Try this Japanese morning habit for better digestive health and increased overall vitality.
Photo by Galen Crout on Unsplash
The Japanese are champions of health and longevity.
Japan has ranked number one in the world in life expectancy for well over a decade — according to the World Health Organization’s life tables (2015) — with an average life expectancy of 83 years of age. The global average was around 72. These people are doing something right, and it may be worth paying attention to their daily habits.
A Morning Flush of Warm Water
For decades, the Japanese have used a simple but effective daily therapy: four glasses of water right after waking up — before food, coffee, or even teeth brushing. It is known to help cure headaches, body aches and obesity by detoxifying cells and cleansing the colon.
Photo by John-Mark Kuznietsov on Unsplash
Starting the day with water seems logical, considering:
The human body is 60% water.
Water is main component of the body’s 100 trillion dynamic cells — that make up our tissues, organs and skeleton.
Blood is mostly water, which transports nutrients and oxygen around the body.
It doesn’t pack the same morning jolt as a cup of coffee or satisfaction as a breakfast sandwich, sure. It’s like a good opening band at a rock concert — it’s not what you’re there for, but it sets the stage for an electric performance.
A Great Way to Break the Fast
A six to twelve hour sleep is the longest time many people go without eating or drinking anything in a 24-hour period. It is essentially a fast. The digestive tract is free and clear, meaning the first guest will have the place to themselves.
This Japanese morning ritual (which is similar to an Ayurvedic practice called Ushapan) suggests that the best way to break this fast is with water, for the optimal health of our digestive system. Starting the day with water is a golden opportunity for the body to:
Release Toxins — Warm water first thing in the morning helps your body with the elimination process, stimulating the digestive system and clearing it of toxins and waste.
Maximize Absorption — For many, the gut is constantly bombarded with simple sugars, processed foods, caffeine, alcohol and prescription drugs that inhibit the absorption of important nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Morning water therapy is a gentle way to stimulate and wake up the fragile walls of the small intestine and colon so they can better absorb nutrients throughout the day.
Stimulate Appetite — One benefit I have noticed is that when I wake up with knots in my stomach and feel I am unable to eat, morning water therapy helps to untwist those knots. When I finish the protocol, I’m ready to stomach a hearty breakfast.
Immediate morning hydration also replenishes what was lost during sleep, through sweating, breathing and formation of urine, so the cells and blood are properly replenished first thing.
Admittedly, it can be difficult to steer away from a warm, aromatic cup of coffee or tea to get the day going. However, caffeine is a diuretic — meaning it drains the system of vital nutrients while stealing more than it’s value of liquid, dehydrating the body. For optimal health and digestive function, save the coffee for mid morning when you’re already hydrated and sufficiently cleansed.
Instructions — Best Practices for Morning Water Therapy
Drink 4 glasses of water immediately after waking, before consuming anything else. Avoid cold water.
Don’t eat or drink for 45 minutes. This is a good time to brush your teeth, get ready, stretch, shower or prepare breakfast.
After 45 minutes, eat and drink as normal.
After eating, avoid drinking for two hours.
For first timers, or the sick or elderly that find 4 glasses difficult, start with a lower quantity and work your way up over time.
The warmer the better.
This may sound counter intuitive — most people turn up their nose at a glass of warm water — but imagine jumping into an ice cold lake. Your skin tightens, as does your entire body. A warm bath however, opens up your pores and promotes relaxation of the skin.
This is what happens in your digestive tract as well. A warm glass of water will stimulate digestive enzymes while loosening and moving the bowels, and is easier for the body to absorb as hydration. It’s like giving your bowels a steam clean every morning before putting them to work.
Make It Your Own
Healthy morning routines shouldn’t feel like a chore. If they do, they’re not likely to last. Find different ways to make it work for you and your lifestyle. Some ways to make it a sustainable habit include:
Timing — Sort out a way to fit it into your morning. You may have to wake up a little earlier, but sipping on water is as simple a task as you can start your day with. This can be a rare moment for yourself in the day, for reflection, reading or just relaxing. Reserve showering, getting dressed and teeth brushing for after you drink your four, as you’ll have to kill 45 minutes before eating.
Lemon — This is outside the Japanese protocol, but if you’re bored with plain water this is a far better option than passing on morning water entirely. A splash of real lemon juice helps the taste while adding vitamin C to your morning.
Filtered Water — Not all water is created equal. Depending on location, building and pipes, you may have an abundance of healthy minerals, or a high concentration of harmful chlorine. To be safe, use a mineral water filter, and heat it in a pot or kettle.
Pinch of Salt — If you don’t have much salt in your diet, consider adding a pinch of salt to one of your morning glasses. This helps the body absorb and retain the water.
Disclaimer: Don’t overdo it. Drinking an extreme amount of water in a short time can lead to a condition called hyponatremia, which causes sodium levels in the body to drop and can be fatal. This is extremely rare, and occurs when one drinks several litres in one sitting, so if you’ve got some sense you’ll be just fine.
I once spent four months in Japan, working at a ski lodge. The cook — a sweet Japanese lady with a limited English vocabulary — often would hand me a strange dish while saying “soooooo, just try”.
So, just try — challenge yourself to implement this morning routine for one full week. Assess how you feel after — digestion, morning brain fog, and of course, bowel movements.
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Healthy Habits is our blog series exploring different ways to stay healthy during the week. We provide background and how-to advice for:
Magic Mornings — Start your day off right to optimize performance at work, feel better, and protect your mind against stress.
Wellness at Work — Tips and tricks for staying healthy at the office.
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