The 5 Pillars of Fitness

You may think you are proactive in your quest for all round health and fitness. Are you doing each of these basic things? If you are not, you may be failing to lead the best life you can. If you are not doing enough of the 5 points below, make some simple changes, and optimise your life for better health and fitness.

Move: Do Something Every Day

It seems to me like exercise nowadays is a big deal. But it really shouldn’t be. It is natural to use your body for the reasons it was designed. If you consider yourself a gym rat or gym bunny, or others perceive you to be because you go to an exercise class 3 times per week, you may get blasé about how active you are. How active are you really? Those 3 gym classes may only add up to 1.5 hours each week. You have 168 hours available to you in 1 week. That totals up to – and lets be lazy with the maths – less than 1% of your time being active. If this is all you do, you actually spend more time each week on the physical activity of eating. Now do you think you’re active?

Next problem: how often do you sit? If we say that we get the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night (see next point), that gives us 16 hours of time to put the body to work. What do most people do with these 16 hours? Let’s take a typical, easily quantifiable day of a modern person in the Western World:

  • Eat Breakfast – chair-bound
  • 1 hour commute to work – train or car seat-bound
  • 8 hours desk work – chair-bound
  • 30-60mins lunch break – chair-bound
  • 1 hour commute from work – train or car seat-bound
  • 3 hours relaxation time watching TV – sofa-bound
  • Bedtime & sleepbed-bound

Wow. That’s worrying. Think how much you actually move or are upright in the day. Let’s look at a typical office workers active time during the day: standing in the shower, moving about getting kids ready for school, walking from car to office, picking papers up from printer, making a coffee, walking back to the car. That’s really not very much time. What can you do to make yourself more active?

Don’t make exercise A Thing – if you are waiting for the kettle to boil, instead of getting out your phone, do some press-ups. If you know you will be having a bar of chocolate, do some lunges, or a plank, or hop. Whatever. Who cares what you do. Do something. Anything! Earn the reward before you indulge, and start introducing these mini workouts into your day.

Sleep

There is a correlation between the amount of sleep you have and the amount of food you consume. Less sleep = increased food consumption. For me, if I have had a bad night’s sleep and lacking my usual energy, I feel that the extra food intake will help make up for my sleep deficit. If you are regularly taking only 5-6 hours a night, it will increase levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in your system, putting your body under more strain than usual. This may be another reason why we feel the urge to eat more when we are tired – comfort eating. What’s more, we often crave the sugary bad stuff (See ‘Eat Like a Neanderthal’ below). Sometimes life gets in the way of us getting our recommended levels of sleep, but do your best to make the time, and you will feel the benefits.

Eat Like a Neanderthal

For the Neanderthal, food wasn’t abundant. It had to be caught, or foraged. We have the luxury nowadays that food is always accessible, and the problem that bad foods are heavily marketed – on TV, on billboards, in newspapers and magazines. We intrinsically value food with a high energy content as every day was a fight for survival. Eating of these foods sets off dopamine neurotransmitters in your brain which controls reward-motivated behaviour. The basic evolutionary premise is that if we take in more calories with high energy, it means we would have to find food less often, and therefore ensure survival for longer. Think about what food was available to Neanderthals. A woolly mammoth here, a mastodon there, foraged fruits and berries, and later, grown vegetables (1, 2). There were some natural sugars available, hence the foraging for fruits and berries, but these were only seasonal and couldn’t be relied upon for most of the year (unlike today). However the most rewarding food had a high fat content, such as animal fats.  Not processed foods like bread and pasta made from wheat, but food you can pluck out the ground, brush off the dirt and pop in your mouth… or cook it, or boil it. If you can’t eat the food raw, or after subjecting to heat, then it is to some degree processed. Remember to avoid these foods if possible, or if not possible then minimise the intake.

N.B.: I found out while researching this article that The Neanderthal Diet is actually ‘A Thing’ – I’m not advocating anything like the old-school Atkins diet, which is similar to the more modern Palaeo diet. However it’s pretty clear to me that – spoiler alert – people are different! Their bodies are different and the way they react to foods is different, likely due to genetic variation and environmental factors. So pay attention to what works for you, both in how you feel and your body’s physical response to certain foods. For what it’s worth, I believe the palaeo diet has its merits, although I disagree with some aspects of it. All good content for a future post!

Drink Water

The human body as a whole is around 60% water. The brain – 74.5% water. The blood – 83% water (3).  If we are only getting water from tea and coffee, fizzy drinks and fruit juice, it puts a strain on our kidneys which have to filter everything else out so that the water can be utilised by our bodies. Try to drink more water through the day. Get into the habit of keeping a pint glass of water by the bed, and each morning upon waking, challenge yourself to finish it before you get up out of bed. It will soon become a habit. If will take you all of 15 seconds, will wake up your digestive system and energise you for the day.

Test Yourself

We are so used to being surrounded by creature comforts that the typical person in the western world rarely experiences hardship. There are so many tools for making life easy. But I have a theory – we need challenges. Happiness is not found in ease of life, or by buying material things. Happiness is found in hard work, breaking a sweat and being challenged. Have you ever had that feeling at the end of a tough day when you have built something, completed a physical challenge or achieved something you didn’t know you were capable of? That right there my friends is satisfaction, and with satisfaction comes happiness. Take a leaf out of Mr Money Mustache’s book and optimise for happiness. We are hardwired to be innovators, hence why we carry around this big brain on this long stem above our bodies. We have to think better than other animals, that’s how we came to be the dominant species on earth. If we go back to our Neanderthal thinking, they would have had to overcome so many challenges. Apart from those in equatorial climates, we would have had to deal with seasonality, fluctuations in hot and cold temperatures to put our physiological systems through their paces i.e. sweating to cool-down, shivering to stay warm. There have been studies to show that regular exposure to heat through sauna sessions has a positive effect on the body, similar to the use of ice baths. If you have some downtime, read this article on the profound benefits of hyperthermic conditioning on lifestyle legend Tim Ferriss’ blog.

The same thing goes for exercise. We would have had to sprint at times, to chase animals, to flee animals, to run from rival groups. Tell me this – when was the last time you sprinted? Even for runners, sprinting doesn’t happen very often (unless of course you are a sprinter rather than endurance runner!). And what about pushing things, or lifting things, or properly testing yourself to challenge your limits? Without pushing the limits, you will not make physiological adaptations, and your muscles will not receive a stimulus to break down and regenerate stronger than before. Get out of your comfort zone and work your body. It will thank you in the long run.

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