It’s nearly Jan 1st, time for the dreaded “New Year’s Resolution” (a topic for another day). That means lots of people you know, and possibly you yourself, are going to be making a commitment to making positive health changes. So today is going to be one of those high-level posts that brings together lots of disparate pieces of information to build a complete view of what we really propose around here. I’m going to link to several of our old posts for you to use to dig a bit deeper. Pass this along to anyone you know that is looking to make a change.
Why It Matters
But first, let’s take a look at why it even matters. Check out this article I came across a couple days ago: U.S. diabetes cases to double, costs triple by 2034
Ouch! Today about 11% of Americans are diabetic, about 95% of those being Type II diabetic, the kind that comes from your lifestyle. That means it’s preventable. And even if you aren’t full-blown diabetic, there are plenty of other issues that come from an unhealthy lifestyle. You could say that this is my proposal to fix the healthcare system by keeping you from needing it.
So here are eight tips that will accomplish two goals for you: they’ll make you healthier. You’ll be sick less often. You’ll feel better. And more importantly, what we all really care about, you’ll look better. Your bulges will bulge less. Your clothes will fit better and you’ll need less of them to look great. Your confidence will go up. You’ll have fun in the process instead of trudging through more flavorless “healthy” meals and another boring workout.
1. Eat Real Food 90% Of The Time
To beat a dead horse once again, the cornerstone of your health is what you eat (and what you don’t eat). Most of your results come from what you eat. So start with just eating real food. What is real food? As I discussed before,
You might be thinking that eliminates a lot of foods, but really all it eliminates are food imposters, things designed to look, taste, and smell like food, but that destroy your body. Here’s a not-so-brief list of the foods you’re left with:
Inevitably, there are a few gray areas like packaged bulk products, such as nuts and olives. I think you can probably figure these out on your own. If it is a natural product, something that doesn’t come from a laboratory, it’s fair game. Olives are fruits and nuts are…well, nuts. Don’t over-think things. You know what foods will make you healthier and what won’t.
If you need some help figuring out how to cook all of these new foods that have probably never been in your kitchen before, check out Nikki Young’s Paleo Cookbooks or Antonio Valladares’ Healthy Urban Kitchen.
2. Eat What You Want 10% Of The Time
I touched on how I handle treat meals a few weeks ago. Basically, I don’t schedule them, but just allow them to happen, knowing that the way I live the rest of the time pretty much keeps them from being any big deal.
But pick vices that you really enjoy. If chocolate cake isn’t your thing, don’t eat it. Wait for the pumpkin pie or whatever really tickles your fancy. Don’t eat junk just because it’s there. On that note, pick smart vices, like good dark chocolate or high-quality ice cream. Limit caffeine and alcohol, but you don’t have to completely eliminate them.
3. Train Hard, But Short
Next up, be active. Make movement a normal part of your lifestyle. You don’t have to train like you’re in the Olympics to be healthy and active. However, I do recommend some level of short-duration, high-intensity training. There are any number of things you can do. Ross Enamait has quite a few books for intense home-based exercise. I really like his old-school style, complete with sledgehammers, kegs, sandbags, and tires. Vic Magary at Gym Junkies has a site jam-packed with good info.
Charles Staley is another old-school guy that has lots of good material out there. Escalating Density Training is one of his books on building muscle and losing fat. I was actually watching a few of his videos yesterday morning from a talk he gave called Your Workout Sucks. If you have 45 minutes or so, it’s worth a watch/listen.
It can even be as simple as bodyweight exercises that you do in your living room or hotel room. Mike and I have a random workout generator that’ll get your heart pumping and help burn some calories. You can be completely done with an intense workout in less than thirty minutes. There’s really no more needed for just being healthy. I like all of these workouts here because they are short, intense, and fun.
4. Have An Active Lifestyle
The 45 minutes every day or two that you spend intensely training doesn’t mean you should sit around the rest of the time. Take a walk, go for a hike, ride a bike, throw a Frisbee or football, ski or snowboard…the possibilities are endless. Just turn off the TV and get outside for some fresh air and sunshine (see #6).
I think this is a key difference between people that struggle to make their life health-oriented and those that don’t. If you enjoy getting outside, enjoy walking around in nature, enjoy a bike ride (whether a leisurely ride or tearing it up on some trails), you won’t need to worry too much about whether you’re active enough. You’ll find reasons to get up and move just because it feels good.
I bet there are a lot of people that are going to disagree with me outright on this one. Competing often takes on a negative connotation and some seem to think we should avoid it for the most part. There’s no reason that it needs to be a negative. Competition can be quite the motivator and increase your enjoyment as long as it doesn’t become an obsession or keep you from enjoying what you’re doing.
Recreational sports leagues are great for getting a bit of competition, but keeping it fun. In the past 6 months, I’ve been in a co-ed softball league, a kickball league (yes, kickball!), and a flag football league. It’s not “exercise”…it’s being active without feeling like you’re “working out”. It’s competing, but it’s just for fun. There’s nothing on the line. I had a blast playing in all three of these leagues, though I think we only won 4 softball games, 3 or 4 kickball games, and 2 football games, which just shows that you don’t have to be great and win to have a great time.
Along with rec league sports, you can join any number of Master’s sports, from Track and Field to swimming, from Olympic weightlifting to powerlifting. I can vouch for Master’s Track and Field…it’s fun and there’s a competitive, but supportive, spirit of people with similar interests and camaraderie.
6. Embrace The Sun
Anyone that’s been around here for more than a month has already been beat over the head with this information a few times. For the newcomers, here’s a tip: you need sunlight to be healthy. That’s not sunlight while slathered in chemicals to “protect your skin,” but sunlight on exposed skin.
Your body needs sunlight to make vitamin D. It drives your immune system. It staves off dementia. It helps your body fight off cancer. It looks like it might even improve muscle power. Read more in-depth on my previous posts about vitamin D here and here.
7. Sleep More
In today’s hard-charging, get-ahead, “success-oriented” society, sleep is one of the first things to go. It’s funny that sleeping less is viewed as a hallmark of success. Nutrition may be #1, but sleep is a close second place when it comes to how healthy you are.
How much should you sleep? 7.5 to 9 hours per night. Unfortunately, most of us have to get up early to get to work. That means you need to go to bed earlier. In the winter especially, when the sun is down early, you should be going to bed earlier. Rise and fall with the sun…okay, maybe not at 6pm, but try to be in bed by 10:30.
My final tip is to find simple ways to relax. We spend most of our time very wound up and stressed. Jobs, commutes, crazy bosses and coworkers, running to and from soccer and cheerleading practice…the list goes on. Add in a recession, possible money issues, “flu pandemics”, and the nightly news full of worldwide stressors and it’s no wonder we’re always so tense. With all that we have going on, few of us actually take the time to just chill out.
In the past couple years, I’ve come up with several things that help me to relax and unwind.
Your relaxation may be different, but I think it’s key to come up with something that works for you. It might be yoga or cooking or knitting sweaters for your dogs. Stamp collecting, wood working, building marble rollercoasters (I had this when I was young and it was uber-cool!)…the possibilities are limited only by what you find fun.
I’ll tell you something else that I’ve done in the past few years…simplifying my life. I got rid of the superfluous items and kept only what I need and use. I don’t own a TV (which thoroughly confused the guy that showed up at my door to try to upsell me cable to go with my net connection) because I don’t watch it and don’t see a need to pay for cable TV that I don’t use. I don’t necessarily advise that for you, but it works for me. My residence is very uncluttered…enough furniture, a drum set, a few pictures that I really like, a well-stocked kitchen, and plenty of open space. It’s not all feng shui or anything, but it’s simple, yet sufficient.
Leo Babauta of Zen Habits is the king of simplicity. There’s a lot that we can all learn from him. I recommend checking out his three books on learning to live simply and get more enjoyment out of living.
(The link takes you to the special purchase page for a package Leo put together for Fitness Spotlight readers, which includes instant downloads to all three of his ebooks in a single discounted package: The Simple Guide To A Minimalist Life, Zen To Done, and The Handbook For Life.)
Keeping “The Stool” Upright
I came up with an analogy awhile back that, while not perfect, works to illustrate how the various puzzle pieces fit together. I like to view health as standing on a stool and sickness as falling off the stool. The four legs are the major categories of Nutrition, Lifestyle (sleep, sunlight exposure), Environment (toxin exposure), and Activity (training and general active lifestyle).
If you think about the stool, it’s obviously easy to stay on top of it if all four areas are in place. If three areas are solid, you can probably stay upright most of the time. For instance, maybe you are a firefighter or doctor or EMT that works a non-traditional schedule. Your sleep is probably disrupted, so focusing on the other elements is even more important. You might get sick now and again, but for the most part, you’ll be healthy. Neglect two areas and that stool is very wobbly. Neglect three or more and you can forget about it.
Like I said, it’s not a perfect analogy. For one, I think the Nutrition “leg” is the most important one. Second, I find the various categories to be interdependent. The better I eat, the better I sleep. The more I sleep, the easier I find it to eat well. The better I eat and sleep, the better I recover from exercise. Regardless, it’s illustrative enough to work for me. Thoughts?
Let’s round out a full ten tips. I gave 8. If a friend asked you for ten tips to help them look and feel better, what would you add to this list? What would you drop?