The human body is a masterpiece of engineering.
Whether you believe it was designed by a superior Intelligence, evolved on its own in a random and chaotic universe, or something in between, there is no denying that the fact that it works in all kinds of conditions, takes all kinds of abuse and keeps on functioning, hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after year for decades on end in most cases is a marvel.
But you only get one of these in a given lifetime and whether you believe in an afterlife or not, there is no guarantee that you will get another one once you are done with this one, so it can be kind of distressing when it isn’t working in good order. It often starts with being “tired” more often than not. Or your joints are not as flexible as they used to be. Or you are carrying more around your middle than you like. Or you just can’t DO as much in a given day without paying for it on the next day… whatever the case may be, little bits of decay start to mount up and one day you wake up in your middle-aged years and you realize: Shit! When did I get so fat/flabby/creaky/old? And sometimes, those “middle-aged years” start with a 3… or even a 2.
So what happened?
Well, it’s kind of complicated, but the answer is: Your lifestyle got fucked and your body followed suit.
A wise man once told me “Your outtards always reflect your innards.” While the situation is a little more complicated than that, it’s a good touchstone.
The human body needs certain things to maintain an unfucked state: Sleep, A Healthy Diet, Some Exercise, Basic Hygiene, Occasional Professional Maintenance, and Risk Management.
That’s it… six things. Six basic collections of habits that, in total, run us an average of about an hour of time each day (not including the actual time spent sleeping, which we will get to in a minute). And these habits can be things we like to do, so it’s not like we are even asking for an hour of misery every day… just an hour of stuff that might be different than what you are currently doing. Of course, the stuff you currently do with your body is kinda what got you to the fucked state. (And for all you people out there who are not currently fucked, bodywise, this is not directed at you.)
As usual, the trick is to get started and make the changes into habits.
So let’s get started:
One of the most overlooked, compromised, abused and misrepresented needs of our bodies is the most basic.
Sleep is a need and we really abuse ourselves with lack of sleep. There are many studies that show that lack of sleep can lead to weight gain, poor hormonal balance, poor cognitive processing, and a host of other ailments that impact your body’s functioning. Regardless of the words of so-called efficiency experts that exhort the values of less sleep, lack of even an hour of sleep every day can lead to poor recovery times from fitness activities, increased blood pressure and exaggerated corstisol levels if the lack of sleep is stressful enough. In general, though bodies will vary somewhat, most people really do need 7.5 – 8.5 hours of sleep every single night. And current sleep medicine wisdom suggests that even on weekends we should try to maintain good sleep habits for maximal health.
Go to bed around the same time every single day when possible.
Get up at the same time every single day when possible.
Unwind for a half hour or so before tucking in to sleep. No monitors or screens. If you must read before bed, do it with a book made of paper and not an electronic device that will shine light on your face.
Meditation is also a good option and will help promote a peaceful state of mind before sleep.
Sleep in a darkened room… draw the shades and close the door if necessary. Earplugs and sleep-masks are a good way to shut out unwanted distractions as well. These solutions help if you live with people who are on a different schedule from yours (or on no schedule at all, as I found often happens with college roommates).
With respect to how long to sleep, sleep a good solid 8 hours if possible.
Some people’s body-clocks are set for 7.5 hours, some people work best at 9 hours… honor your body and accept that your best sleep need is your best sleep need.
Cutting that short doesn’t do anyone any good… you aren’t operating at your best when you sleep less than you need… so the rest of your day you are getting less done and feeling crappy the whole time. Just because you get used to feeling crappy doesn’t mean you are “doing better”… it just means you have accepted the slow decline into being fucked without choosing to reverse that course.
Choose differently and get the sleep you need.
A HEALTHY DIET:
There is a lot of talk going around about what is a “Healthy Diet”. The lineup tends to look something like this: Paleo/Atkins/South Beach/other Low Carb diets squared off against Vegetarian/Vegan/Macrobiotic/Raw and they all have a common enemy that they will (grudgingly) stand shoulder to shoulder against and that is the SAD (Standard American Diet) of high fat, high salt, high carb, high meat, supersize everything diet. Personally, I don’t have a horse in this race since I am not in the food industry, but I DO recognize that there are BIG BUCKS tied up in the whole process of who eats what, so every faction is well invested in seeing everyone follow a single consistent universal diet. The only problem is: It’s ALL bullshit. All of it.
Here’s the deal: Everybody’s body is different. Yours is different from mine and mine is different from everyone else’s and everyone is different from each other. What your body metabolizes well is going to be affected by a number of things: Internal flora and fauna, what your body became used to metabolizing while you were growing up, what the quality of food is that you put into your body (crappy food is crappy no matter what) and so on.
“Ok, Jack, so how are we supposed to make sense of all this?”
Well, the same way we make sense of everything else: Trial and error.
I met a man recently who consumes a Vegan diet; he avoids animal products altogether. Now many people have problems with Vegans in general because they may have been traumatized by a Vegan Shaming Circle or they may have had other negative experiences with political zealot Vegans (another Vegan friend of mine calls them “Level Six Vegans” and laughs). I have mixed experiences with Vegans, so I won’t go into that here. What I will note, though, is that the sane Vegans I know got there by experimenting with their diets and seeing what felt good and what didn’t. I also know people who eat a “Paleo” diet and they are pretty strict about it… and they got there by the same route… experimenting and seeing what felt good and what didn’t. What improved their health metrics and what didn’t. So the important takeaway here is: TRUST YOUR BODY. Experiment with your food. Eliminate grains… see how it feels. If you like it, try adding them back… if you feel crappy after adding them back, cut them and be OK with that. Do the same with Dairy, Meat, Eggs, Legumes, Nightshades, or any other class of foods. See what works.
One caveat, though… Don’t make your judgements based on flavor. Flavor is the least reliable way to know if food is good for you. Go with how you feel 6 to 8 hours later.
Keep a food journal and write down EVERYTHING YOU EAT. Then also track how you FEEL throughout the day. Then look for patterns. Then act accordingly.
The Human Body evolved to be active. The current workplace has us being sedentary for as much as 9 hours a day. Unfortunately, by the time we get home we are often emotionally and mentally exhausted and so what do we do? We flop on the couch or sit in front of the computer and try to recover as many spoons as we can by watching television or playing a video game, or scrolling through our favorite social media looking for funny pictures of animals engaging in cute antics. This kind of living is not living, of course… it is mere existing. It is the lifestyle of a slave, a mind-thrall. There is more to life than eking out a living working for someone else only to be too exhausted to enjoy living the rest of your life.
The fix is, of course, exercise. Not a lot of exercise. Heck, not even daily exercise. Though engaging in some level of moderate physical activity every day is better for your physical health, these articles are not about optimizing your lifestyle. We are just talking about UNFUCKING it. And to unfuck your body, you need about a half an hour of moderate exercise every other day… Just enough to raise your heart rate and get you to the edge of sweating, but not quite there yet… to a nice healthy glow.
SO what counts as that kind of exercise? A nice brisk walk for a half an hour. A light game of volleyball. A brisk swim. A pickup game of HORSE (for the Basketball uninitiated, it’s a short game of hoops). Of course, some gym activities would also work, but there is so much more that can be enjoyed for half an hour and it doesn’t even need to be the same thing every time.
More vigorous exercise can also be done once a week or so once your fitness has started to rebound and you’ll find that feeling the power in your body return is invigorating in and of itself.
The important thing is that whatever it is you do, you enjoy it. Make it enjoyable for its own sake. Not because you want a “summer body” or because you want the health benefits. Find something that is rewarding in and of itself. and if you can’t think of anything that you would enjoy that is physical activity, then it’s time to break out your pith helmet and EXPLORE. Seek out new activities to try. Start treating life as an adventure.
Now, a little advice from someone who is also on the road back from being totally fucked in my body: Take it slow.
Everybody’s body is different. don’t measure yourself against others since they may not have the same challenges you have in the process. We are not looking for perfect; we are looking for better than fucked. If you have a physical limitation, respect that limitation and go slow. As you progress, it may get easier or it may not… if it isn’t enjoyable, find something else to do.
Make it a habit. Meaning: Follow the process for creating a new habit. Set up a trigger, engage the activity, reward yourself for a job well done, reflect on how good it feels to receive that reward in connection to the trigger, the activity and the overall experience.
Make it a priority. This is your one and only body and, quite frankly, if it’s as fucked as mine was, then you’re pretty weak and sickly and you deserve better treatment than that, especially from yourself. The world can be a tough place and some things you gotta take a stand on. Making your body care regimen a priority is one of them and exercise is an important part of that.
Some of you are going to roll your eyes at this one, but there is a segment of our population that, for various reasons, did not get the message that basic hygiene is an important part of physical bodily health. So here goes. These items should be folded into daily habits. Meaning every single day. Skipping occasionally, while a single instance of skipping will not actually do harm, does undermine the formation of healthy habits and should be avoided when possible.
So let’s get started:
Your Mouth: Brush and Floss at least once a day. Some dentists suggest brushing twice a day with a fluoride based toothpaste. Use a medium or soft toothbrush and be gentle. It is possible to brush away some of the enamel if you brush too hard or use too hard of a toothbrush. Use a decent mouthwash to freshen the breath and promote gingival (gum) recovery from the brushing and flossing.
This process should take about 3-4 minutes of your time for each session. Not a lot of time. to help form the habit, use getting up and prepping for bed as triggers. Enjoy the sensations of the brushing on your teeth. If the sensations are unpleasant, vary your strokes and brushing styles, or try different flavors of toothpaste. Smile for yourself in the mirror and notice that your teeth are nicer for having been maintained.
Your Body: Shower at least once a day. Use soap. Wash your body with the soap paying special attention to your underarms, crotch and between your butt cheeks. Take time to savor the feeling of washing your body. Getting the dirt off your body and with that dirt, various germs and toxins that increase unpleasant smells or tastes on your body (yes, tastes… all kinks aside, sex is more fun with someone who doesn’t taste like a trash-can). Wash your hair. There are a lot of products on the market, but a basic shampoo and conditioner will suffice to support healthy and nice looking (and possibly nice smelling) hair. The process of showering just to wash should take about 10 minutes at most. Of course, luxuriating in a hot shower can be a reward for engaging the washy-scrubby part. That’s fine; it promotes enjoyment of the process and the healthy formation of a positive hygiene habit.
Grooming: Once you finish with your shower, other activities to neaten up your appearance and make yourself attractive and pleasant to be around to other people is a sensible move. Brush your hair, shave or trim your facial hair if you have any, apply makeup if that is your inclination. Applying an underarm deodorant or body powder is also something that many people do to extend the amount of time before personal smells develop. Some people are sensitive to perfumes and so using as little fragrance as possible is a kind gesture.
Your Clothes: Launder your clothes. Along with your body, your clothes can also accumulate unpleasant smells over time. Even if you have anosmia, other people can smell them and may avoid you if it is unpleasant to be around you. Underwear should be changed daily. If you don’t wear underwear, then any clothes that ride next to your skin should only be worn once before laundering. If you wear underclothes, then usually an outer garment can be worn a couple of times, but that’s IT! No sniffing the pits of a shirt to see if it can be worn again; if you aren’t absolutely certain, then the answer is a resolute NO. Launder all your clothes about once a week. Same thing with bed linens. You can engage in other activities when doing laundry since a washing machine and a dryer do not need your undivided attention while they do what they do.
OCCASIONAL PROFESSIONAL MAINTENANCE:
It is a fact of life that we cannot see inside our bodies and things can happen that need to be checked up on. Maybe our diet needs tweaking because we are getting too much of a particular mineral with our current proportions of Kale and Brussels Sprouts. Maybe that mole needs to be checked out, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe your teeth need a more thorough cleaning because your saliva is particularly alkaline and it forms limestone on the backs of your teeth (like mine). Whatever the case may be, recruiting the help of a professional for bodily maintenance is crucial. Here are some guidelines for this:
See a DENTIST for cleanings about twice a year. Some people can get away with once a year, and some people need three or more times a year because of special conditions, but twice a year is about average for cleanings and basic oral hygiene maintenance.
See a PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN at least once a year for annual checkups. Forming a relationship with a PCP is an important way for your medical professional to get to know your body and know what is normal for you. Many doctors complain that their biggest obstacle is getting a bead on what is normal for their patients. Most doctors know that every body is different, but they have to go with the statistical norm because they have nothing else to go on. Start seeing your doctor early, and try to keep the same doctor for as long as possible so that s/he can get to know the vagaries of your individual body. BP of 120/80 is “normal” for most people, but if you are usually 100/68, it might be a sign that something needs looking into.
See a SPECIALIST if you need one. Have major Clinical Depression? A psychiatrist and psychologist team can help with that. Maintenance visits to keep things on an even keel are important. Same goes for other challenges. Defective heart valve? Get a cardiologist. Rheumatoid Arthritis or other autoimmune disorders run in the family? Talk to a Rheumatologist. Specialists are there to give added guidance where your PCP may not have the specialized knowledge necessary to help with that one arena. NOTE: It may be necessary, depending on your insurance, to get a referral from your PCP for a specialist visit.
OK, this one should be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway.
Risk is fun. Risk is exciting. Risk is an unavoidable part of a Life Well Lived.
HOWEVER, unreasonable risk is just that: Unreasonable. It makes no sense.
Each of us has to balance out the need for excitement with the need for safety.
This is why I call this section “RISK MANAGEMENT” instead of Risk Avoidance or Risk Taking.
That said, there are also certain guidelines for this that will keep your body reasonably safe when taking risks
1) If the risked negative outcome involves death, dismemberment or incurable disease, there’d better be a damned good reason for taking the risk. i.e. Lifelong goal, save the life of another, or other equally important outcomes. The three negative outcomes listed here are worst case scenarios, but they are also irreversible scenarios and as “one way doors”, there is no turning back if they are the result of taking that risk. Frivolous risking with these one way doors is just a bad way to get into a fucked place.
2) If the risked negative outcome directly involves other people, get their input before taking the risk, or at least let them know that the risk is being taken. Seriously, folks, this one is just common sense and in some cases, not letting them know before hand might incur the risk of death or dismemberment later. I am reminded of a situation in Florida where a husband was cheating on his wife (taking a risk of the kind in item 1 above) without her knowledge or consent (if he had gotten his wife’s consent, I would be all good with it. Open Marriages can be successful). Of course when she did find out, she got a little crazy with a shotgun… ’nuff said!
3) If the risked negative outcome is disproportionately likely compared to the risked positive outcome, then you may want to reconsider the risk altogether.
I am not one to say what level of risk is right for people.
I am one to say, though, if you are going to take a risk, be aware of it, measure it and make appropriate decisions based on protecting yourself and your loved ones.
So with all that on your plate, Unfucking your body is not that hard. It’s a matter of doing things that you are often already doing, but in a slightly different way, and creating the habits of good health and hygiene that will stand you in good stead for a lifetime.
As usual, this is a dialogue not a diatribe, so post in the comments below with your challenges and successes related to this post
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