Your body is an extraordinary machine. It changes over time, interacts with the world, adapts to different environments, can usually fix itself when broken or wounded (sometimes with some help) and build other machines. But, like other machines, it needs proper fuel (nutrition), rest (sleep) and maintenance (exercise) to function properly. Without attention to these basic needs, the machine can become less efficient and can even break – you can get sick. As you get older, approach the end of high school and start looking forward to living a more independent life, it’s important to understand how to take care of yourself to maintain your health.
Food and nutrition
How long could you survive without food or water? Actually, you cannot survive more than a few days without food or any water. But having the right fluids and food is not just a matter of survival. Our bodies are so complex that we need a wide variety of fluids and different types of materials to keep us healthy. We burn carbohydrates as fuel, use protein to new cells and tissue (a constant process) and use fat to store energy. We need fluids to move materials about in our bodies (through our bloodstream) and electrolytes to allow our nerves and muscles to fire. And you thought you were just having lunch!!
But there is more – we also need the right balance of all these things – our brains are usually pretty good at telling us when we might be needing fluids or even at times particular kinds of foods – but things can get out of balance. Too much of certain kinds of foods or the wrong balance can also cause problems. Too much salt can lead some people to develop high blood pressure, too much sweet stuff (or fatty foods) can add to risk of diabetes, heart disease or obesity.
You can learn a lot more about finding your right food balance and nutrition here.
Most machines need time for repair and cooling down from time to time. Your brain is probably the most complex part of our bodies – we are only just beginning to understand how it functions. But one thing we know for sure is that for thinking, memory, concentration and decision making to work properly, our brain and body needs to sleep.
No one exactly knows how sleep happens but we know that during sleep we are taking in less information from the outside world and organizing information in our brains. And we can’t go for long without sleep before our functioning suffers dramatically. Have you ever stayed up for a full 24 hours? How did you feel? People who are sleep deprived typically have trouble doing even fairly simple things they can usually handle – like writing or driving.
Young people typically need at least 8 hours of sleep a night to feel and function well – and many actually need more than 8 hours. A bit of good news is that if you miss out on enough sleep one night, you can usually make up your sleep deficit by getting a good night’s sleep the next.
Read here for a few simple habits that promote good sleep.
Just as your body needs rest to repair itself, your body also needs to be used regularly to work most efficiently – and the way we use our bodies is by moving. When you think about it, exercise is just moving in an organized (and sometimes repetitive) way. But working our bodies in this way helps just about every part of our bodies. Of course exercising works our muscles, but also our hearts and lungs when we do it over some time (this is commonly called “cardio” or aerobic conditioning). Many exercises also strengthen our bones and there is even evidence that exercise makes our brains work more efficiently too!
You don’t have to belong to a gym or run a marathon to get helpful exercise. It is just fine if you get exercise in the normal course of events – walking to school, playing ball, mowing the lawn, taking a hike, doing dishes or laundry are all exercise. The goal is simply to work as many different parts of your body on a regular basis and to keep moving for 20-30 minutes several times each week. You don’t need to overdo it – and it is actually possible to exercise too much (among other things you can injure yourself, get overheated, dehydrated, and damage muscles for over exercising). But it is important and healthy to keep your body moving!