Health is like golf. The game of golf is not complicated. Hit the white ball into the cup in as few strokes as possible. But while the concept is simple, the execution is another matter.
Building a healthy life essentially comes down to 3 basic things: your mobility, your mindset, and your fuel. There are certainly other important factors as well, sleep being one of the biggest, but master these 3 essentials and you are well on your way to a healthier life. Like golf, this is a simple proposition, but mastering it can be a lifelong journey.
1. Move Like Your Life Depends on It
Movement is life. It is important on so many levels. Stagnant cells and tissues are dying ones. Immobile spinal joints restrict vital nerve flow from transporting life throughout the body. Tight muscles in your thoracic cavity limit your oxygen intake by restricting expansion of the rib cage.
Move Your Body
Be sure that you are moving your body in a variety of ways and across many different planes of movement as often as possible. Think like a kid again and get proficient at natural, full body movements. Think about running through the woods. Jump over some fallen trees. Duck under low hanging branches. Hop rocks across a creek. Grab a sturdy branch and heft yourself up. Exercise doesn’t have to be, nor should it be, limited to pumping out sets in a gym. If it’s not possible or practical to run around outside, try jumping rope or doing box jumps. Do some burpees. Pull yourself up onto a pull-up bar. Anything to get your whole body moving in unison.
Move Your Soft Tissue
In our world of restricted movement, we tend to become far less elastic than we should be. Typically we tend to see increased tension in the front of the body, as the head, neck, and shoulders all tend to round forward. Spend some time each day (as little as 15 minutes) stretching tight muscles and releasing restricted soft tissue. Utilize a foam roller, tennis ball, lacrosse ball, or any of a number of other implements designed to work out knots and adhesions, especially in the mid and upper back. Lay back over a stability ball and drop your arms and head back to open up the front of your body. Even when you are just sitting you can do simple stretches such as clasping your opposite wrist and stretching your arm overhead. Try to get into the mindset of working some mobility into your body no matter how sedentary your state.
Move Your Joints
Your joints are hinges between body parts. And just like a hinge, they need to be moved through a full range of motion to remain loose and supple. What happens to a hinge that doesn’t see any use for a long period of time? It gets stiff and creaky. If it’s exposed to the elements it will rust in place. Restricted joints can constrict nerve flow, such as with spinal joints, or impair the soft tissue around it, as with a frozen shoulder. To maintain healthy joint movement get adjusted regularly, perform deep body weight squats and lunges, do shoulder and neck rolls, do side bends and rotations with your trunk, make circles with your wrists and ankles. An easy way to do this is to start at the neck and work your way down to your shoulders, elbows, wrists, etc., all the way to your fingers and toes. Spend 30 seconds or so on each joint and then move on.
2. Think Healthy Thoughts
Your thoughts have a profound effect on your physical body and your health. Don’t believe me? Try this. Picture one of your greatest fears or phobias. Let’s say it’s a fear of heights. Now imagine that your are standing atop the Empire State Building. Not on the observation deck, but actually up on the ledge. Your toes are hanging over the edge as you peer down at the miniature street scene below. The wind is gusting and you can actually feel the building swaying beneath you. As the wind shifts direction you struggle to maintain your precarious grip. Imagine this vividly and then take note of how your body feels. You might notice that your heart rate and respiration have increased. Maybe you feel a bit weak in the knees or feel butterflies in your stomach.
Your thoughts can absolutely elicit a physiologic response in your body. Sometimes it’s as simple as your mouth watering when you think about your favorite treat, and other times it you might get physically sick to your stomach as you recount a tragic event.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Do your best to eliminate anxiety and worry from your life. It’s been said that worrying is like paying interest on a debt that you might never owe, as most of the things that we fret over never come to pass. But the toll that anxiety can take on your health is very real and damaging. High blood pressure, insomnia, nerve system stress, tension headaches, and more can all be caused or aggravated by worry and stress.
Take some time each day to purposefully feed your mind with positive, healthy thoughts and visions. If you’re a praying person, say a prayer of gratitude upon waking. Meditate on an uplifting word or phrase. Say a few positive affirmations to get you in the right mental frame of mind. Journal wins and positive experiences throughout the day to reflect on later.
3. Refine Your Fuel Supply
The average American diet is horrendous, to put it kindly. Full of refined grains and sugars, laden with artificial sweeteners, colors, and flavorings, and heavily processed with chemical additives, it is a recipe for blood sugar swings, energy crashes, weight gain, and early death. What’s amazing is that our bodies are resilient enough to withstand the onslaught and hang in there as long as they do. But a body can only absorb so many blows, and like a broken fighter, is destined to eventually crumble under the abuse.
But the great news is that even if your eating habits are deplorable you can still pull yourself up off the canvas and come back swinging. Our bodies are masters of rebuilding and repair and are excellent at bouncing back from abuse.
Reduce Your Sugar Intake
One of the most effective changes you can make is to cut your sugar consumption back. Reducing your sugar intake can have all-encompassing positive effects on your health, from leveling out your blood sugar, to stabilizing your mood and your body weight, to reducing your risk for type 2 diabetes.
But we’re not just talking about table sugar (does anyone still keep sugar on their table?), pastries, and donuts here. Remember that sugar wears many hats. Simple carbs like cereal, potatoes, rice, pasta, etc. are quickly broken down into glucose that can spike blood sugar levels. Not that you can’t eat these foods any more. But instead of building your plate around them use them more sparingly, as a small accompanying side perhaps. If you’re struggling with your weight or blood sugar, even fruit should be eaten in moderation.
Instead, the bulk of your meals should be made up of good sources of protein (grass fed beef, wild caught game and fish, organic free-range poultry and eggs, etc.), healthy fats (avocado, almonds, olive oil, pastured butter, coconut oil, etc.), and lots of veggies in a variety of colors.
Ditch the Cans and Boxes
As much as possible, stick to real, whole, fresh food over anything found in a box or a can. The old adage that you should shop the perimeter of the grocery store for the most part holds true, as the center of the store is usually the dumping ground for canned and boxed goods heavy on additives and preservatives but light on nutritional content. Some of this stuff doesn’t even resemble food.
I like the hunter-gatherer mentality that if it can be picked or killed in nature it’s fair game. Not that you have to go to those extremes, but it gives you a good point of reference as to whether or not what you are eating is real food.
Consider starting your own garden. If that’s not possible, look into joining a local CSA program where you can purchase a subscription of a local farm’s yield. I’ve used this one and loved it! I also hear great things about this one.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you start down the path to improving your health. There are a million different directions you can go and twice as many bits of conflicting information. Sometimes the best approach is to simplify and commit. Narrow your focus down to your movement, your mind, and your meals. Once you’ve gotten those in order you can start looking at deeper concerns, but chances are if you’ve done well with these 3 things you’ll find that you won’t need to tweak much else.
*Image credits to stockimages, artur 84, and Simon Howden at freedigitalphotos.net