How to Live Healthy in 2012, Part 3: Your Body

Quick note: this is the continuation of the Practical Action Plan I started last week. Click here for Part One and Part Two.

So. You know what to eat.

You’ve tweaked your shopping list, now, to include a few new faces: a jar of refrigerated, unpasteurized sauerkraut, a tin of sardines, and a big package of bones, the combination of which netted no less than two strange looks from your disgruntled cashier. Chin up, friend. That’ll never change, but it will grow funnier.

But what about the rest of your body? Not what you put in, then, but how you work out? In keeping with our focus on a simple, natural approach to your 2012, I’m happy to offer the following: how you should try and exercise and how often to do it. If your goals involve super-low body fat or running a marathon, this routine probably won’t help, but everyone else should still find some benefit. I’ve kept this up for the better part of the last six months and have managed to maintain both a pleasing amount of muscle mass and actual strength, so you won’t suffer for giving it a try.

WALK

Seriously, folks. This might be a rare case where conventional wisdom gets it right — walk, each and every day, for at least twenty-thirty minutes. Do it while in the fasted state (i.e. before breakfast) if you can, but don’t stress if you can’t. Walk as much as possible throughout your daily routine, and likewise don’t treat that 30 minute requirement as an upper limit — you only stand to gain if you try and move more.

Your opportunities are endless:

1. Instead of watching an episode of TV, why not take a 30-minute stroll around the neighborhood?

2. Park out as far as possible. Your sanity will thank you.

3. The next time you take a phone call, try and move around for the entire duration of the call. In an office setting, this might be the easiest way to keep moving.

4. Take a short walk after dinner or on your lunch break. A Chinese proverb (and I’m sure someone in the audience can correct me if I butcher it) says: “If you wish to live to the age of 99, walk 100 steps after each meal.” On a more practical level, an after-meal stroll settles my stomach, so our ancestors might be on to something.

LOW-LEVEL ACTIVITY

Let’s call it a different kind of exercise — a new take on a concept that too many of us associate with rigid schedules and sweaty shorts. Life gets in the way, right? You might have every intention of hitting the gym after work tonight, but you and I both know that any number of shenanigans will get in the way. Your plans will change. You’ll opt to hit the gym later, only to find yourself dealing with the next big crisis dumped on your doorstep. Rather than set ourselves up for a cycle of plan-fail-frown, why don’t we try and take control of our minutes?

That’s a long-winded way of telling you to exercise all the time. The next time you’re in a bathroom stall, bust out 15-20 air squats. The next time you have a few spare minutes before your show starts, why not drop and do ten pushups? The next time you’re waiting on a pot to boil, break out a few pullups or dips to help pass the minutes. The next time you and the spouse have a spare hour, have sex.

Make exercise a part of your daily motion, in other words, instead of slotting it into your weekly routine. Routines change. Your ability to move around and keep your muscles warm, however, does not.

GO TO SLEEP

Get seven or eight hours. Insist upon this. A full night’s rest — preferably the kind of sleep that lets you wake up before the shrill voice of the alarm — is so completely, incredibly vital to good health that I’m going to put on my hard-ass hat to drive this home: go to bed. You don’t need to check Facebook for another thirty minutes. You don’t need to watch another episode of mediocre TV. You don’t need any number of silly distractions — but you do need to go to bed an hour earlier, tonight, and enjoy all the benefits that follow.

LIFT THINGS

Things, in this instance, is a flexible word.

I’m a fan of bodyweight exercises, personally speaking, but I know you can achieve pretty tremendous results with a solid program at the gym. Either which way you fall, however, you should still make the effort to enjoy one of life’s simplest pleasures: taking some big, heavy object and hoisting it (safely!) above your head.

For your average exercise, however, a bodyweight program can go a long ways. Here are a few I recommend:

1. SimpleFit.

2. The Hundred Pushups challenge.

3. Primal Blueprint Fitness

I’ve used all three at different times and seen great results. The Hundred Pushups challenge definitely increased my upper body strength, but I think #1 and #2 are better choices overall, presenting as they do a wide variety of challenges for an even wider variety of fitness levels. If you haven’t been lifting things on a steady basis for at least a month or two already, then start with Primal Blueprint Fitness — Mark Sisson did fantastic work in designing a program to cater to all ages and individual athletic skill.

The point, in any case, is simple: lift stuff. Lift weights if you’re into that, or lift your body if you don’t feel like shelling out for a membership. I’ve used the latter approach to easily maintain my strength and muscle over the last six months, but one look at Steve Kamb’s Nerd Fitness should be enough to show that bodyweight can make for pretty excellent gains overall.

How You Should Exercise (Once a Week)

MOVE REALLY, REALLY FAST

Sprinting is my go-to recommendation, but not always ideal (or feasible) for people just starting out. That said, you can mimic the process by pedaling very, very quickly on a stationary bike, accelerating your heart rate for sixty seconds or so before resting a few more minutes and trying it again.

Once you’ve worked up to a full-on sprint, try this:

1. Do four or five jogging sprints in order to warm up. Common advice is to sprint at 60-70% of your max speed, but that frankly doesn’t mean a damn thing to me, so I’ll just say this: settle in at somewhere between a jog and your full-on sprint. You don’t want to be winded by the time you’re done, but you do want to feel the warmth spreading throughout your muscles.

2. Do four or five regular sprints. I like to rest about a minute between each, the end result of which leaves me pretty exhausted. How far, distance-wise, should you go? I don’t count, but I do try and sprint until I can feel myself pretty significantly slowing down.

You might not have the stamina for 5 sprints to start with. That’s fine. Work up to it over the course of a few weeks, and don’t forget to feel some pride when you see how quickly your body adapts to higher volume.

HIIT

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT, henceforth) has a reputation for a reason: it sucks. Expect to be tired, sweaty, and more than a little parched when you finish, and expect too that your once-weekly interval training will become the bane of your existence in very short order.

Coincidentally, I often forget to do this.

But HIIT wins out for metabolic conditioning, and there’s a certain kind of pleasure in seeing your body transform into a lean, mean, interval-crunching machine. That said, let’s be clear on who should do this: I don’t recommend HIIT for most overweight people, as it puts unnecessary strain on the joints and doesn’t necessarily lead to enhanced fat burning. I’d much rather have you up your volume of walking each day and worry about HIIT later — and even then, only if you want the benefit of metabolic conditioning. You can do your body a tremendous amount of good by just lifting weights and walking around a lot, so don’t feel bad if HIIT doesn’t come into your routine until much later.

Burpees are my go-to recommendation, though they’ve been pretty accurately described as punishment. You’ll do well by doing several sets of full-body exercises in rapid succession, however, and here I’d like to open it up to the floor: what kind of HIIT routines do you enjoy? Sound off below!

TAKE IT EASY

Resting is exercise, you might ask?

(Semantics, I might offer).

But let’s not forget a familiar adage from the gym: you don’t gain while you’re lifting. The real work happens during recovery. That’s true for any level of exercise, I suspect, which makes it all the odder that we’re so reluctant to take time off — to hang up your Vibram Five Fingers for just a day or two and let your body heal.

Stop feeling guilty. Stop feeling like you need to put yourself through the wringer every single day of the week. Give yourself at least one day to stop, relax, and walk around a bit, using that exercise time to work a different muscle entirely: your brain. Read a book. Watch a movie. Spend time with friends. Your body — and your social life — will thank you.

RECOMMENDED READING

The Cheap-Ass Guide to Getting Fit

You Have a Choice

Primal Blueprint Plan Workout Basics

Any more you’d like to add to the list? Let me know!

***

And that’s all, folks!

The lifestyle changes required to live healthy in 2012 are many, of course, but I hope this third part of the guide — and the two before it — will prove useful to you in the year to come. I followed all of the ideas here pretty closely for about half of 2011 and saw tremendous benefits, and I can all but assure you’ll see advantages too. Living healthy doesn’t have to be hard, folks, so just keep these three ideas in mind:

1. Eat less.

2. Move more.

3. Don’t stress.

If you have any questions about what’s written above, please don’t hesitate to ask them below. And if you enjoyed this post, would you please click the StumbleUpon button (“Submit,” I think it says) below? Or the retweet, facebook ‘like,’ etc.? I’d love for this to spread far and wide, but I know I can’t do it without you.

Thanks for reading!

1 Comment

  1. Theresa says:

    Short. Simple. Sweet. Love your stuff, Matt.