No Magic Pill

Knowledge + effort + time = success

Do It

I’m often flattered, though a little dogmatic, when someone asks me how to improve his or her physical fitness and overall health. Mind you, I have no formal education on the matter, just years (since August 2000) of my own casual research and less-casual experimentation, and I’d be willing to go up against most franchise gym “trainers” right now in terms of getting results from anyone who walks through the door. I hold a strong opinion that the VAST majority of health issues, minor or major, chronic or isolated, stem from a lack of basic personal upkeep that became a nationwide trend in the mid-1900s thanks to various (often fatally flawed) studies used to perpetuate the infamous food pyramid as the foundation for sound nutrition and steady-state endurance-only activities as the be-all, end-all of physical fitness. Numerous formal and anecdotal studies before and since that time have shown just the opposite.

With that in mind, I offer the following list of things every person should do in his or her daily life to improve its quality. You’ll notice that a lot of it deals with nutrition. After all, physical health is largely determined by diet (point of information: “diet” is simply what you eat, good or bad, and not the label for any kind of change in eating habits). You may also notice that there is no suggestion of a major overhaul in your life, though I guess that’s a relative statement depending on your current lifestyle. Do one or do all, but do SOMETHING. As always, I’ll likely continue to tweak this list, but these are the basics off the top of my head:

—To lose weight, consume fewer calories than you expend.
—Not all calories are created equal (protein and carbs = 4cal/gram, fat = 9cal/gram) but not in ways you might assume (fats are far healthier than carbs, which are inherently destructive at the anatomical cellular level).
—Limit/Eliminate soda consumption (and seriously curtail the sweet tea).
—Drink more water. Chances are you’re dehydrated most of the time (it’s too late when you feel thirsty).
—Eat more protein. It maintains/builds lean mass, increases your metabolism, makes you feel full longer, contains esential amino acids and trace minerals you wouldn’t otherwise get (especially in red meat), and can convert to chemical equivalents of carbs or fats, so your body isn’t missing anything.
Eat more and more often. Chances are that your metabolism is slower than molasses running uphill in January. Even a minimally-active female of semi-healthy weight should be getting 1300-1500 calories per day over the course of four or five meals. (Comment rescinded due to research suggesting nutrient timing is less important than daily consistency, whether that’s in two meals or eight.)
—Your daily supplementation (in order of importance): multivitamin fish oil, “greens” supplement (if you’re short on veggies), flaxseed oil, fiber, protein-only powder (if you’re short in whole foods). That’s all you potentially need, though getting the whole-foods diet in order takes care of everything here.

—Purchase and (learn how to) use a foam roller.
—Get up from that GD computer and walk around and/or stretch at least once per hour.
—Speaking of which, dump that chair and use a physioball/Swiss ball (without a stand). The first week will suck as your core learns to support itself (’cause it sure isn’t working to hold you up when you sit in a chair), but your posture—which sucks, by the way, neanderthal (yes, you women, too)—will improve dramatically. Just make sure you get the right size for your height.
—If you go to the gym, immediately STOP: 1) stretching as your warm-up for anything, 2) using the bicycles, 3) doing exercises where only one joint moves, 4) “lifting” “weights” you could easily “lift” 50 times, and 5) training only the muscles you can see in the mirror.
—If you go to the gym, immediately START: 1) warming up (using a dynamic setup), 2) doing grade-school gym class exercises, mostly using just your bodyweight (this might be your entire workout), 3) training those “invisible” muscles (read: hamstrings, glutes, back, rear shoulders), 4) getting over your insecurities and fears about not knowing what to do—everyone had/has to start somewhere.
—Get adequate sleep (read: 6-10 hours per night). Without sleep, exercise is pointless as you’re not letting your body recover and rebuild from the breakdowns it experiences during physical training.

—Stop making excuses. If you think you’re the only person with an overloaded life and no time to take care of yourself, you’re—well, let’s just say I can think of a lot of names to call you right now. Just click on the “Goal Setting” link to the left if you need some motivation.
—If you have questions, ask.

Of course, there’s always CrossFit’s “World-Class Fitness in 100 Words”:

Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports.

Finally, there is no magic pill. There is no cure-all. There is no untapped panacea for health and well-being IN SPITE OF your crappy physical and dietary habits. It takes work. Hard work. Lots of hard work, both physically and (mostly) mentally. It takes time. Lots of time, especially depending on your current state and your stated goals. Together, these things require commitment. From you and no one else. There are many people willing and available to help you reach your goals, but just like anything else in life, you have to want it and be willing to bear down and get after it. That comes first. Only then can you hope to find help outside of yourself. Here’s a quick example: me. Read it. Then read the link titled “Merry Christmas, Bob.” Recognize anyone? Maybe yourself? Think about it. Need some encouragement? Click on “Mahler’s Monday Morning Motivators” to your left. Ladies, there are two links especially for you in my Favorite Clicks section as well.


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