It’s a new year and many people will embark on some sort of nutrition and/or workout plan. The intentions are good and the desire to change is there, but, for most people, they will choose some sort of fad and/or non-sustainable plan that will not lead to lifelong success. The story is all too familiar: It’s the new year, you gained 10-15 pounds over the holidays, so you join a gym or some sort of workout program, try and cut calories and hope for the best. You lose 5, 10, maybe 15 pounds within the first few weeks but then you start getting burned out. The 4:45 am alarm is getting old. Boot camp class was fun the first few weeks but now you dread it. And since you are tired and irritable those bagels and pastries in the break room look ever so more appealing. I mean, you’ve earned the right to treat yourself, right?? Next thing you know it’s March and you haven’t been to the gym in 2 weeks and you are walking back to the break room to eat another donut…right back to square one.
Well, it doesn’t have to be this way. Good health should be a lifelong endeavor and there should be habits and actions you do at least 80% of the time to set yourself up for long-term (and hopefully forever) success.
I spend countless hours educating myself on the latest science, research and trends in the health and wellness space. My interest now is focused on longevity and extending my HEALTHSPAN, not just my lifespan. Through years of personal trial and error combined with ongoing education and research, I think I have a pretty good grip on recognizing legit health and wellness practices as well as those that are not as beneficial.
Here is a quick list of 10 things I think most people should do to optimize health for life:
- Follow the 80/20 principle:This means 80% of the time you do things “right” and the other 20% is a bit more flexible. Flexible doesn’t mean 20% of the time you are eating ding-dongs and ho-ho’s, but maybe you really like mochas so on Saturday morning you treat yourself to a mocha. Do this once-a-week mocha instead of a mocha 7 mornings a week. Or instead of ice cream every night for dessert you cut it back to 1 or 2 nights a week (and you will enjoy it much more this way too!). Over time you might find you do better on a 90/10 or 95/5 but as a general rule-of-thumb, 80/20 is a good starting point.
- Eat real, minimally processed foods at least 80% of the time: this might seem like a no-brainer, but if people actually did this then there would be much less obesity and chronic disease. Eat LOTS of plants, focusing on veggies, fruits, fish, meat (as a condiment), dairy (only if you like it and tolerate it, otherwise I’m not a fan of dairy), certain whole grains if you tolerate and like them such as quinoa, oats, long grain rice. I still think it’s best to avoid grains with gluten most of the time. It is important to consume healthy fats (such as olive oil, avocados, fish). Also it’s ok to include eggs (if tolerated) and nuts.
- Avoid simple sugars and processed foods: also seems like a no-brainer but people still consume too much of this stuff. Avoid soda, sugary coffee drinks, breakfast cereal, desserts, fried foods, etc. Does this mean NEVER consume these. No. Not necessarily. Are you better off rarely or never consuming these? Absolutely. But there is some margin of flexibility. If you follow the 80/20 principle, as described in #1, this is a good start.
- Sleep well: you need 7-8 hours of quality sleep a night. No excuses. Quality sleep not only makes you feel good the following day, but it is VITAL to optimal health. Lack of sleep is linked to EVERY bad disease known to man. Sleeping for 4 hours to get up and go to the gym then go to work for 12 hours is not only dumb, but detrimental to your health. Quit starting at your smart phone up until bedtime!
- Intermittent fasting: I’ve written and posted about this many times before, but the more research that is done about IF, the more important it seems it is to incorporate this on a regular basis for optimal health and longevity. The most doable form of IF for the average person, in my opinion, is time restricted feeding. Basically, you eat during a certain time period to allow your body a bit of a “fast” on a daily basis. You not only derive the benefits of the fast, but will end up consuming less calories which will help you lose weight and keep the weight off. What I recommend for MOST people: stop eating after you eat dinner and make sure it is at least 3 hours before bedtime. Then don’t eat again for 12-14 hours. For example, if you finish dinner at 6:30 pm and go to bed at 10:30 pm (4 hour time lapse), then don’t eat breakfast until 6:30 am at the earliest. Ideally you will give yourself at least an hour after waking before you eat breakfast. I think most people will do great practicing a 12-14 hour daily “fast”. (Do not do this if you are pregnant, nursing, under 18 or have any other medical conditions where you think this might not work).
- Strength train: strength training is vital to feeling and looking good and staying healthy. 2-3 days/week for 15-45 minutes of some sort of strength training is all the average person needs. You don’t need fancy workout equipment or a gym membership. In fact, you can get a great strength training workout using only your own body-weight. It is a vital component to altering your body to a favorable composition, hence, more muscle and less fat. Strength training helps put the calories you eat to good use. It can help prevent diabetes, heart disease and a host of other problems. It’ll help you survive a slip on the ice with minimal damage—-this becomes increasingly important with aging.
- Move slowly throughout the day: keep active. Don’t sit for extended periods of time. Take the stairs. Park in the farthest parking spot possible. Go for a walk after dinner. Try and hit 10,000 steps/day or more. This is also associated with good health and prevention of disease.
- Have friends: healthy social relationships are vital to good health. Skip your workout to have coffee with a friend (skip the muffin or cookie of course!). Spend quality time with your spouse, kids, or partner. Make a point to have fun, and bond, with other people.
- Have a sense of purpose and generosity: donate to a worthy cause, start going to church, mentor an underprivileged child, go on a mission trip. The more self-consumed you are the more miserable you are likely to be.
- Avoid alcohol:An occasional, dare I say rare, drink is ok, but regular (even light) alcohol consumption will hinder all of your efforts at achieving great health. It messes with your sleep, your waistline, is associated with a host of chronic diseases and oftentimes it is used as a coping mechanism to avoid issues that probably need addressed.
As you can see, there is not one thing we can do to improve our health and happiness. It is a combination of many habits and practices that has a cumulative effect. This list is far from exhaustive, but if people don’t know where to start and are looking to start some positive changes in their life, this list is definitely a great place to begin. It’s probably not ideal to tackle all of these at once. It’s more realistic to pick one or two and then build from there. If you are interested in having a lifestyle evaluation and consultation with me please reach out. I’d be happy to meet with you and go over your lifestyle and help you customize a program that fits you and your unique situation. It’s difficult to do this alone and to know where to start. I have partnered with a couple of great health coaches who can help you along the way. Most people need a plan, some help and some accountability to initiate both short and long-term change. https://parnhamhealth.com/contact/