|When it comes to correcting behavior, society spends most of its time on kids. When kids misbehave, they need to be straightened out so that they learn their lesson. Ironically, though, the perceived misbehavior of kids is usually just non-conformity to society’s set of socially acceptable rules. These kids are showing us what nature looks like, and society doesn’t like it.
As adults, though, we think we have it under control. We behave as society deems “correct” and feel accepted because we follow along with the crowd. However, the crowd is unhealthy, unhappy, and unfulfilled. The behaviors deemed acceptable by the crowd lead us to obesity, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Yet, for some reason, we’re too concerned with correcting little Johnny for running around the house (which is natural) and not at all concerned with correcting ourselves for being glutinous, slothful, and selfish (which are not natural).
Now, I understand that the previous passage was a bit…direct. However, if you’re going to have an impact on your health in any significant way, it starts with acceptance. As an addiction therapist might put it, fixing an addiction begins with admitting that you have an addiction. In the same way, changing unhealthy behaviors to behaviors of health and vitality begins with admitting that some of the behaviors you’re currently participating in may be killing you (literally).
There are many, many behavioral components that go into giving your genetics healthy instructions. However, most of them can be broken into 3 categories: movement, nourishment, and recovery…
Move Well…Move Often
Call me bias, but I believe that the most important attribute of a healthy lifestyle is movement. As we’ll see soon, proper nourishment and recovery are imperative for optimal living, but movement is the foundation that brings the most juice to your body.
To help you understand the importance of movement, let’s talk about lack of movement. Most people think of lack of movement as only inhibiting the physical body. For instance, if you don’t exercise often, you get weak and lose muscle. If you don’t stretch and mobilize, you get stiff and tight. These things are true, of course. However, lack of movement also impacts the body on a biological level. When you don’t move, the body’s natural drainage system, the lymph system, slows down. This causes your immunity to lower, increasing your chances of getting sick.
Lack of movement also means that your cells don’t have to function at a high rate. This slows down the mitochondria in the cell, slowly leading to mitochondrial dysfunction. So, as you see a sedentary lifestyle is not only a physical movement problem, it is also a cellular movement problem. Without cellular movement, the biological processes that keep you healthy and happy slow down.
Of course, the natural thing for me to say is to get more exercise. Which is certainly true. Generally speaking, you should get about 150-200 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week. At least 120 of those minutes should include some sort of strength training. Without it, the body will become weak and frail.
The other area of movement that is less talked about is NEAT movement. NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. Essentially, NEAT is all of the calories you burn from movement that is NOT exercise-related. As you can imagine, this type of movement makes up much more of your day than exercise ever will. So, increasing your NEAT will go a loooong way to decrease your aging. A simple way to do this is by developing a Movement Hygiene Practice.
Set your watch or other timer for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, get up and MOVE for 3-5 minutes. This movement can include exercises or stretches you enjoy, walking around the yard, or doing some quick household chores. Whatever it is, it should NOT involve carrying a phone, laptop, or other device. It should only involve moving the body. Building in a Movement Hygiene Practice gives your body, and your cells, the movement they need to survive and thrive.
Nourish the Body to Banish Aging
A sad fact about health and fitness is that most of what you’re sold by the industry has more to do with looking good naked and less to do with living a long healthy life. With nutrition, the story is much the same. Most people think of “meeting clean” as a form of punishment only to be done in order to lose weight or get ready for pool season. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with feeling good in your own skin (and looking good naked, for that matter), having these outcomes as your primary driver will lead to burnout 100% of the time.
That’s why, at Thriveology, we talk about nourishing the body. Because when you nourish the body, you’re focused on feeding what it needs and wants in order to survive and thrive. Plus, nourishment has to do with more than just nutrition. There are 3 aspects to nourishing the body: nutrition, hydration, and supplementation.
If you want a healthy lifespan AND healthspan, it’s important that you optimize all 3 of these areas. And while we certainly don’t have time to dive deep into these areas, there are some fundamental rules you can follow to help build a body that works FOR you instead of AGAINST you.
- For nutrition, follow the 90/10 rule – The easiest rule to follow in nutrition, which overrides almost ANY other rule available (including counting calories, low sugar, low fat, or any other non-sense like that) is the 90/10 rule. The rule states that, 90% of the time you should eat meals made of whole foods. That means nothing out of a box. As Dan John likes to say, it’s time to stop eating like a television commercial and start eating like an adult. Also, high sugar intake (which almost ALL boxed products have) has been shown to increase cellular senescence. Not good if you’re wanting high-functioning cells. The other 10% of the time (which is usually 2-3 meals a week for most of us) you can eat what you want, as long you don’t overeat. Allergies and intolerances aside, it’s literally that simple.
- Only drink water, black coffee, or unsweet tea – Yet another nutrition fallacy is the fallacy of juices. Fruit juice manufacturers like to tout the benefits of the vitamins and minerals found in their juices. Which is true. Orange juice has vitamin C, which your body needs to fight inflammation. Grape juice has quercetin, which is a strong antioxidant. However, these juices also have 15-20 grams of sugar per serving. Sure, it’s “natural” sugar. But so is table sugar (which comes the sugarcane plant). Actually, in an ironic twist, the sugar found in fruit juices is called fructose, while sugar from table sugar is made primarily up of sucrose. Sucrose is broken down and metabolized in the intestines and stored mostly in muscle and other organs. Fructose, on the other hand, is metabolized and stored in the liver, which has a much small storage capacity than all the muscles in your body. High levels of fructose lead to fatty liver disease which can lead to liver failure. So, no, that vitamin C does not make up for the 20 grams of sugar in that glass of OJ.
- Supplements should only be taken if you’re following the 90/10 rule – I a big fan of supplements. When used correctly, they can enhance your energy, optimize your brain function, and boost your strength and endurance. Of course, this only happens when they’re used as they were intended…as a SUPPLEMENT to your nutrition. Can taking supplements override a bad diet? To a small degree, yes, it can. Fish oil supplementation, for instance, has been shown to lower inflammation (thanks to its powerful Omega 3 fatty acids) regardless of diet quality. But that’s about the only supplement that has shown resistance to junk food. Until you start following the 90/10 rule, keep the supplements on the shelf.
Sleep to Cleanse the Mind and Body (Literally and Figuratively)
From an evolutionary standpoint, the act of sleeping makes zero sense. When you sleep soundly, there are periods of time when you are literally paralyzed, unable to move or respond to the world around you. If our ancestors found themselves in a paralyzed sleep state and suddenly a tiger pounced from a bush, they would not bode well.
So what good does deep sleep do if it seems so unusual from an evolutionary standpoint? Well, there are many factors that go into the importance of sleep. However, from our perspective, the most important factor has to do with garbage.
If you recall from the first essay on Aging as a Disease, human cells die over time. They can also become senescent cells in which they don’t necessarily die, but become dysfunctional and have a negative impact on the healthy cells around them. Both of these types of cells, dead cells and senescent, zombie cells, can be thought of as biological trash. And just like the trash in your house, if you don’t take out the biological trash regularly, it becomes stinky and rotten, lowering the quality of the environment around it.
So how do we take out our biological trash? Well, one effective way is exercise. High-intensity exercise creates an internal environment that cleans out dead and senescent cells to make way for new ones. However, the most effective way to take out our internal garbage, and one reason why deep sleep is imperative for optimal living, is to get good, quality sleep.
While we sleep, the body literally cleans up the garbage. It cleans up the senescent and dead cells roaming throughout the body and cleans out the unwanted build-up in the brain. This is important because, when it comes to the body, the accumulation of these types of cells drastically increasing the symptoms of aging. Also, from a brain standpoint, lack of adequate sleep can lead to the build-up of amyloid plaque, which has been highly associated with the risk of Alzheimer’s (are you starting to see a trend here?).
So, yes, sleep makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint because, without it, we would age and die much more quickly. When it comes to cleaning out the most garbage as you sleep, there are 2 factors to focus on:
- Sleep QUALITY – While it’s certainly important to get the necessary 7-9 hours of sleep to function properly, it’s more important that you focus on improving the quality of your sleep to clean out the biological garbage. One of the best ways to improve sleep quality is to reduce/eliminate light exposure at least 2 hours before bed. That means no phones, laptops, tablets, TVs, or even regular overhead lights.
- Nutrient timing – One reason your body is able to take out the trash while you sleep is that it’s not spending time on other metabolic processes, such as digesting food. This is why, if you want to really clean up the biological garbage overnight, you should also strive to eat no closer than 2 hours before bed. That means no snacks, ice cream, juices. If your body is spending time digesting food overnight, that means there’s less time to clean up the cells that cause disease.