The Three Pillars of Health You Need To Focus On This Year
Unfortunately, people often set themselves drastic and unrealistic resolutions that are only sustainable for a month or so at best. As a personal trainer, I see it all the time. Right after new year’s, clients come to me wanting to train 6 days per week, they quit alcohol, cut out food groups and generally punish themselves for their decadence in December.
The statistics are bleak: only 8% of people who make new year’s resolutions stick to them and those who don’t usually abandon them after just one week. Overambitious resolutions are fated to fail; people don’t realise that it is completely unrealistic to think that you can immediately overcome a habit you’ve spent years establishing.
This quick fix approach to forming good habits is completely unsustainable and often does more harm than good. You end up sending a subconscious message to yourself, one that associates a balanced lifestyle with pain and agony. You’re also setting yourself up to fail by doing this, adding a load of unnecessary pressure which can lead to self-hate and more bad habits.
If you want an effective habit-forming strategy, you need to think about small daily changes over a long period. Not only is it more sustainable, it’s far more enjoyable!
The Three Pillars of Health
In 2018, I am going to be emphasising the importance of what I call “The Three Pillars of Health” – Sleep, Nutrition, and Movement. By focusing your attention on how to improve the three pillars, you can completely transform your health and fitness.
You do not need to make drastic short-term changes just for the month of January, all it takes is some clever “hacks” implemented over the course of the year.
How to improve your sleep
Did you know that sleep is THE most important factor in our health and well-being, even before diet and exercise? People think they can cheat sleep. Even if you are eating well and exercising, lack of sleep will eventually catch up with you and negate the positive choices you made during the day.
Pick a constant waking time:
This is rule number one; your circadian rhythm is governed by routine. You need to be waking up at the same time every single morning, including weekends! Consistency optimises the quality and efficiency of your sleep. Factor in any early morning activities you may have; if you wake up at 6.30am to go to the gym once or twice per week, but wake up at 7.30am every other day, aim to make 6.30am your waking time.
Pick a constant bedtime
Once you have chosen your waking time, work back in cycles to work out when you need to go to bed. This ensures that you will be in the lightest sleep phase when you wake up, meaning you will start the day feeling refreshed. Remember one cycle lasts 90 minutes and the average person needs 5 cycles per night, so you should be aiming for roughly 7 hours and 30 minutes sleep. For instance, if your waking time is 6.30am your bedtime should be 11 pm.
Develop a pre and post-bedtime routine
The hour before and after sleeping is just as important as sleep itself. Having a decent bedtime routine will wind your body down and ease you into sleep, so that as soon as you get into bed and turn the lights off you will fall asleep and get your 5 quality cycles. Equally, having a decent post sleep routine is going to set you up for the day and keep you in sync with your circadian rhythms.
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Optimise your sleeping environment:
- In an ideal world, your bedroom should be a place dedicated to rest and relaxation. This means that your brain will automatically start to switch off whenever you step through the door.
- Empty your room; TV’s and other gadgets are sources of mental stimulation and distraction, they make it much harder to wind down in the evening.
- Blackout blinds are essential; you don’t want your melatonin schedule to be affected by fluorescent lights outside. An eye mask is a viable alternative if this isn’t an option for you.
- Your bedroom should be cooler than the rest of the house, with circulating fresh air. Studies suggest that the ideal bedroom temperature is 18-20C.
- Use earplugs, I swear by them4. Supplements – These are not sleeping pills, they are natural supplements that can assist in regulating sleep hormones. Always seek advice from a doctor before trying anything new.
- Magnesium with L-threonate: Studies suggest that the L-threonate increases magnesium absorption. I have been using this for a few months now and have found it quite effective. I am naturally more of an early riser and tend to be a light sleeper; this product has helped reduce the number of times I wake up during the night.
- Valerian: Most experts recommended this herb to reduce the amount of time it takes to nod off.
- 5HTP: This molecule acts as a precursor to serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter essential for a good night’s sleep.
- Melatonin: This hormone can be used in supplement form as an occasional sleep aid, and is especially effective against jet lag
When it comes to weight loss and health, nothing is more powerful than taking control of your diet. There is a lot of conflicting information regarding the best way to lose weight but I believe the following three principals can drastically improve your chances of success.
- Learn to cook – there is no better way to take control of your health than learning to cook from scratch. It means you will be eating fresh ingredients and you are in complete control of what goes into it. There will be no hidden added sugars or salt that you are unaware of.
- Eat Real Food – My food philosophy is simple: eat locally sourced, seasonal foods full of nutrients. In other words, eat real food. The body is not designed to constantly digest food and once you start eating foods that nourish your body you quickly realise that you don’t need to eat every three to four hours. You begin to recognise what real hunger feels like, empowering yourself with the ability to become self-sufficient. You will never be a slave to mealtimes again!
Real food is a simple concept; essentially, it’s what nature has given us: plants, fruits, roots, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, eggs, milk and its by-products such as cheese and yogurt. Real food is kept as close to its natural state as possible. It comes from animals that have led healthy, happy lives and that haven’t been pumped full of hormones, steroids and antibiotics which are all transferred into the food chain. It should be minimally processed, not man-made and it certainly shouldn’t have a list of ingredients that you can’t pronounce. Put simply, if we weren’t eating it 200 years ago, it probably doesn’t qualify as real food.
- Try The 2 Meal Day! – Fasting can improve energy levels, cognition and body composition. The 2-Meal Day is a very simple way of keeping your diet in check without the need for counting calories or tracking macronutrients. All you need to do is push your first meal later in the day and reap the rewards!
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Training more than four times per week is completely unnecessary if you are pushing yourself in each session. What will make a difference to your fitness is incorporating movement throughout the day. You could easily set an hourly reminder to spend 5 minutes moving and stretching if you’ve been sitting for a while, choose (or maybe accept!) to stand on your commute, take the stairs and avoid the lift or escalator. Another way to build movement into your routine is to take your trainers to work and get off 1 or 2 stops early to walk or run the rest of the way home.
Unfortunately, many of us have jobs where we are sitting for extended periods of the day. Sitting is so bad for our health it has been described as “worse than smoking”. Research suggests that sitting for long periods of time raises a number of health concerns, including obesity and metabolic syndrome — the umbrella term for conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. Too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Let me give you a little more detail to help you visualise it. The average commute in Central London is 45 minutes, most people sit for this (if possible) they then spend an average of 7-8 hours sitting at their desk. Add another 45 minutes on the way back only to get home and sit down in front of the TV for an hour or two. That’s almost 12 hours sitting down. Even an hour’s exercise 3-4 times per week does not cancel out this much inactivity.
BUT… There is a simple solution! Studies also suggest that getting up and moving regularly throughout the day can counteract the negative effects of sitting all day.
Tips to Increase Overall Activity Throughout the Day
- Set a reminder on your phone for every hour and spend 5 minutes moving and stretching whenever the alert goes off.
- Stand up on your commute. I know this may sound like a horrible idea but this is a simple way to activate all the muscles that have been inactive all day.
- Take the stairs, not the escalator or lift. When it comes to physical activity on a day to day basis, always try and challenge yourself. Don’t take the easy option.
- Take your trainers to work and get off 1 or 2 stops early and walk/run the rest of the way home. This is a simple, but effective way to increase activity without having to make time to go to the gym.
Following these simple steps over time can have a profound effect on your overall flexibility, mobility, and quality of life. Small changes over time reap long-lasting benefits.