“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” (Ben Franklin)
I think we’re missing something in all the wise counsel we’ve been getting lately on our TV talk shows about improving our health You know the litany, most of it pertaining to food: less fat, sugar, salt, and processed food. Less meat and more fruits and veggies. Along with diet change, thirty minutes of aerobic exercise five times weekly. Lately, the added caveat of reducing stress.
All well and good, but not good enough. Somewhere we’ve forgotten to add timing to the list. By this I mean doing things, whenever possible, at the same time and in the same way. Our bodies actually dislike surprise. They prosper from routine. Here are a few tips, and you can probably add your own:
1. Sleeping: The body replenishes itself when we sleep, restoring hormonal balance (homeostasis) provided we get enough of it, usually 7-8 hours for most adults. This means setting a time to retire. I’ve been getting to bed at 10:30 p.m. and usually fall asleep within minutes. Morning comes early, or at about 5 a.m. But I’m not tired. I’ve had my quota. By the way, don’t use the weekend to cheat. As I said, your body doesn’t like surprises. You don’t really have to fly across time zones to feel jet lag. Research shows that just the loss of one or two hours of sleep can reduce your daytime alertness by a third. Strange, but there also seems to be a relationship between a lack of sleep and obesity, and even depression (David Agus, The End of Illness).
2. Eating: Eat the same time everyday: I think My bichon, Truman, has a clock for his stomach. Come 4 p.m. and he gets fidgety, as if to say, “Hey, dude, where’s my grub?” I really have to laugh. Impatient with my delay with writing this blog, he’s gotten his bowl out right where I can’t miss it. Dogs provide wonderful examples of nature’s blueprint, with set times for feeding and elimination, which makes housebreaking them possible. They also can get sick if their food changes suddenly. Humans are likewise plugged into schedules and foods as any traveler knows. That’s why our tummies often revolt when we travel abroad. This doesn’t mean ruling out variety on occasion. Just use common sense. While I’m at it, snacks call for the same regimen as to what and when.
3. Exercise: The research is very clear–the body thrives on exercise. It does even better when it happens by the clock. I’m a morning person, so I take on the elliptical machine between 10 and 11. The dividend is I get it done early and when my body seems eager. But whatever works for you.
4. Bowel regularity: The tell tale signs the body’s out of sync are constipation and diarrhea. Changes in food, or wrong foods, or interruptions of elimination times lead to biological stress. Watch what you eat, how much, and the sanitation in its prep. When you “need to go,” don’t put it off. It’s amazing how just getting out of the pattern can disrupt body rhythms and take time righting.
5. Downtime: Sometimes your body just likes to rest, and don’t forget, body includes mind. Because our modern lives are often hectic, you’ll have to make sure to sometimes dropout of the race. This takes scheduling. I like yoga, or soft music (especially the sounds of nature), meditation (though I still have difficulty routing the mind chatter), doing a puzzle like sudoku, taking up a calming read, tending my garden. Whatever form it takes for you, choose something you enjoy and, remember, do it everyday, same time.
In a nutshell, good health comes down to not only what, but when.