In the past 50 years, we have seen a massive surge in fad diets, exercise regimens, and advanced workout equipment. Yet with the rise of this health and fitness revolution, there has also been a steady rise in health issues such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and other issues related to an unhealthy lifestyle.
For example, the average American is more than 24 pounds heavier today than in 1960, and childhood obesity has tripled since 1980, despite the parallel surge in the fitness & health industry. The solution to the health issues of today cannot be found in a pill, nor is there one clear-cut, cure-all diet. Today’s lifestyle is quite fast and hectic, we need to make a real change in our own current lifestyle. We must think about our health and well-being in a holistic, individualistic way, taking into account all aspects of our life.
Healthy living can be boiled down to three main factors. The first is getting good nutrition. Since our body is made from the stuff that we feed it, it is clearly very important to give your body the right nutrients. You could write many, many articles on this facet alone, but I’ll just include what I think are the fundamentals of good nutrition in this short piece.
The second factor in good health is–you guessed it– exercise. There are so many different styles of exercise it may be hard to decipher which will provide the best long-term health benefits, but I’ll give you a hint, it’s not jogging 5 miles on a treadmill every day. The third, and possibly most important aspect of good health is getting good quality sleep. Sleep is the time your body takes to heal from the day’s activities, and therefore if you don’t get good rest, then you will always be in a state of decline.
When I began to give more attention to my health, I began to follow probably one of the most common ways to lose weight- calorie counting. If you start to search for the “right” way to live, you’ll find that there is a lot of information and research out there that is often contradictory. The CDC (Center of Disease Control) in America and the AHA (American Heart Association) told us to eat less and exercise more, to focus on “calories in and calories out”; then we were told to stop eating fat; and then we turn around are told by dieters to stop eating carbohydrates and eat mainly fat and protein.
Although these methods aren’t technically wrong in the sense that if they are followed rigidly, they can lead to initial weight loss. However, the issue with these protocols is that they are based on reductionist science. To say that the sugar in a doughnut affects your body the same way as the sugar in a banana, as long as they are the same number of calories, is ridiculous. You’re probably thinking “Yeah…tell me something I don’t know already.” But some people–like my past self– actually live their lives this way, counting each individual calorie entering their body as the same.
Now I will try to do the impossible and to try to summarize the essence of good nutrition in one paragraph. In order to figure out the most optimal diet, you have to change the way you think about food. You don’t need to have a degree in nutritional science to figure out what you should and should not eat. All it takes is a little bit of common sense.
For instance, which is more likely, that the human body was designed to thrive on packaged food that is scientifically designed so you become addicted to it? Or fresh fruits and vegetables that are perfectly designed by nature to be complete, nutritional packages? Extensive research has shown the many benefits of following a plant-based diet and refraining from processed foods, as well as meat, fish, and eggs, such as reducing your risk of heart disease, unwanted weight gain, and even cancer! However, the term “plant-based” is very general.
You can technically follow a plant-based diet while drinking only soda and eating only doughnuts, cakes, and candy. Following a healthy plant-based diet means eating lots of whole vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and fruits. The bottom line is this: Don’t eat anything that had a face or would have a face. And don’t eat anything that you can’t recognize where it came from. I could go on for much longer but these basics are essentially really all you need to thrive.
So a couple of insights for this simple lifestyle would take us a long way. In addition to getting good nutrition, it is absolutely vital to get good exercise. To not only exercise but to exercise in the right way. If you get up early in the morning and go outside, you might see some (or you may even be one yourself) avid joggers going on their daily run. Running, along with other work out modalities such as cross-fit, high-intensity sports, and body-building, are all very popular and seemingly healthy ways to keep fit. However, by engaging in these exercise regimens, you might actually be shortening the lifespan of your body.
Returning to commonsense, do you think that the human body was meant to run for hours on end, jarring all of its joints and stressing the ligaments, for no real reason? Or lift big heavyweights as fast as you can? The answer is probably not. Recent research has shown that the most common exercises, while still better than being sedentary, may have harmful effects later on in life.
Now, of course, not everyone is trying to keep their body alive as long as they can, they simply want to win an Iron Man or lift 800 pounds, but if your goal is just healthy living, then exercises that are low impact, frequent, and exert about 50-80% of your maximum capacity, are recommended.
Such workouts like swimming, walking, and including yoga into a routine are all good examples of exercises that can be low-impact while still requiring exertion. *As a side note, I used to think that yoga-asana was just a bunch of stretching meant for people that couldn’t handle “real workouts” but I have been practicing yoga asanas lately and have realized that it is much more physically challenging than it looks. I could probably go on a tangent just on that, so I’ll cut myself short, but seriously, look into yoga.
The third and final aspect of good health is sleep. Getting good quality rest and relaxation is the most vital factor in living a healthy life. When you are asleep, your body is taking that time to heal and detox. Many people see it as an unproductive, waste of time, but on the contrary, research shows that by skipping sleep hours to do more “productive” things, like cram for a test, or finish work for a deadline, you may be harming your overall productive capacity by damaging your health, especially your brain.
Ever wonder why you just can’t lose weight? It very well could be that your body isn’t getting good rest. You could be eating healthy, and working out every day, but if you don’t take the time and recover, then you will be reducing, if not eliminating, the fruits of your efforts.
If you want to make a real change in your life, then you must take into account every aspect of your well-being. Not only your physical health, but your mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health. The tips that I have given in this article are simply some helpful guides to have better physical health. But what is the benefit of simply losing a few pounds? Are you truly happy when you get the body that you desire? And what drives us to live healthy in the first place? We must look deeper than the health of the body in order to find true meaning in our lives.