This is the time of year for reflecting, making plans and drawing lists of new intentions. A time to say with conviction “I want to make changes’ or simply improve key focus areas in your life, your family, friends, career, sport – insert topic. It usually ends with the creation of a well-intentioned list, beautifully crafted and proudly written with every intention to see it through. Most of us, even the more disciplined amongst us, only get a few days, weeks or months into our new year’s resolutions before we lose interest and meander onto something else that we decide now has a higher priority.
Is that because losing a few kilo’s or uncovering those hidden abs, starting gym classes or learning a new language or hobby are sort of what we want to do but somehow lack a level of importance to stick with the conviction required for success? Probably.
I’d like to share an alternative list for your consideration. A short list of the 5 physical needs of every human on the planet according to Wild Man Eric Edmeades. To understand these and their importance is to understand the very essence of an optimal environment required for life longevity. Could tapping into the knowledge of what your body fundamentally requires for survival – in order of first priorities, help us stay committed to doing more of the right things more of the time? If our time on this planet is finite, then surely learning what we can do to elongate that time has absolute importance over everything else?
Let’s call this a Christmas gift your future self will thank you immeasurably for. As with all great lists it’s written in an order of priority. The first four are non-negotiable, that is, critical for life. However, in truth they are all super important, but it’s also about the quality of each physical need too.
Our bodies are biochemical machines, sophisticated beyond belief and if we enable them, they will serve us well. In today’s modern world we have become less apt at listening to what our bodies are telling us and more likely to reach for prescribed or over the counter drugs to combat our aliments.
Let’s look then at our list of five physical needs;
1. Air, or more accurately oxygen - literally the air you breathe. We can’t go more than a couple of minutes without it. The quality of air counts greatly. On Earth the air we breathe is a mixture of gases, 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 1% other stuff. That mixture doesn’t have to change much before we are in grave difficulty. Toxic air is now one of the biggest environmental risks of early death. It already kills 7 million people a year. More than tuberculosis, HIV and malaria combined. That statistic shocked me too. The World Health Organisation have classified it as a global public health emergency. I don’t mean to go off-piste here – the point is air is our number one priority and you also need it to be of good quality. How you breathe is also important. Deep, slow, inhalation and exhalation known as diaphragmatic breathing indicates to your brain that you are safe. This enables your body to operate at optimal levels, reduces stress and the harmful chemical cortisone. Diaphragmatic breathing also slows your heartrate and can help stabilise your blood pressure. Of course, you can’t breathe like that doing your favourite cardio workout, but when you can - you should – and often!
2. Water – the average human can’t go more than three days without H2O. Most Australians walk around dehydrated – a recent study found as many as 80% of us fitting that category. We really do need to drink more. The next big question - how much is enough? Divide your bodyweight by 8, multiply that by 250ml and that’s how many litres you need. It varies on weather, climate, individual circumstances and how much you are exercising of course. There are so many benefits to drinking fresh, clean water every day. The following are my top 4;
i. Your body uses water in all its cells, organs and tissues to remove toxins.
ii. Water aids the digestive process
iii. It regulates body temperature
iv. Finally, water assists the transporting of nutrients to the brain.
Drinking the right amount of water per day also increases your metabolism, studies have shown that drinking 500ml of water can increase your metabolism 24-30%. Your body burns fat processing the water through your system.
3. Sleep – Now I won’t lie to you; this one at number three flawed me! Not only did I have so little appreciation for how important sleep is I have come to understand how little I know on the subject matter. I’m reading, and highly recommend, a book written by the world-renowned neuroscientist Matthew Walker called ‘Why We Sleep’ described as a ‘book on a mission’ I’m mid book so my knowledge is still unfolding as I write.
What I can tell you is that sleep, or more accurately lack of sleep and specifically less than 8 hours in 24 is nothing short of cataclysmic for the human body.
Matthew describes us, rather worryingly, as being in the midst of a Global Sleep Epidemic – a statement backed up and acknowledged by World Health Organisation.
Back in the 1940’s the average American was sleeping 7.9 hours a night, now that number has eroded to 6 hours and 31 minutes, the UK 6 hours and 49 minutes with Japan faring the worst at 6 hours and 22 minutes.
Mother nature took over 3 million years to put this necessity of 8 hours of sleep in place and in the blink of an evolutionary eye we lobbed 25% off that sleep amount. Does it matter? It’s not doing us any harm right? Surely, we just catch up on the weekends.
Brace yourself for the reality. Based on epidemiological studies from millions of people scientists can say “the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life” Short sleep predicts all cause mortality. Every major disease that is killing us has links to a lack of sleep! Alzheimer’s disease, Cancer, Cardio Vascular, Stroke, diabetes, depression and bipolar are all significantly affected by short sleep.
The reality today is that not sleeping to cram more in has become normalised. Staying up late commonplace. As Matthew states in his book “sleep has an image problem today” (negative)
I can’t do this enormous subject justice in a few short paragraphs so let me leave this topic with two final points. Firstly, if you want to know all the many critical and important body and brain functions that are restored in just one night’s sleep, I recommend Matthews Book. Secondly, trust me when I say you need a non-negotiated 8 hours each and every night! Set an alarm to go to bed an hour before you want to sleep.
4. Food - This is about taking care of the body's fuel as an essential need. Energy if you like. Most people are over indexing on this one to be frank. It’s number 4 on the list for a reason and yet it tends to be one of the first conscious things we go for. So, we are definitely getting enough energy – but it’s often bad quality energy and we need to change that. Our bodies have three primary food sources; Sugar – consider this the urgent, hot running, temporary fuel source. It’s consumed and burnt fast. After which you crash. Protean should only be a fuel source burnt in certain conditions, times of stress, fasting or emergencies etc. Fat – we should be working to make our bodies burn fat for energy. There are two things we can do to trigger better fat burning. One, consume high quality fats and two, don’t consume too many carbs. Getting the right kind of exercise matters greatly which leads us nicely into Movement – the 5th essential need.
5. Movement – I’m not going to attempt to tell you what type of training or routines are best for you here. I believe you intuitively know what works for you, what gives you pleasure, what you will tolerate regularly enough to make it count. I will share something that I didn’t know about our body’s requirement for movement and I’m sure like me, this will be enough to get you to take the appropriate action.
Your body has two pumps - your heart and your diaphragm. Both controlling urgent and important functions. The heart is moving your blood around the body and the diaphragm is moving oxygen. They happen without us needing to control that action.
There is another function your body needs and that is lymphatic fluid. Your lymph nodes around your body enable lymphatic fluid to cleanse your cells, cleaning your body – an important component of your immune system. It doesn’t have a pump because whilst it’s an important function it’s not an urgent one, further-more our ancestors had movement in their daily lives and so the requirement to pump lymphatic fluid wasn’t required. Lymph (fluid) is moved through the system through muscle contractions for example movement. With our now largely sedentary lifestyles (we’ve stopped moving by comparison to our ancestors) we are building up acid and toxicity in our bodies which over time lead to disease. We may well be living longer but are we dying younger? So whilst movement and exercise is important for how we look and feel – it’s actually crucial to maintain our immune systems.
In conclusion then, we should consider that these five physical needs are the most important for us to prioritise and safeguard above all others, not only for a healthy life but a longer one. The more we can align to our bodies requirements the better chance to optimise the life we’d like to lead. Like so many things in life that really matter – it’s not until our later years that we become curious enough to gain the required knowledge.
To your longer and healthier life and to a brighter 2021