JUST BREATHE…AND SLEEP…AND EXERCISE…AND…
Sounds simple. Yet, most of us overlook the value of these habits as health benefits, as well as a means of stress reduction. Along with many other practices that we all need to make into habits, these can be very effective, natural and free ways to improve our health and reduce stress.
We have the power to control our health more than most of us give ourselves credit for. It does take work, but most people have the means to improve their health by taking a few small—and maybe a few big—steps.
Seeking the help of a health care practitioner when illness strikes is usually the best thing to do. That is what they are there for, provided it is not a mild cold or a simple case of the flu. Sometimes, a general sense of malaise can make us feel that something is wrong, and, if it persists over a long period of time, it is advisable to seek medical attention.
In order to maximize this medical assistance, we need to make sure we have taken care of ourselves first. There are many things each of us can do to ensure the best health possible. We have the power to improve our health in ways that most of us do not realize.
The human body was designed to be healthy. The body craves wellness, and will do whatever it can to achieve this state. It will overcome illness, injury, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, poor water intake, inadequate activity and general abuse—for awhile. It is incredibly resilient, and can bounce back from major setbacks in surprising fashion—most of the time. It has been known to prove even the most experienced and brilliant health care providers wrong, and can beat slim odds for survival and good health that sometimes are offered based on the “average” person’s chance of returning to good health.
“I tell my patients that if you are ‘average’, this is what you can expect. Who is average? It is typically a person who could take better care of themselves, because most people don’t. ‘Are you average?’ I ask them. If they take care of themselves by eating right, getting enough exercise and rest, and keep stress at bay, then they are not really ‘average.’ They stand a better chance of getting better that the ‘Average Joe’ or ‘Average Jane,’ simply because they have stacked the odds in their favor. Add all these to a positive mental outlook, on top of expert medical care, and your chances at recovery are as good as can be expected by anyone.”
—A health care practitioner
It is human nature to take the path of least resistance. We are wired to find the easiest way to complete tasks in the least amount of time, with the least amount of effort, with the least amount of pain. This is not a bad thing. It is foolish to invite extra work upon oneself when there is no need, so finding this path of least resistance is typically the best way to get a job done. It is how highly efficient people make it happen.
However, it isn’t typically the way to good health. It is the easy way, the easy path to not exercise, to eat what our taste buds demand, to scrimp on sleep and to let stress rule our lives. It takes work to fight these things, it is NOT the path of least resistance to exercise regularly, eat nutritious, wholesome foods, ensure adequate sleep, and keep stress at bay. All these things take work. To further complicate this issue, many of us don’t realize the extent to which we have let ourselves go down the easy path. We have had these habits for so long, we have made them a pattern that we don’t even realize we follow. As well as craving wellness, the human body, unfortunately, falls into patterns of behavior that can lead to poor health, if we allow it to go down this path of least resistance. Like a small child or a pet, the body must be trained, and it’s not always easy.
Ask anyone who regularly exercises, gets enough sleep, eats wholesome, healthy foods, drinks enough water, practices deep breathing and other means of stress relief, and they will all resoundingly agree: It keeps them healthy and feeling good, and it is worth the effort. The struggle is within the change that is necessary for most people to create these new patterns. The human body is stubborn; it wants to do what it always does because that is the easy way, the way it knows.
Some psychological studies have reported that it takes about 21 days to change a habit or to create a new one. There is likely some variance from person to person, but generally it does take at least a few weeks of daily, diligent and focused behavioral changes before the brain realizes it as new pattern, and acts accordingly. Any one of the changes you can make for improved health can be daunting, which is why most professionals would recommend making one change at a time. Focusing all one’s energies into one specific direction can yield more obvious results, which can, in turn, motivate you to continue to make changes in that direction, as well as in other directions as well.
Let’s break this down into simpler terms: The body is designed to take in fresh air in deep breaths, clean water in adequate amounts, movement of its muscles, get enough sleep, tolerate manageable stress levels, consume wholesome foods and maintain a positive attitude to bring it all together. Each one of these has its own benefits, just as Nature designed.
Deep breaths: The lungs have upper and lower lobes. Most of us breathe in quick, shallow breaths, allowing the shoulders to move as air is taken in. Ideally, the stomach should move as air is forced down into the lower lobes, and the shoulders and upper chest should stay still. If you watch a baby breathe deeply as it sleeps, you will see its stomach expand with each deep breath. This is how humans are designed to breathe, and somewhere along the way, most of us lose this habit in favor of shallow, rapid breaths that fill the upper lobes of the lungs. This does allow full respiration to occur, and allows old, stale air to collect in the bottom of the lungs.
**Place one hand on the stomach, and one on the chest. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. This takes practice, but the hand on the stomach should be pushed out—as if there is a balloon in the stomach being inflated—and the hand on the chest should stay still. This should be performed while seated or lying down, because light-headedness and overall relaxation is likely to occur. If you are lying down, placing a book on the stomach is a good way to gauge its proper movement—you should be able to see the book rise and fall.
Just breathe—the way the human body was designed to.
Drink water: Most of us don’t want to talk about or even think about our weight, but let’s use that number for a moment: Divide your weight by two. This is the amount of water—in ounces a person should consume on a daily basis. The body is made of water, and it takes water to replenish it on a daily basis. It is a system that flushes the toxins out of the body, and bathes the inside. Most of us have known someone who suffered from dehydration, whether it was an older person who became ill, or an athlete who pushed themselves beyond their limits and didn’t remain adequately hydrated. The reality is that most humans don’t consume enough water, and exist in a pre- or minimally-dehydrated state.
“As a voice professional, the first question I ask a new patient when they come to see me to treat a hoarse voice is this: ‘How much water do you drink?’ Most of them say ‘a lot’ or ‘not enough.’ ‘Not enough’, of course, is never enough, but ‘a lot’ is rarely half of their body weight in ounces daily. They think they are drinking ‘a lot’ but in reality, it’s not enough. If they don’t drink enough, I don’t even begin to treat them until they can commit to at least a week of drinking ‘enough’ water daily. More often than not, this ‘cures’ them of their voice problem. Often a chronic cough is a sign of dehydration as well, as the dry vocal cords irritate each other and cause an annoying cough. This little ‘fix’ is so simple, yet so overlooked. I am not an expert on the rest of the body, but if it can do this much good for the voice, imagine what drinking enough water can do for the rest of the body.”
—a professional voice therapist
A common misconception is that any liquid will keep a person adequately hydrated. Not so. The human body is made of approximately 70% water, not coffee, tea, soda, juice or any other liquid. In fact, drinking any caffeinated beverage puts you “in the red,” leaving a “debt” to repay with equal amounts of water that should be consumed in order to bring the intake level back up to zero.
The formula stated above—half the body weight in ounces—is the ideal target to strive for, but any amount above what is currently being consumed is a step in the right direction. Slow strides with small amounts added to total consumption on a weekly basis will, in time, bring you closer to the ideal amount, even if the goal is not reached.
MOVE IT OR LOSE IT
The human body is designed to move. Its complex system of muscles allows a person to move in incredible ways. The more our bodies move, the more they contribute to our good health. Athletes are gifted individuals who move their bodies in specific and repeated ways to achieve a goal, which most of us are not. We don’t have to be.
Simply moving your legs in a brisk walk for even 20 minutes will bring about immediate results. Our bodies feel the immediate effect of motion, and respond accordingly. Our physical energy increases, our mood increases, and the world suddenly looks brighter. Other simple exercises such as riding a bike, playing a sport or engaging in yoga can be beneficial to your muscles in very specific ways. Again, no one has to be an athlete to get in the game. Simply engaging to the best of your abilities will bring about short and long-term results. People with physical handicaps face special challenges with exercise, but with the help of a professional, there are typically ways that the body can be exercised for maximum benefits.
It has been speculated that, if the positive effects of exercise could be bottled and sold as a drug, it would fly off the shelves as the most incredible wonder drug ever formulated. So why don’t more people—everyone for that matter—simply engage in regular exercise to reap these benefits? Again, it is not the path of least resistance. It does take effort and energy to commit oneself to a regular exercise plan. Once that 21 day (or so) period of forming that new habit is under your belt, it becomes much easier to keep it going. In time, it will be self-sustaining, and missing a regular exercise activity will feel as if you have been cheated.
When your body is in prime physical shape as a result of exercise, you are less likely to become sick in the first place, and, if you do, recovery is quicker and less painful. If you suffer from an injury, or require surgery, your return to good health is considerably aided by the fact that your body was in its best state prior to the event.
Exercise has been touted as a good remedy for what ails you for good reason: It can be. So much research and reports of personal experience can’t be wrong.
ZZZZZZZ…And then there is sleep. If you are an “average” American, chances are you have been made to feel that sleep might be for wimps. If you work long hours and are trying to climb that ladder, sacrificing sleep is, unfortunately, probably a necessity. Don’t tell anyone you actually got eight hours of sleep last night, because you probably should have spent at least a few of those hours at work.
Sleep is a basic necessity for the human body, we all know that. We all know that it is painful to be so tired that you can barely move. We have all experienced the “brain fog” that comes with too little sleep, and research confirms just that: the hours we spend sleeping are downtime for the brain. The brain is bathed in cleansing fluid while we sleep, essentially it “takes out the trash” every night during a good deep sleep. It wipes away the slime and sludge, and gives us a fresh mental start every morning.
Without regular, deep and adequate sleep, research has also shown that the risks of heart disease and other killer conditions increase sharply. A few missed nights of sleep here and there are expected, but over a lifetime, too many of them can add up. In addition, too little sleep sharply increases the risk of accidents while driving or performing work-related tasks that take sharp focus, such as those required of pilots and surgeons, or anyone working with machinery or power tools. Simple mistakes on paper that are made when we are tired can cause big problems as well. Poor decision-making in any job as a result of too little sleep can show up in magnified ways later.
Tuning out of any electronic equipment including computers, smartphones, televisions and any device several hours before bed allow the brain to begin the process of shutting down that is should do nightly. The light rays that are emitted from any device delay this process, and contribute to delayed onset of sleep, and poor quality of sleep.
Eat your vegetables…If you are like the average human, you already know what to eat and what not to eat. The hard part is making those hard choices when your taste buds dictate otherwise. They rule most choices we make about what to eat, but, interestingly, are such a small part of the big picture of eating and digestion. The food passes over them swiftly, allowing them to savor the food they so desired, and then the food is sent down to be dealt with for hours, days, weeks and sometimes months or years when it finds a home in fat tissue somewhere in the body.
Just like we all know that smoking is not good for our bodies, we also know what foods are good for us, and which ones are not. Small changes in our dietary habits can lead to big changes in our health.
Don’t stress…Easier said than done. This one is included at the end because if any or all of the suggestions made previously are implemented, stress will automatically be reduced. Exercise, especially, is known to be a very effective stress buster.
Stress is not simply “out there” as an external force. Rather, we allow a situation or an event to become stressful to us by the perception of its negative effect upon us. Adopting a mindset that we have control over how these events or situations affect is necessary to reduce stress for the long term. Experiencing stress from any situation sets us up to regard that situation as stressful, so we are likely to regard is as such anytime we are faced with it. Test-taking, on-the-job performance reviews, encounters with certain people, holidays and bill-paying are common situations that are perceived as stressful. Acknowledging that they are likely to cause us negative feelings sets us up to feel that way.
This brings us to the final tip: Think positive. Believe you can make the changes necessary. Have faith that you are strong enough to do the work to make your life better. Know that it can get better, and that you are the one who can bring about these positive changes. It starts in the mind, and when you tell your brain and your body they can do it, they believe it too.
So get started! All you have to do is just breathe…