Health question: If I mix some maple syrup into your gasoline before putting it into your car, what do you think is going to happen?
Even if the car continues to work after the fact, it’s not going to run nearly as smooth and is going to require a lot of maintenance. All that maintenance is going to cost you quite a bit of money and a LOT of time (our car is the vehicle we use to get from place to place, after all).
Our body is no different; it is the vehicle our mind’s use to move from activity to activity. If we are not making an effort to improve our health, then we are going to end up in the same (if not worse) predicament.
1. Slow and Steady Wins the Race
When it comes to improving health, people are impatient. We know what changes we have to make and so we want to do them all at the same time. Today’s motivation won’t last, however, so you need to come up with something you can stick to long-term.
When trying to start a new habit, I prefer the two-minute rule. I will take whatever I may want to achieve (e.g., exercise more often) and find a 2-minute version to start with (do X amount of pushups in 2 minutes). Then, I’ll make a plan as follows:
- Month 1: I will do my 2-minute habit every day (and ONLY my 2 minutes, no more!)
- Month 2: I will do my 2-minute habit every day, and then do extra if I’d like to.
- Month 3: I will add more time to my mandatory habit (10 minutes versus 2 minutes).
- Repeat this process until I’ve gained the full habit I initially set out to achieve.
Does this take a lot longer than we’d like? Yes, but so does change. Health is not like social media or videogames where there’s a direct input -> output ratio. Whether you eat 500 or 5000 calories a day, your body is only going to change so fast, so why make it worse than it needs to be?
Also, don’t underestimate the power of small change. If you were to get 1% healthier every day, you would end up 37x healthier by the end of the year.
2. Hydration for Motivation
If food is our body’s form of “gasoline”, then water is our body’s form of “oil”; it keeps everything running. If your car doesn’t have it’s oil regularly refilled and changed, the engine will cease eventually. If the body doesn’t get the water intake it’s supposed to, its just as detrimental to your well-being.
Every morning, I fill a gallon-jug with water and carry it with me throughout the day (maybe that seems excessive, but I don’t want to keep refilling a smaller bottle all day while trying to get work done). By the time I’m trying to get some exercise in at the end of the day, I can feel the difference as to whether I’ve had enough water or not. If I’m not hydrated enough, everything grinds and fights me; I also feel mentally sluggish.
Do you not think water tastes good? Add a flavoring to it to start (also make sure you’re getting your water from a clean source). Do you primarily drink coffee/soda/juice? Make a habit of having a cup of water before/after every cup/can of another drink. This is one of those things where you have almost nothing to lose and quite a bit to gain.
Buy a gallon jug and try to drink the entire thing throughout the day. You might only get partway through it at first, but you’ll end up in a much healthier state over time. Most people have been in a perpetual state of dehydration long enough to not even realize how much harder they’re making it on themselves.
3. Learn to Cook
You don’t have to be Gordon Ramsay, but everyone should understand the basics of cooking (for many reasons, not just for health).
When you order takeout or go to a restaurant, the fact of the matter is you don’t really know what they’re putting in your food. I’m not talking about anything extreme like “is this chicken nugget really chicken?” I’m talking about things like the amounts of salt, butter, sugar or oils used in the cooking process.
If you ever have a chance, go to the “Nutrition Facts” document for any of the major restaurant change. I bet there are things on there that contain a LOT more calories than you expected – way more than if you just learned to cook a similar recipe at-home.
Every 1-2 weeks, I try to learn a new recipe (usually a healthier version of something I know I crave from a restaurant). If I don’t do that, I at least try to review an older recipe and see if I can make a small tweak to it in order to make it healthier. If you’re not sure where to start, I recommend recipes involving a crock pot or instant cooker (not as easy to burn things that way).
4. Create a Bedtime Routine
The importance of sleep for your health cannot be overstated. If you’ve had a few bad nights of sleep, you’re entire day can feel like a train-wreck. Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep to function at 100% on a daily basis; and that’s 7-9 hours of actual sleep, not lying in bed.
This last fact is something I’m infamous for; I’ve always been a night owl. If left to my own devices, I would easily stay up until 6 or 7 in the morning and then sleep the day away. If you’re the same way, then a routine can be a life saver. Once your brain starts to internalize the routine and realize “oh hey, it’s bedtime soon;” it’ll be much easier to actually fall asleep once you lie down.
I’ve found the best way to build a routine is to start from when you need to wake up. I prefer to wake up around 7am, and I know I prefer to sleep for either 6 or 7.5 hours (that might seem oddly specific, but waking up in-between sleep cycles can help it be even more painful getting out of bed). From there, I know that I should strive to be asleep by either 11:30pm or 1am.
If I assume it takes me 20 minutes to get to sleep, then I know the time when my nighttime routine has to end (either 11 or 12:30). From there, the sky is the limit. I have a nighttime routine that takes about an hour, so I start that process at 10 or 11:30 at night depending on how awake I feel.
Is an hour a day a lot to dedicate to a nighttime routine? Not really; especially if you’re going to toss and turn for an hour without a nighttime routine. Besides, that routine can be used for things that you would normally need to do anyway. I use my routine as a time to do a small amount of exercise, clean up around the house, prep for the next day and deal with hygiene needs. If you’re able to set up yours similarly, then you’ll most likely be gaining extra time for the rest of your day rather than wasting it.
5. Don’t Overcomplicate Health
The sheer quantity of articles online talking about different fad diets, exercise routines and health hacks amazes me. While there’s a world’s worth of knowledge for you to learn from on the subject, there’s also a world’s worth of confusion when trying to make sense of it all. This is especially true when certain articles make claims like “this is the best, everything else is bad”.
I think at this point, most people know that proper health is based on food, water, exercise and sleep. If the choice you make in one of these areas is better than yesterday, then you’ll become healthier (so long as you keep at it). If the choice is worse, then you’re going to be getting worse.
Of all the healthy people I’ve met, almost none of them have the same routine. They all eat differently, play different sports, and sleep at different times. On the other hand, I’ve never met a healthy person who does not monitor their food, water, sleep and exercise in some form.
If you truly want to be your most successful, then bettering your physical health is mandatory. I believe this so much that it is actually something that I require all of my students to learn about if they want to enter more advanced martial arts programs.
It does not matter what I know or what other productivity tricks I may have. If I’ve had a string of unhealthy days (bad eating, poor sleep and hydration, no exercise) then I am easily half as productive until I recover (at best). Your body is the gateway that connects you to the world around you. If you want to experience everything the world has to offer, you have to make sure to keep that gateway healthy and functional.