When I’m not writing essays or mothering my two kids (chasing my 18-month-old boy and negotiating with my five-year-old girl), I work as a physical therapist. Along with the usual musculoskeletal questions – "Oh hey, my knee has been popping for months. What do I do?" – people always ask me for shortcuts to being healthy, which is a question I don’t generally like answering.
There are no shortcuts. You eat well, you get enough sleep, and you exercise. And maybe drink a glass of wine at night for sanity. Make it red.
But the other day, as I observed my son I thought, I have a perfect prescription for health. Behave like a baby. Okay, so that sounds strange, but read on and maybe it’ll make sense.
Have you ever watched a baby move? Granted, their center of gravity is much lower than your average adult, but just watch. My son will squat with perfect form to pick up every single object he wants to inspect, play with, or decide if it’s tasty enough to be inserted in his mouth.
Sometimes he will remain in an isometric squat hold while making his determinations about what to do with the soggy piece of chicken he found at the park. I tried it. I squatted like he does, back straight, tush back, perfect form. Ten minutes and my legs were on fire.
You want a bikini ready body? Fit into your skinny jeans? No problem. Squat like a baby. All day long.
My son will try to be like his sister and climb steps on his feet versus crawling up. But regardless of his method, he rotates his hip so that he can push up the stairs using his butt as the primary mover instead of any other part of his leg. It shows.
His butt is solid muscle unlike the flat butts we frequently see on adults. As adults, we are so accustomed to only using our butts for sitting rather than as the force driving walking or running or climbing. Hence the numerous injuries to our backs and knees.
Babies are constantly moving so they can explore their surroundings. I’ve never seen a couch potato baby.
Even better? Don’t spend more than 10 minutes per meal eating! My son has the attention span of a gnat for eating. He will eat just enough to satiate his hunger before demanding to be let out of his chair. Then about an hour or so later, he will want several more bites of food. Just enough to keep him going to the next hour.
All in all, I think he eats the equivalent of three square meals, but spread out over the day. Seems healthier than stuffing ourselves to the point of not being able to move or having to loosen your pants after a meal. His metabolism works at warp speed, and I’m convinced that, aside from his age, it’s thanks to his tendency to eat constantly.
I know. Who has time for that? But I think the world would just be a much more peaceful, healthy place if we could all have a good night’s sleep, plus a solid nap each day.
Feel like throwing an outright temper tantrum because you can’t figure out how to open a trash can so that you can extract every piece of nastiness inside? Have a snooze and retackle the problem that ails you once you’re rested. For an adult, it may be something more challenging, but it’s all relative.
Instead, distract easily. Ever notice how a baby (we’re talking younger than two, let’s not kid ourselves) gets upset about something, and then within seconds gets distracted and moves on?
My son may be contentedly playing with something when my daughter decides to snatch it from him just because she can. His tantrum is immediate, forceful, and then it’s magically over when I dangle a new toy in his face.
Just imagine. Your boss yells at you, your spouse wants a divorce, you’re filing for bankruptcy. Cue inner tantrum, but oh! There’s a butterfly flitting by. I feel better.
Babies are so excited about the smallest of things. When did we stop getting excited about a cloud in the sky that is shaped like a lion? Or a flower so vibrant that it appears to be painted. Or someone blowing raspberries on your belly?
Okay, maybe not that. But seriously. It takes something much more grandiose to excite an adult. Winning the lottery, perhaps. I think if we all just found joy in the smallest of things each day, we could be healthier and happier.
Let’s face it. How often do the big things happen? Not often. We need to access that part of ourselves that feels delighted by the little ones.
At what age does self-awareness begin? When do we begin to notice or care what other people are thinking about us?
My five-year-old is very aware already. Just the other day, she had a full-blown meltdown. Why? Because she didn’t want my husband to spray leave-in conditioner in her hair to tame the nest that sits on her head each morning, just beckoning for a bird to lay an egg. When questioned about her freak out, she admitted that her friend said her hair looked “greasy and gross.” What the heck?
My son on the other hand, I could send him out in a clown costume, naked, or with crazy rat's nest hair. You name it. He looks in the mirror and is enchanted by his reflection nonetheless.
In this era of needing to work to accept ourselves, we could all take a page out of a baby’s playbook. Stop worrying what anyone else thinks. As Billy Joel says, “Keep it to yourself, it’s my life.”