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Use it or lose it: A common sense approach to healthy living

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I am not a medical doctor.  However, my observation has led me to believe that most of our miseries come from failing to take common sense approach to our lives.  In an effort to adapt to modernity we have lost simple pleasures of life.  We appear to take a complex path to our final destination and getting lost along the way succumbing to fear, greed, pain, and at times an untimely, sad demise.  It generally doesn’t have to be that way, if we only use wisely what was given to us to make our journey of life.  The journey can be happy and memorable in spite of occasional storm, rain, darkness, etc.  Those occasional unpleasant events are equally essential as only through darkness we realize the value of light.

We are born with certain genetic potential for ability to learn, for growth – physical and mental, and how long we can live if all the conditions are satisfied.  However, whether we reach that potential or not depends on influences from our surrounding environment (not just natural, but social, intellectual, political, and other as well), energy (quality and quantity of air, water and food) we consume, and how efficiently we use that energy.  Our physical growth is hampered if our fuel intake is not the right kind and right amount.  The fuel has to be burnt efficiently for reaching output potential.  This has to be done through physical and mental activity.  This is where the “use it or lose it concept” kicks in.

If we do not continue to use or exercise certain elements inherited at birth (such as muscle, brain, etc.) in a proper way or abuse these, these elements fail to grow to its potential or begin to shrink or we may even lose it completely.  Obviously, I am not talking about those that are born with certain unfortunate defects at birth.  Sometimes some losses are associated with the process of evolution, which may happen over thousands of years and not in one lifetime.  Evolution is a natural process of survival in a changing environment where certain functions or elements may not be needed anymore, but certain other elements evolve to adapt to the environment.  Those who cannot adapt tend to perish.  For example, birds of the same species may evolve to have different beaks to be able to find food for survival in its surroundings.  By the same token if modern human beings evolved from monkeys, the tails were lost as these were not needed and not used anymore to hang down from trees or to jump from one tree to another.

The “use it or lose it” I am referring to is about what happens to living beings in their own lifetime.  Generally speaking, the human machine is a very robust machine, although we always tend to say that ‘life is fragile’ in a pessimistic and philosophical way.  This machine is so robust that it takes unusual abuse and still endure, although may not be to its fullest potential.  It has a self-healing process, automatic cell growth process, and an automatic defense mechanism (Immune system).  Getting exposed to a germ, the immune system sends defenders to learn and fight against such foreign invaders, thereby preparing for such an attack in the future (i.e. building immunity or resistance).  When a surgeon cuts open a patient, he or she simply pulls the open parts together and the body knows to grow cells to fuse the opening together to seal it again.  It is miraculous.  Our heart beats regularly.  We take it for granted and fail to take certain measures to allow it to beat to its full genetically inherited life.  Our small kidneys filter gallons of blood every day.  If we lose kidney function, we need a dialysis machine in the size of a small refrigerator.  Our thousands of miles of network of arteries and veins flow hundreds of gallons of blood carrying much needed oxygen to every part of the body.  Our digestive track/stomach uses acid to digest food and continuously rebuild the lining.  Our joints, the tendons & ligaments, the pipeline system, the brain with miraculous computing and memory capacity, the eyes acting like three dimensional camera giving depth perception, the sophisticated hearing mechanism, the fantastic vocal cord that can create music like three-tenors or Lata Mangeskar, and the legs that put in thousands and thousands of miles during a life are just a few unbelievable phenomena that we take for granted.  We realize its value if we lose even a simple body part.  Even losing a single thumb can make our life miserable.  The human body is a marvelous machine and we gain knowledge of every discipline of science, engineering, robotics, computing, feedback control systems etc. by studying this machine and also learn how to achieve the full potential of this fantastic marvelous machine by using it properly and wisely.  It only takes common sense approach.

We tend to take routine care of manmade machineries like changing oil in an automobile, changing filters, keeping the tires inflated to adequate pressure, cleaning the pipelines, painting the surface to prevent corrosion, changing or charging the battery, adding the right fuel as needed, watching the warning signals for any potential problem, and so on.  Yet, we hardly do some of the same things for the human machine.  We take our health, life for granted.  We consume energy (fuel), but it may not be the right kind.  It’s hard to run a jet engine efficiently on regular gasoline.  Water and air, the key ingredients to living, we take in may be polluted, which is usually the case unfortunately in developing or underdeveloped regions of the world.  These wrong intakes, whether natural or self-inflicted (like smoking, excess alcohol, too much oil or fat), give rise to diseases, clogged arteries, dirty pipe, and unnecessary fat (or extreme loss of fat) reducing our life span.  The efficiency of this human machine is expected to reduce some with time.  However, the rate of reduction of efficiency again depends on how we adjust with time (i.e. fuel intake, mental activity, physical activity, etc.).  As metabolism goes down, our fuel intake amount must go down.  However, metabolism goes down even faster if we are not active.  Because the machine is robust, it can take certain amount of unhealthy stuff, but not in excess.  It evolves a defense mechanism (immunity) as it gets exposed to undesired elements (germs etc.) to defeat the enemies.  However, it has a limit and it can be overwhelmed by the excessive undesired elements or the defending army (immune system) can be destroyed leaving life vulnerable even to minor invaders.

The key is how we use or burn up the energy we consume including trace amount of bad stuff.  This requires proper growth and use of the elements.  It requires physical and mental activity.  Proper physical activity builds the muscles, burns fat, keeps a healthy heartbeat, keeps the pipes clean maintaining a desired blood pressure, and helps in the growth of these elements or organs.  As anyone can vouch, a patient lying on a hospital bed loses muscles in no time because of lack of activity.  The same thing happens to a person with sedentary life style.

Obviously, certain amount of undesired element (asbestos, benzene, certain radiation, drugs, etc.) or even desired elements in excess in the fuel composition (sugar, salt, iodine, etc.) or lack of proper nutrients can cause harm to the organs that in turn can shorten longevity, cause poor quality of shortened life or even cause untimely death.  Physical death is stoppage of heartbeat and functioning of brain regardless of which happens first.  Generally, one ensures the other.  So, one must keep both of these functioning to its fullest potential.  To attain this, all other organs or elements must work in unison to their fullest potential.  It is truly a team game or a fine orchestra until the musical piece is played till its natural end.  How it is played depends on how we take care of this marvelous intelligent and hardworking machine.  The orchestra conductor (or the coach) – the brain (the Central Processing Unit) in this case – ensures perfectly timed and tuned performance with inherent limitations of the individual player or limitations (that are controllable) imposed by the individual or its environment.  However, the brain cannot create a great symphony if the physical players are not in harmony or not working as a cohesive team.

The answer to achieve our fullest potential lies in right fuel, right environment, and right exercise – physical and mental.  Obviously, we already talked about fuel.  The environment has two elements – natural and social.  Our natural environment, which is significantly influenced by us, for better or worse, needs to provide proper air and water.  The social environment must provide a learning environment.  A crime laden environment can artificially cut short life, or introduce to bad elements (drug, alcohol, etc.) that reduces life span or does not provide an atmosphere for the brain to “learn” to sustain its growth or to reach its potential regardless of quality of air and water in that environment.  By the same token, too much loud noise can cause untimely hearing impairment.  Too much exposure to sun (some exposure is essential) can cause skin disease.  Skin is the largest organ as an umbrella of protection to the internals of the human machine.  It is the front line defender of our body.  When that protection is gone, we are vulnerable and exposed to the enemies.  Obviously, certain causes (poverty, injustice, natural disaster, etc.) creating certain elements in our environment are beyond an individual’s control.  Those have to be handled as a group, as a government, as a concern for humanity.  But, individual must take charge of what is under his or her direct control and assist to correct the other items as a member of a group or society.

The final and defining part of reaching full potential is the “use it or lose it concept” which requires adequate physical and mental exercise (or training).  Right fuel or right environment alone cannot help us attain that potential.  The machine gathers dust, rots away and like an unused grand piano it doesn’t stay ‘tuned up”.  It’s the human machine’s natural way of discarding what’s not utilized thinking it is not needed anymore.  It happens in front of our eyes.  A bed-ridden patient loses muscle tone in a hurry.  A woman quit producing breast milk when no more babies are conceived, as there is no need for producing such food to nurture a potential new comer.  Sperm production is stopped or reduced drastically when such production is not required as sexual activity is stopped or reduced.  Obviously, such phenomenon takes place naturally as we age.  However, the process is hastened for lack of use or need.  A true physical fitness and health consist of three aspects – strength, endurance, and flexibility.  With proper diet and exercise these can be maintained for a long time other than expected degradation with aging.  The same thing is true about the brain.  If the brain is not exercised, we begin to lose its ability to conduct the orchestra of our life.  We may prematurely lose creativity, analytical ability, emotions, motor skill, memory, co-ordination, reflexes, etc.  This in turn affects the performance of the other organs (or the orchestra members).  So, it is a vicious cycle.  If our brain begins to deteriorate, we begin to lose our physical ability.  Conversely, if our physical organs do not function properly, the brain begins to deteriorate, as it does not receive adequate support from the team members.  Here comes the body and mind concept.  They work hand in hand, i.e. a healthy body in a healthy mind and a healthy mind in a healthy body.

A healthy body and healthy mind also help in faster healing or cure from an unfortunate illness or injury.  Sometimes bad things happen that are beyond one’s control.  Unfortunate tragedy like losing a loved one untimely or a catastrophe like losing everything in a natural disaster can happen in one’s life.  Once again to withstand such adversity – like a strong but flexible age-old tree in a strong wind – one must have extraordinary good health, mental strength, and will power.  This is when mind and body are at its best and can adapt to adversity.  Negative events in life become just a passing storm and a truly healthy person learns to keep a positive attitude or outlook in life with an exemplary control over emotions such as love, hate, grief, anger, greed, frustration, etc.  For an individual to reach its genetic potential (i.e. in longevity as well as in life long accomplishment), mind, and body must be adequately exercised.  They must complement each other assuming basic ingredients of adequate and quality energy and environment have been provided to this marvelous machine.  This machine should be treated like a holy place and keep our body and mind clean and fit.

The least an individual can do in order not to “lose it” too prematurely is to do the right things that are under his or her control.  He or she must pick the best energy source, best environment from what’s available to him or her.  Then one must train the body and the mind to enable them to do what otherwise may seem impossible to do.  The common sense approach is to optimize anything we do, i.e. eating, drinking, exercise and so on.  Too much or too little of anything is bad for our body and mind.  Just like too much germ can kill you, a totally germ free environment is not good either as the human machine has no way to build a defense mechanism (immunity) against an enemy it never encountered.  Vaccines are just that.  Injecting a small amount of germ allows the body to build a defense to fight such an enemy encounter in the future.  If we learn to do things in moderation, we can enjoy the things we love for a long time.  One can then possibly live (within the constraints beyond one’s control) a long healthy, productive, and a quality life with less pain and suffering and with minimal premature loss of our inherent potential.


Lohit Datta-Barua (USA)

Dr. Lohit Datta-Barua has lived in Houston since 1973. As an inspiring writer and contributor to social justice he continues to touch people’s lives. As of 2019 Datta-Barua has authored eleven books, six in English, and five in his mother tongue Assamese. His latest book, “One Long Journey” is primarily a story of survival and hope in the face of of adversity and social upheaval, which Datta-Barua hopes can inspire his readers. All proceeds from “One Long Journey” go for orphan welfare.

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