Many years ago, when I was eleven years old, my parents bought a Corning Cooktop stove, a fancy new appliance whose coils remained white when they were hot. You just had to take it on faith — or not. No matter how long I stared at that new stovetop, I could not convince myself that the white coils were hot. And that is why I still remember clearly, so many years later, the perfectly oval burn on the tip of my right index finger. I only touched it once, but that was all it took. I couldn’t take anyone else’s word for it. I needed to see for myself.
It had to be like that. It’s the way of the world. You have to experience the consequences of your actions in order to really understand. You can’t take anyone else’s word for it. You have to find out for yourself. This week is a good time to stop and think about the bounty of gifts that you have been granted, and to observe their consequences for your own self.
A few years ago, some of my friends from work had a conversation about our grandmothers’ expressions, beliefs, and other sage advice. You may wonder whether these old-fashioned expressions have outlived their usefulness. They have not. As relevant as ever, they represent the collective wisdom of our ancestors, the ones who were maybe just a little bit healthier, a bit more resilient, and then lucky to have a tiny survival advantage when a virulent epidemic came through their village. These words of wisdom aren’t just words; they are our inheritance, our bounty, our gifts.
Here is some of the wonderful advice my co-workers shared:
#1 “Go play outside.”
This is a good reminder for kids as well as adults. I know a local family practice doctor who regularly posts on-line messages to remind people to go outside and get some sun, even if the weather is cold. Let’s be honest: Where I live, in Northeast Ohio, it’s probably the case that there are only a dozen or so days a year that you REALLY can’t walk outside. It’s not about the weather; it’s about the clothes.
A lot of my friends posted pictures of their families playing a game of kickball out in the yard before Thanksgiving dinner last year, and it was beautiful. It also makes me happy to see people turn out for the local Turkey Trot. And I like taking a yoga class early Thursday morning before all the excitement starts up in and around the kitchen.
#2 ”Eat your vegetables.”
Now isn’t that the truth? The more we learn about nourishing phytonutrients, antioxidant power, and fiber, the wiser these words become. Don’t forget that spices (like cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, and paprika) and herbs (like parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme) are also powerhouses of nutrition.
Remember what Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” And then don’t worry about it for one day.
#3 “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
That’s my bias, too. What a difference it makes to walk out the door in the morning with a bellyful of something nourishing to jumpstart my day. You probably know already that one of my favorite breakfasts is a sweet potato with a generous spoonful of peanut butter melting in. But I also like salmon jerky, hard-boiled eggs, and leftovers.
#4 “Chew your food slowly.”
The more slowly you eat, the more time you have to appreciate the fact of food on your plate. And the taste of that food. And what it took to get that food to your kitchen table. Not to mention the fact that it takes a while, like 20 minutes, for your brain to receive the message from your stomach that you’ve had enough.
#5 ”Use it or lose it.”
Your body was designed to move. Whoever coined the phrase “Sitting is the new smoking” has read the research showing that remaining still in a chair all day, whether at home or at work, is terrible for your heart. Whose idea was it to decrease the amount of gym and recess at school? Definitely not mine.
#6 “Every day needs some down time.”
Whether you like yoga, meditation, massage, prayer, reading, knitting, hiking, fishing, tossing a ball (with a puppy or a child), pottery class, classical music, or pedicures, you must make a little time to do something you love. Figure out what floats your boat. What makes your socks go up and down. What makes your world turn. It’s not optional. It grounds you in the world. It makes you the best you that you can be. You’re not a human doing; you’re a human being. Somewhere along the way, we all started pressing our gas pedals all the way to the ground, all the time, even though you know you don’t get your best mileage with your engine racing. It’s time to give yourself permission to get off the rails.
#7 “The more colors on your plate, the better.”
As long as I can remember, my mom has always said this. Eat the rainbow. See #2 above.
#8 “You need to work it, honey.”
Reading these words is good, but that’s not what makes them so great. What makes them special is their fundamental influence on your health and wellness. So pick one or two to start, and then see how you feel.
Your ancestors bequeathed these gifts to you. It’s up to you to see how they work.