Your New Year’s RevolutionsDr. Matthew Edlund, MD, MOH
You’re not a machine...so stop treating yourself like one.
Posted January 3, 2011
It’s a New Year, so it’s time to take charge. Americans are often unhappy with their lives and even more unhappy about their futures.
Start with not a resolution but a revolution—a new way of looking at your body and brain that lets you more fully control your fate.
You’re not a machine—don’t treat yourself that way. You’re a living being.
And you’re a lot younger than you think. Most of your body is replaced within weeks.
In fact, your health is all about renewal. Renewing your body correctly will give you a quicker, more responsive, potentially longer lasting body and brain.
One direct benefit—a much better shot at avoiding serious illness. Illness occurs when your body’s potential for renewal is delayed, stopped, or corrupted.
Instead, you’re going to use your innate powers of renewal to remake yourself along the lines you want. It’s time to begin your own Regeneration Project.
Your Regeneration Project
Begin by regenerating yourself. Here’s the revolutionary rule—rebuild your body the way it’s built. You’ve got a lot of control over how your body works, so use that power. Start with these elements:
1. Eat real food...the stuff, as Michael Pollan explains, that your great grandmother would recognize as food. Humans possess a thirty foot gut for a reason, which is that we evolved to eat lots of plants. Emphasize whole plants. Don’t eat industrial products that can harm your inner environment and the larger one where we all live.
2. Move. Sitting is an independent risk factor for death. Your body learns until it dies, and uses that learning to rebuild—learning is living. Much of that learning occurs while you’re in motion, which independently helps rebuild sinew and brain. A twenty minute walk can give you new brain cells, in memory areas, every night.
We’re walking machines. So whenever you can, walk or move. When you can’t walk, stand. Moving provides your body new information it will use to rebuild you. What we do is what we become.
Know that your body and brain are not the same from minute to minute—and recognize what power that understanding gives you.
3. Learn to rest. Rest is a much bigger subject that sleep—rest is regeneration, the process by which your body rebuilds.
Yet getting effective sleep is a good start. Make sure you get sufficient sleep to control your weight; improve your immunity; control heart disease; and keep your mood up. For most of us, that means 7-8 hours a night, and power naps can power more productivity during the day.
Once you’ve learned to sleep, you can then get on to the more important issue of actively resting during the day.
4. Use rhythm to make your life more musical. Recognize your body is a series of systems that work together. Innate body rhythms make those systems work together better. Time rules life, and music is in your genes. Set a rhythm for your day that lets you move and rest, socialize, think, work and laugh. One simple system that fits the bill is going FAR—Food, Activity, followed by Rest. Such a simple way of living is followed by the longest surviving people on earth.
5. Pay attention to attention. Your brain only does one thing at a time. Daydreaming often leads to sadder moods, while multitasking leads to confusion, inner tension and lower production.
So study doing things actively and with full attention. Active rest techniques can provide you dozens of ways to simultaneously relax and concentrate—within a minute.
Sustained achievement demands sustained attention. That’s part of another revolution for many of us—using your brain the way it’s built:
6. Emphasize flow and joy in your life. Flow is a concept of action which can give you many different kinds of peak experiences. During flow people don’t notice the time; lose self-consciousness; take on a series of challenges and rise to them.
In flow, people are creative. In flow, people generally feel happy. In flow you pay attention so acutely you don’t know you’re paying attention.
Recognize what activities in your life produce flow—many of them will occur around work, family, and play. Try as much as possible to you’re your day with flow activities. Often, boring activities can approach flow experiences when viewed as skill improving challenges.
7. Use social interaction to make you healthier. The more friends and acqaintances you have and care about, the more improved your mood, and the less the risk of heart attack and stroke. Much of the meaning and pleasure of life occurs engaged with others. That’s what social rest is all about—using our social connections to expand and prolong our lives.
So the real revolution starts when you recognize that your body stays healthy through regeneration. Making your body regenerate effectively is up to you. Set the right conditions, and you can start to lead a new life.
Regeneration begins in your own body. Once you begin to regenerate your own body and mind, you can then start to consider larger issues—regenerating your community and your environment. There are many things we need to start to fix right now.
Dr. Matthew Edlund, M.D., M.O.H., is an internationally recognized expert on rest, sleep, and body clocks. His books include The Body Clock Advantage, Designed to Last, and Psychological Time and Mental Illness. His new book, The Power of Rest, shows that rest is a skill that rebuilds, renews, and rewires mind and body, and can increase productivity, health, and pleasure. For more information, visit his website, TheRestDoctor.com. You can also subscribe to his new Fitcast via the iTunes Store.