With all the attention given in this course on the mind, it’s easy to think that the mind will overcome all. While it is entirely realistic to expect that a healthy and active mind goes a long way toward preserving and strengthening the body, the reverse is also true. Exercise and physical health cause hormonal changes within the body that help the chemical balance of the brain. It also increases blood flow and the oxygen in that blood, further feeding that brain you so badly need to execute all your great plans.
However, before going on, it cannot be stressed enough that if you have a physical ailment, injury or other health reason you should be careful about physical activity or testing yourself as described here. This does include things like eating disorders, diabeties, heart irregularies, known injury, etc. Testing to strengthen is one thing; testing to do yourself damage is entirely the wrong thing. Please make certain you do not stress yourself with these exercises, and consult a health practitioner if uncertain.
One of the best ways to maintain good physical health is by a diet of preventive exercise. If you aren’t in shape now, getting in shape and doing a little a day or week to stay that way for life gives you the inner strength to ward off disease and illness, and the flexibility to take into account accidents as they come. There are a great many guides that tell you if you’re too fat, too skinny, etc, but a few guidelines will help in determining how you’re doing:
- Body Mass Indicator (BMI). This is a handy way to find a range of your height, gender and age against your body mass. While medical science varies on what is overweight or underweight (remember to consider the source of that decision), it’s a handy thing to take into consideration. Also remember, muscle weighs more than fat, leading to wide variation in what is considered ‘overweight’. Some sources of BMI calculators are below; try two or more to see the results:
- Endurance. Do you get winded climbing up two flights of stairs? One? Walking from the computer to the bathroom and back? Your endurance is a ready thing to tell just from your daily activities. If you puff on a few sets of stairs, changes are your endurance isn’t real high.
- Strength. Take an honest look at how strong you are. Do your muscle tire carrying two sacks of groceries? How many situps and pushups can you do? Try not to compare to, say, bodybuilders; you’re in your own class, get a feeling for if you think you could use a little strengthening.
- Flexibility. This is a key factor in how you take injury, if at all. Do you find yourself getting sprains and strains often? Are you capable of a great deal of movement in your shoulders and legs, or not much at all? Have you or do you engage in stretching exercises at all? Often, injury can be avoided by stretching before activity, or keeping flexible for those times when accidents happen.
- General Wellness. How do you usually feel? Do you find it hard to stay awake after sitting a little while? How much sleep do you get (too much has almost the same effects as too little)? Do you have a lot of energy or too little? How is your appetite?
After you’ve taken a good look at how you are, fitnesswise, there are some things you can do to bring yourself up to speed in areas you feel you need work on:
- Start a Regular Fitness Program. This varies widely, from a gym workout to a martial arts program to basic jogging and things to do at home. As a rule of thumb, 3 hours of exercise a week is a good average to aim for, with a good mix of activity that work out different parts of your body. The American Medical Association has a great starter page for designing a fitness program. You can, of course, consult a medical professional and let them know what you’d like to improve. But words of warning: Build up gradually! Whatever program you pick, going too fast with it will result in injury. Take your time and stick with what you decide to do.
- Start Doing Daily Stretches. Even if you don’t need to get on a fitness program, getting into the habit of doing a short stretching routine each morning will really go a long way into getting your brain in gear. Here is a sample set of stretching exercises to try. Stretch as long as it doesn’t hurt or strain; if it hurts, stop doing it. The ‘no pain no gain’ is for masochists.
- Don’t Be Lazy! Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator more often. Walk to the store instead of drive sometimes. Use your body just as much as your mind and make them one, don’t shirk one because it involves a little more obvious work.
- Don’t Sleep Too Little, Don’t Sleep Too Much. See if you can aim for seven hours of sleep a night, no more no less. Sleeping in on weekends is nice, but you don’t always need it, and it can often make you feel groggy. If you have problems getting enough sleep, look at why. Is work or school keeping you up? Look for ways to make time to sleep properly. Insomnia? Look at why or see a physician.
- Drink Eight Glasses of Water a Day. This may sound simple, but it’s remarkably easy to dismiss and not do. Dehydration causes hangover-like headaches, and contributes to a variety of ailments. Coffee and other drinks with caffeine in them dehydrate you, so consider drinking water or juice instead of a soft drink.
As you become aware of how you feel, you might find other things you decide to change, such as quitting smoking, exploring alternative medicine (herbals, etc) and other things. The key thing here is to build an awareness of your physical self and maintain it with the same attention you would your mental well-being.
Diet and Food
Remember the adage “you are with you eat”? It’s true. What the body needs for nutrients is a large subject best left to detail sites, so check the additional resources link below for pointers. In general, all the exercise and fitness in the world will do you little good if you consider a bag of Hohos and a Pepsi your lunch. Not only will you not be able to do your exercise, but you can and will cause yourself damage. If you’re going to make a commitment to maintaining your body, looking at what you’re eating goes right along with it.
Where you are can and will factor into all of the above. Everything from the smog in your area, nearby factories and waste disposal plants, the pollen and grass count for your region, the humidity and temperature… it all plays a part. As you discover your physical state, keep in mind that the things around you could be causing some of the problems you notice, and you will be better able to address and resolve them to remove a threat to your health.