One of the benefits of having survival (more or less) sorted is that we can turn our efforts toward personal happiness. The downside of all that research, though, is that there’s an overwhelming amount of STUFF being thrown at us from all sides, all the time. This diet for diabetes, that one for weight loss, this food to stave off cancer, that supplement to improve brain function.
And, quite often, the result is that we keep doing what we always did. No one can synthesize that much information into a useful practice. Fortunately, you don’t need to. As a health coach and personal trainer whose life revolves around nutrition, fitness, and happy living, I’ve done the legwork for you.
My life-changing realization: Whatever the latest research may say, if it has merit, it’s just affirming the core principles of healthy living that our ancestors intuited.
So, what are the core principles that govern our mind and body? You already know them. The deluge of pop health “stuff” just might’ve buried your instincts below the surface. Let’s bring ’em back up.
You have to sleep. I don’t care who you are or what you think is different about you. Humans need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. And quality counts. Frequently interrupted sleep is not as efficient as deeper snoozing, so prioritize your sleep. Got insomnia? Work on your sleep hygiene. Here are some strategies you probably haven’t tried.
Sleep is crucial for physical and mental recovery and performance. That’s when your brain absorbs nutrients and balances its hormones. You’re putting yourself at a deficit if you don’t sleep enough, which means you have to work harder at everything in your waking hours. Who wants to do that?
It seems obvious. It IS obvious. But part of our desk-dwelling culture is that we’ve learned to breathe wrong. There are better, more natural ways to breathe, and certain breathing patterns are associated with better physical and mental health (relaxation, focus, emotional awareness). Diaphragmatic breathing in particular is great for stress and digestion.
3. Drink water.
The majority of people in America are dehydrated. Every function in your body, every process, every cell requires water. Weight gain, lack of sleep, headaches, fatigue — if you suffer from any of these, the first change you need to make is to drink more water.
How much is enough? You never should feel thirsty. Ever. If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. To restore your water balance, aim to drink at least half your body weight in water a day (more if you’re exercising vigorously) and see how you feel.
4. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
I won’t tell you overwhelm you with details. You’ve probably read and heard too much already. We all know how crucial eating well is for optimal physical and mental performance.
Michael Pollan said it really well: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I’d only add a very few details to that. Eat unprocessed food as much as possible (nothing packaged, nothing made in a factory). Make fresh fruits and vegetables your main dish. Add some beans, some nuts, good quality, cage-free eggs, fish, and meat — if you feel like you need it. That’s it.
You don’t have to “work out,” if fitness isn’t your thing. But you have to move. Period. That what our bodies were designed to do. If we don’t move, we die.
So walk, jump, dance, play. If you’re up for it, go lift weights, cycle, run, do CrossFit, yoga, aerobics – whatever you feel like doing. Just move. As much as you can.
6. Go outside.
It’s controversial. Some people say you have to wear a high SPF all the time or else you’ll get cancer. Others say that getting no sun at all could be as damaging.
Much like our diet, our relationship with the sun is about moderation. The vitamin D we get from sunlight is far more effective than any supplement, and vitamin D is crucial for absorbing calcium and phosphorus. It boosts the immune system and aids in bone growth. It’s essential for both mental and physical recovery. Fortunately, it only takes about 15 minutes in the sun, a couple of times a week. If that’s really impossible for you, a vitamin D supplement is a better choice than risking a deficiency.
Not a rocket science, is it?
You deserve to live exactly the life you want. Following these principles is a pretty solid start.