The ancient poet Virgil said, “the greatest wealth is health.” Yet people define health in decidedly different ways. Is optimal health being free of illness and pain? Is it losing 20 lbs.? Is it being fit and able to travel, work or volunteer? Regardless of how you personally define it, good health and living a healthy life is much more than checking the box on an annual appointment. In effect, health has the potential to fuel our lives for the better and specifically for longevity. The great news is we can control much of this ourselves.
How can we achieve this optimal state of being? I propose we categorize the wide and wonderful opportunity of long-term health and longevity into five areas: mindfulness, nutrition, exercise, sleep and connection. We’ll look at each of these topics in more depth in some upcoming posts, but to give you a general idea about each one, read on…
Mindfulness. You don’t have to travel to India and join an ashram to experience mindfulness. (Although, if you feel like going that route, have at it)! At its essence, mindfulness is about being truly present. The Oxford English Dictionary defines mindful as “focus(ing) on one’s awareness in the present moment.” Yet it can be pretty tough to be mindful. It takes work and practice, mainly because most of us have the habit of letting our thoughts wander. But even 10 minutes a day can do wonders.
Nutrition. Food is medicine, but we’re overwhelmed by conflicting information and competing diets…Paleo, Vegan, Keto, Mediterranean, and on and on. How can you sift through the chatter and come up with your own plan for lifelong nutritional health? Longevity expert Peter Attia, MD suggests thinking of nutrition as three levers: dietary restriction, caloric restriction and time restriction. Dietary restriction is an important part of nutritional health and focuses on what to eat and what not to eat. Caloric restriction means not eating too much. Time restriction is the concept of eating food within certain windows of time. We’ll touch on these concepts and more in future articles, but for the time being here are three quick guidelines: (1) Eat real, not processed foods. Focus on reasonable servings of high quality protein and lots of vegetables. Limit sugar, processed carbs, and alcohol. (2) Eat sensible portions. One rule of thumb is to keep your protein serving size about the size of the palm of your hand. Have as many vegetables as you like. (3) Try eating within a 10 hour window. Skip a meal once in a while (skip either your first or last meal of the day). Up for a challenge? See if you can go a week fasting for 16 hours and only eating during an 8 hour window. Fuel your body and fuel your life!
Exercise. We were born to move. We were born to walk a lot. To lift heavy things. To occasionally sprint (or to get your heart pumping really hard). So, organize your week around moving and breaking a sweat daily and go outside whenever you can – even if it’s a walk around the block. Practice the basic important movements of pushing, pulling, squatting, lifting and core strength like what you do when you plank. Building strength and agility isn’t just for athletes. Make it fun and something you can commit to long-term by doing activities you enjoy. Do you like tennis? Play it! Love to swim? Join a masters group at the Y. Like to sweat? Try hot yoga. If you force yourself to go to a Zumba class, but hate to dance and feel self-conscious, you’re not going to do it. Be active every single day and watch your life transform.
Sleep. Our society is busy, stressed, and tired. Most of us don’t get enough sleep which causes all sorts of health issues. Proper sleep helps our brains and bodies recover. Here are some ideas to get your Zs. Try going to bed and waking up around the same time every day. Get 7-8 hours of sleep at night. Limit any blue light before bed – so take the TV out of your bedroom, put the phone down, and opt for a book instead. Eliminate distractions and clutter in your bedroom – keep the laundry pile off of that chair. Make your bedroom a calm and happy place. Imagine your bedroom as your sanctuary. You’ll be happier and more rested and energized for it.
Connection. Connection is about your relationships with other people and with your own purpose. Having a purpose or why for your life is one of best predictors of health and longevity. It takes conscious introspective effort to define and is different for everyone but is well worth it. Connecting with others is easy for some and harder for others, but also worth it as it leads to a longer, happier lifespan. Interested in cooking? Look for local cooking schools or restaurant events. Like to bike? Join a weekend ride group. Or, make a short list of people to go for a walk, coffee, or lunch. Connecting with others and with your own purpose is a truly powerful thing.
When it comes down to it, we all just want to be happy. To enjoy the people around us, to have good memories to share, to feel secure and good about ourselves. Health is about so much more than a pill or a check-up. True health and longevity take work. It takes mindfulness and care. It takes intention, thoughtfulness and preparation. It takes good nutrition, moving your body, getting good sleep and making connections. But everyone can have it. We all can choose to live and to even add years to our amazing and wonderful lives. And that’s an incredible thing.
Kris Jackson is a certified Health Coach and Personal Trainer with a specialty in Behavior Change in Fitness Nutrition through the American Council on Exercise. As the founder of n8Longevity, an app-based virtual health coaching service focused on nutritional accountability, Kris helps clients live long and healthy lives by focusing on food, fitness, and lifestyle choices.