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Eat, drink, pee: Basic life functions we screw up

By Jennifer Nelson

As you putter through the day tackling your to-do list, do you ever stop and wonder whether you do the little things right? You know, basic life functions like drink, pee and breathe. (Come on. No one really stops to consider if they’re peeing correctly.) Here’s the scoop on whether you’re bungling the basics:

Your first mistake: Not peeing enough

Health fallout: The bladder is an extremely adaptable organ. Cells in the bladder actually have elastic properties and are stretchable and forgiving so periodically holding urine like when you’re on a road trip waiting for the next rest stop, or in the middle of an episode of “30 Rock,” shouldn’t cause significant problems. “But repeatedly or chronically holding it might increase your risk for urinary tract infections or even incontinence,” says Dr. Doug Hansen, medical director at Altitude Family and Internal Medicine in Denver and assistant professor of family medicine at University of Colorado. The bladder is like a rubber band. If you keep stretching it out by “holding it,” at some point it won’t spring back by emptying fully. The remaining urine gets trapped leading to infection and incontinence issues.

The fix: Hit the restroom six to seven times per day when you have the “got-to-go” feeling, no matter what. When you have to go, go!

Your second mistake: Forgetting to daydream

What you’re doing wrong: “We spend most of our time in this brain state called the beta brain wave, which is associated with our logical thinking but it’s not a very inspirational state,” says Hansen. Daydreaming puts you into an alpha state where you are much more capable of creativity and inspiration. This is the feel-good state you’re in when you just wake up or fall asleep. It’s the same state a person reaches during meditation.

Health fallout: If you never daydream, zone out or chill long enough to enjoy this state, you never fully recharge, become inspired or have creative ideas. The alpha state can not only improve your emotions, but it can also improve your physical health. There are studies in the works that show reaching the alpha state through meditation specifically might lower the risk of both heart attack and cancer.

The fix: How much do you need to daydream? Experts say it’s hard to gauge but try to make time for a little alpha- recharging several times a day. Take 10 minutes to zone out and reflect on nothing in particular, focus on a fantasy like you won the lottery or landed your dream job, or try a mini-meditation.

Your third mistake: Eating too fast

What you’re doing wrong: Wolfing down meals at the kitchen counter, your desk or in front of the tube.

Health fallout: In addition to heartburn, gas and indigestion, there’s good evidence that mindless gobbling sets the stage for obesity and eating disorders. Plus, it takes the brain 20 minutes to register the feeling of fullness, so if you blow past that by stuffing yourself silly, you tend to bypass satiety. When you eat too fast, it’s less enjoyable and more stressful and you probably don’t make the proper food choices either. A lot of food that’s designed to be quick isn’t designed to be healthy.

The fix: “I like mindful eating in that it makes the experience more about the food and all factors that went into it (where it comes from, how it tastes, how it makes one feel), which are lost with mindless eating,” says Dr. Robert Bonakdar, director of pain management for Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, Calif. Start with smaller portions so it takes more time to pack away the chow. Eat before you’re ravenous (six on a 10 hunger scale) and spend 20 to 30 minutes on a meal. This is long enough to receive that satiety signal but not long enough to pile on seconds.

Your fourth mistake: Holding your breath

What you’re doing wrong: Shallow breathing can be the sign of an underlying medical condition like asthma, emphysema, pneumonia, anxiety or neurological disorders. Most of the time, however, it’s just become habit: You’re too busy for deep cleansing breaths.

Health fallout: The problem with shallow breathing is it causes a buildup of carbon dioxide, which can put you at greater risks for pulmonary infections and other lung complications. Plus, you never fully relax without taking deep breaths from the diaphragm.

The fix: First, rule out any worrisome health conditions by seeing your doctor. Then focus on good posture: chest out, shoulders back. Take full deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth several times throughout the day. Allow the abdomen to expand. Finally, take up exercise that engages the respiratory system like walking, swimming or biking. Hansen explains if you fully work out your cardiorespiratory system, deeper breaths will become the norm.

Your fifth mistake: Not drinking enough water

Health fallout: About 60 percent of your body by weight is water and every cell requires water to function properly. “The typical person loses 10 to 12 cups of water daily through urine, sweating, bowel movements and breathing,” Hansen explains. That number could be higher or lower depending on activity level. Food intake accounts for about 20 percent of daily fluid intake. What’s more, it takes a while for your brain to recognize you’re thirsty, so by the time you realize it, you’ve probably waited too long.

The fix: Most people need about 8 to 10 cups of fluid a day to adequately replace losses. “If we are well-hydrated we should probably produce about 6 to 6 1/2 cups of clear to slightly yellow urine daily. And if we produce less or more concentrated urine, then we aren’t getting enough water,” says Hansen. If you drink water all day, which is the way the body tends to use fluids best, you won’t feel thirsty.

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