This is a re-post of an article I wrote many years ago. Most of what I wrote here still holds up today, but see my note on the part about cold exposure.

Fitness is mostly about diet, exercise, sleep and stress. In other words, your way of life. The stuff you do all day, every day. There are precious few shortcuts to be found.

That said, there are a few small habits you can build that will give you disproportionate results for a few minutes of effort a day.

Dehydration can cause overeating, mood swings, lethargy, and brain fog- and most people are mildly dehydrated most of the day.  To avoid this, Drink a glass of water upon first waking up, every 2 hours throughout the day, and before each meal. 

When you eat, your blood sugar rises.  And in response to that rise in blood sugar, your body produces insulin, which lowers your blood sugar by pushing it into your body tissues.  Unfortunately, some of that sugar goes into your fatty tissue, and the insulin also has a depressant effect, lowering your energy levels.  

Luckily, you can reduce the post-meal insulin spike substantially just by moving around a bit after meals, which causes your muscle tissue to absorb some of that sugar before the insulin response fully kicks in.  After each meal, either take a ten-minute walk, or spend two minutes doing alternating sets of air squats and pushups.  

One of the most important habits you can develop for staying trim and healthy is the habit of cooking meals at home.  Psychologically though, that’s sometimes easier said than done, so it helps to eliminate all barriers that prevent you from cooking at home.  Having a dirty kitchen is one of the biggest barriers that keeps people from cooking, as it really gets hard to motivate yourself to cook when the kitchen is filthy or cluttered.  

Make cleaning the kitchen part of your evening routine- every night after dinner, do the dishes if any are lying around, tidy up any clutter in your kitchen, and give anything that’s obviously dirty a quick scrub.  Once a week, give the whole kitchen a more thorough scrubbing-down.

Meditation has a wide variety of physical and mental benefits– from stress reduction, to better sleep, to improvements in immune and cardiovascular health.  Where people go wrong though, is in pushing themselves too hard, to the point where it becomes frustrating.  Unlike physical exercise, meditation stops being helpful once it becomes unpleasant.  

Instead of forcing yourself to meditate for twenty minutes at a time, focusing on meditating consistently- every day, for only two minutes.   If you want to go longer, great, but you don’t have to.  As for how to meditate: sit down somewhere quiet and comfortable, close your eyes, and mentally repeat a short mantra- a word or phrase that has a calming effect on you.  Even two minute a day can have a substantial stress-reduction effect.  

Before each meal, take a quick photo of the food with your smartphone.  This causes you to briefly pause and reflect on what you’re about to eat- and maybe make healthier food choices.  For extra impact, you can also post these photos to Facebook, which puts some social pressure on yourself to be seen eating healthy.  

Every evening, hold an ice pack to your neck, upper chest or upper back for 20 minutes.  This stimulates the activity of brown adipose tissue– fatty tissue that burns energy to keep you warm.  Increased brown adipose tissue will help you to burn more calories, while also increasing insulin sensitivity by hogging glucose away from your white adipose tissue (the regular fatty tissue that just stores energy).  

This is the one item in this article that I’ve evolved on over the years. It turns out that while cold temperatures boost your metabolism, they also increase your appetite to compensate. I still think cold exposure is useful, but only if accompanied by strategies to increase satiety and reduce calorie intake. Basically, if you have a 10% energy deficit, it’s better if that’s 10% of a bigger number– but cold alone won’t create that deficit without dietary interventions and some degree of exercise.

Every morning, immediately upon getting out of bed, perform a short bodyweight workout.  The following is an example of what this workout should look like: 

Pistol squats, 8 reps each leg

Pushups, 10 reps

Jumping jacks, 20 reps

Plank, 30 seconds

Hand walkouts, 8 reps

Pike pushups, 6 reps

Jump squats, 8 reps

Repeat this circuit 3 times, with no more than 30 seconds rest between circuits and no rest between individual exercises.  The whole thing should take about five minutes.

This serves two purposes.  First, it gets your heart going and burns fat while your glycogen stores are still depleted from fasting all night.  And second, it activates the nervous system,  priming your body to be active throughout the day.  

Developing a solid pre-bed routine is one of the best things you can do to get more and higher-quality sleep.  Find out what relaxes you, and get in the habit of doing it for the last 30-60 minutes before bed.  Some examples of activities that many people tend to find relaxing are:

Things to avoid before bed include:

Pick two of these habits to focus on implementing- don’t try to work on all eight at once.  Spend at least a week doing those two things consistently, every single day.  Once you’re following those habits so consistently that they no longer take a significant amount of effort, pick two more to start working on.  In this way, you can implement all eight within a month or so, while keeping it easy enough that you’ll be able to maintain consistency with each of them.

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