There are four pillars to a good life: Exercise, nutritious food, sleep, and stress management.
Our bodies are not made for constant sitting. Our bodies were made to move. Like abandoned machines, we “rust” when we don’t use our bodies for physical movement. We ache. We feel uncomfortable. We age faster than we have to. Even if you see yourself as a brain being transported by this otherwise irrelevant body, don’t forget that your brain is intimately hooked up to the rest of your body! To provide your brain with optimum operating conditions, your body needs to be in optimum condition. Get moving nearly every day, enough to get you to sweat. And keep it up – consistency is what pays off here! It’s just like retirement savings – start early and count on compound interest over time. If you have prepared for your retirement financially and physically for 50 years when it’s time, they truly will be golden years for you – you will have energy to do what you want and your mind intact to experience it with.
While obesity and overweight certainly are problems, don’t make the mistake of getting too narrowly focused on calories. Don’t get me wrong, that’s important, and if you want to lose weight you should be pretty familiar with how the numbers work out for you. But what your body needs from food is more than just calories and macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates, and fats. You also need vitamins, phytonutrients, minerals, and all the other micronutrients in foods. The absolute simplest way to broadly address calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients all at the same time is to eat lots (and lots and lots!) of fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Let vegetables and legumes push at least some other things, like meat, and grains, off your plate. When you need a snack, reach for a fruit, carrot sticks, or a nutrition shake like Shakeology. That eating lots of fruits and vegetables makes you healthy is hardly news. But – and this is a big but – very few people execute on this information. In order for it to help you, you have to apply it! Don’t shop around for some new piece of information (“Eat low-fat! No, eat low-carb!”) that feels better to you. Eat lots of vegetables. Small mountains of them. That’s nutritious, low-calorie, provides you with all three macronutrient groups, and plenty of the micronutrients to boot. You can’t go wrong with a diet loaded with fruits and vegetables at every turn.
If you adopt the policy that you can sleep when you’re dead, you’re going to get your wish sooner, and getting there will be a lot less pleasant than it could have been. Your brain and body both need sleep to heal and rest. When you exercise intensely, you need more sleep, because your muscles need more time to heal. Sleep improves your concentration and your problem-solving ability. Getting adequate sleep can improve your mood, and it helps even out your blood sugar. If you are low on sleep, your body tries to get you to compensate for the lack of energy by eating sweet, sugary things. Sweet, sugary things are unhealthy. So not only does the sleep itself help keep you healthy and productive, lack of it pushes you the other direction. So get the sleep you need. Being you will be infinitely more pleasant just for that, no matter what else is going on in your life.
Sure, it’s a cliché. But it’s still a good idea. Exercise, good food, and sleep are all stress management tools. But you probably need more to stay sane. Stress can contribute to heart disease and other health problems, because being constantly stressed out activates your body’s fight-or-flight response. The hormones of that response increase your blood sugar levels – which is fine temporarily, but not all the time. The stress eventually tweaks out your blood sugar and insulin system, much for the worse for you. But really, do you need more motivation than feeling calm for once, especially when tempers are flying around you at work? Life is just more pleasant when you can remain calm when a crisis is happening.
The concept of mindfulness is key here – learn to just be in the moment and take in what’s happening without having your train of thoughts rushing off in all kinds of directions. Stay present – don’t miss out on the present because you’re so pre-occupied with what-ifs or what’s already happened. Meditation has been shown to change your brain after consistently meditating for eight weeks. Non-strenuous exercise like more yin forms of yoga, walking and light hiking, and leisurely bike riding can be plain relaxing. Don’t forget to spend time with your friends and family! Share some herbal tea in candlelight before going to bed at night. Sit out on the balcony, listening to the birds, maybe call an old friend to catch up while you’re out there. Decide to hike that trail you’ve heard is so beautiful next weekend with your family. Invite someone over for dinner. Believe me, you deserve it. You deserve a moment of peace and calm every day. Calm is not a luxury only for those who… well, what would you do to deserve calm? You don’t have to earn it – you already have it! Claim your right to calm and find daily habits that relax you, and learn to be present enough to be there mentally for them.