Here I will outline what I believe are the four pillars of optimal health — in other words, the four lifestyle factors you can manage to improve your health. These are all based on sound science, to the best of my knowledge.
The four pillars are: nutrition, physical fitness, sleep and stress control. I will cover these four pillars here without going into too much detail. It goes without saying that if you smoke, drink excessively, or do drugs, then diet or exercise are the least of your worries.
Optimal nutrition is all about eating real food, not processed crap. The problem is that most people have been misinformed about nutrition their entire lives, so they really have no idea what food is actually healthy.
Disease-promoting foods that should be avoided include:
- Added sugar in all its forms, including High Fructose Corn Syrup.
- Refined wheat. This is just as bad as sugar.
- Trans fats should be avoided at all costs.
- Seed and vegetable oils should also be avoided.
- Most highly processed foods: “If it looks like it was made in a factory, don’t eat it.”
Healthy foods that should be eaten:
- Meat, fish and eggs. Grass fed/wild caught is better.
- Vegetables should be eaten every day.
- Tubers like potatoes and sweet potatoes are fine for healthy people.
- Fruits, in moderation.
- Some grains like oats and white rice may be okay for healthy people.
- Nuts can be eaten, in moderation. Unroasted nuts are preferred.
- High-fat dairy like cheese and cream. Grass-fed/pastured is best.
- Fats and oils such as butter, coconut oil and olive oil.
- All sorts of spices, salt is fine in moderation.
People with diabetes should not eat any grains, starches, sugar or fruit (except perhaps berries). Overweight people should eat no more than 100–150 grams of carbs per day, possibly even less if weight loss stalls. A large part of calories should come from saturated and monounsaturated fats. Excess Omega-6 fats should be avoided, and Omega-3 consumption is encouraged.
Healthy animals should be the primary source of protein. Sedentary people need little while active individuals or athletes need a lot.
2. Physical Fitness
When it comes to physical fitness, there are sports and activities that are more efficient than others, but in my opinion just doing something is critical. If you like walking, walk. If you like swimming, swim. If you like lifting weights, well — you get the idea.
Personally, I think the calories burned during exercise are useless if you are not on a calorie restricted diet and therefore I don’t recommend you think about calories when exercising, try to focus on improving your physical fitness instead. Optimal exercise would involve a combination of strength training, low and high intensity cardio, and stretching, but the key focus should really be on doing something that you enjoy. If you enjoy doing something, it is much more likely that you will stick to it.
Sleep is critical for both physical and mental health, and often ignored. It is very important to rule out a sleeping disorder such as sleep apnea. See a doctor as soon as possible if you think you might have one.
I have compiled a few tips to improve sleep:
- Go to sleep and wake up at a similar time each day.
- Don’t eat or drink in the last 3 hours before bed.
- Sleep in a room that is completely dark.
- Reserve your bedroom for sleeping.
- Dampen your lights about 1–2 hours before bed.
- Have bright lights in the morning, from the sun if possible.
- Don’t ingest any caffeine after 2 p.m.
- Take a Magnesium supplement.
- Exercise regularly.
4. Stress Control
Stress control is also important for physical and mental health, and it is often overlooked. When it comes to stress, avoiding unnecessary obligations is important. In other words, simplifying your life as much as possible can work wonders.
If you feel obligated to do certain things, ask yourself if they are something you really need to be doing, or if you can delegate to someone else. Also, writing down a schedule to organize your day can be great. Certain supplements like Magnesium and Omega-3 may help, as well as eating a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, and exercising. Meditation is very effective too.
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