Diet and exercise. Two of the most talked about topics in our culture today. We want to look good. We want to feel good. We want to avoid diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease. And what about cancer, Alzheimers, IBS, and fibromyalgia? Can we out-diet and out-exercise those? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that the body is designed to ensure that we live long, healthy, vibrant, and productive lives. And although we cannot control everything, we can help the body do its best to support us in our goals.
The body is an amazing feat of engineering. While I was taking classes toward a Masters in Complementary Alternative Medicine, what I learned in my anatomy and physiology courses blew my mind. The complexity and preciseness needed for our bodies to function is truly astounding and, in my mind, every day that we are alive is nothing short of miraculous.
Despite how we treat it or how we feel about it, the body steadfastly continues its mission to keep us alive and thriving.
When you look at all of the systems the body needs to monitor and stabilize, the processes it needs to implement, and the corrective measures it must take to undo the choices that we make, it’s a wonder we exist past our first breath.
Do you remember the 1966 science fiction film The Incredible Journey? It’s about a submarine crew that is shrunk down and placed inside a microscopic submarine so they can venture inside the human body to repair damage done to an injured scientist’s brain. While we are not quite there yet with modern technology, let’s take an outside look at some of the inner workings of the body to illustrate just how amazing it truly is.
The Systems of the body
There are 11 systems of the body that work together 24/7 to keep these living, breathing, carbon-based, organic machines running. These systems function continuously every second of every day without us having to think about it—EVER. Without getting into too much detail, here are the 11 systems and what they do.
- Circulatory System – internal transportation system
- Digestive System – break down food and excrete waste
- Endocrine System – regulates bodily functions
- Immune System – the body’s defense against harmful pathogens
- Integumentary System – our skin which is our first line of defense from the outside world
- Muscular System – 650 muscles that enable us to move, and keep other functions going
- Nervous System – communication system which controls voluntary and involuntary actions
- Reproductive System – how we perpetuate our species
- Respiratory System – enables us to breathe
- Skeletal System – 206 bones that support our bodies and produce blood cells
- Urinary System – eliminates waste
I’m sure you remember learning about the human body and its systems in your science classes in school. Many processes in these 11 systems happen automatically without any conscious effort on our part. This is called the autonomic nervous system. It includes such things as our heart beating, breathing, our blood circulating, sweating, digesting, balancing, sensing, muscles extending and contracting, and blinking just to name a few. These and so many other functions happen each and every second of the day completely on autopilot.
And despite how we push it or neglect it, the body just goes about keeping us alive like it ain’t no thing.
Not only does the body have to perform all of these functions, it also needs to monitor and maintain them continuously. Our internal environment must be kept within strict parameters in order for our body systems to function at optimal levels. This is called homeostasis.
The key to good health and vitality is homeostasis. Homeostasis is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a relatively stable state of equilibrium or a tendency toward such a state between the different but interdependent elements or groups of elements of an organism.” Basically, it means that in order for an organism (i.e., humans) to continue to live, many systems and parts need to be constantly monitored and adjusted to maintain optimal working order.
The human body monitors and adjusts our internal environment constantly without us ever thinking about it. Some examples of this are
- temperature—the body must be maintained at 98.6 F for optimal performance.
- pH—pH refers to the balance between acidic and alkaline. The body must monitor and adjust the pH of blood, saliva, and urine, just to name a few. Seven is considered neutral. The human body should have an overall pH (blood and cells) of 7.35 to 7.45 which is slightly alkaline.
- glucose levels—The normal blood glucose level (tested while fasting) should be between 3.9 and 7.1 mmol/L and fluctuates throughout the day
- blood pressure is measured by using the systolic pressure (pressure in your arteries during the contraction of your heart muscle) over the diastolic pressure (blood pressure when your heart muscle is between beats.) Ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg.
- Cholesterol is a type of lipid and is an essential component of animal cell membranes. Normal levels should be below 200 (mg/dL)
- proper balance of water in cells
- oxygen levels
When these processes fall outside of normal parameters, disease is introduced into the body. And the body does its best to counteract the disease and return to homeostasis. For example, when our bodies are infiltrated by bacteria or viruses, our temperature goes up. The body adjusts to combat the foreign elements to get back to its normal temperature.
And we are all aware of the impact glucose can have when not within the acceptable parameters. Type 2 diabetes is on the rise and an astounding number of children are being diagnosed with the disease. For this reason, glucose is monitored and changes to diet and activity are recommended to stave off the disease. Again, your choices can help support the body’s mission of homeostasis.
Another parameter often talked about is cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is an essential component of our cell membranes, but too much can cause a heart attack or stroke. There are many lifestyle changes we can make to help our bodies maintain a proper level of cholesterol. Diet and activity play a vital role.
These are just a few of the elements that the body is constantly monitoring and adjusting. Our external environment and our choices have a tremendous impact on our internal environment. Our bodies are continuously receiving stimuli, analyzing it, and making the appropriate adjustments. Everything we breathe, eat, drink, touch, and even think has a profound impact on our body. That we exist and flourish is nothing short of a miracle when you think about all we encounter in a given day.
Supporting the Body
Hopefully, this simplified peek inside our inner workings gives you a new appreciation for your body and its complex processes and functions. I also hope that you realize that you and your body are allies. Sure over time, as we get older, some of the processes begin to slow down or parts begin to wear out. But if you proactively assist the body with its tireless pursuit of life, you have a greater chance of having a full, active, and prolonged experience here on earth with a decreased risk of disease or injury. Here are some easy ways you can support the body and be a healthier you.
- Food – Eat mindfully. Try to select foods that are in or close to their original form. Stay away from processed foods. Eat organic, if possible.
- Activity – Move each and every day. Go for a walk. Take a bicycle ride. Swim. Dance. Do some gardening or yard work. The key is to find an activity you like to do. Otherwise, it will feel like a chore and you won’t want to do it.
- Personal care – Be mindful of the products that you use for personal care. Choose natural products when possible. Remember, your skin is the largest organ in your body. Everything you put on it gets absorbed into your internal environment. You can also disrupt the body’s natural excretion processes.
- Cleaning products – Try to use all-natural cleaning products. If you are using harsh toxic chemicals while cleaning, you breathe in the chemicals, you get it on your skin if you do not wear gloves, and the residue that’s left could be absorbed through touch or even accidentally ingested.
- Water – Clean drinking water is very important. Install a whole house water filtration system, a filter on your kitchen sink, or get a pitcher with a built in replaceable filter.
- Air – Make sure to replace your air conditioning filter each season. Wear a respirator or mask when you are creating a lot of dust or doing house repairs.
- Stress – Take time out each day to just breathe and center yourself. Even if you only have 15 minutes to spare, take that time to do something that gives you some relief. Journal, listen to music, lock yourself in the bathroom and just sit in quiet, sit on the patio with a glass of wine. Just be.
We do not have control over everything we come in contact with, but we can make choices that support our well-being and make our bodies work just a little less hard.
You don’t have to starve yourself. You don’t have to run a marathon. You don’t have to wear a mask. You don’t have to stop shaving your legs or give up coloring your hair or wearing makeup. Just be mindful in your choices. Do what feels right for you and for your family. Remember, the choice is yours. How will you live yourself well?