I grew up in a family that values health. My parents refused to buy sugar cereal or white bread. They didn’t buy candy or have it in the house, with the exception of chocolate, which everyone knows isn’t candy. It’s health food. My parents also valued exercise and staying active. Healthspan and lifespan weren’t words we talked about, but my parents lead a life that is all about health and fitness of both body and mind.
My dad has been an active runner, having run high school and college track and 7 marathons. My mom swims a mile every morning during the summer and my dad joins her if he has time after his weight lifting sessions.
I’ve eaten healthy and exercised my entire life. I grew up hating vegetables, like a lot of kids, but have forced myself to like them because there’s a rumor going around that they’re good for you.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve doubled down on doing everything I can for my health and longevity, especially as more and more research is being done on not only what a healthy diet consists of but all the other things we can do to be healthy to increase our healthspan (how many healthy years we have in our life) and lifespan (the length of our lives).
I’ve compiled a list of all the things I’m doing to maximize my healthspan and lifespan. I’m sure this list will change over time as new research comes out. If you’re interested in doing the same and reading some of the research, I hope you find my list helpful.
I started small (Incrementalism) and have added a couple of things each year to build up this list. It’s ongoing, so contact me if you have feedback or think I should add anything. Of course, I fall off the wagon and don’t do all of these all the time. In fact, recently, my wife has been making homemade chocolate chip cookies every night. I feel like I need to eat them to show my support.
We’re all aware that eating a healthy diet is one of the best things we can do for our health, but most people aren’t doing it. Overweight and obesity rates are at all-time highs in the U.S. and around the world. The world has gone from not having enough food in some places, to having too much food in most places. Nearly 2 billion people are obese today and most of the world population lives in countries where obesity kills more people than being underweight. 1
With all the food items to choose from, I’ve wondered: of all this food, what should I be eating and how much?
I started by tracking what I ate every day for 2 years. This gave me an appreciation of what is in food – macro and micronutrients. After that, I researched how much of different nutrients I should get and what I should limit. For example, how much daily sugar is too much? How much fiber? What even is fiber? I outlined my findings in What is the best diet for humans?
My research took me to fasting and wrote about my results and benefits after two years of nearly daily fasting here: Intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating
There’s abundant research that says working out regularly has all kinds of physical, mental and emotional benefits. I’ve been working out 5-6 days a week for most of my life. It includes 2 days of running, swimming or biking, 1 day of sprints and 4 days or weightlifting, usually free weights.
Free weights focused on just a few compound movements is effective, but also simplifies my workouts. I don’t have to keep track of 104 different workouts. With a shortlist of routines, it’s easier to track progress and focus on getting good at a few things, like pull-ups or bench press. An extra bonus is you don’t need all kinds of fancy machines so building your own gym is pretty easy.
For extra exercise and some peaceful moments, I ride my bike to work and walk places as much as I can. I love taking a long walk with a good podcast or someone to talk to. For a time I hired a Spanish tutor and we did all our lessons while we hiked. A two for one deal!
Routines & Lifestyle
Besides diet and exercise, there’s a long list of beneficial things we can do to stay healthy and increase longevity. Here’s my list that I include in my daily routine:
Limit TV time (2-4 hours per week)
Meditate, Prayer and mindfulness (15 minutes every morning, sometimes in the afternoon too)
Wake up early. Have a morning routine and a nightly routine. Having a routine that you stick to takes all the complexity out of the morning by avoiding decision fatigue that comes with making a lot of small decisions all the time and makes it much easier to be disciplined.
Use a sleep tracker app. Get enough sleep. 7-9 hours a day. Recent research has surprisingly shown that you can’t catch up on sleep that you missed. It’s a myth you can pull a few all-nighters to finish a big project and catch up on the weekend. Nope. The damage has already been done to your body, not to mention messing up your circadian rhythms.
Using a sleep tracking app has been a game-changer for my mornings. The app wakes me up at the top of my R.E.M. cycle, which is the best time to wake up to feel the most rested. If you’re awakened at the bottom of the cycle, that’s when you wake up feeling drowsing and wanting to hit the snooze button.
Regular reading – I try to read a book every week or 2 and have found that a physical book is much better than reading on my phone. Fewer distractions, more focused reading.
Limit phone, screen time & social media
I’ve become more dedicated to limiting my screen time each time more evidence of what it’s doing to our brains comes out. I’m mostly off social media, except Facebook and Linkedin occasionally and haven’t posted on other social media since 2016. I can totally feel a difference in my stress and relaxation. The research says that phones and social media rewire our brains, so we need to take time to wire them back. Limiting time is one way. Meditation is another. I like this video about how the internet rewires our brains.
I wrote about screen addiction more in Put the phone down zombie!
Screen-free day. Much like Jews observe Shabbat and Christians observe the Sabbath by taking a day off to focus on more spiritual things, I take Sundays off from screens. I was inspired by Jews observing Shabbat who take 24 hours away from the internet. It’s been a great way to curb cell phone addiction and has helped me realize how dependent I can be on my phone. It’s inconvenient sometimes, but completely worth the benefits I get.
Constant media fast. Most of the news is negative and not reflective of the true world. Thanks to Ted Turner we have 24-hour news, whether there’s something happening in the world or not. Thanks to the TV and internet ad models, there’s an incentive to sensationalize every story. I can get the news I need to stay informed by reading the headlines and a story or two in less than 10 minutes. It saves time and decreases stress and I know about as much as everyone else.
Dealing with stress. Stress is detrimental to your well-being but has also shown to prematurely age a person. Just look at the pictures comparing every president when they start their term to when they leave. It’s striking. Check out these comparison photos going back to LBJ.
Reduce stress by:
- Limiting time with caustic people, events or jobs. Anyone who has ever been in a toxic relationship can attest to how stressful it is.
- Choose a job that’s less stressful with people you like.
- Payoff your debt and save an emergency fund.
- Listen to good music.
- Take daily walks.
- Do a bunch of other things on this list to get stress out of your life.
The Finns are avid users of saunas. Rhonda Patrick and others have written extensively about the benefits of regular sauna use. Benefits include improved endurance, preventing muscle atrophy, improved insulin sensitivity, promote the growth of new brain cells and increase longevity. Check out one of her videos here.
Cold showers daily
When I first starting taking cold showers I hated it. It was so cold! I had heard it was beneficial, so I stuck with it. After a couple of weeks I really noticed how much better I felt all day if I ended all my showers by turning it all the way cold for 60 seconds. Every day I do it I feel much more energetic. The Art of Manliness has a great article on it here.
Sensory deprivation tanks. I tried this once and it seemed okay, but need to give it some more chances after having friends who sing its praises.
I haven’t yet tried cryogenic tanks or breathing exercises and probably a lot of other things I could be doing.
What do you think of the list? Do you agree or disagree with any? What would you add?