“Thinking is easier in the mountains,” says Dr. Markus M. Metka, one of the two scientists organising the Medicinicum, a several-day public health congress in Lech Zürs: Good air and altitude open us up to looking at things from new perspectives. The Medicinicum has a special mission: exploring the intersections between medicine, art and ethics. This year, it was all about the effects of diet on health and illness, seen from new philosophical and medical angles and including even political aspects. Among the speakers are renowned experts from the fields of medicine, agriculture, science and culinary arts. In our interview, Dr. Metka, who also serves as the president of the Austrian Anti-Aging Society, tells us about the insights gained at the Medicinicum and why a holistic approach towards human life has never been more important.
What inspired you to organise the Medicinicum?
There is this captivating book about a group of people who end up in the Himalayas, “Lost Horizon”. Far away from civilisation, they develop a special way of thinking – and extraordinary longevity. This idea has fascinated me for a long time, and also I knew that a congress like the Medicinicum calls for a special venue.
And why Lech Zürs?
There is this special quality of thinking up here...thoughts can run so free compared to the city - not only because you are away from your usual life and all the stress that comes with it. There’s more to it.
The Medicinicum combines topics from the fields of public health, our way of eating, and philosophy. Why is there such a focus on holistic approaches recently? And why now?
I say, it was about time! In our Western culture, we have this great medicine, the so-called academic medicine, and we were able to achieve wonderful things with it. But we forgot to see humans in their entirety.
Now we have to make up for that and merge our Western academic medicine with Indian/Ayurvedic medicine and Traditional Chinese medicine. These two ancient advanced civilisations have realised early on what humans need. Confucius, for example, said 2,400 years ago: If you eat meat, eat meat of animals with two legs or no legs. Today, science can prove exactly that good old Confucius was right: Two-legged animals show the perfect combination of amino acids, proteins and healthy fats and are much more nutritious than four-legged animals. And fish, well, fish are just so great for their Omega-3 fatty acids.
So what would you say is a healthy diet?
Well, first of all, we need to become aware of the fact that we need to nurture our bodies, not just feed them. We are more at risk in this regard today. All these processed foods make us eat much too much salt, fat and sugar. And then, and I have to confess that I am also not perfect in this, it is vital that we reduce the amount of food we eat.
So it is about our personal approach?
Absolutely. Everyone can try this very easily: Eat disciplined for a few days and you will feel so much better.
Healthy, conscious living is becoming more and more popular. Is this more than just a trend?
Fortunately, it is. I see a lot of young people experimenting, trying to find out for themselves what is good for them. Consumers are becoming much more alert and informed, and they join forces. This is a very fascinating development.
Does the Medicinicum also develop new approaches to the questions of our time?
We provide useful information for the consumer of today who can then make his own decisions about what to buy and what to avoid. Retailers still don’t really care about the fact that the fructose in their beverages gives me a fatty liver.
What does your own meal plan look like?
To me, breakfast is really important. Oats with soy or almond milk, some banana; nuts, especially walnuts – they are a real anti-aging superfood. I often add chia seeds and ginger, and a pinch of salt to keep things interesting. Food has to be delicious or your diet won’t work. I like to drink pomegranate juice or a glass of warm water with two cloves in it.
The idea of eternal youth has fascinated people for ages. What makes it so interesting to you?
I am interested in finding out how we can remain fit and productive for as long as possible. To me it is not so much about how old we become but about how we can stay healthy. Chinese medicine concentrates on keeping the Qi, our vital energy, in balance and flow. We also need Qi to reach our goals in life – which also makes it a philosophical issue.
Well, this is exactly what we explore at the Medicinicum. Regular medical congresses focus on diseases, symptoms, diagnoses, treatments, but they hardly ever look into philosophical aspects of the matter. A treatment under Chinese or Indian medicine, on the other hand, always includes a philosophical approach.
With regard to healthy aging, studies show that all centenaries share two traits: They are never overweight, and they all have tools for positive stress management. This is something I also see in my 84-year-old mother: She is simply unshakeable. We all know people who get upset about everything. They are not very likely to become a hundred years old.
What can we do to improve our own stress management?
Engage our mind with spiritual or intellectual things, something that is so often neglected in our society today. A strong and healthy mind increases resilience.
Text: Sandra Pfeifer
Photos: David Payr // friendship.is