RING! RING! RING! RING!
The alarm is blaring in your ear, and as hard as you try to ignore, you can’t prevent the incessant electronic drone from shaking your brain in your skull. You reach for the snooze button, and your eyes burn due to the backlit display. You press the button and earn your extra 15 minutes.
RING! RING! RING! RING!
This time you get up, knowing that you’ll be playing catch-up as you get ready for your day. You’re all ready 15 minutes behind, so you stagger into the bathroom for a shower. While the steam provides a quick boost, you still feel drowsy as you get dressed and put on your shoes. You head out the door with only your briefcase or backpack, heading first to Starbucks before heading to school or work. The venti mocha frappachino that you’re drinking provides enough caffeine for the morning, but the effects soon fade. When the sun is at it’s highest, you’re tired again, and fill your cup with coffee, making sure it’s light and sweet. After repeating this twice, you head home, stopping at Taco Bell before you return home to watch American Idol, reruns of Friends, and Access Hollywood. You slide into bed at 12:15, dreading the 6am alarm.
Sound like your schedule? It’s not that far fetched, and if it does sound like your schedule, then I’m sorry for you. Unfortunately, too many people are shocked awake every morning, sleep terribly, and eat highly processed food products. All of these things are within our control, but are the last things to be considered by our traditional healthcare system. By focusing on preventing illness, you’ll be far healthier than if you focus on treating illness.
Sleep, Eat, Move. These are the three keys to health, and it is very simple to address these three issues. For some reason, our society has forgotten about the importance of these three. Why don’t we sleep enough, eat higher quality foods, and exercise more? From a very young age, we are taught basic health practices, such as how long we should sleep, what we should eat, and how we should exercise. As a future health and physical education teacher, I disagree with much of what students are currently learning. Walking the track is acceptable as exercise? Eating whole grain muffins is considered eating healthy? This is unacceptable, and it’s contributing to the declining levels of health in our youth, as well as in the mature population. We’re worried about infomercial fitness gadgets, magic pills and weight loss shakes, and clothes that hold in our fat and slim our silhouettes. Let’s focus on the basics, and everything else will fall into line.
How many hours of sleep are we supposed to get each night? Well the exact number varies depending on your personal needs, but the range of 7-9 hours is the most common. That magical 8 hours of sleep each night accounts for a third of your life; why do you want to waste it sleeping? Well, maybe because the better your quality of sleep, the better your quality of life.
Sleep is a time for your immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems to regenerate and rejuvenate. Without the necessary time spent sleeping, your body can’t recover from daily activities as quickly. Don’t think it’s a big deal? Lack of sleep can be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, weight gain, hypertension, and Type 2 diabetes. Researchers have argued that many of those diseases are man-made due to the Westernized diet and lack of exercise, and that they’re largely preventable. Nobody wants to be sick, and we do many things to lower our risk for disease. From wearing sunblock to regularly brushing our teeth, we take preventative measures to stay healthy. We should do the same with sleep, and getting to bed at a reasonable time doesn’t exactly take very much energy. Oh, you’re laying down and entering a state of reduced consciousness? And by doing absolutely nothing for 6+ hours, you can actually be healthier? Great, then do it!
Anecdotally, we hear that every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after midnight. I’ve experienced this recently, and I couldn’t agree more. Prehistorically, we rose and rested with the sun; we didn’t keep our lights on until 2am. Over the past few weeks I chose the option of waking up early to do work rather than staying up late. Going to bed at 10:30pm and hearing my alarm go off at 5am wasn’t a very pleasant sound, but it left me feeling much better than if I went to bed at 1:30am and woke up at 8am. Your schedule may be so busy that you can’t physically sleep 6-8 hours a night. If not, try rearranging when you do things, and at least get yourself in bed before midnight. I promise, you’ll feel better as your body syncs with your natural circadian rhythms.
Diet should be very easy to cover, but it can actually be very controversially. Some people swear that eating fat will kill you, while others swear that carbs are the devil. I think that both sides of the spectrum are a little too extremist, and like to find myself somewhere in the middle. Vegetables are mostly carbohydrates, but I don’t think anybody is going to say that spinach and carrots are unhealthy. On the other side of things, there’s a difference between eating filet mignon and eating a deep fried cheeseburger. Let’s not kid ourselves; people have a bias and are more likely to promote what they like to eat. I probably wouldn’t promote eggs so much if I didn’t find them delicious, but it helps that they’re one of the best foods you can eat. Overall, I like a ‘natural’ approach to eating; the less ingredients, the better. Anything that grows naturally, or comes from animals, is okay to eat in the least processed variety. Eat your vegetables, have some fruit, consume nuts and seeds. Scramble your eggs, grill your steak, broil your fish. Drink lots of water, some green tea, and milk. Combine them, and you’ll thrive. I think that the promotion of highly processed fats is just as bad as the recommendation that we need 8 servings of whole grains a day; those Cheerios didn’t grow on trees, so stop trying to justify that they’re healthy. Eating unprocessed animal products and a variety of plant materials will go a long way for your health and happiness.
Exercise is certainly the topic that I talk about the most, but it probably needs the most repeating. Many people think that just going to the gym is going to give them instantaneous results, but forget that it’s what you actually do that counts. A member of the JCC has complained to me (multiple times) that it’s just so hard for him to see any results. He’s in the gym 4-6 days a week, and he spends up to 2 hours there on any given day. What gives?! Well, yesterday I spent 20 minutes doing a farmers walk, kettlebell swing, and walking lunge finisher. During that same period of time, this man searched his iPod for what had to be the BEST workout song ever. I’m not sure what he was listening to, all I know is that he wasted twenty minutes doing absolutely nothing. He may have needed to spend that time resting from his dumbbell flies, or thinking about why he’s not seeing any results. To me, it’s obvious, but there are many people who are repeating the same things as this fellow.
In a perfect world, everybody would deadlift, chin-up, military press, and sprint. Unfortunately, there are people who lack the work ethic or education to do those things. Are exercise machines and Zumba classes going to be bad for you? Certainly not, but there are more effective ways of doing things. Just as simplicity helps you make better decisions when it comes to nutrition, it also helps with choosing exercise equipment. Does it plug in to the wall or require batteries? It’s probably not the best thing you could be using. Does it require regular maintenance? It’s probably not the best thing you could be using. Olympic barbells require oiling on occasion, but other than that, weight plates, dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, sleds, and countless other pieces of no-tech equipment require little upkeep. Technology certainly has it’s place in health and fitness, but the best exercises are done with simple forms of weight. Seriously, how many times have I said this?
We’re all guilty of forgetting the importance of the basics, but sometimes we need a reminder. It happens in all aspects of life, but when it comes to your physical health, it’s forgotten very quickly. If you can get to bed before midnight, eat unprocessed animals and plant products, and learn basic strength training exercises, you’re going to be healthier; there’s no way around it. I’m not sure when you’re reading this, but thank you for doing so. If you just woke up, drink a glass of water, do 20 pushups, and scramble some eggs. If it’s the middle of the day, put steak in your salad and plan on learning a new barbell exercise today. If it’s after 10pm…well, then get yourself to bed!