This post is a continuation of Pick the Low-Hanging Fruit, Part II (Health).
4. Reduce artificial light in the evening.
Are you sleep-deprived? Do you “try to go to bed earlier” and fail, night after night? I’ve been there. If you enjoy browsing the internet or watching TV or playing video games or even just reading, you may, like many other people, fail to get sleepy in the evening (even when your body and mind are exhausted). You know what’s keeping you up? It’s the artificial light (blue spectrum light in particular). At least according to this book, the blue light (equivalent to day light) is blocking the serotonin to melatonin conversion process — and the melatonin is the hormone/neurotransmitter that tells your body it’s time to go to sleep (and makes you feel sleepy).
I’d always thought of myself as a “night owl” until I tried an experiment; go without artificial light in the evening. I found that without light bulbs, the TV, or the blue glow of the computer screen keeping me up, I would often be yawning by 9pm (otherwise my “natural” bedtime would be midnight or 1am).
The experiment I conducted was not easy. But there are two very easy steps you can take in the same general direction.
- use fewer lights in the evening — no need to have the whole house ablaze
- download and install the free f.lux software on your computer — if you do then it won’t be your computer that’s keeping you up!
5. Exercise intensely 1-2 minutes a day, at least a few times a week.
All the latest exercise physiology research is pointing to these two general conclusions:
- intensity (achieving maximum heart rate, lifting maximum weight) is more important than duration
- less is more (recovery time is very important, over-training is very damaging)
If you really go for for that 1-2 minutes, you’re going to achieve MOST of the benefits in the following categories:
- cardiovascular fitness (maximize heart rate)
- strength (maximize weight lifted, move very slowly and with good form, stress muscles to the point where GH is released)
- bone density (especially with jumping or sprinting — both stress and thus strengthen the long bones)
What qualifies as intense? Sprints, jumping and leaping, body-weight exercises (pullups, pushups, chinups, bar dips, etc.), carrying/lifting/pushing heavy objects, running up stairs — that sort of thing. The best exercises are the ones that you actually enjoy doing — don’t bother with exercises that feel uncomfortable, boring, etc.
Most of the people flogging themselves in the gym aren’t improving their health. Instead, they’re spiking their cortisol levels, stressing their joints, overburdening (and possibly enlarging) their hearts, and probably boring themselves to death in the process.
6. Floss before you brush.
My “floss every day” intention used to lead to flossing three or four times a week. I would wait until right before going to sleep to brush my teeth, and half the time after brushing I would be too tired or lazy to floss.
Gum health is massively important for overall health. Even mildly inflamed gums can raise your risk of heart disease (“leaky gums” are an open door for pathogens to waltz right into your bloodstream, thus giving your immune system a constant low-grade battle which can lead to chronic inflammation and the formation of arterial plaque). Even knowing this, AND having a family history of both heart disease and gum problems, wasn’t enough to get me to religiously floss every day.
The trick that worked for me was switching the order. I don’t think I’ve missed a day since. Flossing doesn’t seem difficult anymore, because I’m not waiting until I’m exhausted to do it. Even more important is anchoring the less ingrained habit (flossing) to a more ingrained habit (brushing).
One other thing I’ve noticed is that flossing is easier and faster if I’m not looking in the mirror. Something about the visual feedback slows down the process — I can floss more quickly (and just as thoroughly) by touch alone.
7. Eat more fat.
In general, carbs (sugars and starches, including bread and pasta) cause the release of insulin, which lowers your blood sugar. This makes you want to eat more carbs. Eating dietary fat, on the other hand, leads to the sensation of fullness. It’s easier to avoid overeating if you tilt the balance away from carbohydrates and towards healthful dietary fats.
There are a few types of dietary fat you want to avoid, including trans fats (hydrogenated vegetable oil), highly processed fats (like canola oil), old/rancid fats (processed vegetable and seed oils are especially vulnerable), and overheated vegetable/seed oils. These oxidized fats can damage your health in a number of ways.
The good news is that most fats that are delicious are also health-promoting, including butter (especially from pastured cows), olive oil, coconut oil, fatty fish, chicken fat, and beef fat (again, especially from grass-fed/pastured cows).
Keeping a good ratio between Omega-3 fats (from wild-caught fish and grass-fed animal sources) and Omega-6 fats (from nuts and seeds, seed oils, and grain-fed animal sources) will support overall health, including immune function, heart health, mood, and blood sugar regulation. Most people consume too much Omega-6 and not enough Omega-3. Taking supplemental fish oil is the easiest way to improve this ratio (you can check out this site and this study to see which brands are best and which ones to avoid). Keep fish oil refrigerated.
These days the prevailing wisdom says that we should avoid saturated fat to maintain optimum health and avoid heart disease, but the actual evidence behind this claim in extremely weak. Most of the studies that claim saturated fat harms our health don’t control for intake of salt, refined flour, trans-fats, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and processed food. For example, a typical dietary study might compare the health of people eating the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) to the Mediterranean diet — in other words hamburgers, hot dogs, white bread, corn oil, soda VS. fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, beans, and whole grain. Conclusion: saturated fat is bad for you! Really? What about all the other junk on the S.A.D. side? What about all the protective effects of the healthful foods on the Med side? Studies like this don’t prove anything about saturated fat in particular. Next time you see a headline that proclaims the evils of saturated fat, drill down and take a look to see what foods were actually being consumed by the study participants.
The original Ancel Keys “7 countries” study that got us collectively believing in the evils of saturated fat was based on cherry-picked (in effect, falsified) data. Ancel Keys only included data from countries where both dietary saturated fat and heart disease were high — and left out data from countries where dietary saturated fat was high and heart disease was low.
For detailed discussions and numerous citations to the studies behind these assertions about dietary fat, I encourage you to explore Dr. Eades’s site and Mark Sisson’s site. That is, if you like butter, and bacon.