I’ve recently had the wonderful fortune of spending time with a little baby. Baby E and his mother came to stay for a few days last month, and then yesterday we went for a hike together (yes, he’s a good hiker!!). On both occasions, he reminded me of some important lifestyle medicine lessons that we can all too quickly forget as adults.
Here are Baby E’s lifestyle medicine lessons and reminders for us all:
Start each day with a good stretch
Baby E is a great stretcher. He wakes up, and his arms and legs do incredible stretches, to get his body going. But, he doesn’t stop there. He adds stretches throughout his day, particularly when he’s been confined for a while – like in his seat. Whenever I stretch now, I think of E. For us adults, we can keep it simple too – not a big stretch routine, rather just move your arms and legs when you get up in the morning and after sitting down for too long. It doesn’t have to be an exertion – just getting things moving again. And moving those large joints will help get the lymph flowing in our body.
Wriggle, don’t just sit still
In the same vein as stretching, E loves to wriggle and just keep moving. He also doesn’t like it when his mom stops moving while she’s carrying him. So often, and rightly, we hear about the importance of exercise, but we shouldn’t forget the importance of physical activity too. When you think about our ancestors, they weren’t at classes in a gym – but they were active every day. Yes, there is plenty of data on the benefits of different types of exercise, and if you enjoy it, I’m not suggesting you stop. But if you don’t enjoy exercise classes or have trouble finding time for them, make sure you are physically active. Lots of little things during the day all add up. Baby E is still gaining control of his muscles, but he’s practicing hard at getting his moves on!
When we are born, we are great breathers. We don’t shallow breathe, with all the motion in our chest – we breathe from much lower down in our abdomen. Next time you see a baby, look at how much movement there is in their abdomen as they breathe. As they breathe in, their abdomen relaxes out, and as they breathe out, it comes back in. As adults, we often get into the reverse of that, with our tummy going in as we inhale and then out when we exhale. Check your breathing now – put one hand on your chest and another on your abdomen and slowly breathe in and out. Notice which hand is moving most and whether the abdomen hand moves out with the inhale. It takes practice to get back to abdominal breathing. Try to breathe in for a count of four and out for eight. This helps with relaxation as it stimulates the vagal nerve.
Nap during the day
Of course, babies need much more sleep than we do – but seeing them taking short 20-40 minute naps is a good reminder for us. There are lots of benefits of naps in the afternoon. Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t seem to encourage them. Do you have a chance for a nap during the day? Can you at least take a nap during the weekend? I know I love my Saturday nap – the one I strive for each week. Don’t always manage it – but when I do, I’m happy.
Baby E knows what he likes and what he doesn’t like. He can be quite particular and isn’t afraid to let you know if it is something he doesn’t like. While I’m not suggesting we start crying when things don’t quite go our way, maybe we can remember that it’s OK to be different from others. Keep our individuality and be authentic. We don’t have to do what everyone else does. Let’s be ourselves and feel good about it. We all have our strengths and weaknesses – but too often we focus on our weaknesses and forget that we are all different. While I might be weak in something, I have strengths too. They might be different from other people’s, but it doesn’t make me any worse than anyone else – or any better.
Eat when hungry
Babies show us just how attuned we are to our hunger when we are born. Yes, they might be on pretty good schedules but if, for whatever reason, hunger comes 10 minutes earlier than mom expects, you can be sure the baby will let you know! Yet many of us forget our hunger signals. We get into habits regarding time or boredom or …. and eat when we aren’t hungry. Try not being fixed to the clock and figuring out if you are hungry or not.
Find joy in the little things
On our hike, Baby E was looking all around him. He had fresh eyes for new things. For the ocean, for nature, for the scenery. He was just gazing around. Sometimes we forget to look at the beauty all around. Maybe we are on our phones or chatting… but next time you are outside – take a look around you, whether it is in nature, or in a city. There is still wonderment all around. Notice your environment – and the beauty of it all.
The power of a smile
When Baby E smiles, it makes my heart flutter. The power of that little smile is incredible. And when I think about it, I realize that when a stranger smiles at me as I walk by or drive past them, that too can have a significant impact. So let us not forget to smile. It can make a big difference in the lives of others. Maybe it will help them feel connected? Maybe it will encourage them to smile in return?
Always ready for a hug
Baby E loves his hugs and cuddles. And who doesn’t? But hugs work both ways – I love giving them to him. It’s a great reminder how important human contact is for us. Be open to receiving hugs, and give them generously.
Thank you, Baby E. You are a joy and a wonderful inspiration for us all.