Simplifying your approach to health – while reaping actual benefits – starts with introspection.
One of the things I find hilarious about being in my mid-30s is that I'm still frequently mistaken for being much younger than I am. There are times when I consider this to be a disadvantage (like being carded at almost every bar I go to) but overall I'm fortunate that I exude youth when this is typically the age where people start panicking about the inevitability of getting older.
But I'm not trying to humblebrag. I'm no Halle Berry. It's clear that I am not exempt from the woes of aging and I've noticed changes in my body that I take as a warning sign: good genes will only get you so far. About a year ago I was diagnosed with a herniated disc and it completely shocked me, opening my eyes to both the fragility and resilience of the human body.
The issue is, despite being fairly fit and health conscious, I’ve never been a wellness fanatic and I'm not about to become one now. So I've been thinking about how to maximize the activities that seem to be strong contributors to my health and that I tend to naturally engage in. I wanted to share my approach because breaking bad habits and starting new routines can be difficult. It's much easier to capitalize on pre-existing behaviors.
I Fast Intermittently
I've written about my tendency to eat only 1-1.5 meals a day and I truly believe this is the key factor behind not dealing with weight issues as well as other ailments associated with a poor diet (bad skin, high blood pressure, low energy, and so on). I also suspect it may be connected to a strong immune system as I never get colds or the flu (knock on wood).
That said, my daily intake is based on being in tune with what feels right for my body (i.e. if hungry I eat, if not hungry I don't eat) and I can't claim that intermittent fasting would work for someone else. Though there are many expert-approved benefits of fasting there are also some setbacks if you aren't careful. My advice would be to pay attention to when and how you eat and try to determine whether hunger is truly driving your consumption.
The one thing I'm doing to take this further is definitely not fasting more (I'm too much of a foodie) but being mindful of the composition of my meals and the diversity of nutrients they offer. I love pizza like anyone else but I have to be even more careful in limiting subpar foods since I'm only consuming half of what the average person takes in daily.
I Walk A lot
I love to walk and can cover an insane amount of territory and go for hours straight without feeling tired. I prefer walking in dynamic environments, like energetic towns or even beautiful beaches, where the surroundings or landscape offer visual stimulation.
The most notable benefits I've experienced from walking have been: the rejuvenation from fresh air and natural light (particularly after being inside for a long period of time), extra energy, clarity of mind, improved mood, and body toning. These benefits – and many more – have been proven within the medical community so if you can only carve out 30 minutes a day it's well worth the effort.
I'm taking this further by going on more hikes in areas with diverse terrain that offer obstacles and elevation for more of a cardio and strength workout. I typically hike 1-2 times month and am looking to move this to a weekly activity. The big caveat here is I hate the cold and in the winter I hibernate like a bear and have to force myself not to be sedentary.
I Don't Stress
Stress is a physical reaction to a perceived threat so how you mentally handle adversity directly impacts your overall health. I have somewhat of a even-keeled personality and don't typically feel stress in my body even when dealing with extremely trying situations. In other words, I don't often get butterflies in the stomach, chest pains, high blood pressure, or other symptoms of anxiety.
It would take an entire essay to dig into my equanimity so let's just say that it's partially due to my natural personality (INTJ) and partially to the outcomes of an ongoing interest in and commitment to self-development (such as drawing on principles of Stoicism). At the expense of over-generalizing (and using a mean oxymoron) I have an enthusiastic indifference about life which helps me weather its ups and downs.
What helps me stay emotionally stable is a process I mention in What Matters Most: awareness, clarity, and focus. When you check-in on yourself on a regular basis you gain insight into the state of your emotional health (which, of course, is directly connected to your physical health).
I'm Not Excessive
Well, let's just ignore the handful of times in my 20s when I've gotten blackout drunk because that skews the data! Sure I overindulge – sometimes by accident and sometimes with intent – but in general I tend to be quite moderate in most areas of life.
One of the things I’ve realized over time is that it is difficult for me to start new habits – good and bad to be honest. The benefit, however, is that I’m not prone to addiction. I’ve seen the impact on family members who struggle with compulsive and impulsive tendencies and, in my opinion, this is one of the most dangerous threats to a person’s well-being. From smoking and obesity to alcoholism and drug use, addiction tends to be the culprit behind many of the diseases and disorders that are amongst the leading causes of death.
I made a joke above about binge drinking but, in all seriousness, it took me a while to recognize that this had the potential to become a big problem. Each time I would brush it off as nothing more than an innocent one-off incident, and I ignored my conscious telling me otherwise because I was in good company. Sometimes our most damaging behaviors can be hard to spot or admit. If you have even a minor suspicion that there's an area of disproportionate indulgence in your life it’s better to address it now then let it go unchecked.
Being diagnosed with such a critical condition meant that I had to make immediate adjustments to my lifestyle. I refused to have surgery or take medication but I also didn’t want to live in pain. I was very confused and upset following the diagnoses but the "woe is me" attitude was short lived. I eliminated the physical activities that would agitate my condition, replaced them with an alternative regimen (consisting of physiotherapy and Bikram yoga), and got on with my life. I’ve been pain-free ever since.
As we age we tend to become set in our ways. This can be a challenge if faced with a major physical setback or even when trying to make minor improvements to overall wellness. Good health is not just the absence of sickness but, as the World Health Organization defines it, a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. Keeping all these elements in balance requires an open mind and a willingness to make adjustments when needed.
I embrace change quickly in most areas of life but, depending on the situation, I’m not always consistent. When it comes to maintaining my health, trying to do too many new or intense things at once typically leads to failure. So I outright ignore the latest fitness fads and diet trends. I prefer to focus on making improvements to positive pre-existing behaviors and then gradually introduce new regimens as needed.
When managing your health, you should also be real with yourself. Try to understand what you do well and naturally enjoy, while also being honest about your shortcomings. Of course you can’t be healthy without some effort, but the ability to simplify your approach while reaping actual benefits starts with introspection.
Line drawing source unknown.