Gilgamesh and his best friend Enkidu had many adventures together. Then Enkidu died. Gilgamesh was inconsolable with grief and loneliness. But he was also afraid of his own death. So he wandered endlessly in search of the secret to never dying.
Gilgamesh’s story is told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, written between 2150 – 1400 BCE. It was the first major piece of literature in the western world, predating even Homer’s stories about the destruction of Troy. Gilgamesh was a mythical king of Uruk, a Sumerian city-state in what is now Iraq.
His story may have been written over 4000 years ago but Gilgamesh was not so different from us today. We are still looking for the magical elixir of life. Gilgamesh hoped the gods would tell him the secret to immortality but they never did.
Today, our “gods” are the allegedly scientific studies on the benefits of exercise and food. I say alleged because the studies usually provide conflicting advice and are often sponsored by industries that have a stake in the outcome. Consider how the definition of “healthy” food changes constantly.
Years ago a study told us not to eat eggs because they have cholesterol which is bad for us. Then a study told us that eggs are loaded with protein; so they are good for us. The poultry industry celebrated. Another study told us sugar is bad for us. Then a study arrived claiming that lab rats died from consuming saccharine and other sugar substitutes. Suddenly sugar is good for us again. Sugar beet farmers and sugarcane refineries rejoice.
Along with diet, we’re told to exercise regularly. What does “regularly” mean? One study tells us to exercise until our hearts are thumping and we’re soaked in sweat. The next study tells us that we can achieve excellent health and long life from as little as fifteen minutes of daily exercise. Recently, a BBC news story cited a new study which claims that prolonged sitting will kill us no matter how much we exercise.
What no one ever admits is that if we live forever, we’ll outlive all our friends. Then we’ll be as lonely as Gilgamesh was after Enkidu died. Instead of agonizing over living forever, I’ll support a scientific study that says we should enjoy life with our friends, our favorite foods and exercise when we feel like it.
About Norma Shirk
My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.
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