I was reading Jordan Peterson's book and I really like the list approach that he has. It is simple and easy to understand, and I had the idea to do the same thing for a healthy life. I believe that if you follow these 13 rules then you will have the best chance to live a long, healthy, active life and have the best quality of life possible. Details will vary person to person but these general principles can apply across the board. Without further ado here are my 13 rules for a healthy life.
1. Sleep 8 hours a night
Sleep is the foundation of health. You can be doing everything else right and if you aren't getting enough sleep then it doesn't matter. Sleep is when our bodies repair themselves and adapt, so cutting into this time can have very negative results on our health. Getting proper sleep can boost your immune system, keep your metabolism working properly, lower your risk for health issues like diabetes and heart disease, reduce stress, improve cognitive function, improve mood, improve recovery from exercise, and a host of other things. The amount of hours will vary depending on your age, activity level, genetics, and other factors, but 8 hours is a very good baseline. Most people are not getting enough sleep, so if you think you are one of those people who only requires 6 hours then try getting 8 for a few nights and see how you feel. I guarantee you that you will notice a huge difference. Sleep is so important that you should sacrifice other things in order to get your sleep. It will make you more efficient in the time that you are awake so it is imperative that you get enough. If you aren't getting enough sleep then you can stop reading this list right now. None of it will matter if you don't have this foundation first!
2. Eat meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar
Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, said this as part of his famous "World Class Fitness in 100 Words." Diet and nutrition is made complicated by so many people and yet no one has put it as simply and accurately as this. If you only focus on one thing with your nutrition then focus on this statement. Nutrition is the base of the performance pyramid, meaning that you should make sure and get this correct before you worry about any type of training. Other than getting enough sleep, following this statement will give you the most bang for your buck. Stay around the perimeter of the grocery store and you will be in good shape.
3. Make protein the base of every meal
If you have the basics of what you are eating (quality) down then you can start focusing on the quantity. Food is broken down into three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) and protein is the most important of the three. Protein is what your body is going to use to build muscle and muscle is the basis of a healthy body (see my previous article on why muscle is so important). The amount of protein a person requires will vary by person but a good rule of thumb is somewhere around .75-1 grams per pound of bodyweight. No matter how much you take in a day the most important thing is that every meal you eat during the day (including snacks) should be based around a protein source. If you don't want to worry about counting your macros then follow this rule and you will most likely be getting enough protein every day.
4. Eat enough fat and carbohydrate to support activity levels but not body fat
This is another portion of Greg Glassman's "World Class Fitness in 100 Words," with a slight modification, and is so simple and yet so elegant. Body composition is as simple as energy consumed versus energy used. If you take in more calories (energy) than you are burning every day then your body will store the excess as fat. If you take in fewer calories than you are burning every day then you will burn body fat. Every diet plan, no matter how simple or complicated, is based around this basic formula. I like to focus on carbohydrate and fat because those are the two energy sources. Carbohydrate is a fast burning energy source and fat is a slow burning energy source. If you have excess body fat then you are taking in too much of these two macros. Eat less of them. It really is that simple.
5. Wake up at the same time every day
We are creatures of habit. Humans are designed to work in cycles and to have routines. When we are functioning at our highest level we develop a circadian rhythm so that our body knows at each time of day what it is going to do. If you can start waking up at the same time every day, no matter what time you went to bed, then your body will start to respond to it. It takes anywhere from 14-30 days to develop a habit and once you do it becomes easy to perform. If you will wake up at the same time every day then your body will be able to begin to operate at a higher level. Never falling into a rhythm can have many negative benefits because it is opposite of what our bodies crave. Develop a daily ritual of waking up at the same time and you will be amazed at how your body will respond.
6. Drink 100 ounces of water a day
The amount of water that each person requires varies, but most people are not getting nearly enough. Every system of the body requires water to run so it follows that every system of the body will not operate as well as it should if it is not hydrated properly. Most people walk around in some state of dehydration meaning that they do not operate at a level that they could. 100 ounces is a great benchmark to shoot for every day, and if you attempt this you will be much better off than if you did not track it. Start each day off with 20 ounces of water upon waking and you will notice that it is easier to drink water the rest of the day. Once you start drinking more water you will feel better, have more energy, and will notice a ton of other benefits. Shoot for 100 ounces of water a day and your body will thank you.
7. Exercise every day
If something is important then you need to do it every day. Every. Single. Day. Exercising is one of the most important things that you need to do if you want to have a longer, healthier, more fulfilled life. I'm not saying that you need to go to the gym every day. What I am saying is that you need to do something active every day. This can be as simple as taking the dog for a walk around the block, going for a bike ride with your kids, going for an easy jog in the morning as the sun rises, or taking the stairs to the third floor instead of the elevator. Developing the daily habit of exercising will give you tremendous benefits. Over a lifetime it can be the difference in sickness and health.
8. Perform constantly varied functional movements at least 4 days a week
CrossFit is performing constantly varied functional movements at high intensity. Constantly varied means that you are always changing up your routine. If every time you go to the gym you do the same few movements then you are going to develop imbalances and set yourself up for injuries, plateaus, boredom, or burnout. The problem with most exercise programs is that they are not sustainable. They work for a while until you get tired of doing the same thing every day. The beauty of CrossFit is that it is always changing so that you don't ever get bored or specialized. It is not a program designed to give you benefits for 3 months-it is a program designed to give you benefits for years. Constantly varied does not mean random. There should be a plan for what you are doing and making sure that you are not overusing certain muscle groups or movement patterns. You should also be performing functional movements. These are the movements that the body was designed to perform and that give you the most bang for your buck. You should be squatting, pressing, running, deadlifting, jumping, etc. the majority of your training. I left off intensity from the prescription because this is relative to every person. What is hard for me might be easy for someone else, and visa versa. On the days you feel good push it. On the days you don't then just do what you can. This is a lot more sustainable over the long term than running yourself into the ground every day. Let your body be your guide. Finally, you should be training at least 4 days a week. Why 4? Because that 4th day is the tipping point. If you train 4 days a week then you are training more days than you are not. If you train 3 days a week then you are resting more days than you are training. If health and fitness is a priority then you should be training more than you are resting.
9. Get outside 30 minutes a day
The sun is incredibly powerful. The sun is the best source of vitamin D that you can have and vitamin D helps with inflammation, muscle recovery, brain function, blood pressure, and many others. Spending as little as 30 minutes outside a day can make sure that you are getting the optimum levels of vitamin D. Even if the sun is behind the clouds you are still getting the benefits. It is also incredibly restorative mentally. It is so easy for us to get caught up on our phones, televisions, and computers all day every day. Spending deliberate time outside can help keep you calm and give you perspective.
Breathing is something that we do all day every day involuntarily and without much focus. The problem is that most of us have developed very bad breathing habits. We take shallow breaths through our chest and don't breathe deeply from our diaphragm. Deep diaphragmatic breathing can lower cortisol levels, improve blood flow, reduce inflammation, increase energy levels, detoxify the body through the lymphatic system, improve digestion, and many others. Taking 5 minutes to breathe before you go to bed can also help you go to sleep faster and sleep deeper. There are many different ways to do this (meditation, yoga, focused breathing) but you just need to find one that you can do every day and stick to it. Take 5 minutes a day and focus on your breathing. One option is to breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, breathe out for 5 seconds, and hold for 5 seconds. This box breathing technique can quickly calm you down, center you, and provide all of the benefits listed above. If you make time for this daily you will notice that your body works better and the volume on life is turned down a bit.
11. Stretch every day
Of of the biggest threats to our health in modern day society is the chair. From sitting at our desk all day to driving for hours in our car we accumulate an insane amount of time in a seated position every year. All of this time sitting causes our hips and hamstrings to be tight, our cores to shut off, and our shoulders to be rounded forward. The result is that we can't perform functional movements without risk of injury. We put a bag of groceries on the top shelf and hurt our shoulder. We pick up a bag of dogfood and hurt our back. We go for a run around the block and pull our hamstring. Many times people start an exercise program and quickly hurt themselves. They blame the exercise they did when really it was the years of accumulated neglect that set them up for injury. They have trained their bodies to be stagnant. Our bodies were designed to move and if we can’t perform functional movements then we have a serious problem. A nagging back injury can be enough to keep us from exercises for a long period of time which can cause us to develop chronic illness over time. How can we fight against this? Stretch. For every hour that you spend sitting spend 5 minutes stretching. If you get up every hour at work and stretch for 5 minutes you will have accumulated 45 minutes of stretching during a 9 hour day. You will also get the blood flowing and give yourself a nice break from work. You will probably notice that you will be more productive when you are working too. Even if you don't sit all day, or you have a stand up desk, then spend a little bit of time every day stretching. A long muscle is a healthy muscle. The longer that we can keep our muscles healthy the better chance we have of staying healthy. Stretch every day and you will set yourself up for a healthier life.
Schedule one day a week to take completely off. Do not work. Don't think about working. Don't think about work problems. Schedule extended time off every couple of years (I'm talking a month or more). If you can't take off that long then take as much as you can. What you will start to notice is that by scheduling time off you will be more productive in the time that you are working. You will be hungry to work and will make the most of your time. If you never take time off then you will get worn down and will be much less productive. An example from the Oregon Trail will show this point. Two groups left from the same city on the Oregon Trail. One group stopped and rested one day a week. The other group never stopped to rest. Which group made it first? The group that rested of course. And it wasn't even close. We were made to rest. We need rest. If you do not ever rest then you will crash and burn and your body will force you to rest. Ever wonder why you get sick more than other people? Maybe your body is trying to tell you something! If you can't afford or are not able to take that much time off then take as much as you possibly can. Schedule it in your calendar and make it a top priority. If you want to be more productive in life then rest.
13. Have fun
Have fun. Seriously. Life is not that serious. Think about the things that stressed you out ten years ago. Five years ago. Last year. Do they matter at all now? How much energy did you waste worrying about things that don't matter only a little time later? We can spend all of our time stressed out about things or we agree to not take everything so seriously. What you will realize if you quit stressing is that most things are not all that important. Once you realize this then you will start having fun. Life will be so much more enjoyable. Focus on what you can control and let everything else go. Even if you don't feel like it smile. If you start smiling even when you don't feel like it you will start to notice that you feel like smiling more and more. And above all have fun. You don't want to look back on your life and realize you spent all of your time stressing about things that didn't really matter.
I hope this list will help simplify health and fitness. There are so many people out there who are trying to make it complicated to make themselves sound smart. It’s not that hard or complicated. Knowing what to do is not the problem-it’s doing it. Start to develop these habits and you will reap tremendous benefits.