The holidays are a particularly meaningful time to think about the most valuable gifts that we receive. I’m talking about the words of wisdom that are passed along from one generation to the next. Around the holidays, a few years ago, a few of my friends from work got talking about our grandmothers’ old-fashioned expressions, beliefs, and bits of sage advice. You may think these expressions are quaint and old-fashioned, but they are really much more. These sayings are the collective wisdom of our ancestors, the survivors. Here are a few of the ones for which I am most grateful.
#1 “Kids should play outside.” Adults, too. I know one particular family practice doctor who posts Facebook messages to remind people to play outside and get some sun, even when the weather is cold. Even in Cleveland, I would say that there are probably only a dozen or so days a year that you REALLY can’t walk outside. I loved seeing pictures of families playing a game of kickball out in the yard before dinner this Thanksgiving, and I was really happy that so many people turned out for Cleveland’s #turkeytrot.
#2 ”Eat your vegetables.” Now isn’t that the truth? The more we learn about phytonutrients, nutrition and fiber, the wiser these words become. Herbs — like parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme — are particularly nourishing. Remember what Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”
#3 “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Well, that’s my bias, anyway. What a difference it makes to walk out the door in the morning with something nourishing in my belly to jumpstart my day. My favorite breakfast is a sweet potato with a generous spoonful of peanut butter melting in.
#4 “Chew your food slowly.” The more slowly you eat, the more you appreciate the food on your plate. And its taste. And what it took to get to your kitchen table.
#5 ”Use it or lose it. The body was designed to move.” Whose idea was it to decrease the amount of gym and recess at school? Definitely not mine.
#6 “Every day needs some quiet reflection time.” Whether it’s yoga, meditation, massage, prayer, reading, knitting, playing with the puppy, hiking, resting, do whatever you like; whatever floats your boat; whatever makes your socks go up and down, whatever makes your world turn. Lately I’ve been enjoying an app called Headspace. You might want to check it out.
#7 As long as I can remember, my own mom has always said: “The more colors on your plate, the better.” Eat the rainbow. Remember #2 above?
Now hearing words like these is good, but that’s not the same as knowing it in your gut, in your bones. It is not the words themselves, but rather their fundamental influence on our health and wellness, that makes them so important.
Parents frequently complain that their children don’t listen but, to a certain extent, I think it may have to be that way. Sometimes, consequences have to be experienced in order to be understood. Many years ago, when I was about 11, my parents bought a fancy new stove whose coils did not turn red when they were hot. You had to take it on faith. Or not. No matter how much I stared at that new stovetop, I could not convince myself that the coils were hot. That is why I still clearly remember, so many years later, that perfectly oval and painful burn on the tip of my right index finger.
Write your own versions of these prescriptions for health: Eat breakfast, go outdoors, get some exercise, eat vegetables, take some deep breaths, and chew your food carefully. Then pay close attention, and see how your body likes it.
Your ancestors may have bequeathed these gifts, but it’s up to you to see how they work.