The frenetic pace of life in our ultra busy modern world leaves a lot of us overworked and overstressed as we race alongside each other in the never ending financial rat race. Most of us go right from the college “frying pan” into the working world “fire”, joining the struggle for economic and social status that ends up consuming a lion share of our lives. For most of us, the dream is to eventually escape from the rat race and live comfortably with a spouse/partner assuming one has been blessed with a relationship that stands up well to father time. So many of us practically give our lives to the working world in the hope that we will one day have saved up enough money to live out the rest of our days in a reasonable state of comfort. On the surface, this sounds like an OK trade… give a sizeable chunk of time and energy to a good company of your choice, and you won’t have to worry about living expenses when you decide it is time to retire.
Once committed to this retirement dream, the acquisition of money and material things becomes the focal point of one’s existence. The main question becomes – “What is the shortest amount of time I can work super hard for that will allow me to retire as soon as possible?” Once we find that job or project, we throw ourselves wholeheartedly into it at the expense of many other things in life. If care is not taken this slowly morphs into a never ending journey in which we are perpetually striving for the next income raise, while spending too lavishly on non vital luxury items to save much of anything. Slowly and subtly, our priorities get flipped upside down. Our relationships suffer, our natural talents get buried, our spirituality all but dies, and our health takes a sizable hit because we’re constantly eating fast food junk and never exercising. Everything in our lives bows down to almighty work because we’ve got bills to pay and the Kardashians to keep up with. This way of living might work for a while especially when we are still endowed with the youthful vigor of our 20s and 30s but if this style of living is continued indefinitely, something will eventually break. A painful divorce may ensue because both people in the relationship have spent so much time working that they barely recognize each other anymore. People wake up one day and suddenly realize that the piano in the corner of the living room and the skill they developed on it as a child has been gathering dust for ages, robbing them of the untold joy they could have experienced if they had played more music over the years. Although these forms of loss are painfully sad to recount, they pale in comparison to the loss of what I think is the best asset we all have – good health.
Good health is the foundation upon which the rest of our lives are built, and no one can fully live life or completely fulfil their potential without a generous helping of good health. There is no better example of how failing health can stultify an otherwise excellent human being than the story of the late Steven Paul Jobs (1955 – 2011). Here was a man at the very top of his profession, with what by all accounts looked like a wonderful family, and gobs of money to spare. He had it all, but lacked the one thing that really mattered… his health. Steve died at the relatively young age of 56 due to complications from pancreatic cancer, leaving behind a wife, four children, and the most valuable technology company in the world at the time. Steve Jobs was actually an anomaly because he still managed to guide the development of industry altering devices while being terminally ill for all practical purposes. Still though, I often wonder what other marvels he would have created with his team had his health not failed him. Or perhaps how much better the devices he (and his team) created would have been if he were at full strength. Although it often doesn’t seem like it until you lose it, your health is without question the most important asset you and I have. I certainly didn’t appreciate that fact until I suffered through a pretty serious knee injury in my late 20s.
Since good health is so important, it stands to reason that it behooves all of us to learn to maintain and nurture it. Are there any concrete steps that we can all take to give each of us the best shot at remaining healthy? This is a question that I became obsessed with at around age 30 because I got sick and tired of losing weeks of productivity to the common cold and other annoying illnesses. How could I transform into the best version of myself if I kept getting sidetracked by a runny nose and sinus pressure? Moreover, my frequent bouts with the common cold were glaring warning signs that my immune system wasn’t as strong as it should have been. Being a scientist, I understood that being immunocompromised is a risk factor for many forms of cancer and other significantly nasty diseases so I knew I had to do something. I began the journey of obsessively researching the topic of maintaining good health and found some nuggets of wisdom which I have summarized for you below. Although no one can guarantee perfect health, I believe it is in each of our best interests to do what we can to give ourselves the best shot at it.
Exercise provides many health benefits to the human body and unlike in the dark ages, we now actually have to consciously seek out opportunities to exercise. Wild animals don’t chase us anymore, we don’t physically settle disputes through hand to hand combat anymore, and the invention of the internal combustion engine means that we can travel long distances without having to break a sweat. All the conveniences of our more civilized and efficient modern world come with the added side effect of making us physically softer and less durable than our ancestors were, unless we consciously go against the grain and build our bodies into the impenetrable fortresses that they can become.
Our bodies follow the natural primal law of “use it or lose it.” If you don’t vigorously move your body around on a regular basis, you will gradually lose the ability to do that over time. Think of it like you would your car… if you don’t start it up and drive it often, the batteries will eventually die. In the same way, if you don’t give your heart a work out from time to time, your heart will eventually die as it slowly loses power and efficiency over time. This is a good analogy except for the fact that it is much more difficult to replace a human heart than it is to replace a car battery.
Another way in which exercise benefits the body is through the micro tears that weight bearing exercises create in the muscles of the body. If ample periods of rest follows rigorous exercise, these micro tears are repaired and the muscles grow back even stronger as a result. The better toned muscles use oxygen more efficiently, and make us more capable as we are able to do more.
Even though exercise is excellent for the body, it is important to make sure you don’t overdo it. Studies have shown that overtly intense exercise over long periods of time actually ends up having an adverse effect on the body. So no, you don’t want to train intensely Monday through Friday and then run a marathon on Saturday for 48 weeks out of the year. Unless you are some sort of superhuman, your body will eventually break down if you try to keep that up for too long. The body loves highly intense bursts of activity, followed by long luscious periods of rest… that is really how the body is engineered to work.
I personally adhere to the following weekly exercise regimen… feel free to use it if it appeals to you.
Day 1 (Usually Tuesday):
- Stretch/Warm Up
- Box/spar for 6 three minute rounds
- Dumbbell chest press 3 sets X 8 repetitions
- Agility ladder drills
- Ice knees and hands after workout for maintenance
Day 2 (Usually Friday):
- Stretch/Warm Up
- Box/spar for 6 three minute rounds
- Dumbbell chest press 3 sets X 8 repetitions
- Agility ladder drills
- Ice knees and hands after workout for maintenance
Day 3 (Usually Sunday):
- Swim in a lap pool ~1000m (moderate pace)
Through study I have come to realize that the true purpose of the food we humans consume is to build and repair the body in a very concrete way. Your body is always in a constant state of flux. Your cells are constantly dying and being replaced by new ones… such is the natural ebb and flow of life. This cellular turnover requires many raw materials such as simple sugars, minerals, vitamins, fats, proteins, water etc. Your mother likely gave you a nice storehouse of these materials by lovingly breastfeeding you through your infancy. Breast milk is one of the most nutrient dense sources of food in the entire world provided the mother delivering it is well nourished. This divine storehouse of nutrients accrued in early childhood in addition to the general robustness of a younger body keeps you in rude health through your teens and twenties barring any unfortunate accidents. We can think of this storehouse of nutrients as a bank account that you take “energy money” out of each year to play basketball games, swim, think, dance, put up with your in-laws etc. And just like a bank account, if you continue to draw “energy money” out of it without replenishing it with readily absorbable high quality nutrition, you will eventually overdraw and be subject to a whole host of debilitating and/or life threatening conditions.
Both your body and mind require a full spectrum of nutrients to survive and thrive. This spectrum of nutrients can be broadly categorized into micro and macro nutrients. As you have probably guessed from the names, micronutrients are required by the body in small quantities, while macronutrients are required by the body in larger quantities.
- Carbohydrates (Whole grain pasta, brown rice e.t.c)
- Fats (Fish oil, avocado e.t.c)
- Proteins (Chicken, lean meat e.t.c)
- Full spectrum of vitamins (A,C,D,K e.t.c)
- Minerals (Zinc, Iodine, Iron e.t.c)
Below are a few easy meal options that you can make on your own, that will help you to get your daily fill of some of the nutrients above.
Meal option #1: Chubanator smoothie v2.0
Check out the bottom/last section of this article to find the ingredients for this powerful green smoothie. Simply put all the items into a powerful blender of choice (Vitamix 5200 Series Blender, Black or Blendtec Total Blender), and blend till liquified. The ingredients of the chubanator smoothie v2.0 cover almost all your Vitamin and mineral requirements for at least one of your daily meals.
Meal option #2: Peanut Flavored Green Salad
The ingredients for the green salad below should suffice to make ~ 5 cups worth of green salad. I usually make mine in a 5 cup capacity tupperware, that way I know exactly how much green salad nutrition I am getting for each day.
Ingredients (for one adult serving)
- 3 – 4 stalks of Romaine Lettuce
- ½ cup of Canned Corn
- ½ cup of chopped up Red Bell Peppers
- 1 cup of Shredded Carrots
- ⅓ cup of peanuts
- ½ cup of diced Fuji Apples
- ½ cup of Edamame
- Add Trader Joe’s Asian Style Spicy Peanut Vinaigrette Dressing to taste
Take Nutritional Supplements
As mentioned above, good nutrition is a vital pillar of good health. Without the requisite nutrient raw materials, the body cannot build and maintain itself at the highest level of quality. We’ve discussed some of the vital nutrients that your body needs and the sources of food from which you may obtain them above. If you have a smoothie for breakfast each morning, and a salad for lunch every afternoon, you will be well on your way towards filling all your nutrient needs. However, no matter how well we eat it is really difficult to get the full spectrum of nutrients required for a healthy body for a couple of reasons. First, most of the topsoil in our world has become depleted over the years and as a result, the plants have less nutrition “per square inch” compared to say 4 or 5 decades ago. Also, most of us don’t chew well enough to release the entirety of the nutrition contained within the food we eat. Taking all this into account, it becomes fairly clear that most of us need to compensate our nutrition with a cocktail of nutritional supplements that will fill in any of the nutritional gaps left from the food we consume. I have listed the nutritional supplements that I have found to be most beneficial below. I still take these everyday and can attest to their benefits. Feel free to purchase and use them if you so desire.
- Opti-Men Daily Multivitamin or Opti-Women Women’s Multivitamin or Beyond Tangy Tangerine
- Kirkland Signature Fish Oil
- Kirkland Signature Vitamin D (2000 IU)
- Nature’s Bounty Joint Support Complex
Care for your teeth religiously
This is an oft neglected habit of good health which can lead to painful tooth aches and the associated dental appointments during which some well meaning dentist “assaults” your mouth with a bevy of drills and pliers. I don’t know about you, but having a bunch of pliers and drills shoved in my mouth every 6 months just seemed like too much pain and annoyance to endure. I needed to find a solution so as usual, I did a bunch of research. Below is the regime that I designed to care for my teeth.
- Before you do anything else, go and purchase the following items:
- Brush your teeth first thing every morning for 2 minutes with your electronic toothbrush. Most of the new electronic toothbrush designs have an embedded timer that stops the toothbrush at the 2 minute mark. Floss after that, and rinse your mouth out with mouthwash and water after you’re done brushing.
- Even more important is to make sure you never go to bed without brushing your teeth. Floss after that, and rinse your mouth out with mouthwash and water after you’re done brushing. After you brush your teeth, DO NOT eat or drink anything that isn’t water before you go to bed.
It is really important to go to bed with a clean mouth because that prevents bacteria from turning left over sugar in your mouth into acids that will eventually lead to tooth decay.
Avoid drama/Suffer fools gladly
Most of the emotional drain we humans face in our day to day lives is from the dramas and battles that we engage in with some of the people around us. This is especially relevant in dealing with people who I refer to as “fools”. In life and work in general, the main aim should be the most efficient and effective use of resources to accomplish goals and aims. Unfortunately however, you will continually encounter “fools” in your life who have no sense of proportion or fairness as it pertains to the dealings of life.
You can identify a “fool” by the following rubric:
- They make it difficult for other people to achieve results.
- They don’t get very much done by themselves… they like to work in groups, so that others can do the work for which they will spend an eternity arguing to take credit for.
- They have no sense of proportion, meaning that in any situation they focus on things that aren’t mission critical effectively ignoring things that could actually destroy the entire project or initiative
- They enjoy drama for its own sake and love to drag you into silly political squabbles just because… well, they’re foolish
These “fools” nag us, annoy us, and irritate us and the natural response to that is to spend a lot of time and energy fighting them or trying to get them to see the correct way of doing things. What you must understand is that these fools do not care or understand anything about fairness or rightness. So arguing with them is a colossal waste of your time. One solution is to learn how to spot these types from afar and avoid them at all cost if you can… this is tricky since there are often too many fools for any of us to completely avoid. The height of wisdom however, is to actually make use of their stupidity to benefit yourself. For example, if you are in a meeting and your resident office “fool” (we all have one) is naysaying a project, picking out its flaws and ignoring all its good points, try not to become emotional, but turn this around on yourself because I guarantee that you are doing the same thing somewhere in your life. Maybe not as blatantly or as overtly, but if you think really hard about it, you are probably doing it in some subtle ways that you haven’t yet identified. These fools often serve as excellent examples of what NOT to do or be like. By doing things like this, you are using their foolishness as raw materials for your own personal development and you hurt no one in the process. Moreover, your stress levels will significantly drop because you don’t waste as much time being angry at their antics.
Get Regular Massages
It is highly recommended for you to get a full body massage once a month. We all lead incredibly busy lives with hectic schedules and a deep tissue full body massage will help you ease the tension that your working life can bring. You can look on the internet or ask your friends for a good masseuse and make it a point to schedule an hour long massage at least once a month come hell or high water. I don’t think much convincing is needed here, I haven’t met too many people who don’t like massages.
Regular Deep Breathing and Meditation
Along the same lines of getting regular massages, I have found it incredibly useful to do regular deep breathing and meditation sessions as they have an incredibly calming effect on the nerves. The specific methods I use are listed below. As usual, feel free to adopt them directly or modify them to suit your personality and needs.
- Best to do this in a quiet room where no one can disturb you
- Try to focus entirely on your breath.
- Take a deep breath in, being sure to draw breath from your diaphragm which is right above your stomach. Usually 5 – 7 seconds should suffice.
- Breathe out for twice as long. Usually 10 – 14 seconds should suffice.
- Repeat this for as long as you want or until you feel calm. Note that your mind may wander away from your breath… that’s ok. When you notice this, just gently bring your attention back to your breath and re-focus. The more you do this, the better you will get over time.
- Best to do this in a quiet room where no one can disturb you
- Get into the lotus position (back straight, legs crossed).
- Set a timer on your phone for 15 – 20 minutes.
- Close your eyes and do about 10 repetitions of your deep breathing in order to calm the mind.
- Try to either empty your thoughts, or spend time visualizing the amazing things you would like to see happen in your life. Your mind might wander from time to time… that’s OK, just keep at it.
Have intellectually engaging hobbies
Most of the good health habits described above directly affect the human body, but the mind also needs to be taken care of if you want it to remain sharp long into the future. The best way to do this is to find a hobby that you enjoy and that forces you to think while you are practicing it. Dancing, learning to play a musical instrument, chess, and making things with your hands using raw materials like aluminum and wood are all good examples of “thinking hobbies”. Studies have actually shown that dancers on average stay more mentally sharp than other folks because they regularly move their bodies and use their minds to maintain balance. It is important to note that for this to really have an appreciably positive effect, you must force yourself to take on new challenges while practicing these hobbies as that will force your brain to continually develop new neurons and the associated processing power. Playing the same 3 songs on the guitar for 40 years may help, but not as much as if you were always striving to constantly expand your knowledge base on the instrument. In addition to boosting your brainpower and maintaining it over time, having a hobby you enjoy will just make you a much happier person overall. It can become a place of solace you go to regardless of what is happening in the outside world.
In addition to good nutrition and a bit of stress in the form of exercise, the body needs copious amounts of rest at regular intervals in order to thrive. As a matter of fact, the best way to grow into your strongest self is to put your body through brief but intense periods of stress, followed by long copious periods of rest. That is actually how the human body is designed to grow and work. The problem is that our modern world refuses to acknowledge this fundamental truth and as a result, pretty much everyone is overworked and in a constant state of high stress. If you can, you must break the cycle of long working hour days. Otherwise, your body will eventually revolt under the excessive pressure and stop you in your tracks. If you have an amazing artistic talent, you may want to seek out gigs where you toil for 6 months on a large intricate piece of work, and do nothing for one month to recharge. Getting to this sort of cadence with your work should be an ultimate goal for all of us.
On the associated topic of sleep, I personally don’t think that everyone requires the stipulated 8 hours of sleep each day that we all hear about. I think the healthy amount of sleep required really just depends on the person. My sister Obie loves to sleep so maybe her physiology requires 10 hours of sleep a day. My Dad and I haven’t ever really needed that much sleep so about six hours of sleep a night tends to be sufficient for us. The important thing is to know yourself and listen to your body. If you listen attentively enough, your body will tell you when you need to rest and you shouldn’t ignore this signal or interpret it as a need to drink more coffee! I know some of us may have very young children who prevent us from sleeping well at night because they wake up so often in need of food or a diaper change through the night. Such folks may want to compensate by taking frequent power naps during the day. Doesn’t really matter how or when, you just need a fair amount of sleep on a daily basis to recharge your batteries.
Maintain good hygiene
A lot of the common illnesses that we experience throughout life come from living microbes like viruses and bacteria. A simple way to shield yourself from these common illnesses is to maintain good hygiene because clean environments aren’t conducive living conditions for these disease causing microbes. The following are simple ways to maintain good hygiene:
- Wash your hands after you go to the bathroom for either #1 or #2
- Wash your clothes regularly
- Clean your house or apartment regularly
- Clean your pet (if you have one) regularly
- Take out the trash regularly
- Brush and floss your teeth regularly
- Wash your hands before you prepare or eat a meal
So there you have it, these are the fundamental steps that I have found to maintain good health. I would additionally advise you to find a primary care physician and go visit him or her at least once a year for a general medical checkup. Although it is important to go and see your doctor regularly, it is a bad idea to completely abdicate responsibility of your health to a medical professional. The onus is on each of us to do everything within our power to give our collective health the best chance of blossoming for years to come. I would advise you to refer back to this article as many times as you want, and to continually do your own independent research on the topic of maintaining your pristine health. As we continue to learn more and more about our bodies, more and perhaps better ways of caring for human health will emerge and it is our responsibility to make sure we are aware of these new ideas and can implement them in our daily regimes. Your health really is your most prized asset… guard it with your life.