A friend of mine recently asked for some book recommendations for overall health and wellness. I’m no nutrition expert (but I have one as a partner) but I’ve done a fair amount of personal experimentation and research. The books that really impacted me were not really traditional health and fitness books. For specific exercises and such I tend to just grab something online to act as a guide. The books I read did serve as a huge source of motivation, which for me is much more important than the details. Here are the top books for me (in the order I read them):
“The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest” by Dan Buettner – Research into areas of the world that have a disproportionately high number of healthy centenarians. Buettner looks for common practices that seem to lead to longevity. The book is worth a read but if you’d like a summary of what Buettner discovered let me know and I’ll send you a list.
“Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen” by Christopher McDougall – This is one of two books that really made me realize how amazing the human body is and what our potential can be. It is also what got me running, something I HATED doing (and I now I only kinda dislike it). Realizing that we are relatively recent descendants of people who walked across continents and chased down elk to kill them with spears is really empowering. The genetic code to do those things are still inside us all.
“What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude, and Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength” by Scott Carney – This is the other book that sparked an appreciation for my body and it is the one that inspired me to run without a shirt, even in 30-degree weather like today. The basic premise is that our comfortable living has really prevented important parts of our anatomy from being exercised. We have systems in place to help with cold like creating brown adipose tissue that develops in cold temperatures, brown adipose tissue also improves glucose homeostasis and insulin sensitivity, bone health and density, reduces obesity, and creates irisin. Basically, we have neglected systems that are necessary for overall health but can get them back through certain practices.
“The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg – Basically, what habits are and how to change them. This was pretty instrumental in me developing a running and nutrition routine and sticking to it. I still kind of suck at habit creating and breaking, but this book helped.
“The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living” by Ryan Holiday – Not only does this provide a lot of wisdom but having a quick morning reading helped me develop an overall health routine consistently.
“The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body Through Intermittent, Alternate-Day, and Extended Fasting” by Jason Fung – This is probably the only book that I’d really classify as health and nutrition. Dr. Fung looks at the data and shows the benefits of fasting. There is also a great documentary on YouTube called “Eat, Fast, & Live Longer” from the BBC that actually inspired me to look into it and eventually start an intermittent fast routine.
Honorable Mention: “How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease” by Michael Gregor, MD – I haven’t actually read this book but I have flipped through it from time to time. It is more of a reference book than something to read through. The chapters are things like “How Not to Die from Brain Disease”, “How Not to Die from Heart Attacks”, which I find a little hyperbolistic (apparently not a real word) but the information is backed by research. Literally the last 150 pages is just referencing and notes. The book also includes a summary of best practices for overall health.
Also, here are some general tips that have worked for me. After reading tons of “self-help” books I know that you can find contradictory advice pretty easily, so this stuff may not help you, but it certainly works for me.
- Share struggles and successes on social media. It kind of feels like bragging but it is motivational to me to share post-run pics on Instagram or send a Snap to others that I know are exercising or trying to improve their lives. That endorphin rush from likes and comments can keep you going. Side note: did you know that “endorphin” is an contraction for “Endogenous morphine”, it is literally an opioid created by our bodies. Aren’t bodies the coolest?!?!?!?
- Get up early. You gotta do the tough stuff in the morning when your mental energy levels are at their highest. As the day goes on the desire and drive to do tough things diminishes. For me, this is exercise and meditation, if I don’t do it before work or anything else then it usually doesn’t get done.
- Food groups, not macros or calories. Basically, focus on a micronutrient complete day. My daily goals are 3 servings of nuts/seeds, 3 servings of fruit (at least on being berries), 3 servings of leafy green vegetables, 3 servings of non-leafy green vegetables, and 3 servings of legumes. After I hit all those marks, I’m usually at about 1600-1800 calories.
- Experiment and track. I’ve tried different forms of fasting, nutritional systems, and exercise routines. I’m a big data geek so I track things like weight, mood, calorie inputs, time exercised, water consumed, etc. I find it interesting and it keeps things in perspective for bad days, either the bad day is a fluke and should be ignored or it is part of a pattern and change is needed.
- Drink water. This clearly is not revolutionary, but it may be one of the most important things I do. Every night before going to bed I fill a growler with water and set it on my desk and I don’t go to bed until it is empty.
- Go to bed early. I try to be in bed by 10pm every night and my alarm goes off at 6am, so I get a full 8 hours of sleep and I have enough time in the morning to reach my goals.
- Prep your morning ahead of time. I try and make my morning coffee, decide on my exercise route, set out my exercise clothes, prepare my alter area (I meditate/pray at an alter in the morning), and basically do all I can to make the morning less draining. Waking up early sucks, I hate it, and every little bit that can make it less troublesome is good.
- Minimize your decisions. This is kind of only tangentially related to physical health, but it helps me. I basically only own 2 pairs of jeans and a dozen t-shirts (either colored with no pattern or some logo from a 5k or something). The decision-making process for getting dressed is non-existent, I spend no mental energy doing it. Steve Jobs had the same technique, that’s why he is always wearing a black turtleneck, he very consciously decided not to waste any mental energy on things that did not significantly improve his life. You can actually standardize a lot of things. For example, two of my three meals each day are basically the same thing: a protein shake and a veggie scramble with legumes. I’ll change the spices I use, which fruits are in the shake, which legumes I use, etc, but it is a standard meal that I can make ahead of time, portion out, and just grab and eat.
- Use stupid apps for motivation. I use “Pokémon Go” and go to stops, hunt for Pokémon, and take over gyms on my run. I also use “Run An Empire” and take over different castles and areas while running. I use Strava as well to track my runs and, as you may notice, I take a post-exercise picture every day. If there is a reward, app, or anything else that will push you to get out the door in the morning then take it. There is no shame in that.
- Find lots of sources of motivation. I have a sheet that notes different sources of motivation, sometimes one is really motivating and sometimes it isn’t, that’s why variety is key. Mine includes things like: ethical duty to take care of body, honor the gift of my body that the gods gave me, feel confident at an orgy, abs, see my nieces and nephews have grandkids, live forever, run a ultramarathon someday, higher sex drive, climb a mountain, sleep better, look good naked, prevent obesity, etc…
- Develop indirect healthy practices. It is surprising where momentum can come from, it can be the littlest things. Some days, when I remember to floss in the morning it sparks healthier habits throughout the day. Some key ones for me include flossing, having a clean house, meditating, reading, writing, and learning something new (usually just watching an educational YouTube video or Masterclass).
So, that is a long-winded run down of my thoughts. If you have any questions at all or if something is unclear please reach out to me.