Me-Time Every Day
Every day, for at least fifteen minutes, be selfish, and enjoy some time for you.
For at least fifteen minutes, every day, and more if possible, stop everything and be utterly selfish. Stop treating “relaxation” as something that you do—or, more likely, don’t do—when everything else has been dealt with. Choose to relax. Make it a triple-underlined part of your schedule. Set an alarm. What will you do? Will you visit a local cafe, buy a coffee and indulge in a trashy magazine? Will you sit in a room with the lights off, listening to your favorite piece of music? Will you enjoy a relaxing bath? It’s entirely up to you. But there are three rules. Firstly, it must be something unashamedly for you and you alone. Secondly, it must not be an activity that involves your smartphone, tablet or computer. Thirdly, you’re not allowed to feel guilty about it.
The Screen-Free Sabbath
Every Sunday, turn off your screens and live your day offline.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Every night, before you go to sleep, write a list of all the things that have gone well for you that day, and all the things you’re grateful for.
A simple tip is to buy a really nice journal or diary and keep it by your bed. Own it. Love it. Treasure it. For some of my patients, simply buying a little book that they love the look of helps them engage in the process. Whatever you write in it, the important thing is to note down three things every day that you’re grateful for. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Instead of focusing on the colleague who ignored you in the morning, why not focus on the one who brought you a coffee? Instead of focusing on the hard week you have had, why not think about the fact that it’s now the weekend?
Practice Stillness Daily
Make time to practice stillness for at least five minutes daily.
Reclaim Your Dining Table
Eat one meal a day at the table, in company (if possible), without your devices
You digest food properly when you’re in relaxation mode. When you’re in fight-or-flight, you don’t. Eating at the table also means we’re likely to consume less. Recent research from academics at the University of Birmingham has found that when we eat in front of the television not only do we consume more at that particular meal, we also take in more calories later in the day.
Why is this? It might surprise you to learn that hunger isn’t the only thing that affects how much you eat—memory also plays a part. If we’re absorbed with watching a cheetah chasing an antelope on the latest David Attenborough documentary while mindlessly shoveling food into our mouths, we’ll probably remember less of our meal, and may start getting “I’m hungry” signals sooner. Attention also plays a role, and for similar reasons. After around twenty minutes of eating, the brain starts sending its “I’m full” signals. These signals are partly dependent on how much we’ve already eaten—information that comes not only from the sheer volume of food we’ve swallowed, but also how much of it we’ve seen, smelled and tasted.
Retrain your taste buds by removing all sugars from your cupboards and get into the habit of always reading the label on your food to check the sugar content.
A New Definition of “Five a Day”
Aim to eat at least five portions of vegetables every day—ideally, of five different colors.
Introduce Daily Micro-Fasts
Get into the habit of eating all of your food within a twelve-hour time window.
Drink More Water
Aim to drink eight small glasses (approximately 1.2 liters) of water per day.
Unprocess Your Diet
Try to avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients.
There’s no need to count calories, portion size, fats, carbs, Weight Watchers points or anything even remotely like that. Life is complicated enough as it is. Instead, simply focus on avoiding highly processed foods. It’s a pretty safe bet that any food product that contains more than five ingredients is highly processed. By avoiding these foods you will, by default, be not only improving your health but also side-stepping all the endless confusion that exists about diet. All you need to do is remember the number five.
Aim for at least 10,000 steps per day.
Walking 10,000 steps a day is a completely arbitrary goal. It’s also true that you can’t out-walk a bad diet—if you’re eating the wrong things, no amount of strolling can reverse the damage you’re doing to yourself. However, this is a good simple rule to set us in the direction of being more active. For many, walking is a gateway exercise that is the start of the journey from not moving at all to optimal movement. Walking, like breathing, is such a fundamental process that it’s one of the core activities that the brain does without the need for conscious control.
Do some form of strength training twice a week.
Muscle is the forgotten organ. And, make no mistake, it is an organ. We tend to think of muscle as nothing more than dumb meat that’s simply there to power our limbs, but it plays any number of active roles in the daily running of our bodies. Here’s just one example: our muscle controls not only the way in which hormones are released into our bodies but also how they’re regulated. The more we have of it, the better able we are to control the action of those hormones. All of our cells contain mitochondria and our muscle cells have a particularly high concentration. Mitochondria are our energy factories. Therefore the more muscle we have, the more mitochondria we have, so the more potential we have to make energy.
Begin Regular High-Intensity Interval Training
Find a form of HIIT that works for you and do two ten- to fifteen-minute sessions each week.
What if I told you it was possible to exercise less and achieve more? Would you believe me? Or would you think I was hawking some too-good-to-be true “wellness” scheme and was about to ask you to buy an $800 gadget and sign some byzantine contract? The amazing fact of the matter is, a lot of modern science is telling us exactly that. High-intensity interval training—often shortened to HIIT—is a very specific form of training that’s been shown to have some fantastic health benefits. In simple terms, it refers to exercising hard, but in short bursts.
Make a habit of doing three or four “movement snacks” five days a week.
One of my favorite quotes is from George Bernard Shaw, who said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” This is all too true and I’ve no doubt that one of the reasons we find our health and energy levels deteriorating (and thus put on weight) as we grow older is that we’re no longer running around having fun—playing tag, kicking a ball around, skipping on the playground.
Imagine if, in offices up and down the country, everyone did a two-minute workout together before they went out for lunch! Some quick lunges, dips, air squats or side lunges would be amazing for company team-building and morale and even better for the nation’s health.
Wake Up Your Sleepy Glutes
Do at least one glute movement every day, and the whole series four times per week.
The reason our glutes have gone to sleep is because of our modern living environment. Our lifestyles have done this to us. The way we live modern life is literally a pain in the ass. And this matters. We usually think of our bottoms as something to sit on, but they’re actually one of the most important muscles in the body. They’re a “keystone” muscle and, if they’re off, there can be ripple effects for many other muscles. A lot of back pain is actually caused by having sleepy backsides. Glutes—our buttock muscles—not only help hold our skeletons up, they play a critical role in the functioning of our biomechanics. It’s not by accident that men and women tend to, consciously or unconsciously, judge the quality of a potential mate partly on the shape of their butt. And our glutes do not exist in isolation. In our massively connected bodies, they’re linked to a whole chain of muscles from our shoulders all the way down to our feet, and if they’re not firing appropriately, that puts stress on other parts of the body.
Embrace Morning Light
Spend at least twenty minutes outside (without sunglasses) every morning.
Prioritizing sleep starts the minute we get up and one of the best things we can do is get outdoors in natural daylight. Our exposure to the sun in the morning is a critical part of our evolutionary heritage. It’s critical for feelings of well-being in the day but also for good quality sleep at night.
Create a Bedtime Routine
Start your evening wind-down with a “No-Tech 90” as part of a set ritual.
Contrary to popular belief, every single one of us has amazing natural rhythm. While this might not always be obvious when we’re busting moves down at the club on a Saturday night, our bodies do in fact run on an elegant, complex system of inner rhythms. As noted elsewhere, we all have a master body clock that keeps its time using signals of light and dark. But our liver also has its own rhythm. So does our blood pressure, our memory, our insulin, our production of the sleep hormone melatonin, our production of the hunger hormone leptin, our core body temperature, our mood, our memory, and so on. We now know that our genome is under much more clock control than we previously imagined, meaning that the very way our genes function can shift with time. It’s now thought that a significant part of our genome may be clock dependent (which means there might be an optimum time when a liver drug, for example, would be most effectively administered). All these rhythms combine to form the awe-inspiring and beautiful symphony that is the healthy human body.
Manage Your Commotion
Minimize any activity that will raise emotional tension before bed.
Managing your commotion means making it a cast-iron rule that you do not discuss emotive subjects in the evenings, or crack into a new work task, or check your bank balance or do anything that’s going to set your mind working. If you know watching a cable news show is going to get you all heated up, then either avoid it altogether or watch it on a Saturday morning, when you’ve the time and the cortisol to deal with it. Of course, it’s very hard to schedule an argument with your partner, but if you know you need to have a difficult conversation, don’t have it at bedtime. It is probably wise not to watch thrillers, either. This might sound trivial but, remember, sleep deprivation is a major contributor to the epidemic of lifestyle diseases that we’re currently in the grip of. It really is that important.
Enjoy Your Caffeine Before Noon
Ensure that any caffeine you do choose to consume is taken before lunchtime.
And make no mistake about it, caffeine is a big sleep disruptor. Adenosine is a chemical that’s made in the body that builds up the longer we’re awake. The more adenosine we have, the more sleepy we feel. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors. By breaking the body’s ability to sense adenosine, caffeine fools the body into thinking that it’s less sleepy than it really is. It’s by actions such as these that caffeine can prolong sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), reduce total sleep time, reduce sleep efficiency and worsen perceived sleep quality.
Finding Your Balance
What job you are in doesn’t matter, your ethical preference regarding food doesn’t matter and where you live doesn’t matter—everyone can apply its concepts in his or her own life.
As you move from two interventions to four, from four to eight and from eight to eighteen, you are building fantastically strong foundations. You’re moving further beneath your threshold, becoming more resilient and more able to bounce back when life does throw you its inevitable curveballs. These small changes become your new habits and these new habits become your health.