08 May Stay Well
Are you taking care of yourself?
[Note: This JOT is adapted from Mother Nurture, a book written for mothers – focusing on typical parenting situations and gender differences that are experienced by many, though not all, mothers and fathers, and by parents in same sex relationships. Parenting is a complex subject, plus it intertwines with larger issues of gender roles and the long history of mistreatment of women; obviously society should do a better job of supporting families in general and mothers and fathers in particular, but meanwhile there are things they can do for themselves; alas, there is no room for these complexities in these brief JOTs; for my discussion of them, please see Mother Nurture.]
Most mothers say that parenting is one of the most fulfilling experiences of their life – as well as the most demanding, stressful, and draining. Studies show that bearing and rearing children is commonly disturbing and depleting to a woman’s body, especially over the long term, past the postpartum period, after a woman falls off the radar of the healthcare system.
No mother wants her experience of raising children to be shadowed by fatigue, nagging aches and pains, or emerging health problems. Not only is it a shame, it’s also harder to function at a high level at home, at work, or in an intimate relationship when running oneself into the ground. Many mothers have more or less resigned themselves to this condition, but the fact is that with some simple, common-sense practices, most mothers can reclaim a strong sense of health and vitality.
The moms who stay energetic, avoid illness, and keep some reserves in their “health bank” do these essential things:
- Get enough sleep.
- Eat right.
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid health hazards.
- Have regular checkups.
Sure, easier said than done. But at least you can do what you can, whatever is realistically possible for you, in this direction.
Get Enough Sleep
There’s an old saying: The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, and the journey to health starts with sleep. Most people need at least seven or eight hours of sleep each day; a person with a hardworking, stressful life-like a mother-often needs even more, and it is vital to make sure you’re getting enough. Insufficient sleep can lead to gastrointestinal troubles, a weakened immune system, and slow repair of strained or sore muscles acquired through routine activities like hauling children out of car seats. It also causes poor concentration and memory, lowers mood, and shortens a person’s emotional fuse.
To get better sleep, do what you can so that you are able to do mentally restful activities during the hour or so before bedtime, like reading casually, watching TV, or taking a bath. Don’t pay bills at night-or talk about them with your partner, and agree to table until the following day any potentially difficult discussions. Keep a pad and pen by your bedside to write down any thoughts or reminders for the next day, so you can get them out of your head. And if you meditate, a self-compassion meditation a few minutes before bed can help open the velvet trapdoor to sleep.
There are basically two ways to shift a diet in a healthier direction: (1) make sweeping changes all at once, or (2) work into it. Whichever path is chosen, it’s important to stay on it until the result is truly mother-nurturing nutrition. Slip-ups happen now and then, so just get back on the path at the next meal. Optimizing nutrition often takes several tries, but each time something improves. Even small changes in the right direction add up as the years go by.
Every day try to eat: eight to twelve ounces of protein; five to seven servings of fresh vegetables, and one to two fruits; unrefined oils and essential fatty acids instead of refined or hydrogenated oils, or trans-fatty acids; two to five servings of unrefined; varied whole grains; organic foods whenever possible; high potency nutritional supplements (to make up for the deficits of micronutrients, especially minerals, in the real world of most people’s actual diets); and zero or little refined sugar.
Any good fitness program balances the development of aerobic capacity and strength. The goal is to work up to keeping the heart beating fast (but not more than 140 times a minute) for at least twenty to thirty minutes, three or four times a week. No matter how out of shape one might be, or super-busy, there’s always a way to get the blood moving. (Of course, adapt these general suggestions to your own body and any vulnerabilities it has.)
You can try going for a walk or run, riding a bike, taking an aerobics class or using the equipment in a gym, going for a swim, exercising in the comfort of your home, doing yoga to exercise your mind as well as your body, and/or strength training.
Avoid Health Hazards
Health also means not exposing your body to hazards like environmental toxins, smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, or excessive weight: these wear on health at a time when moms can least afford it, like trying to run a marathon while carrying a couple of bricks.
Have Regular Checkups
Depletion starts at the molecular level in your body, and it can go a long way before becoming really obvious. To stay healthy, it’s important to catch little things before they get big: putting off checkups until illness occurs is like searching the stable for clues after the horse has run away.