What does a complete, all-encompassing plan for maximizing our physical and mental well-being look like?
That’s a question that’s been on my mind for some time now and one I’ve sought to answer.
Over the past decade, I’ve gone from intensely focusing on physical fitness — in an attempt to become a better martial artist — to shifting my pursuits to the intangible development of the mind with meditation.
And, since that time, I’ve learned a few things. My philosophy on health has changed over the years, but the habits I believe are essential for maintaining a strong and healthy mind and body have stayed the same.
The first wealth is health.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Over the past ten years, I’ve identified many useful habits for developing and maintaining a strong mind and healthy body. However, there are eight which I’ve found to help more than all others.
Some are simple, some are more general, some are exercises, while others are things to pursue. However, all are immensely powerful in the effort to develop and maintain both a strong and healthy mind and body:
1. Exercise using something you love
Physical exercise has been shown in countless studies to help reduce stress, increase energy, improve mood, and even help make us more creative.
Great right? However, advice on how to make exercise a habit is a bit lacking. That’s because exercise can be a really difficult habit to stick to. But if there’s one thing I’ve found really helps stick to physical exercise and make it a long-term habit it’s this:
Exercise in a way that allows you to enjoy something you love.
You have to really look forward to working out. Whatever it is that you do, whether it’s running, lifting weights, doing cardio, martial arts, Yoga, or something else, you need to pick an exercise method you really enjoy.
For example, I love martial arts. I’m a lot more likely to stick to my work out while doing that than running or lifting weights. On the flip side, if there’s no particular exercise-like activity you enjoy, maybe you really love music. Play all your favorite music during your workout and you’ll notice yourself far more likely to get up to exercise. Another option is listening to podcasts about your craft while running.
Either way, exercise is a big one, so find a way to make it work for you.
Meditation is another huge one. However, meditation isn’t really what most people think it is.
If you don’t like the traditional idea of meditation, you can meditate while doing virtually anything if you use the right method (i.e. mindfulness meditation). Also, studies have shown that as little as five to ten minutes of meditation offers great benefits, so don’t think you need to sit for a half hour every day. You really don’t.
Similar to physical exercise, there are several different methods and forms of meditation, so do a little adventuring and experimentation to find a method and form that works for you. Everyone is different and different methods of meditation tend to work better for different people.
3. Mindful walking
This is easily one of my favorite activities on this entire list, but it’s also the most obscure. Mindful walking, also known as walking meditation, is meditation in motion. It can be done formally as a dedicated practice and informally by paying attention to your steps and what is going on around you as you move.
This is great for many of the reasons formal meditation is (albeit less concentrated), however, there’s another big reason to do mindful walking: it helps you tune in to the body.
Sometimes, things occur in the body that we don’t notice. Oftentimes, chronic issues and illness begin to creep up in ways often unseen. However, by learning to tune in to the body with mindful walking, we can notice these things arise before they become more of an issue.
It’s a hard thing to explain, but it’s been infinitely useful to me. In many ways, this one exercise gives us a way to check in with both the mind and body on a regular basis and in an incredibly convenient way while going about our daily activities, so its place on this list is well-earned.
4. Rise early
Rising early is something I took years to develop. However, it was so worth it.
There are positives to staying up late, particularly if you find that you’re more productive or creative during late night hours. However, in general, I’ve found that the majority of people are most productive in the early morning hours.
In addition, though, waking up early and adopting a morning routine that prepares you for the day helps you start each day off with the optimal state of mind to tackle problems and make decisions, something incredibly useful for everyone no matter what your profession.
So, if you’re not already, see what waking up a little earlier does for you.
5. Adopt a nighttime routine
On the flip side of that, adopting an effective night time routine that puts your mind in the right state before bed and helps maximize the quality of your sleep is also incredibly beneficial.
Unfortunately, most of us in the West just don’t value sleep enough. We tend to place work above well-being and prefer to leave sleep for when we die. However, two decades of scientific research now says this isn’t just a bad idea health-wise – it’s unproductive.
Take some time to craft a simple but effective nighttime routine and I promise – you won’t regret it.
6. Remove sugar, add water, get your food from the source
This is the basic recipe I follow when it comes to nutrition advice.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot and tried so many different things with regards to nutrition. At this point, my ideology on nutrition is pretty relaxed. And it’s never worked out better.
There’s a ton of advice out there and, rightfully, it can be pretty confusing. So, I’ve chosen to follow a pretty simple mantra that offers me roughly eighty percent of the benefit of any particular diet while doing about twenty percent of the work to get that benefit. It’s this:
- Remove sugar: Sugar is bad. Really bad. Occasional sugar is just fine, even daily, as long as you try to keep it under 50g at an absolute a maximum (30g even better).
- Add water: Buy a dedicated flask just for water and you’ll have a one thousand times higher likelihood of sticking to the habit of drinking water daily. About eight to ten cups is fine, but you should look into what your specific amount is based on your body weight.
- Get your food from the source: Do you have a farm where you live? Or a farmer’s market? Awesome. Section of your grocery store with local farm foods? Pretty good too. Also, this refers to what food you eat as well. Put a little more whole foods into your diet or get a juicer.
Keep it simple and use this method to get most of the benefit of altering your diet while saving you time to focus on what’s most important to you.
7. Find friends who identify with your challenges
We’re social creatures. No matter what you do, you can’t escape this.
And so, by virtue of this, the more social we are, the healthier we tend to be.
However, there’s something very specific about relationships that helps us more than anything else: having people around us who identify and sympathize with our challenges and who we communicate with often about those challenges. The lack thereof is often the reason for suicide in those who suffer from depression or bullying.
When we have people around us who listen and understand what we’re going through, something magical happens: we get through it (what it is for you). It’s a very simple thing that we often overlook but is so critical to our mental and even physical health.
8. Find a passion project or creative outlet
If you’ve been pursuing something you love for some time now, I don’t have to tell you how great it makes you feel.
The energy we get while pursuing our passions is limitless and gives us a sense of vitality that is hard (if impossible) to acquire any other way.
Using our brain regularly keeps our mind strong and moving helps keep us physically healthy, so if you haven’t yet taken the time to find what you’re passionate about and to start pursuing that with every fiber of your being, start now (before it’s too late).
A healthy mind and body is something we often overlook, but it affects every facet of our daily life from how happy we feel to how well we perform in our profession. Start by picking one or two of these points and implement them into your life as new habits to create gradual positive change that stretches into every area of your life.