The Rhythm of Health

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Imagine you’re a car. Would you do better cruising down the freeway with your wheels maintaining a steady pace, or would you rather be stuck in stop-and-go city traffic, speeding up, slowing down, never getting a chance to run smoothly? Which way would you get better mileage? Which way would your engine last longer?

People depend on rhythm more than cars do. Each body has its own rhythms — optimum patterns of wake and sleep, activity and rest — which most of us ignore. Living in a regular pattern allows us to flow along like a car on a freeway or like those elders who seem to go on and on, sustained by little except habit.

In his book, The Blue Zones, Dan Buettner reports on people who live to be over 100. He identifies nine key factors in super-long life, but the one that jumps out at me is rhythm. These folks do the same things in the same ways, for years. They don’t go chasing around or changing work and seeking entertainment. They just enjoy life.

I probably wouldn’t want to live as simply as they do, but if we want to live long and feel good, it helps to get in some kind of a groove. Have regular times to get up and go, slow down and rest, regular times to eat and exercise, to see people and do other things that are important to you.

Of course, we need variety too. The idea isn’t to make every day exactly the same, but to live easily and regularly whatever we do. Is this something you can do? Is your life as regular as you would like? How do changes in your life patterns affect your diabetes self-care and control?

Listen to the Beat
Yesterday I went to the Carnaval parade in San Francisco. Three hours of music, dancing, costumes, and creativity. Very sexy, very fun. It made me feel good. I think a lot of the benefit came from hearing and moving to the rhythms, because rhythm is good for you.

Music or a recorded drumbeat can help people with Parkinson disease, multiple sclerosis, or stroke walk better. Drumming has become a valued social activity in senior centers and nursing homes, because it promotes social interaction and improves functioning in people with conditions such as Alzheimer disease and arthritis.

It makes sense that rhythm would be good for us, because our hearts and brains need to keep up regular rhythms to function well. Our liver, pancreas, and other organs have daily rhythms affecting hormone production, digestion, and glucose metabolism. On a deep level, rhythm is essential to life.

So it’s good to have more music in your life, and it’s good to have things on a regular schedule. Self-care activities, family times, rest times, times for the important things! Otherwise, we miss them in the crush of craziness society throws at us.

Other Rhythms
There are also weekly, monthly, and annual rhythms we should try to keep. Taking a Sabbath day is a great health practice, so much so that they put it in the Ten Commandments! (For all the good that did… most people still don’t take a day to stop working and appreciate life.)

We may also want to follow the recommendations of Chinese medicine and move toward a rhythm of living with the seasons. They say spring is the time for starting new things; winter is the time for resting, and so on, like the Earth does.

Does any of this make sense to you? Have you tried to live like this, and how has that gone?

I write about stuff like this because I’m trying to remind myself to do it. It’s hard for me to keep my rhythm. It’s hard for most of us, I think. Modern society tends to disrupt it. We live by clocks; we’re constantly being bothered by incoming noise, calls, unwanted information. When I look at TV commercials, with all their jump cuts, flashing lights, and loud noise, it makes me tired.

We are constantly pushed to go out and try the latest new product or entertainment. And we are pulled to work harder for longer to make ends meet. It’s hard to get in the flow.

If you are interested in this topic, I wrote more about it in my first book, The Art of Getting Well. But it’s easier to write about stuff than to do it! These days, I often think that if I could live with more rhythm, I’d be much healthier and more comfortable.

So maybe you can help. How do you keep your rhythm amid all the noise society surrounds us with? Let us know what’s working and not working for you.

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