Enjoying Shark Week? Who isn't fascinated by this summer rite of passage?! Not only are sharks fascinating and enigmatic, but more so than any other animal, sharks have the ability to get our heart racing and adrenaline pumping.
Indeed, the fact that sharks are fast, powerful predators with a carnivorous streak has helped them gain a fearsome reputation in the public eye. But in truth, once you look past how they're portrayed in Jaws or Sharknado, there are many lessons we can take from the way sharks live, survive and adapt that can be applied to our everyday lives to keep us physically and emotionally fit.
In fact, there are four things I've learned during my time as the Chief Medical Expert at Discovery Channel.
1. Keep moving forward.
Ever notice sharks seem to be constantly on the move, never resting? That's because they have no other choice: Most large species of sharks need to keep moving forward at all times in order to breathe. As they move, they take water in through their mouths as they swim, and the water that passes over their gills allows them to take in oxygen. If they stop moving even for a short period of time, they can drown and die.
Just like sharks, we need to keep moving forward in our lives. We all experience difficulties and disappointments; but in order to grow, we need to let go of the past and move forward. Too often we stay stuck in the past instead of looking ahead.
2. Don't let fear hold you back.
While many people consider sharks to be the world's deadliest animal, you are more likely to be killed by hornets, wasps, jellyfish, dogs, vending machines or even falling out of bed. Although great whites are notorious man-eaters they don't really even like the taste of humans! In fact sharks can be just as picky eaters as us humans. In an aquarium, a shark will refuse to eat if it's been given the same food too many times.
Everybody has fears -- even sharks. Somewhat surprisingly sharks are afraid of dolphins. (I still remember Flipper episodes when Flipper saved the family by fighting off a shark!) But in many cases fears and anxieties are simply not rational and they block us from moving forward in life to reach our goals and aspirations. Most things that can go terribly wrong may be possible, but are in reality highly improbable. Learn the facts about things that scare you in order to put fears in perspective. Remember sharks kill fewer than 10 people a year in the entire world. Some 3000 young people die in the U.S. each year as a result of texting and driving.
3. Take advantage of all of your senses.
Can you name each of your five senses? Sharks can do humans one better: They have six, and as predators, they use all of them to their advantage every day. They use their extraordinary sense of smell to detect blood in the water from miles away. Their eyes amplify light in dark waters to aid in perception of even the smallest prey. They're known to choose which prey to eat based on taste, unusual for marine predators. They react to low frequency sounds commonly produced by sick or wounded animals to locate their targets even hundreds of meters away. Their skin has highly sensitive pressure and temperature sensors that can detect the most feathery of touches. And as a bonus, they can detect electrical currents through their heads that to find prey effectively.
OK, so maybe humans don't have six senses. But we can learn a lot from sharks when it comes to using our five to their fullest. Our senses are some of our most powerful tools to help us feel healthy, and humans have the ability to fine-tune their senses just like sharks do just by taking care of their bodies.
For example, you can enhance your sense of smell by getting regular exercise, eating zinc-containing foods or quitting smoking. Too much salt and sugar can affect your sense of taste, as can processed foods and tobacco-containing products. Foods rich in vitamins A, C, and E can help your eyesight, as can making sure you have adequate lighting at home and work and taking regular breaks from staring at the computer screen. You can maintain your hearing with foods containing nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and resveratrol, which is found in red wine. And believe it or not, you can enhance your sense of touch by exfoliating and moisturizing your hands and feet.
So while we might not depend on our senses to catch prey and survive like sharks do, there certainly are ways we can fine-tune ours to take advantage of the five that we have.
4. Eat like a hunter.
One thing sharks have perfected that we humans could use a lot of help with is the ability to eat in moderation. Sharks consume about two percent of their body weight at each meal, which is significantly less than the average person. So as much as we may fear being devoured by a shark in one fell swoop, it's really a pretty unlikely scenario. In fact you have a higher chance of being killed by a falling coconut.
Overeating is simply not something a shark does. We humans should take a lesson from their book.
Whereas people often eat for emotional reasons, a shark looks for food only when it absolutely must... for survival. It's a skill that natural hunters like sharks have perfected but one that comes as a struggle to humans.
Humans often turn to emotional eating when personal triggers make us reach for food to provide comfort. These can include chronic stress, boredom, loneliness or even as a reward for a positive accomplishment.
If this describes your pattern of eating, take a step back before you chomp and consider whether food is being used as a source of nourishment or for emotional release. If it's the latter, consider hugging a stuffed shark instead of a hot fudge sundae.
So get that heart racing and enjoy the shark attacks! Best part of watching might be you are actually learning about life from these powerful animals!
Happy Shark Week!