Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Chris Lopez of Fit and Busy Dad.
We live in an information overloaded society. There has not been a moment in history when information has been this available, right at our fingertips. By typing one simple phrase, we now get hundreds, thousands, sometimes even millions of answers to our most desired questions. And now it seems, because of the abundance of information available to us, that a lot of us are confused.
No more confusing has been our struggle with living excessively. As a result, many of us are in debt, have too much stuff and are overweight.
There are too many questions on how to exercise, how to eat, or how to live healthily – cardio or weights? How much protein? Does fat make me fat? Will situps give me abs? Am I going to get big, bulky muscles?
I don’t profess to know the answer to EVERY question out there, but I do know that all things being equal, the simplest answer is most likely the right one (Ockham’s Razor). That holds true in life as much as it does in weight loss, exercise and general health.
So in saying that, I have devised a list of The 7 Essential Rules to Optimal Health.
You may read these rules and be turned off that I’m insulting your intelligence. But let’s face it, now more than ever, do we need to get back to the basics in order to save our waning, unhealthy & obese society.
We’ve veered off the path of “simple” and have really made things more complicated than they are.
1. Eat REAL Food.
For a busy population who doesn’t have time to count calories or how many grams of protein or how much sodium or saturated fat, this is your answer to health and weight loss.
Anything that Mother Nature put on this earth in it’s simplest form is real food – unpackaged, unprocessed, unpreserved fruits, vegetables, legumes, naturally raised meat & fish. Steak from a cow that has been allowed to eat from a pasture, not an all-beef hot dog. Water, not soda. Apples, not apple fritters.
Here’s the truth … if you eat nutritious real food then your body feels nourished and doesn’t feel the need to consume more. If you eat the common processed food products of today with empty calories and little to any nutrition value, then your body needs to 1) work harder to digest and assimilate what you’ve eaten thus using energy 2) still feel hungry because what you’ve eaten provides no nourishment and 3) throw your systems out of whack because your body has no idea what you just ate.
2. Live Life Actively.
Our society was the healthiest when there were no such things as treadmills, ellipticals and Pec Decks. We used the gym to support our activities (like what athletes do). We rode our bikes, skied, surfed, played pick-up basketball and walked everywhere.
Now, we go to the gym. We run on treadmills like rats in a cage, partake in bodybuilding programs that give us bulky, unuseable muscles and create imbalance & injury, and do aerobic classes that give us little to no benefit with the way we look.
As our society transitioned from an active culture to a gym-going culture, obesity, heart disease and diabetes slowly started to increase. Coincidence? Maybe. But staying active and trying new things – playing a sport, going for a hike, being active with family, playing frisbee with the dog- never killed anyone.
Ask yourself these questions…When was the last time you got excited to go to the gym (to actually workout, not to see the hot aerobics instructor or personal trainer)? And what about when you knew that the weekend was just around the corner and you were going to the beach to play some volleyball? Or out to the golf course with your buddies to play 18 holes?
Live actively and use the gym to support your efforts.
3. Get outside.
This goes hand-in-hand with the point above.
True that some of us live in a climate that isn’t always condusive to outdoorsy things. Hogwash.
Unless it is 110 degrees in the shade or sub-Arctic temperatures outside, there are always options for us to be active outdoors – even if it’s just for a walk after dinner. Our bodies crave the outdoors and being with nature. It’s hard-wired into our systems. Being outdoors gives us a feeling of freedom and calm that no gym, mall or office building could ever provide for us.
4. Constantly strive to improve in order to see change.
If you are doing the same thing, day in and day out (lifting the same weights, running the same distance for the same time, etc) without any change or improvement, then nothing is going to happen to your body.
Your body wants to stay the same, and it is only when you decide to venture outside of your comfort zone that you will actually see any improvement – and that rule holds true with life as much as it does with exercise. Set goals, break records and constantly strive to get better. If you ran 5km in 30-minutes yesterday, then the next time out, aim for 29-minutes. If you did 10 push-ups yesterday, then aim for 11 the next time you attempt them.
Force yourself out of what’s comfortable and you will change – both in body and in mind.
5. Get some sleep.
Often the “missing link” to everyone’s weight loss quest is their lack of quality sleep. Healthy adults require 7-9 hours of uninterrupted, good quality sleep EVERY night.
Sleep helps regulate your hormones. It kills off bad bacteria that has accumulated in your gut throughout the day and it’s the primary time for your body to repair its tissues – especially your muscles. Don’t get enough of it and your immune response will suffer (your ability to fight off disease & sickness), you gain belly fat (because of the higher amounts of the hormone cortisol) and you’ll experience lows in energy.
6. Practice Active Recovery .
This is the Yang to intense exercise’s Ying and is probably the most overlooked rule. You were not designed to “go hard” 100% of the time.
Regardless of what you may believe, exercise, with all it’s benefits to your body and health, is still stress. Any response that produces an adrenalin rush will also produce a stress response in your body. Because of this, we must balance our intense exercise activities with calming, stress management exercises. Traditional yoga, tai chi, qi gong or some form of deep breathing or meditation are the most common examples of ways to handle stress.
Try to incorporate at least one of these activities into your weekly (if not daily) practice. Only a few minutes of deep breathing or mediation is all you need to regain balance move on with your day without anxiety or nervousness.
7. Use Natural Movements.
There are 5 natural movements – Squatting, Lunging (which includes walking & running), Pushing, Pulling & Rotation. If you want to save time, increase results and live healthy, then all your exercises should incorporate at least one, if not more, of these movements.
Is there a need to stand in front of a mirror holding dumbbells and lifting them up to the side while standing on a ball? No. Is there a need to sit on a machine, strapped in and squeeze your thighs together or push them out? No. These movements are unnatural. They force you to break your body up into individual parts, when in truth, your body operates as a network of nerves, bones and muscles to move you and the objects you lift or carry from Point A to Point B.
Exercise naturally, move naturally, be healthy.
So Now What?
Use the above rules as a checklist and try to incorporate and adhere to one rule per week, introducing a new rule each time you have mastered one.
Try not to get overwhelmed. This isn’t a “shotgun” approach. We’ve gotten away from the basics of health and it will take time to get back. Just keep at it and be consistent and you’ll get there.
By just living with these 7 rules in mind, you’re sure to become a healthier, happier and more fulfilling life.