Sunday December 30, 2012
Health lessons from JRR Tolkien’s hobbits
By TAN SHIOW CHIN
Being Middle Earth lovers, we decided to examine the diminutive heroes of The Lord Of The Rings for healthy lifestyle tips.
ACCORDING to the ancient Mayans, we are now nine days into a brand new age or baktun; and of course, we are just two days away from a new year on the universally-followed Gregorian calendar.
So, that can be taken as a double reason for us to use this time to take a good look at our lives, and come up with new (or old) resolutions to improve our wellbeing, whether it be emotionally, physically, mentally or financially.
With the first of The Hobbit movies out earlier this month, we decided that we would take a look at these lovable creatures – a few of whom played such a crucial part in ensuring that the Fourth Age of Middle Earth was not dominated by the Dark Lord Sauron – and see what we can learn from them for a better lifestyle.
Seven meals a day
Eating is definitely a hobbit habit dear to their hearts.
Hobbits will gladly eat seven meals a day if they can get it: breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner and supper.
Not surprising then, that hobbits tend towards chubbiness, even though they are a primarily agrarian society.
Their menu follows the fare of the English countryside: meat, potatoes, bread and cheese – with its emphasis on proteins and carbohydrates.
Mushrooms in particular, are a favourite dish, with younger hobbits even going on regular mushroom hunts.
Living well: Now, we all know that Malaysians tend to eat more than we should.
In fact, the typical Malaysian meal schedule bears a rather close resemblance to the hobbit one, with our breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper.
And there is no doubt that there are many overweight and obese Malaysians out there – nearly two-thirds of our adult population, according to the 2011 National Health and Morbidity Survey.
So, this is one hobbit habit that we should definitely not be following.
Three meals a day, providing a total of around 2,000 calories for a woman and 2,500 for a man, is sufficient to fuel our daily activities, especially if we lead sedentary lifestyles.
According to the Malaysian Food Pyramid, we should be eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, an adequate amount of carbohydrates (preferably whole-grain and unprocessed), a moderate amount of proteins, and less foods containing a lot of fat, oil, salt and sugar.
Oh, and the mushroom?
It’s a pretty good source of protein, fibre, and various important vitamins and minerals, and is low in fat, calories and salt. So, we should definitely follow the hobbits in making this food a firm favourite!
At the beginning of The Fellowship of the Rings, the Shire, where Bilbo and Frodo Baggins live, is all abuzz over Bilbo’s upcoming eleventy-first (111) birthday party, held jointly with Frodo’s coming-of-age 33rd birthday.
A key characteristic of hobbits is a love of socialising, and throwing a party is the perfect opportunity to gather all your neighbours and friends together to eat and be merry.
In fact, the wizard Gandalf, who is renowned for his wisdom elsewhere, is primarily famous among the hobbits for his spectacular fireworks, usually shown off during bigger parties and festivals.
Living well: To quote the Greek philosopher Aristotle, “Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally, and not accidentally, is either beneath our notice, or more than human.
“Society is something that precedes the individual.
“Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”
Community ties are important, not only to ensure that someone watches over our house while we go on holiday, but also to foster a deeper sense of belonging and instil a sense of civic duty that holds society together.
On a more individual basis, research has shown that having friends – true friends – is important for our emotional and mental health.
To go back to Aristotle, he once said: “In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge.
“They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness; and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.”
Having friends who are there for you in good times and bad helps boost your self-esteem, encourages you to live healthier (provided your friends aren’t all unhealthy people themselves!), reduces stress, and provides invaluable emotional and mental support during times of crisis or trouble.
Author JRR Tolkien describes hobbits as having a particular fondness for bright clothes, in particular, green and yellow.
In fact, Bilbo has whole rooms devoted to clothes in his Bag End home.
And if you have watched the Lord of the Rings movies, as well as the recent The Hobbit one, you will notice that the hobbits tend to wear nicely embroidered waistclothes of bright colours.
Living well: Colours play an important role in our lives, exerting a subtle influence over our moods and feelings that we are probably not even aware of.
Think of how a gloomy, grey day makes you feel dull, or conversely, how a clear blue sky and bright yellow sunshine can perk your mood up.
And how about the way red is synonymous with Chinese New Year and ang pows, and green with Hari Raya and Islam?
Colours are basically different wavelengths in the visible light spectrum. The shorter wavelengths form the “cooler” colours like violet, indigo, blue and green, while the longer ones form “warmer” colours like red, orange and yellow.
In general, the cooler colours tend to have a calming and soothing effect when gazed upon, but can also exacerbate feelings of sadness or depression.
The warmer colours often provide a sense of comfort and warmth, but can also exaggerate feelings of anger and hostility, as well as indicating danger.
Knowing this, we can try to influence our own mood by wearing brighter, cheerier colours on the days we feel a need to perk up our mood, or soothing colours if we want to promote a sense of tranquillity and calm.
The same goes for our houses and offices.
Instead of just using generic white or beige paint, how about considering the purpose of the living or working space, and painting it an appropriate colour? For example, blue in the bedroom to aid rest and sleep, and yellow for the board room to boost energy and alertness.
Smoking pipe weed
It is widely acknowledged that the hobbits were the first to come up with the idea – or art, as they themselves call it – of inhaling the smoke of a certain herb called pipe weed through pipes of clay or wood.
This herb is believed to be a variety of the genus Nicotiana, which as suggested by its name, is the plant that we obtain tobacco from.
Pipe-smoking – and blowing smoke rings – is one of Bilbo and Gandalf’s favourite leisure activities.
Living well: As calming as pipe-smoking may be, it is, at the end of the day, an addictive and bad habit.
Tobacco contains the highly addictive psychoactive component, nicotine.
Nicotine can act as both a stimulant and a relaxant, inducing feelings of relaxation, calmness, sharpness and alertness, when taken into the body. While this may feel pleasant during the act of smoking itself, it is not only addictive, but also has detrimental long-term consequences.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), tobacco kills up to half its users, which comes up to nearly six million people a year. This number includes those who have already quit smoking, as well as more than 600,000 non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke.
In adults, inhaling cigarette smoke, whether direct or secondhand, is a risk factor for conditions like lung cancer and around eight other types of cancer; coronary artery disease leading to heart attacks and strokes; and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, among others.
In pregnant women, cigarette smoke increases the risk of a miscarriage and inhibits the foetus’ development, including causing low birth weight.
Babies who inhale secondhand smoke are also more likely to die suddenly of sudden infant death syndrome, as well as suffer more frequently from respiratory illnesses.
So, this is one hobbit habit that we definitely should not emulate. Instead, let’s just stick to what the Gondorians do, and merely appreciate the plant for its sweet-smelling flowers.
Just like Vulcan ears, hobbit feet have become one of the distinctive physical characteristics of this species.
Tolkien describes hobbits as seldom having to wear shoes because of their tough leathery soles and warm thick curly feet hair.
This is probably why they are able to move around and disappear quietly and swiftly when they want to, despite their general chubbiness.
Living well: While our automatic reaction might be to think that walking around barefooted all the time is dangerous, there is a school of thought that believes going unshod is healthier for our feet.
This includes allowing our toes to splay out naturally, our feet to develop the necessary muscles and support structures (like tendons and ligaments) to walk and stand naturally without the artificial support of shoes, and walking with a more natural gait.
Although our soles are not as thick as a hobbit’s, especially if we have been wearing shoes our entire lives, they will naturally grow thicker and tougher if you start going barefoot everywhere.
However, doing this outside of your home or any clean environment, entails caution on the part of the “barefooter”.
Basic common sense requires one to watch out for glass and other sharp objects that can cause cuts and abrasions, as well as sharp rusty metal objects that can also cause tetanus.
Walking on unclean damp surfaces can result in the fungal infection known as athlete’s foot, while accidentally stepping on faeces containing the parasite hookworm allows it to worm its way into your body through your feet.
Other infective organisms that are commonly found in the environment, and can be picked up while going barefoot, are the Pseudomonas bacterium and the virus that causes plantar warts.
And if you are an introverted person, the thought of everyone staring at you and your bare feet might be enough to turn you off this venture!