Simplify (Part IX): Health and fitness for normal people
Health and fitness is riddled with fads, hacks, textbooks and die-hards and you know what? They're probably all right. At least in part.
When it comes to our bodies, we were designed to work in a large, interlinked system. When one internal system fails, others are affected by it. That's why when some people make one little change it can revolutionize their life while others can make the exact same change and not see any difference. The symptom isn't always clearly pointing to a specific problem. Only when our body's systems are all aligned can it function as it was meant to.
It might sound like an impossible task considering the vast amount of inputs that relegate health. Thankfully, God masterfully engineered our bodies to adapt and remain healthy within a wide range of lifestyle choices. The Eskimo who lives in sub-zero temperatures and eats whale blubber and the Upper East Side Croissant Snob can both be healthy despite their vastly different environments! The challenge is to keep our bodies within that spectrum of health and give it the tools it requires to do its thing.
Remember that time I kept reminding you in every single section of the course that simplicity is about removing the unnecessary to make room for the necessary? Here it is again. How can we simplify health down to the 20% of actions that will produce 80% of the results? We're not talking body building here - just basic healthy living.
As with anything, there are a few principles that act as bumper rails (like in bowling) for your health. As long as you bowl somewhere down the center, you'll be okay. Some people are gym rats who hit the weights twice a day and strictly regulate their diet. Others find themselves far too in love with food and far too apathetic toward working out (like me).
Can we be honest? In a culture of abundant food, busy schedules, and endless distractions, it's easy for health to take a back seat in our lives. At least for me. Oh, you're a health nut? I envy you. For the rest of us Average Joe's, we need to figure out how we can adapt our lifestyles to fall within the spectrum of healthy living that our bodies need while not breaking the bank, waking up at ungodly hours or doing some ridiculous exercise that we hate. My dad is a chiropractor and has spent his adult life understanding how the body works to heal and maintain itself. Since I've spent my adult life doing nothing of the sort, I decided it would be best for all of you if I consult with him on a few pointers. These are seven principles of health that will help us all provide our bodies with the proper inputs to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
1. Chiropractic Care
Bet you didn't see that one coming. Chiropractic is actually quite misunderstood among the general population. Most people come to Chiropractors because they have a pain in their back or neck. But Chiropractic is not a glorified pain killer or physical therapy. It's more like a telephone line repair man. Your spinal column is home to a bundle of nerves that disperse throughout your body and are communication pathways to the brain. This is how your body tells the brain that it found a problem somewhere and needs it to fix it. If those communication pathways are blocked by a misaligned vertebra that's pinching the nerves (that's called a subluxation), the body doesn't function at its peak performance. The pain or headache you have won't necessarily be solved by Chiropractic - Chiropractic gives your body the opportunity to solve it itself. Since your body is fully capable of solving it's own problems (Unless you cut off your arm or something. We're not mutants.) we need to realign the vertebra, opening up the neural pathways that allows the brain to communicate with the body and let our bodies take over from there. Dumping obscene amounts of drugs into your body is not the answer, friend.
Imagine Chiropractic as an equalizer. Inputs into your body, whether good or bad, can be responded to appropriately by your body's incredible internal systems if it can communicate properly.
2. Forget the fads
There will always be a new study, a new experiment, new research, and new programs out there telling you what you should and shouldn't do. For a while there, eggs were bad for you! But now, they're good for you and you can't eat enough of them. These people can't make up their minds. Remember, your body is great at adapting - let it. I'm not sure if it's possible to find the "perfect diet" because each person is unique in what they need and how much they need. If you have a deficiency, you'll need more of that nutrient. If you're a muscular person, you'll need more intake to fuel your output. Start with keeping things reasonable and get healthier from there. They key, I think, is in not overdosing on foods that are obviously unhealthy and, instead eating those foods which are reasonably considered to be healthy. Reasonableness often wins out over extremes in these situations.
3. Portion Control
Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, went on a ten-week Twinkie Diet and discovered to his surprise that he lost weight, lowered his BMI, lowered his bad cholesterol and increased his good cholesterol. Now I'm not condoning going on a Twinkie Diet - I'm just trying to illustrate a point. Here's an excerpt from the article:
For many people, they key to a healthy diet isn't the latest Paleo revolution or cutting sugars out completely. It's eating less. A lot of people fail at dieting because of the difficulty in cutting something out cold turkey (not cutting out cold turkey but cutting co... whatever). Just try eating less.
4. Simple Exercise
Few exercises exist that will work out our entire body, have little risk of injury and have a large return on investment. The three that my Dad and I identified were walking, swimming and jumping on the trampoline (strange, I know). These three are not high-impact exercises which allow your body to strengthen with little risk. They also require very little time or financial investment (except swimming if you don't have a pool). You can purchase one of those little baby trampolines (find one here) or a good pair of comfortable tennis shoes and be in business! What's great about walking and jumping is that you can listen to podcasts or books on tape while doing either, allowing you to kill two birds with one stone. Boom.
You would be surprised at how many people don't take rest seriously any more. Despite it's unpopularity, rest is one of the pillars of health. It gives your body time to recuperate and heal itself. Throughout the day, even if we're sitting at a desk, our body has little time to slow down and focus on specific tasks. Sleep gives our bodies the break that it needs to clean the chemical toxins out of brains, digest food, decrease blood pressure, rest our muscles and a host of other routine maintenance to-do's that are vital to our body's health. Running our internal systems with little rest can literally wear out our body early. There's a good excuse to take that nap. You're welcome.
In a similar vein (health pun intended) as resting, fasting allows our digestive system a chance to catch up and clean out. It's good for the internal organs to naturally flush itself out sometimes to relieve toxins and build up natural, healthy bacteria along the inside walls. Fasting also provides the unintended consequence of helping us practice discipline and save money. Spiritually speaking, fasting is a time of self-discipline through which we are reminded to meditate on Scripture, prayer and worship. A regular time of fasting - say 24 hours, once a month - is good for both the body and soul.
Consistency is one of the most under-appreciated hacks (if you can call it that) of health. Just because your body is really good at adapting doesn't mean that it should be called upon to adapt every other week. Consistency and routine not only allow your body to expend less energy and not work as hard, but also strengthen itself through practice and repetition, just like our minds or muscles. Think of consistency as an amplifier. If you are consistently working out a particular muscle, that muscle will grow stronger. If you are consistently eating a particular meal for breakfast each morning, your body will be adapt and strengthen to that routine. In fact, I've read in a study that eating a consistent meal is better for you than eating a healthy meal. Whatever you choose to do from the list above, stick to it. You'll find yourself in a healthier state all around. Now, conversely, if you are consistent in unhealthy habits, you will amplify the impact of those bad habits over time. Find a good, healthy lifestyle and stick with it!
Health, like everything else, can be made complicated. But it doesn't have to be. I believe that there is a natural state of healthiness for each person somewhere along that spectrum that we discussed. Provide your body the tools that it needs (communication, nutrients, rest, exercise, consistency) and give it permission to be the body it was designed to be.