We do a lot of strange things, and unfortunately for our health, they often lead to illness. I think the biggest reason for this is that our memories are short, we think that the things we do every day are the things that humans have always done, but this is just not true. People living as short as 100 years ago would find us very strange (not to mention our more distant relatives).
To determine what we should do, we often look to other people for help; scientists call this “social proof”. Social proof is fine when everyone around you is acting in accordance with their health and their happiness, but as you might guess from all the unhealthy people you see every day, this just isn’t the case. We have slowly moved from healthy living habits to destructive habits and the movement has been so slow we have barely noticed it. I’ve gathered together some of the weird things humans do that can seem perfectly normal because everyone else is doing them, but are not.
If you are looking to improve your health, you might want to steer clear of what everyone else is doing
1. Not Sleeping when we are Tired
Look around you: dogs, cats – even the mice in your walls – all lie down and sleep when they are tired. We don’t do that, you reach for sugar or coffee. Animals don’t do that, they simply lie down and sleep. There are actually two issues here: the first is that amount of sleep you need and the second is sleeping during the day. It is a bit hard to determine what is normal for the amount of sleep we need, but looking at animals, they are sleeping much more than we are and they tend to break up their sleep into smaller chunks. You might need eight hours of sleep, but maybe your number is six or ten hours. You should also consider adding a nap into your routine. Next time you think you need a pick-me-up from your coffee cup, try a short nap. I’m a big fan of the nap and try to catch one every day; it is the best way I know to “reboot” my brain for an afternoon in front of the computer. Here is a great page for information on napping and a no nonsense guide to napping.
2. Not Relaxing
You relax don’t you? You go home, sit in front of the television and relax. Right? That is not what I’m talking about. You, your body, your mind, and your soul need a time out. I’m not talking about sitting in front of the television, but true relaxing, just hanging out and doing nothing. To understand what I mean by relaxing, try picturing a day at the beach. The beach seems to be one place in our society where it is okay to just sit and do nothing (if you didn’t pack in toys, radios…). Try to set aside a small portion of your day for pretending you are on the beach. Just sit and stare at the clouds or your ceiling or whatever. Do nothing, just let your mind wander. If you are into prayer or mediation, this is a great time to practice that.
3. Eating Grains
I know what you are thinking when you read this: of course it is normal to eat grains; the government recommends that grains make up most of our diet, it has to be normal. But, once again, eating grains seems normal because everyone is doing it, but grains are not optimal food for humans. Humans have only been munching on grains – in any large amounts – for the last 7,000 years. Sure, that sounds like a lot of time, but it actually is not. Our bodies have not adapted to the large amount of carbohydrates we put into them. High blood sugar which results from eating grains is responsible for more ill-health than smoking cigarettes (see my book Sugarettes). Try replacing grains with fruits and vegetables at every meal. You will be astonished at how much better you feel.
Putting shoes on your feet seems pretty normal, right? Actually, your foot is incredible complex and wearing shoes all the time is harmful to your feet. I suggest you spend at least part of the day waking around without shoes. A great trick is to get a plastic bucket and fill it with small stones (like pea gravel) spend ten or 15 minutes just standing in the gravel. It gives your feet a massage and rebuilds many of the muscles that have atrophied due to shoe wearing. There are also shoes from Terra Plana called Vivo Barefoot shoes that have a Kevlar bottom so that your feet can have the barefoot experience while still looking like a normal shoe.
5. Live Inside
We live most of our lives inside and this is just not healthy. Not only is the air pollution inside a home or office often much worse than outside, we are also not getting enough sunlight. We have grown afraid of the sun and have forgotten that it has a lot to do with our health. Yes, you should not be out in the sun long enough to get a bad burn, but skin cancer has a lot less to do with our exposure to sunlight than previously thought. It appears that skin cancer may have much more to do with the lack of essential nutrients than sun exposure; some research suggests that it is the lack of sunlight that causes cancer. We get vitamin D from sun exposure and that vitamin is so essential to our health that you should consider supplementing if you are not getting enough (I like cod liver oil for vitamin D supplementation).
6. Drinking Calories
If you think, like I do, that eating foods as close to the way that they are presented to us in nature (non-processed) is the best way to eat, then you have to question consuming calories in liquid form. Think about it, if you go back 10,000 years, how many drinkable foods were available on the planet? Only water (okay, and, breast milk). Drinking calories only becomes a problem when those calories are mostly sugars. Sugars in liquid form are absorbed rapidly into our bodies and create all sorts of havoc including: weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and maybe even cancer. Our bodies are woefully unprepared for calories to come in a liquid form. If you are going to do only one thing for your health, I strongly urge you to stop drinking soda and fruit juice.
7. Stretching Before Exercise
Okay, I don’t count this as a major health hazard, but there is a great recent article that shows stretching is not such a good idea for athletes.
8. Not Moving Your Buns Around
We sit a lot! We sit in cars, we sit at work, we sit on the couch… humans are professional sitters. Our ancestors had far more muscle mass than most of us do today. Muscle mass is one of the keys to not only how long we live, but also to general health and weight loss. You need to get up and move your buns around every day and build up your muscle mass. Walking is perhaps the best exercise you can participate in, but swimming, cycling, running, hiking and anything that gets your heart rate up, are all great. Exercise is so important that you should prioritize it over everything else that you do: exercise is a vitamin, exercise is a drug, exercise is the fountain of youth. There are hundreds of research studies that show that exercise helps with weight loss, depression, anxiety, heart health and works as an anti-cancer activity. Get off your buns and move them around a bit every day.
9. Not Going to the Bathroom when we Need to Go
Once again, look to the animal world and find one animal that will stop its urges to go to the bathroom. Ignoring the urge to urinate has been associated with a higher rate of urinary tract infections, but it is especially harmful when you hold on to a bowel movement. Constipation is a major source of illness and increases the risk for hemorrhoids and even certain cancers. Constipation often leads to more constipation. I know it is hard, because of how we live our lives, but try to not ignore your body’s urges.
10. Cooking Foods
As I mentioned earlier, it is best to eat foods as close to the way that they are presented to us as possible. When we cook foods, they lose vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients. The most grievous of losses are the loss of essential fatty acids, or EFAs. Most of us don’t get enough essential fatty acids and EFAs are one of the few supplements that I think everyone should take (one again, I would recommend cod liver oil to get your EFAs).
Well, there they are: the Weird Things Humans Do. I’m sure I missed a few; feel free to add them into the comment section. When you look at all the strange things we do you start to realize just how un-normal normal can be. Health is a matter of breaking free of the things most people do and charting a way through the world that prioritizes your health.