Written by Eric Morris Jr
THE IMPORTANCE OF SLEEP
During sleep the brain detoxifies and clears out garbage, consolidates short term to long term memory. During sleep the body repairs and builds tissues, recovers from exercise and prepares you for another day's work. Sleep also helps in things like a slimmer waistline and preventing wrinkles. Something to think about next time you're deciding whether to party all night or get some shut eye. Deep, restful, quality sleep, is critical to an optimized functioning body and brain. Did you know when you’re exhausted your body is able to undergo microsleep episodes of 1-2 seconds while your eyes are open (1)? Did you also know that even one night of missed sleep can create a prediabetic state in an otherwise healthy person (1)? Sleep is pretty important and your body will try to get it any way it can if it comes down to it.
When it comes to the strength of your immune system you definitely don’t want to compromise your sleep. Your ability to fight off infection, sickness and viruses is bolstered when you get adequate amounts of good quality sleep. During sleep your body produces protective proteins called cytokines, certain kinds of which help promote sleep and other kinds increase when you’re under stress or sick (2). Lack of sleep reduces these protective cytokines and decreases antibodies that fight disease (2). Cytokines are good when stimulating the immune system to fight a foreign invader to destroy it. What you don’t want is damage from an increase in long term inflammatory cytokines from stress or lack of sleep. Skimp on sleep and you open yourself up to greater susceptibility to illness.
“Yes, lack of sleep can affect your immune system. Studies show that people who don't get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as a common cold virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.”
“Long-term lack of sleep also increases your risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease.”
-Eric J. Olson, M.D.
I definitely wouldn’t consider it a badge of honor to function on little to no sleep. You may be able to get away with it in the short term, but in the long run you will notice the effects. If you’re always getting to bed late and cutting your sleep short, try to find areas in your life where you can cut down, expedite tasks and improve efficiency. Get the most important things done first and don’t try to cram in tonight what’s able to be done when you’re well rested and thinking at a higher level. Skimping on your rest is simply not worth the biological and physiological consequences.
It’s true that how much sleep we need varies depending on age, stress levels and activity levels, but there is a minimum number of hours we should all be getting. Any less will start to take its toll. The average adult needs at least 7 hours of sleep per night. If you’re highly active and always needing to recover from exercise or are highly stressed you may definitely need a few (or a lot) more than the average recommendation. However, here are the updated recommended number of hours of sleep needed courtesy of the National Sleep Foundation (NSF):
There are different stages of sleep. At each stage the body and brain undergo certain changes. It’s important for each stage to be completed in order to have full repair and recovery for the next day. If our sleep is cut short or the quality is compromised, the effects on body, brain and mood can start to add up and be noticeably felt once a sleep deficit is great enough. Even one poor night of sleep has an effect but multiple nights in a row or chronic low quality sleep can seriously get in the way of learning and retention, affect mental and physical performance, weaken your immune system and reduce your ability to recover from any form of stress .
STAGES OF SLEEP:
During this transitory stage from wakefulness to light sleep of NREM (non rapid eye movement) sleep, slow wave Theta waves are produced between 4-8 Hz frequency (3). During this stage eye movements and muscle activity slows down, core body temperature drops and you’re floating in and out of consciousness where you might experience hypnic jerks that jolt you back awake until you enter stage 2. You are still easily awakened during this stage and it usually lasts about 10 minutes.
In this stage of NREM light sleep your eyes stop moving, your brain waves slow down further with the occasional burst of sleep spindles and your heart rate drops. You spend about 50% of your time in this stage of sleep. In this stage you dream but can still be awakened easily. Brain waves are between 11-16 Hz and this stage lasts about 20-30 minutes.
This stage of NREM sleep produces delta waves in the range of 0-4 Hz and lasts about 30-40 minutes. Your muscles are completely relaxed. Your blood pressure, pulse and body temperature are lowest. This is the stage where you start to produce HGH (human growth hormone) and your body goes into repair mode. You are not easily awakened during this stage.
This is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and produces alpha and beta waves. In adults there’s usually about 4 to 5 stages of REM sleep. The first stage is around 10 minutes and the later stages can be around 30 minutes. In this stage of sleep your muscles and body are paralyzed. Dreaming occurs the most in this stage. This stage of sleep is important for optimal concentration and staving off fatigue during the day.
Now, there are some major factors contributing to the quality of sleep we get. They are movement, food, light and mentality (stress). We can optimize the quality of our sleep by addressing these factors. Even addressing a few of these factors can greatly impact our quality of sleep for the better. But for consistent optimal restorative sleep try to address all factors. Your body and brain will thank you.
EXERCISE IN THE MORNING:
Exercising in the morning increases energy even better than a cup of coffee and can last the whole day. This doesn’t have to be extremely strenuous. You just want to get the blood and lymph fluid circulating and increase oxygenation. A walk, light jog, stretching or light to moderate resistance training will do the trick. If you feel up to a hardcore workout, that’s completely up to you. But just getting moving and breathing is all you need. Studies have shown that individuals who exercised around 7am as compared with those who exercised during afternoon or evening hours spent more time in the stages of deep sleep. Combine this with sunlight through outdoor exercise and get even better circadian rhythm regulation which also promotes better sleep.
If you want another added benefit, exercising in a fasted state (before eating breakfast) can help you burn about 20% more fat as your body will utilize stored fat for energy instead of newly consumed calories to fuel your workout. Just keep in mind that if you're worried about athletic performance then afternoon exercise may be better as strength, sprint speed and aerobic capacity is greater when your body temperature is at its highest (around late afternoon or early evening). But, if you just want to burn fat, naturally have increased energy and sleep well, then a morning workout is great for this.
Oh, and try to avoid intense exercise at least 3 hours before bed. Exercise increases heart rate, body temperature and adrenaline. These are all things we want to reduce if we want a restorative night’s sleep. You definitely want to avoid producing adrenaline right before bed.
ADEQUATE NUTRITION AND A HEALTHY DIET:
We all know diet and nutrition play a crucial role in any and everything. But did you know a diet high in fiber and low in added or processed sugar can greatly help restful sleep. It can help you get deeper slow wave sleep and, through the reduction of added sugars, help prevent you from waking up in the middle of the night and help you drift off to sleep faster. Not drinking too much close to bedtime can also help if you find yourself waking up to pee. We all hate that.
Sticking to a healthy mainly whole food diet can improve sleep by reducing fat around the midsection which in turn makes you less likely to struggle with problems like sleep apnea, insomnia and restlessness. Generally speaking, the stress hormone cortisol is increased when we don’t sleep which makes us susceptible to storing fat. Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help us cope with stress better and allow us to get better sleep. Additionally, supplements like magnesium, 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan), GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric Acid) and low dose melatonin (0.3mg for older adults 60+ and 0.5mg to 3mg for average adult) can be very helpful in getting a good night’s rest.
With melatonin, unless advised by a practitioner, you don't want to take high doses as this can desensitize your body's melatonin hormone receptors and make it so you don’t produce it naturally on your own. High doses can also cause sleepiness during the day which is something you don't want.
MEAL TIMING AND FOOD CHOICES:
The timing of your meals also goes a long way in contributing to sleep quality by helping produce melatonin later on in the evening.
"Dr Ramlakhan, who offers sleep coaching and is author of Tired But Wired: How to Overcome Your Sleep Problems, said “Believe it or not, eating breakfast can help you sleep. It’s as simple as this, if you don’t breakfast, your body believes it is living in famine and produces stress hormones that are not conducive to restful sleep. But by eating breakfast, you’re letting your body know there is enough food and you are living in safety, which in turn switches on your sleep, energy systems" (4).
A heavy meal right before bed is also something that can prevent a good night's sleep. Digesting a large amount of food or food that takes longer to digest (fat, protein) is a big tax on the body. Large meals and these types of foods are generally better left for breakfast or lunch or at least 3 or more hours before bedtime.
Even though you may think of our parasympathetic nervous system being activated after eating (rest and digest), which is true, this doesn't necessarily apply to full on sleep. For optimal deep sleep the entire body needs to be calm, at rest and have all of its duties done for the day. As one of my favorite authors puts it...
" When we lie down at night, the stomach should have its work all done, that it, as well as other portions of the body, may enjoy rest. But if more food is forced upon it, the digestive organs are put in motion again, to perform the same round of labor through the sleeping hours. The sleep of such is often disturbed with unpleasant dreams, and in the morning they awake unrefreshed. When this practice is followed, the digestive organs lose their natural vigor, and the person finds himself a miserable dyspeptic" (Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene, Chapter 4: Relation of Diet to Health and Morals)
This may not mean the stomach has to be completely empty. At times going to bed hungry can keep you up with a growling stomach. Some foods that contain certain nutrients or help produce certain hormones such as melatonin, tryptophan or magnesium in small amounts before bed can calm the body and mind and assist in restful sleep. Foods such as walnuts, almonds, chamomile tea, etc. Here’s a good list. But you should not be digesting a large meal right before bed.
LIGHT AND AVOIDING/REDUCING EMFs BEFORE BEDTIME:
Light in general can disrupt sleep by making the body think that it's still daylight and preventing you from winding down in order to fall asleep. Blackout curtains or a sleep mask can help with this. But there's one thing that disrupts sleep even more so...
EMFs (electromagnetic frequencies) severely disrupt sleep. Some are produced by the earth and are good for us, others produced by our electronic devices are not. The ones that are unnatural are known as non-native EMFs. Even if you can fall asleep in the presence of them (like dozing off in front of the TV), the quality of your sleep will be impaired. Non-native EMFs not only come from our cell phones, cell towers and Wi-Fi and internet routers, but also leaks from the wall outlets, extension cords and pretty much anything that's electronic, plugged in or turned on. Yeah, I know, our modern day set-up is just not conducive to allowing us to get some rest.
Reducing blue light exposure before bed is one way to help get quality sleep. I would recommend trying to do so about 3 hours before bed but at least an hour before is helpful too. You can do this by simply making it a point to turn off or avoid using your cell phone, computer or watching tv in the hours before bedtime (in a perfect world, right?). If you can't do this then you can don a pair of blue light blocking glasses and use these while looking at device screens. You can also use the blue light filtering functions on your device (most devices now have this feature) shifting everything to the red spectrum and eliminating blue light. You can also reduce screen brightness.
STRESS AND MINDSET:
Calming the mind is, in my opinion, the most important and effective way to get restful sleep. It happens to be, at least for some of us, the most difficult as well. Knowing oneself, controlling oneself and calming oneself is a skill rather elusive. Racing thoughts, demands of the day and the day to come and our feelings and emotions are powerful energies that can override all other factors even if everything else is perfectly dialed in. The mind is the control center and the mind can, well...have a mind of its own, staying on when we need it to power down.
Meditation is a valuable tool in the struggle for rest. Meditation has proven benefits ranging from improved memory, attention and pain reduction to...you guessed it, improved sleep. There are many ways and types of meditation and doesn't have to be a monk type protocol that takes years to master. If you’re talking about transcendental meditation, that's a bit more involved. But to get rest and calm down, meditation can be simple breath work (the 4-7-8 method has been shown to be very helpful), journaling or anything that calms you down. Recounting things you're grateful for instead of thinking about the long day's work or something that bothered you is a great way to meditate on good things that bring you calm, happiness and peace. For me, I count prayer as one of the best ways to meditate, thanking God for all the blessings in my life. You can cover all your bases with this one. Praying and being grateful, asking for guidance with challenges or everyday life, expressing your heart and letting go of any anxiety, animosity, fear or any feelings that trouble us. But whatever your belief or practice, just be grateful. Going to bed angry or irritated is also a sure way to prevent a good night's sleep.
"...do not let the sun go down on your wrath"
-Ephesians 4:26 NKJV
If the issue is with family or significant other, keep in mind that you love them and love for them doesn't go away because of a disagreement. Talk to the person or write if you feel speaking isn't the best at the moment. Make it right and resolve those issues before you lie down so that your sleep may be sweet.
You may think that clearing the mind is what meditation is. It can be, but that's not what it only is. It's positive thinking that can grant benefits of meditation as well. Emily Fletcher, founder of Ziva Meditation states "Thoughts are not the enemy of meditation. Effort is. Telling your mind to stop thinking is like telling your heart to stop beating". I agree. What we want to do is make those thoughts pleasant, not stressful. Ponder on the good, the happy, the hopeful and the peaceful. Some thoughts you can't avoid but once they arise, acknowledge them, then let them pass and let the next thought be positive. I know what you're thinking, “but it takes effort to change what you think." You're right. But all good things take time and a little effort. Every new skill learned is difficult at the beginning. Afterwards, it will become second nature and the effort will be gone and it will just be the way you’re wired. To be positive.
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
-Philippians 4:8 NKJV
Whatever wholesome things brings you joy and happiness and calms you down is what you need to focus on. Make it a point to take the mind off of self and ponder on showing kindness, helping others and gratitude. I know it sounds like it's only something nice to say that doesn't work, but give it a chance. Its effects can be profound. Positive thinking and meditation are one of the best things you can do for overall health and stress reduction. Sometimes, we just need to chill out. This a great way to release the tension and relax.
Sometimes our environment, stress level, diet and lifestyle can make it difficult to get a good night's rest, especially in our modern hectic world, but there are things we can do to address this. Having some knowledge on ways to combat the things that can get in the way of sleep is number one. If you don't know, how can you do it? Everyone is different and what dramatically affects one person may have minimal effects on another. As always, listen to your body and determine what works best for you. But I assure you, practicing these healthy techniques laid out here can only help you no matter who you are.
Written by Eric Morris Jr
We all know the benefits of exercise. Regular exercise keeps the blood and oxygen circulating, increases metabolism, helps improve body composition, elevates mood, increases cognitive function, improves sleep, helps burn fat and increases energy levels and the list goes on. Also keep in mind that exercise doesn’t always have to be in a gym. Remember the legendary film Rocky IV? Ivan Drago vs Rocky Balboa. Rocky trekked in snow, pulled logs and chased chickens. Drago trained in a world class gym, ran on a treadmill and was hooked up to sophisticated equipment and I’ll tell you, Drago in no wise had the upper hand. Being forged by the earth, tested by nature and against all odds, Rocky won. So go ahead, hike or rock climb. Chase a rabbit, squirrel or chipmunk. I don't care how much you bench press, If you catch a bunny or a squirrel...You're pretty awesome. Just don’t hurt them and try not to get bitten.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a gym. It absolutely has its place, especially when you can’t go outside. Plus, you do need to be exercising in some fashion so if that’s how you’re starting, the way you’re keeping a fitness routine or getting help from a personal trainer, then keep going and don’t stop. You’re on the right track. The most important thing is not to be sedentary. However, there are benefits that are compounded when you take your body and your workout outside.
A body resilient to injury, resistant to sickness and disease. A level of fitness not attainable with indoor stagnant air and no sunshine. To be optimally fit we need different terrain, grass, dirt, trees, rocks and natural stimuli that only nature can provide. Your body is developed differently when moving across uneven ground, lifting and moving things imperfect in shape, and handling odd objects. The microscopic oscillations that occur in the deeper strands of the muscles achieve a higher degree of balance and coordination that can’t be achieved through just linear, even sided resistance or a smooth ground surface. A body tried and tested by Mother Nature and forged by the elements. A body granted and grounded by the earth. This develops not only the body but the mind and the spirit as well. We came from earth and are earth. This is the benefit of optimizing body through outdoor exercise.
Stronger Immune System
Being out in nature isn’t dirty. Surprisingly, it combats pathogens and harmful microbes. Ben Page founder of Shinrin Yoku LA explains "Trees shower (or bathe) themselves in an antimicrobial, antifungal, antibacterial compound called phytoncides. This is how trees combat disease. When humans inhale these phytoncides, it triggers the human body to produce a specialized white blood cell called NK cells, or Natural Killer cells." These NK cells then attack cancerous and tumorous growths in the body, improving immune strength.” (1). So get outside and get the benefits of improved immunity.
Less Likely To Get Injured
Gradually increase your intensity level on outdoor terrain being mindful of obstacles. You’ll flex your ankles more and end up overall with stronger more resilient muscles (1). Your muscles and coordination will develop better and you'll be able to navigate any terrain better. This is something called proprioception which is simply your awareness of the position and movement of your body without having to look at the limb or body part involved in the movement. Ever hear of your dog or other animals being "sure footed"? This is what’s developed when you expose yourself to varying terrain in nature. What’s even better is letting your feet feel as much of the ground as possible while still being protected. It’s worth mentioning some functional minimalist footwear that allows your foot to respond to the feedback it’s receiving from the terrain. Companies like Vivobarefoot and Earth Runners are great for allowing this type of sensory feedback.
Vitamin D & Sunlight Exposure
This also boosts immune system, reduces stress and helps increase bone density helping prevent breaks and fractures (2, 3). Just practice smart exposure prioritizing early sunlight or wearing healthful non-toxic protection if out for extended periods or during hotter parts of the day. We need vitamin D to properly use and absorb calcium, proper immune system function and help maintain healthy energy levels. Low levels are also linked to a greater chance of being obese. Only about 10% of vitamin D comes from food sources (4) such as sun exposed mushrooms, quality dairy products and oily fish (preferably all your food sources being organic, grass fed and wild caught). The remaining amount we need is produced by the body itself as long as we have adequate sunlight exposure. So be like Superman and harness the power of the sun.
Makes You Happier
The outdoors can increases serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to well-being and happiness (3). Science has shown that getting out in the fresh air, sunshine and nature does wonders for elevating mood and combating depression. Along with the many benefits aforementioned with getting vitamin D when we get sunshine, mental health and fighting depression is one big way being outdoors can make you happier. Vitamin D is actually a prohormone, something our body uses to make a hormone. Too little can be linked to mental illnesses, mood disorders and depression (4). This prohormone also helps the body produce a sense of well-being and feel good hormones such as dopamine and serotonin. Just being out in nature and seeing all the sights and wonders and appreciating the scenery that just isn’t present in a gym setting has shown to contribute to a sense of happiness (1). A 2015 study conducted by Stanford University found that students who walked through a campus park for an hour felt less anxiety than those who didn’t (1).
Burn More Calories
Being exposed to ever changing terrain, wind resistance and obstacles in the surrounding environment will increase the amount of calories you burn. Plus, you'll get more energy through sunlight and fresh air that will enable you to go harder, faster for longer. You'll get exposed to stressors that you otherwise wouldn’t in an indoor atmosphere which provides a greater hormetic effect. You’ll end up better conditioned from being tried in all the varying degrees and elements of nature rather than just working out in a linear fashion that most have grown accustomed to in a gym.
Earthing and Grounding
Negative ions balance out and discharge dirty electricity from wifi signals, cell phones, computers and other electronic devices that degrade our cells and disrupt sleep. Outdoor exercise is a modern day must for desk and indoor workers. Ironically, the more time you spend inside connected, the more it's imperative you spend outside disconnected. Earth Runners sandals mentioned earlier also have a built in copper plug in the soles of their sandals to allow for negative ion flow for “earthing” or “grounding” similar to walking barefoot in grass, on the beach or dirt which has numerous healing benefits. Even turn other minimalist footwear into grounding shoes with their Earthing Shoe DIY kit. You might also want to check out this amazing podcast with Ben Greenfield interviewing Clint Ober on the effects of earthing and grounding. After this, I promise you will go unshod every chance you get.
It’s Free, Interesting And The Only Thing You Need
No gym membership and no fancy equipment to buy. Just you, the outdoors and your desire to explore your surroundings. Plus you can discover new and exciting wildlife and previously unexplored areas. You’ll come across bunnies, lizards, squirrels, birds, snakes (yikes!). Just be careful. Nature is beautiful but can also be dangerous. Sometimes it may be best to admire without disturbing unless you know what you’re doing.
See, with the outdoors and nature all around you, really don’t need a gym to exercise or accomplish your health and fitness goals. They’re great, fun and can offer nice amenities, but you don’t need one to get fit or get healthier. What you do need is fresh air, sunlight and to be grounded if you want to thrive and not just live. If you start keeping this in mind you can eliminate a big hurdle that causes a number of people to skip exercise altogether. The infamous “I don’t have time to go to the gym!” excuse. You very well may not, but having time to go to the gym and having time to exercise are two very different things. The gym is anywhere you are. Your house, your office, any secluded or open space and of course, the great outdoors, are yours for the fitness taking.
Ways to Workout Outside
Find a park, grassy field or desert
I personally love a secluded barren desert with some boulders to throw around. Finding objects difficult to handle with uneven loads challenges the body in a completely different way. This is truly functional training. Always training in a linear, even loaded fashion is fine but doesn’t pose the same real world scenarios that provide a better stimulus and greater balance and core strengthening that offset loading affords, which you’ll inevitably be exposed to if you’re lifting with what you find in your natural environment. This can definitely be done in a gym, but outside you won’t even have to think about training this way. Using what you find around you, it'll just happen and you’ll get all the other benefits of being outdoors. A lot of parks have a dedicated exercise area too with monkey bars, parallel bars, ladders, ropes, pull up bars and sit up stations. And if not, a park still has what you need to get a good workout. A grass field, a bench, a trail, or just simply space (and sometimes you don’t need a whole lot of space either). Go ahead, jump around, play and exercise.
Plyometrics, Isometrics, Calisthenics & The Environment
Plyometrics, where you perform dynamic explosive movements to develop your speed and power. Sometimes with a little less intensity if you’re just starting out or just looking to tone up. These are fantastic for an outdoor workout as you’ll be breathing hard and the invigorating, therapeutic benefit of fresh air gives you better oxygenation and aerobic capacity (unless you’re around copious amounts of smog). Isometrics where you hold a position without moving, press against a wall, tree or other fixed object or yourself (glute squeezes anyone?) are great for outdoor or indoor exercise. These can be done anywhere you find even the smallest space. Valuable when you don't have time or space for anything else. You can even do isometric exercises undetected in the presence of other people. Start isometrically pushing or pulling against any fixed object you can securely grab onto and push or pull in a pulsing fashion. You can push your legs or thighs against fixed objects as well or even against your own arms. Calf raises are simple enough to be done standing or sitting wherever you are. Do them single leg without raising your whole body. These techniques can allow you to get a workout in and no one will ever know. These are all things that can be done outside or inside to stay stoned and strong all the time. You don’t always need to do an intense, brutal workout to stay fit. In fact, too much or too many extremely intense workouts done too often can actually work against you by overtraining and adrenal fatigue (which can be caused by too much exercise or other stressors such as familial, financial or work). Calisthenics is another great body weight workout option, which in my opinion, is actually best done outdoors. This type of exercise involves a variety of exercises and movements that target large muscle groups and multiple muscles at the same time and can greatly increase your level of fitness in a short amount of time. A fantastic way to get in your cardio and resistance training simultaneously. Find a set of bars at the park or even use tree branches and get to work.
Take A Walk
Walking is one of the most underrated forms of exercise there is. You can drastically improve body composition by simply walking and a nutritious, whole food diet. For many individuals, due to certain conditions, this may be the best or only option for exercise and maintaining movement of the body. This also is a great way for anyone to get started exercising. With many conditions this is a great way to speed up healing and keep the blood circulating. Of course, do anything according to your ability and specific circumstance, but walking and incorporating a few extra steps in your day can do wonders for your overall health. Walk to the grocery store with a backpack and walk back, park farther away (especially if you’re going to the gym!), walk to the farther restroom (if you can hold it), walk to the farther checkout stand, take the stairs instead of the elevator, clean up a spill instead of calling someone else and get the benefit of walking and moving as you gather the supplies and clean up the mess. Walking and just taking a few extra steps in any action you take or in your daily travels will yield great benefits in the long run...or walk.
No matter what your goals or reasons for exercise are, just remember to move. Bruce Lee said “Be water, my friend” to adapt to your environment. This also means be like a stream, moving water. Keep flowing and moving. Adjust to your surroundings and find a way to move. Stagnation in a pond breeds disease. It's flowing water that's pure. So goes for the body.
The rocks, the dirt and the trees are your playground. The terrain and the elements are your trainer. Your creativity and desire is your program. Your body is your equipment.
The world is your gym.
Written by Eric Morris Jr
Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. (NKJV)
This applies to all aspects of development both physical and mental. Let's talk about the physical (nutritional) aspects for now, which do spill over into the mental. Children require the best nutrition from the start. Just like anything else starting out strong will undoubtedly give you an advantage.
In the Bible, the parents of John the Baptist and Samson were given instructions on how to care for themselves and the children they were to bring into the world to produce offspring with sound physical and mental capacities to complete the work ahead of them. Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, was told that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son named John and “...he would be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He would also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” - Luke 1:15.
Manoah, father of Samson, had a wife who was told that she would bear a son who would be a deliverer (defender) of her people. She was instructed “Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink and not to eat anything unclean” being dedicated for a purpose "...until the day of his death” -Judges 13:4,7.
Did you know the first 3 years of a child’s life are some of the most important? “It is a time of rapid cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional and motor development” (1) and in their first year alone "babies triple their birth weight. To grow that much, they need a lot of nutrients -- more than at any other time in their life" (2)
It’s especially important during this time to achieve optimal nutrition for brain development. Essential fatty acids and omega 3, choline (helps brain cells in the production of acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter for mental focus and learning (3) and iodine (sea vegetables are a great source) for brain and cognitive development. I know we think of vitamin c for the immune system. That is true but let’s not forget vitamin A for helping your child resist illness and infection (vitamin A is fat soluble so get those healthy fats!) as well as skin, hair and vision. Since these are all required nutrients even before the baby is eating solid food it’s crucial that the mother eat a well-balanced, nutrient rich diet so this can be passed on to the child in her milk and then of course, instill these healthy habits into them as children for life long health.
Dr. Weston A. Price was Canadian dentist who firmly believed in the relationship that existed between nutrition, dental and physical health. He stressed the importance of getting good fats and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K (dark leafy greens and vegetables are good sources of K1 and good sources for K2 are egg yolks, fermented foods like sauerkraut and natto along with fatty fish, organ meats and hard cheeses). He was intrigued by the common occurrence of dental cavities and tooth decay in modern westernized culture even with our modern dentistry and observed that “primitive” cultures with no access to such had well-formed teeth and bones and almost no dental issues. When he analyzed the foods used by isolated peoples, he found that, in comparison to the American diet of his day, they provided at least four times the water-soluble vitamins, calcium and other minerals, and at least TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins...” (5). Interestingly, getting adequate amounts of good fats and fat-soluble vitamins is linked to symmetrical development (6).
Even though he advocated for a diet rich in animal foods as good sources for these nutrients, which is true, you can also get the same from a plant-based diet if you choose. You can do so with proper food preparation such as soaking, sprouting, fermenting (increasing bio-availability) and food combining (7). Keep in mind these cultures were eating grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic free meat and dairy.
-Recommended Amounts for Adequate Intake (AI)*:
Omega 3 fats for children
*Established when evidence is insufficient to develop an RDA (13)
Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) in international units (IU) and micrograms (mcg).
-Vitamin A (Beta-carotene plant form)
Note: Sunlight, supplementation and mushrooms exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet light are best vegan sources. Also, adults 70+ need 800 IU (20mcg)
Note: Adults 51+ need 18 IU (12mcg)/day
-Adequate Intake* (AI) in micrograms (mcg) for Vitamin K
Note: There are two types of Vitamin K, K1 (phylloquinone) and K2 (menaquinone). You need both. K1 is found in plant sourced foods. K2 is found mainly in animal foods but also in fermented plant foods such as natto and tempeh (fermented soy), sauerkraut, kombucha and is has been shown to be created by intestinal flora (gut bacteria) (15), so probiotics can be beneficial. Egg yolks are a good vegetarian but not vegan option.
Other Important Nutrients Include:
Let's not forget babies and toddlers need exercise too. They just need to move. "The need for even the very young to be physically active is something parents often don't understand," (4).
-Jane Clark, PhD, professor and chair of the department of kinesiology at the University of Maryland.
"The earlier infants, toddlers, and preschool children get exposure to daily movement and exercise, the better the likelihood of healthy development in later life," Clark says.
So, All In All...
The main takeaway is to have variety and a balanced diet to get these important nutrients and best coming from a whole food, natural diet and refrain from the processed, refined and sugary foods. All this ends up in our bodies and is what brain, bone and muscle is made of. So, it’s definitely important to start off right and instill healthy habits right from birth.
Parent and child need to get exercise and physical activity. Great to do it together and form stronger bonds as well. Movement helps the circulation and blood flow, which increases nutrient delivery, which helps organs and cells get what they need better, which means better development in every area of mind and body. A beautiful chain reaction. All this being done from the onset creates health of mind and body that lasts into old age. Truly, healthy habits learned from infancy can last a lifetime. I would not doubt any centenarian I come across was a robust little tike ;)
It’s easy to forget how important what we put into our body is. It affects us in ways we may not even realize. It’s known that our diet not only affects our health but our personality and mood as well (8) and starting as soon as we can to develop good health and a healthy mind and character is something we should do. The health of the body affects the mind, the mind affects the thinking and our thinking affects our morals and behavior.
"Mental and moral power is dependent upon the physical health.”
“Physical and moral health are closely united”
-Ellen G. White, Healthful Living
1. Ensure intake of all nutrients and a well-balanced diet and focus on getting enough good fats, omega 3s, choline, iodine and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K for brain development and resistance to illness.
Sources of good fats include grass-fed, organic dairy/meat, organic free-range or pastured eggs, wild caught fish, olive oil, algal oil which is a great vegan source of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)/DHA (docosohexaenoic acid), chia and flax seeds which are great sources of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) (16) which converts into EPA and DHA, other nuts and seeds (preferably soaked or sprouted) such as walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, pepitas or pumpkin seeds. For Vitamins A, D, E & K eat leafy green vegetables, broccoli, brussels sprouts, yellow/orange fruits and veggies (will convert beta-carotene to vit. A in the body), best lightly steamed or cooked, whole grains (preferably soaked/sprouted), pastured eggs, organic liver. Also get a moderate amount of sunlight for vitamin D.
2. Avoid processed or fast food as much as possible. Enjoy homecooked meals (cooking with the family is fun and builds strong family bonds). Avoid refined sugar. Sugar should be natural and unrefined like the type found in raw honey or fresh fruits and vegetables.
3. Kids mimic what they see. If they see you practicing healthy habits, they're likely to want to do it too.
Ben Greenfield Podcast:
-10 Ways To Grow Tiny Superhumans – Ben Greenfield’s Top Tips For Raising Strong, Resilient Happy Kids
-Why You shouldn’t Let Modern Baby Food Anywhere Near Your Baby (& What To Use Instead To Make Your Baby Stronger And Smarter)
-Counsels on Diet and Foods
by Ellen G White
-The healthiest baby food I’ve come across: Serenity Kids
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