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Thursday, June 16,2011

The best things in life are free, including your health

By P.J. Nutting

Your body has an amazing ability to keep itself healthy. Despite your best efforts, it continues to function as you strap it down to office chairs and feed it less-than-premium fuel. Simply considering how much soda an average American drinks in her lifetime, it’s surprising your body doesn’t cry out in tears of high-fructose corn syrup.

It’s amazing what you can put yourself through, but health is more than surviving your lifestyle. It goes far beyond being “not sick” or “not injured,” or in other words, it isn’t relatively based on not being something. You might be conditioned to think that being healthy simply feels OK, but it’s your right as a human being to make it the most amazing feeling of your life.

And superb health isn’t dictated by money, or even time; it’s an easy radiance that the most expensive vitamin supplement can’t put into a pill capsule. Want proof? No matter where you are reading this, there are three things you can do — right now — that will leave you feeling better about being alive.

The first is easy: drink a glass of water. Dehydration is one of the many unseen ways we can stress out our bodies — and in a way that hinders just about every function. You are probably a lot thirstier than you ever realize. Water makes up almost three-quarters of your body, required to flush out the day’s toxins, lubricate your joints and muscles, and form the foundation for that most-important organ, the brain.

Your temperature, your appetite, your energy, your mood and that nagging headache can all be improved with some of nature’s sweetest nectar. Losing 1 or 2 percent of your body weight in fluid is the beginning of “acute” dehydration; 5 percent is serious, and 10 percent is fatal. So before you reach for caffeine to perk yourself up, consider that a simple glass of water may be the jolt your body was really hoping for.

Did we mention you can get it for free from just about anywhere?

It’s about as free as the air we breathe, which brings up our next point. Take a long, healthy drag of oxygen like the Marlboro Man pulls on a robust cigarette. The effects of a deep breath are even more immediate than a glass of water — breathing is the primary way your body releases both toxins and tension, two things that promote illness and disease when your body can’t cleanse itself of them. There are no problems that taking a few deep breaths can’t soothe. Health is mental as well as physical, and a little oxygen boost will have you thinking as well as feeling better.

When spirals of chaos flood your life, return to your breathing and concern yourself with nothing else. Mr. Miyagi said it in The Karate Kid, so it must be true. So take an easy breath. Then, monitor where you feel tension, and let those areas expand with your next breath. Finally, relax your midsection and allow your body to breathe itself; breathe out, and watch and enjoy as you fill back up.

You can practically give yourself a full-body massage if you can practice breathing in this way (it’s not like you do it every second of every day, right?).

Maybe you work at a job that offers five kinds of in-office massage therapy, and maybe you don’t; your body is the only thing you need to loosen up. Flexibility is perhaps the most under-recognized and under-utilized aspect of fitness, far behind cardio and strength training at the gym. It can be a workout in itself and helps to ease your daily movement, increases circulation and reduces small injuries. More importantly, it’s cheap and available everywhere.

“The human body was conditioned by thousands of years of manual labor, not stationary work,” says Shane Fishbein, Boulder chiropractor and owner of Cafe of Life. Sitting for extended periods, he says, causes unnatural tension in your lower back, tightens your core and leg muscles, and visibly destroys your posture, which works against natural breathing.

“Sitting against a wall is a great barometer for your posture,” he says. “With your back flat, your shoulder blades should be touching the wall. If that feels awkward to you, you’re doing something wrong — you look more normal than it might feel.”
Fishbein adds, “Your life is limited by your body.”

Thankfully, taking care of your body is not limited by your wallet. A glass of water, a yawn, and a stretch go a long way toward keeping the doctor away.  Well, that and an apple or two.

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