The Eight Keys to Optimal Physical Health


“I believe that no matter what amount of work one has, one should always find some time for exercise, just as one does for one’s meals. It is my humble opinion that, far from taking away from one’s capacity for work, it adds to it.” – Mahatma Gandhi

In our last post, we looked at the topic of decision fatigue and how it can de-rail us from our intention to make healthy choices. Today, we’ll look at a fourth common reason the is frequently used to justify falling off the wagon when it comes to our health: “I don’t know what to do!”

Reason #4: “I don’t know what to do!”

In our final post of this four-part series, let’s address the argument that it’s hard to know what we should do to optimize our physical and mental health because there’s so much conflicting information out there. Really? I won’t say anything about this being a lame excuse to justify our bad decisions … whoops, I just did!

Regardless, let’s set the record straight. Here are some basic guidelines that hold true for just about anyone. Of course, you should first consult with your doctor before starting any new diet or exercise program. Now that I’ve covered my butt with that legal disclaimer, here’s the CliffsNotes version of the key ingredients, in no particular order, for a healthy lifestyle. Hint: You already know all of these (with the possible exception of #8).

#1: Don’t diet.  A better option is to be honest with yourself about your
bad eating habits, and then replace them with healthy eating habits
that you can sustain for the long haul. Healthy eating should be a
normal pattern of everyday life rather than a temporary exercise in
denial in which you struggle until you meet a particular goal.

#2: Eat whole foods.  Avoid processed or refined foods whenever possible.
As a bonus, this approach will also help you minimize your sugar
and salt intake.

#3: Drink plenty of water.  Recommendations vary depending on criteria,
such as your age and activity level. If your urine is colorless or
light yellow, it’s a good sign that you’re drinking enough water.

#4: Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.  Studies suggest that seven
daily servings of fruits and vegetables are a good target for optimal
well-being. Variety is important too. Try for about 20 different kinds
each week. If that sounds insane and overwhelming, like it first did
for me, you may want to try a VitaMix blender. See my Green Sludge post for more on that topic.

#5: Move around every hour and exercise at least 30 minutes each day, doing something you enjoy. Yes, you should enjoy it! Otherwise, you probably won’t be able to sustain it, and that’s what we’re looking for here: long-term, consistent, moderate exercise. A weekly mix of cardio, strength training, and stretching is ideal. Also ensure that you get off your chair or couch every 30-60 minutes. Studies show that people who sit for prolonged periods of time have a higher risk of dying from all causes, even for those who exercise regularly.

#6: Get ~8 hours of sleep each night.  Darren Hardy (author,
speaker, and publisher of SUCCESS magazine) asked the well-known
cardiothoracic surgeon and TV show host Dr. Mehmet Oz, “What’s the one thing somebody can do to help with their anti-aging and wellness?” His answer? Sleep. Dr. Oz put drinking water and walking as #2 and #3. Seven to nine hours is the sweet spot for most people over the age of 18; youngsters need more sleep. Better yet, don’t worry about the number of hours. Go to bed early enough so you wake up on time without the need for an alarm. Sleep is time well spent. If nothing else, you’ll look and feel better, and your friends, family, and colleagues will thank your for it too.

#7: Go outside.  Studies suggest that outdoor exercise improves your
mood, reduces stress, gives you a jolt of vitamin D, and contributes
to your overall happiness. The fresh air, sights, and smells of
nature give your mind and body a rejuvenating break. The Japanese
even have a word for it—Shinrin-yoku—that translates as
“forest bathing.”

#8: Find a healthcare provider who focuses on prevention.  If
you have crushing pain in your chest, then our healthcare system
is the place to be. In the United States, our physicians are highly
trained to respond to acute problems, such as heart attacks or
other crises. However, when it comes to preventing heart attacks or
managing other chronic conditions, the typical provider tool belt of
prescription drugs and invasive procedures is a bad place to start. It’s far better to find an integrative medicine or naturopathic provider
who will take a holistic view of your diet, lifestyle, family history,
environment, lab results, and symptoms, and then work with you to
develop a comprehensive, proactive plan that integrates conventional
and alternative therapies designed to keep you healthy and out of
the hospital. If you work with your provider to improve your diet,
exercise routines, sleep patterns, lifestyle, and stress management,
you’ll prevent 80% of the typical ailments. As Thomas Edison put
it many years ago, “The doctor of the future will no longer treat the
human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease
with nutrition.”

Coming Attractions

Well there you have it! Those are the eight keys to optimal physical health. Of course there are some very important details when it comes to putting together an ideal physical fitness program that is tailored for your body and your goals based on your current state of fitness. That’s where personal trainers can really help. A good personal trainer will be able to conduct a functional assessment to identify any muscle imbalances that you might have and prescribe corrective exercises (as part of an overall fitness program) that will help you prevent future injuries and keep you healthy, happy, and active for the long-haul.

In the posts that follow, we’ll start looking at the different components of an effective, well-rounded fitness program that is designed for optimal, long-term physical health.

Thanks for reading!

Mark