level than the surface one we usually work on really clicked in my mind. I’d love to know your thoughts so please do post them in the comments. And we’ll come back to the third part of the day: Enlightened Economy.