My personal health and fitness journey has been riddled with a lot of trial and error periods as I drew knowledge from different sources; whether it was someone that inspired me, different schools of thought, the general interwebs, or my personal reading and research. I slowly figured out key principles I could rely on no matter what my current goal was that lead to optimal health and wellness. While I think this process is educational in and of itself, looking back, it would have been nice to have a quick checklist of foundational guidelines that I could use as the basis for proactively living a healthy lifestyle. To add to the confusion, the fitness and health industry is constantly bombarding us with the latest trends advertising quick and easy results, or revolutionary new research that can change your life. It’s easy to get distracted and forget about the basics that make the biggest impact.
With all that in mind and through my personal discovery I have yet to come across a better summary of the basics than what Opex Fitness has created and coined as the Basic Lifestyle Guidelines. Below is a summary of what they’ve outlined for clients the prerequisites for leading a healthy lifestyle, and what to focus on improving prior to any complex training or diet regiment.
As I briefly stated, I believe addressing basic lifestyle guidelines that often go unnoticed will have a more profound impact on optimal health and wellness. At the end of the day, it’s not only the training that gets you to where you want to be, it can be as simple as evaluating your basic lifestyle needs. You often see huge emphasis on what you need to do in the gym to reach your health goals but it’s often what you do outside of the gym that should be your number one priority. The rapid pace of our society takes our focus away from the simple things that our body appreciates and needs over anything. Don’t underestimate the importance of the basics when it comes to feeling your best.
1. Balance (work, play, rest, relationships/social connections) –
There are 24hrs in each day, its very important that we apply work and rest appropriately. It is very easy to work endless hours and lose balance (especially in the US with the outlook of live-to-work versus the work-to-live outlook). Regularly reminding yourself of your purpose and priorities is essential in optimization of your health.
As we’ve been currently going through social isolation due to COVID-19. Social isolation in general is a major issue in today’s society. Advances in technology means that there is no real need for in person connection to carry our business. But sorry to say, social interaction via social media is not the same thing as social interaction in real life. As humans, we thrive with real life connection. Lack of meaningful relationships and connections adds legitimate stress to our bodies. Make time for those connections and important relationships, even if that only means once a month. Social interaction is proven to be extremely beneficial for your physical and mental health and community is one of the main pillars of health.
2. Circadian Rhythm (Timings/Energy)–
Circadian Rhythm is factual science – we cannot argue with it. We have evolved to wake with the sun, and begin to shut down ready for sleep as the sun goes down. Working against this, so shortening sleep (recovery process) means we wake with less energy (not to mention the hormonal imbalances it can possibly create). This downward spiral will continue as long as we continue to delay sleep; effectively us living in a jet lagged state.
Increased ‘eveningness’ is directly associated with increase rise of wide variety of disease and disorders (in an extended period of time). Simply put, working against our natural rhythm and staying awake long into the night can results in preventable illness.
3. Purpose (Priorities) –
It is easy to get wrapped up in our day-to-day; forgetting WHY we’re doing what we’re doing, and before we know it our days are filled with things that do not make us feel fulfilled, and don’t serve us in the long term. Unfortunately, they also effect our balance and rhythm in the short term, therefore, adding stress. Behavior drives priorities, period. Does what you are spending your time doing align with what you thought were priorities?
4. Hydration –
Feel dehydrated? Well, to late – your body is already in a pretty dehydrated meaning it can take 24-48 hours from that point to get back to where you need to be in terms of hydration. Cellular hydration is a vitally important basic lifestyle piece; easily achieved but often overlooked. Hydration is an investment. Start drinking water more, like yesterday!
5. Blood Flow (i.e. Exercise) –
An overall good rule of thumb: Have enough energy to train, do not train FOR energy. I absolutely love this. In this instance exercises is having adverse effect – adding stress through an unnatural burst of cortisol. Select a time of the day that works for you to exercise, where natural energy and cortisol are sufficient to support it. Refer back to purpose, remember your “why”. Regular high intensity workouts aren’t as sufficient long term as you may think. Unsustainable methods, unsustainable results, period. Exercising with sustainable methods will allow you to thrive in every other part of life.
6. Digestion –
Your body in a relaxed state is required to digest food. Take the time to enjoy your food. Rushing and not thoroughly taking the time to chew is not optional for digestion. I worked for/with a Nutritionist for three years (Hi, Desi & Dr. Nazarian) and she used to say the average the recommendation for proper breakdown for more successful digestion is 20-30 chews.
Another note, the composition of your gut can change quickly with stress. Altering the gut composition alters the absorption of nutrients. You could be eating the most nutrient dense foods and have the most balanced diet in the world, but you cannot digest properly and efficiency if you don’t minimize stress, and take time chew your food it wont matter what you in it.
7. Sunlight (Nature) –
Sunlight is crucial for overall health. It protects against inflammation and improves brain function, just a couple benefits. Depending on where you live this can be more difficult but you’d be surprised even just an hour walk makes a big difference. Offset the lack of sunlight with Vitamin D supplementation.
8. Mindfulness –
Mindfulness is a state of active open attention on the present. When you are mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting life pass you by. Mindfulness means living in the moment to awaken the experience. Familiarize yourself with the present moment, so that you get to experience a greater sense of focus, calm and clarity.
9. Food Quality –
Generally, avoid processed foods, instead eat whole foods. Vary protein sources and make them locally sourced and high quality. Eat wide variety of vegetables, fruits and nutrient dense carb sources. Add in good fats such as nuts, seeds, oils, avocado etc. and most importantly as we’ve already touched on – limit stressors to keep gut healthy, hormones balanced for optimal absorption of all the goodness.
10. Sleep –
Last but not least, you’ll hear me talk about sleep and the circadian rhythm a lot, get ready. Simply put, sleep is a recovery process. Sleep is vital. We know it’s importance in the circadian rhythm. Optimal sleep time should be 7-9 hours of unbroken sleep. To get that we need to create an environment that is conducive – less blue light exposure, don’t eat too close to bed are just a couple things.
Lack of sleep has serious detrimental effects:
- Impair insulin sensitivity
- Increase gut permeability – leaky gut, stomach ulcers.
- Increase systematic inflammation
- Imparts immune function
- Alters anabolic hormones
- Causes cravings through hormone imbalance
- Cognitive impairment
As initially stated, evaluating your basic lifestyle needs should be your number one priority. Dig deep and ask yourself are you prioritizing theses lifestyle guidelines to improve your overall health. As I initially stated, addressing these alone will have a more profound impact than you might realize.