Caring for your Body
You only get one body in this life, so you need to look after it.
Advice about caring for your body is conflicting and often confusing, hence it’s sometimes hard to know what’s best.
Many people abandon any effort to take care of themselves because it’s just too difficult.
But the application of a little science, and quite a lot more common sense, can go a long way to helping you to work out what’s best for you and your body.
This page explains three aspects of caring for your body: rest and sleep; food, diet and nutrition; and exercise, it provides a framework for thinking about doing the right thing by your body.
A Framework for Thinking
In any aspect of caring for yourself, there are three questions to ask:
- What do I want to do?
- What is best for me?
- What am I going to do?
The first aspect relates to your emotions: it is about how you feel, and what you want to do, whether about what you eat, when you go to sleep, or how much exercise you take.
The second applies reason to the situation, and asks what you think.
Finally, you need to balance those two aspects, and make a decision about what you actually do in any given situation.
There will be many times when what you want to do coincides perfectly with what you know you should do.
You may want to go out for a bike ride because the sun is shining, or go to bed early because you are tired.
At other times, you will find that you are very tempted to do something that you know you would be better avoiding.
You may want to eat another slice of chocolate cake, for example, or not take exercise because you are busy.
It is important to remember that you don’t always have to do the right thing.
Every now and then, it will be fine to follow your instincts and eat chocolate, or laze around in bed all day. But if you do that too often, there will be consequences. For example, if you overeat and do not take enough exercise, you are likely to end up overweight, which can lead to the development of various chronic diseases including diabetes.
By all means give yourself a break from time to time, but don’t let bad behaviour become a habit because habits are hard to break.
Rest and Sleep
Scientists have done a lot of research on rest and sleep, but we still don’t really know why we need to sleep.
We do, however, know that regular periods of rest and sleep are vital to our personal well-being. Being deprived of sleep is dangerous: it limits our ability to do things like drive, and can also make us ill.
Of course everyone’s needs for sleep differ slightly. Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister, famously claimed to need only four hours sleep every night, and more recently, there has been almost an epidemic amongst CEOs claiming kudos for early rising.
What is important is to be aware of your personal sleep patterns, and ensure that you get enough sleep on a regular basis to function effectively.
Food, Diet and Nutrition
The phrase ‘you are what you eat’ has become a bit of a cliché over recent years, but it still has a basis in fact.
Most of us know that modern diets can contain too many processed foods that are high in fats, sugar and salt and that we should eat more fresh fruit and vegetables as part of a healthy balanced diet.
Obesity, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and Type II diabetes are all common problems in modern life and often a direct result of poor diets.
But what counts as a healthy diet?
Our pages on diet and nutrition explain what your body needs and why. They also show how some simple changes to your diet can make big differences to your life, including increasing your energy levels, lifting your spirit and, perhaps, reducing the likelihood of becoming ill.
If the number of calories that you take in is greater than the number used, you will put on weight.
Many scientists now argue that portion control is one of the most important aspects of healthy eating.
Protein is an essential part of our diets; it is the building block for all cells in our bodies, organs, bones, muscles and blood. Learn about the different types of protein-rich food sources and how your body uses these to keep you healthy. (See: What is Protein?).
Fat is an essential part of our diet – we can’t live without it, and it is by far the most efficient form of energy. Learn about fat and the types of food that contain it. (See: What is Fat? and BMI - Body Mass Index).
Unlike protein and fat, carbohydrates (commonly abbreviated to carbs) are not essential to our diets. Most of us probably consume too many carbohydrates. Learn about the types of foods high in different types of carbohydrate and how carbohydrate intake affects our metabolism. Learn what the glycaemic index can tell us about foods rich in carbohydrates. (See: What are Carbohydrates?, What is Sugar? and Sugar and Diet).
High fibre foods help us to maintain a healthy digestive system and metabolism. They help your body to run more efficiently. We also look at why a high fibre diet can help you lose weight and be good for your heart. (See: What is Fibre?).
Vitamins are, by definition, essential to our health, and there are 13 that we need to keep our bodies healthy. Our page on this subject highlights foods high in vitamins that you may wish to increase in your diet. (See: Vitamins).
Finally, learn about the most important nutritional minerals, what the body uses them for and which foods contain them. (See: Minerals as Nutrients).
Most people are aware of advice that we should take regular exercise.
But what does that mean and why is it important?
Recommendations vary from 20 minutes of medium-intensity exercise (enough to raise your heart rate) per day, up to three longer sessions of high-intensity activity per week.
Many people, perhaps unsurprisingly, conclude that they just don’t have time to work out what they should do.
Our page on The Importance of Exercise explains more about why you should exercise regularly.
The common sense solution is that any exercise is better than none.
Although the recommendations for the amount and intensity of exercise may change, nobody has yet concluded that exercise is bad for you! However, very intense exercise over long periods may have some detrimental effect.
Even if you can’t do as much as exercise as is recommended, even taking a small amount of exercise will do you good.
It is, however, important to ease yourself gently into any exercise programme, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve exerted yourself to do anything beyond lift the TV remote control, or walk to the car.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Based on some of our most popular content, this book will help you to live a happier, healthier and more productive life
Learn how to look after your body and mind: the fundamental first steps to personal development.
Doing the Right Thing
Knowing what to do, and actually doing it are, of course, quite different things.
Caring for your body is like other aspects of ‘goodness’. If you work on developing your ‘moral compass’, then you will be able to apply it to doing the right thing for your body too.
Yes, of course, sometimes your emotional response will win, and you won’t do the right thing but, with practice, you will get better at making sure that you take care of your body.