This Is What I Do
I connected with an old friend who asked me what I do to stay healthy. This is my reply.
An oak cometh of a little shoot.*
- Geoffrey Chaucer
A couple weeks ago, I connected with an old friend I haven’t seen for years.
He asked me what I was doing to stay healthy so I told him I would write this week’s Prime Cuts post to describe my mindset and health habits.
This will be a fun exercise that might be informative for my friend as well as some other readers.
In addition, it will give me a chance to chronicle what I’m doing these days.
First, some tenets...
General Health Tenets
Philosophy - I am a constructivist. I believe we continuously build our realities and that we can reinvent ourselves based on our thoughts, actions, and feelings.
Control - There are things we can’t control, like the weather or price, and things we can control, like the choices we make and the actions we take. I focus on the things I can control.
Simplicity - The human body is a lot more complicated than scientists want to admit but much simpler to operate. We don’t really understand much but we do have some idea of what works and can test things out.
So I attend more to what works than the why.
Sixth Sense - Being tuned into internal cues like hunger, energy level, mood, and aches, is a superpower.
If we are aware of and well-tuned to these internal cues, we can test health actions and observe the effects they have on us. As such…
N=1 - We can conduct the scientific method on ourselves. If I learn that creatine might make me stronger and I want to get stronger, I can try it and see if it works for me.
If I know when I’m tired, I can take a day off.
Mindset - While discipline can be helpful sometimes, healthy living is really more about mindset. Being healthy is a part of my self-concept, a part of who I am.
Goals – I want to live a long time and be healthy for as long as possible. I want to be happy and enjoy life. I want to spend quality time with the people I love and be fit enough to play ball or tag with the grandkids I might have one day.
Path and Pace – Everyone has his/her own distinct journey. Some people have a health scare and change everything the next day. Some people go slow and steady like James Clear. Some people take 3 steps forward and 2 steps back. I have been this last type but am shifting more into the slow and steady camp.
I used to be a hare, but now I’m more of a tortoise.
Everyone finds their own path and pace and these can change over time.
Consistency - Consistency is a superpower. It’s more important than intensity. Just keep at it.
A corollary to consistency, is getting back on the horse. If I take the kids to Bellevale Creamery and wind up eating a bunch of ice cream, I make sure to eat clean tomorrow. No big deal. I get back on the horse.
Also, when I do veer, I give myself a break. This is a 1000 mile journey and there will be twists and turns. Beating myself up never helped me much.
Nutrition Trumps Exercise - The fuel we nourish our bodies with is more important than our exercise routine. As the old saying goes, You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet.
In turn, some people learn from me which I take as an honor and a responsibility.
The things we do over and over again sculpt who we are.
These are the health related things I do. They work for me. Some things may work for you.
I have come to them over time. I’ve had false starts, missteps, injuries, everything. These do not have to be adopted all at once and your path will be different than mine and may be circuitous or not.
1. What I Eat - I’m starting with nutrition, because it might be the most important thing.
We live in a culture that minimizes its importance and distorts what foods are and are not healthy, which is unfortunate
This is fundamental truth.
I eat a lot of protein, keep carbs very low and fats moderate. Ted Naiman’s PE Diet book is foundational here and I can't recommend it enough.
This is a list of the foods I eat most regularly. Ground beef, eggs, greek yogurt, chicken, salmon, pork and bacon, shrimp, broccoli (and other green veggies), berries, milk with whey protein, black coffee, olive and avocado oil.
This is a list of foods I generally avoid. Pasta, potatoes, rice, bread. Vegetable oils. Foods with added sugar. Foods that come in a box.
I don’t drink alcohol.
Here is a post I wrote called This Is What I Eat that goes into a lot more detail for those interested.
And here is a post called Benefits of Eating a High Protein Diet.
2. When I Eat
Nearly as important as what I eat is when I eat.
Narrowing the hours during the day that we eat has all sorts of benefits. We can be hungry sometimes and we can give our bodies a chance to do things aside from digesting like rest and repair.
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is the term when we limit our eating window.
The most common IF schedule is 16-8 which means we eat during an 8 hour window and then fast for 16 hours.
This might mean we skip breakfast and don’t eat after dinner, so maybe we eat between 12PM and 8PM and then don’t eat from 8PM to 12PM the next day.
My eating window has narrowed more than that as I’ve progressed in my IF path over time. I generally do 20-4 and eat from 4PM to 8PM. On days that I strength train, I usually widen that window to 18-6 or the 16-8 described above.
For those just starting, you can begin with 14-10.
Here is a post I wrote called Getting Started Intermittent Fasting that goes into a lot more detail.
3. How I Move
Movement is fundamental to human health and it feels great. I want to move and continue to move with balance and agility until I am very old.
Walking - We are bipeds and so walking is a basic movement. This is my center and the place to begin.
I walk almost everyday and will continue to do so. It is my basic movement.
Sometimes, I go fun places or take hikes and sometimes I’ll walk around my kitchen and living room or on a treadmill. Sometimes I walk with my wife or a friend and sometimes I walk by myself.
I often take my dog Daisy along.
Here is a post I wrote a while back called Walking.
Strength Training - As we age, our risk of muscle loss increases. Sometimes, people become frail and have a greater risk of severe physical injury. I want to avoid this.
Two or three times a week I strength train. I do push ups, pull ups, shoulder presses and body squats. That’s my core four.
I have added more stuff too that I cycle in and out like kettlebell swings, chin ups, shrugs, dips, farmer carries etc.
Here is a post I wrote called Getting Started Strength Training that might be helpful to some.
Running - I love running and am currently training for a half marathon. These days, I run less often and do more long slow (Zone Two) runs.
4. Rest - Similar to nutrition (mentioned above), our culture neglects the importance of rest. There’s so much rat race.
Yet sleep and rest are how we recuperate and reenergize so that we can go back out there and move or hustle.
I go to bed almost every night around 9:30 and I keep it cool, dark and screenless.
If I am tired or achey, I take a day off from intense exercise and sometimes I’ll even blow off walking.
Rest is a big 2022 focus and I will be writing a lot about it in the coming months.
5. Mindfulness - To me, mindfulness means being present in the moment with my thoughts and feelings.
I practice mindfulness when I walk mostly. I let thoughts and feelings flow into my head and body and find new ideas pop up out of nowhere. I often go for a walk before I write this newsletter.
I also do the garland pose most mornings and play with my dog.
There’s a bunch of other stuff. I suppose I’ve become pretty obsessed. lol!
I do HIIT - sprints, rowing or jumping rope. I take long hot jacuzzi baths which are anti-inflammatory and incredibly relaxing.
That said, the takeaways from this post are:
1. People can follow their own path to health.
2. There are a few important things (nutrition, movement, rest) and none of them require that we are experts in anything. We don’t have to know what the mitochondria does or what the word autophagy means.
3. Start anywhere that resonates and build from there.
4. Just eating well and walking regularly is a great start and will get you far.
5. Being tuned into our own experiences is big across everything we do.
*I Googled the expression “From little acorns great oaks grow” to find who said it and learned that it went as far back as this Chaucer quote. lol.