Thankful for Our Bodies
Some sixteen centuries ago, Augustine observed, “People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering… Now, let us acknowledge the wonder of our physical incarnation- that we are here, in these particular bodies, at this particular time, in these particular circumstances.” It’s a good reminder as we approach Thanksgiving. Let’s take a moment to wonder.
It’s a natural tendency we have to notice what’s not working right in our bodies rather than to give thanks for the huge number of processes that are working wondrously well. Consider a few wonders of the bodies our Creator has given us: There are a trillion nerves powering our memory. These can send and receive messages at up to 200 miles per hour. A study showed that after viewing 2,500 images for 3 seconds people can recall if they’ve seen the images with 92% accuracy. Speaking of viewing, our eyes can distinguish nearly 10 million shades of color. Those eyes are protected by the fastest muscles in the body, those that cause us to blink, in about a hundredth of a second. And even more staggering than the eyes’ color discernment is the less glorious nose that can differentiate between 1 trillion smells.
Of course all our cells and tissues need nutrition and oxygen delivered to them. This occurs as blood travels through our blood vessels, which if laid end to end would stretch nearly 100,000 miles. The heart makes this happen by pumping about 100,000 times per day. This then adds up to about 3 million quarts of blood pumped by your heart every year.
How does the blood keep picking up a new load of oxygen and getting rid of the waste gas carbon dioxide? You take about 23,000 breaths a day, or about 672,768,000 breaths in a lifetime, usually without even thinking about it. And the oxygen and carbon dioxide are diffused over the surface area of the lungs, which if it were flattened out would be equal to the surface area of a tennis court.
And talk about strength, the femur (upper leg bone) of an average-sized man can withstand 30 times our weight – ounce-for-ounce that is stronger than steel.
Even some of the lowliest bodily functions are impressive. For example, the average human produces 25,000 quarts of saliva in a lifetime, enough to fill two swimming pools; try swallowing or speaking normally without saliva.
So, how did we get the information for the construction process of our beyond-ingenious bodies? It’s encoded in our DNA which, if uncoiled, would stretch 10 billion miles. And its encoding of information is so efficient that just one tiny DNA molecule contains 40 times the information in a set of Encyclopedia Britannica.
It’s a rough world out there, and it wears on our body. Fortunately, much of the human body is self-regenerating. For example, the stomach lining is replaced every 4-5 days so that it doesn’t digest itself, since stomach acid can dissolve metal. Meanwhile, skin is replaced about every 2-4 weeks and our bones are fully replaced about every 10 years. In fact, 50,000 cells in your body died and were replaced by new ones while you were reading this sentence.
We could go on, but hopefully you get the idea, and it’s not a new one – some three thousand years ago, King David wrote (in Psalm 139) to his Creator, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
Since among so many other gifts, we have been given the ability to remember, let’s remember on this Thanksgiving to give thanks to our Creator for the truly amazing bodies He has given us.
Andrew Smith, MD is board-certified in Family Medicine and practices at 1503 East Lamar Alexander Parkway, Maryville. Contact him at 982-0835