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Shmirat Haguf: The Jewish Value of Caring for the Body

Renee Eder on Tuesday, October 2, 2018

It's fall and soon the weather will start getting cooler. This time of year, many of us are tempted to retreat to the sofa to watch football and relax – which is more reason to eat right and continue to work out in the gym and in the crisp autumn air.

Did you know that it’s a mitzvah (commandment) in Judaism to be healthy and well? Jewish tradition calls it shmirat haguf (Shmirat means “to care” or “to protect” and Haguf is “the body.") Judaism views the human body as a precious, wondrous gift from G-d that we are to protect and nurture. It is the home of the soul, the spark of G-d within us. Our body requires care and attention, no matter our age. With proper sleep, diet and nutrition, exercise and physical activity, and by avoiding things that harm the body, we can practice shmirat haguf, helping us to thrive in our everyday lives.

How does one go about fulfilling the mitzvah of shmirat haguf? Here are some things you can do:

Diet and Nutrition: Most current recommendations of the USDA advise us to fill half our plates with vegetables and fruit; the other half should comprise grains and lean protein. Food is so essential to Jewish living, and healthier food choices help us fulfill the mitzvah of taking care of our bodies.

Exercise and Physical Activity: Physical activity and exercise reduce the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain cancers. Exercise and physical activity promote general well-being, stronger bones and muscles, improved cognitive functioning among older adults, and the creation of new brain cells in the hippocampus. Physical activity and exercise also have been proven to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. So many health benefits accrue from physical activity that it could be the single most important resolution we make to improve our wellness.

Avoid Things that Harm the Body: Avoid excesses in food, drink, and other physical and mental enjoyments. Smoking, alcohol, drug abuse, and other forms of addiction (including workaholism) rob us of our health and well-being, and cause pain and suffering to our loved ones. Part of the mitzvah of shmirat haguf is recognizing when our behaviors have become harmful to ourselves and others, making necessary changes, and seeking professional help when needed (from physicians, mental health practitioners, or qualified addiction specialists).

Embrace Things that Benefit the Body, such as Sleep: Deprived of adequate sleep, the world can look very different. We may feel irritable, pessimistic, and less able to concentrate and focus on everyday tasks. We can feel fatigued and weak, our memory suffers, and our immune system weakens. We are more susceptible to colds and flus. In addition, sleep deprivation puts us at greater risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Drink lots of water: Your body is composed of about 60% water. The functions of these bodily fluids include digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transportation of nutrients, and maintenance of body temperature. When your water intake does not equal your output, you can become dehydrated. Fluid losses are accentuated in warmer climates, during strenuous exercise, in high altitudes, and in older adults, whose sense of thirst may not be as sharp.

This week at the J, we are recognizing the importance of shmirat haguf by focusing onhydration and caring for our bodies. After morning fitness classes, stop by our membershiptable for a bottle of water and sweat towel (while supplies last). This healthy break is provided by INNOVATION HEALTH, whose partnership with the J helps build healthier communities. Hope you continue to take good care of yourself now and in the future!

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