This article is a comprehensive guide on how to take care of your body so that you could have more energy, be stronger, healthier and happier.
Why Take Care of Your Body
Our body is the vessel we use to tread the physical world with. It’s our first point of contact with everything around us and allows us to correspond with what goes on both within and without. But at the same time, you’re also aware that you have a mind as well. You can recognize that you have a body and in addition to that can think, reason, think about your thinking, see yourself from an outside perspective and create models of yourself in space and time. What’s up with that?
It’s our consciousness. What’s more profound is that, we’re conscious just because we have a body. As Merleau-Ponty (1962 : 82) wrote: “the body is the vehicle of being in the world, and having a body is, for a living creature, to be involved in a definite environment, to identify oneself with certain projects and be continually committed to them.” Without one we wouldn’t be able to experience objective reality because there isn’t anything that could register this bidding.
Your consciousness creates your existence. The body is the locus of your subjective self – it’s everything you’ve got. (Click to Tweet)
Take Care of Your Body
Therefore, your entire construct of the self, your perceptions, your experience of the world is connected to your body. It can be said to be the vessel you tread the waves of the universe with. Your physique is just another piece of matter in the vast amount of space.
What it should also tell you is that you have to take care of your body to manifest it well on the physical plane of reality. The quality of your existence stems from and depends upon it. Most people tend to take this for granted. They treat their body like a garbage bin, whereas it should be a temple. Poor lifestyle habits are like the Trojan Horse – you accept them and drag them inside your walls but at nightfall the enemy will come out and take over the city.
The reason why this happens is that unaware minds fall into the trap of their own evolutionary predispositions and unconscious behavior. It’s not like any rational being who understands the importance of this principle would deliberately harm itself. Much rather, it’s an issue of ignorance, indifference and mindlessness.
Your Most Valuable Asset
The state of well-being of your body depends on its health – what’s its condition like, how well does it function, does it have any disease, flaws or broken pieces.
If you were to think of an analogy, then you could think of your body as a machine or a car. You have the frame, an engine, different motor units, bigger wheels, smaller cogs and you need fuel to keep the whole thing running. Although illustrative to some degree, it’s still not the best picture I would want to draw. Our bodies are more than mechanical beings. Organic things have a whole different set of functioning and behaving in the world that’s not just reducible into tiny parts. We’re a complex system, where all the minutiae are intertwined with each other, connecting together and influencing the entire organism as a whole.
Without a vessel, you wouldn’t be able to remain afloat for too long. You can swim only until you run out of energy and reach total fatigue. That’s what most people are doing. They’ve created a hole inside their ship and are slowly sinking. As more water starts leaking in, they get heavier and heavier, eventually sinking completely. They can be saved by fixing the loopholes, but the crew is mutinous and self-destructive, not wanting to do the hard work. It takes too much effort and it’s not that big of an issue either…we’ll be fine. Up to the point they won’t. The problem with taking things for granted is that you can only do so until it’s too late.
Start from the Bottom
Health is your most valuable asset. It determines the state of your well-being, how you interact with the world and experience it. A poorly functioning body will corrupt the mind as well because the two are connected. You’ll begin to have afflictive thoughts, negative emotions and won’t be able to reach higher stages of development or become truly happy.
It also corresponds with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The most fundamental demands of any living organism are its physiological necessities, such as calories and safety. After that there are social desires and commitments to its troop. Only after those stages are adequately covered can it start thinking about self-actualization – being as great as one can be.
The reason why it’s called the hierarchy of needs is that it functions in a hierarchical fashion. The bottom of the pyramid represents the body that governs our physiological needs and lays a foundation to everything else on top as well. You won’t create art, build the civilization, spend time with friends or play games if you’re still hungry.
Start from the bottom. You’ll always be happier if you were healthy but not self-actualizing, rather than being self-actualized but unhealthy. Only by understanding and honoring this principle can you reach your full potential in anything you do. You can’t be fatigued, diseased or lethargic if you want to become your greatest being. Those two things don’t match.
Get Optimal Health
Your physiology is like a coin with 2 sides – it’s either
- anabolic (enhancing/growing/building) or
- catabolic (destroying/breaking/diminishing).
The same can be seen in the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is divided into 2 branches:
- the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight/stress response/catabolic) and the
- parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest/relaxation/anabolic).
You would think that to get optimal health and take care of your body you would want to be as anabolic as possible. Not having to exert yourself, preserving energy and being comfortable are all more enjoyable than the opposite. But the pleasure we get has the potential to become too sedative, which will lead to the organism overdosing on anabolism.
Our physiology is meant to be both anabolic and catabolic from time to time. Good health is an adaptation to an environment that poses difficult challenges and allows for enough recovery. The body thrives on exposure to harmful stimuli and the proper recollection of resources afterwards.
Where most people take the wrong turn is at how much of one or the other they expose themselves to. They are either too anabolic (eat too much, dwell in too much comfort, too much pleasure) or too catabolic (too much exercise, not enough sleep, too much stress). The key to optimal health is shifting between the two in a way that will make you stronger.
In biology, hormesis is a term used to describe an organism’s adaptation to a low dose stimulation[i]. Basically, it’s a minimal-effective dose of something toxic or harmful that will cause a more beneficial response afterwards.
Life on Earth has existed in harsh environments in which cells are often exposed to free radicals and toxic substances. To not become extinct, organisms have developed complex physiological mechanisms to deal with these environmental hazards.
The body will always try to maintain a stable core temperature, blood sugar levels and caloric balance. Hormesis disrupts homeostasis – the state of inner equilibrium. An adequate stress response creates an inner environment, which requires certain adaptations to take place, so that we could survive. As a result, the organism will then adapt to these new conditions and gets stronger.
But the key notion lies in how much stimulus you’re creating. If it’s too much for the organism to handle, then it will actually get weaker. What makes a poison deadly is the dosage.
How to Leverage Hormesis
How to find this balance between anabolism and catabolism? Does it mean that you should go 50-50 on both stress and recovery? 12 hours of sleep and eating vs 12 hours of exercise and cold water immersions? Well, that would depend on the intensity at which you train and how often you do it, but who the hell would want to be in the fray for that long?
The key to leveraging hormesis and getting the most benefits with the least amount of pain involved is to strive for a minimal effective dose. Follow the Pareto’s principle, also called the 80/20 rule. Basically, you can get 80% of the results you’re after by focusing only on 20% of the activities. My advice is to apply this “law of the vital few” to taking care of your body as well. You can get optimal health by being intensely catabolic 20% of the time and soothingly anabolic 80%, but not too much.
This means that in exercise you want to reduce your time under stress but scale up your power output. Research has shown that high intensity resistance training with some Tabata interval cardio are more effective than steady state cardio for longer durations. The majority of people don’t need to train for endurance and they can improve their health and longevity a lot more by doing less.
By the same token, it doesn’t mean that you can lay on the couch for the rest of the day. You adapt exactly to the conditions you get exposed to and if it’s slothfulness, then you’ll eventually become a sloth yourself. Active recovery in its nature is anabolic as it speeds up recovery and keeps your body vigorous.
Activities that are parasympathetic dominant but also cause a hormetic response include:
- Cold and heat exposure: Exposing yourself to cold boosts the immune system[ii][iii][iv], reduces inflammation[v][vi] and increases the antioxidant glutathione[vii]. It also stimulates the lymph system, which will make you pump out toxins and detoxifies the body. Start taking cold showers and regular ice baths. On the flip side, exposure to high amounts of heat has similar effects. Not the tropic warmth in of itself but because of the sweating that it causes. Taking a sauna or doing Bikram yoga is a great way to get your lymphatic mechanism going.
- Walking: The most neglected but the best form of exercise. It’s extremely low intensity but is enough to get your blood flowing. Going for a walk is not just the greatest way of getting more movement into your day but also makes your body recover faster.
- Yoga: This type of exercise is also mainly parasympathetic dominant, unless you do HIIT yoga or something. The movements themselves promote mobility and flexibility, lack of which will lead to joint pains, shoulder aches or snapping your back. Yoga keeps you moving and increases blood flow throughout the body, which is a good thing.
- Sleep: Not active in a physical sense but fundamental for recovery nevertheless. The hormetic effects will kick in only while we’re sleeping. This means that your overall performance and the condition of your body depends on the quality of your sleep. The consequences to lack thereof are detrimental and even scary. You would want to get 7-8 hours of shut-eye per night at the least, but there are also other strategies you can use to get more out of it.
There aren’t any physical aspects to eating that would qualify it as active recovery. Nevertheless, food is the greatest drug there is, as it’s literally the fuel we run on. It’s also fundamental for optimal health – more important than exercise. If you continue to eat whatever, then it doesn’t matter how hard or much you train. You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.
The general guideline would be to approach your nutrition, as well as everything else in life, via negativa. It means that before you start adding more stuff, you first get rid of the downside. Before you start taking supplements, rid yourself from unhealthy habits, such as smoking. Before you enslave yourself at the gym, expecting to lose weight, stop binge eating on junk food. It’s the art of addition through deduction.
This means that good quality optimal nutrition starts with removing all foods that have a negative effect on your biology. You want to avoid anything that causes inflammation because it not only damages your gut, decreases your longevity but also degrades your brain.
Foods to avoid:
- Processed carbohydrates: Sugar is, basically, toxic. Small quantities don’t cause much damage but if you base the majority of your diet on high amounts of carbohydrates and sugar, then you’ll end up with diabetes and insulin resistance, not to mention obesity. No added sugar, no soda, no desserts, no candy. Especially High Fructose Corn Syrup(HFCS). It causes cellular death and inflammation.
- Grains: It doesn’t matter whether you’re intolerant or not – gluten causes damage to the intestinal walls of the gut, which can lead to leaky gut syndrome. The phytates inside grains are also stressful to digest and can cause joint pains, brain fog and lethargy. You won’t be able to achieve your full potential well-being if you continue to eat pasta, bread, pizza, oatmeal and pastries.
- Legumes: Beans, lentils and the like aren’t as bad for your health as whole-grains, but they’re not inherently good either. They contain lectins that are the plant’s defence mechanisms, similar to that of phytates. To reduce gastrointestinal stress, inflammation and fatigue to a minimum, you would want to avoid legumes for the most part.
- Vegetable oils and trans fats: Avoid canola oil, sunflower oil, margarine, reduced fat vegetable butter spreads and other abominations the like. They’re extremely inflammatory due to their high omega-6 fatty acid content and literally cause cellular death. Processed food is already inherently full of hydrogenated fats and you should know what you’re putting inside your body, if you want to keep yourself healthy and your DNA potent.
- GMOs and soy: Genetically modified food has been found to have no ill-effects on short-term health but it’s obvious that in the long run it will. It’s not that the idea behind it is bad – we simply lack the skill to engineer it properly, yet. The most GMO-d foods are corn, canola and soy. Soy is also another one of these products you would want to avoid. It contains a lot of “antinutrients” that block protein digestion, cause gastric distress and inflammation. There are also goitrogens that suppress thyroid function.
- Processed meat: Hot dogs, lunch meat, veggie burgers, soy sausages and SPAM aren’t actually meat. They’re an awful symbiosis of left-over animal parts, grains and other soy products. Don’t eat bacon cured in sugar either. It’s not real meat.
- Artificial sweeteners: Zero calories but a whole lot of mitochondrial degeneration. They’re said to have no ill-effects on health but they still cause some damage to your biology. There are dozens of these compounds found in nearly all processed foods. The worst of the bunch are: aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame, saccharin, xylitol and sorbitol. Stevia is a natural sweetener and okay to consume.
Foods to eat:
Next to that, there are a whole range of things we can eat. These nutrients allow us to become a self-actualized person. On top of that, they also take care of your body and mind.
- Dark leafy green vegetables are the best source of fiber. The antioxidants in broccoli, kale and cauliflower protect against cancer and promote a healthy gut. Best sources are cabbage, spinach, sea kelp. Additionally, carrots, turnips and beetroot are also great.
- Organic whole food protein. Grass-fed meat, like beef, pork, lamb are full of essential amino acids and minerals. Red meat is full of creatine, which is important for physical performance but also has cognitive benefits. Don’t eat industrial bacon that’s cured in sugar. Read the labels.
- Quality brain food. To satisfy our hungry brain, we have to eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and DHA. Pastured eggs, wild caught oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel are amazing. Don’t eat the ones that are covered with vegetable oil.
- Some dairy. Neglect pasteurized dairy products and use raw milk, kefir and yogurt. Cheese and heavy cream are fine. But you should still limit your overall dairy consumption. The reason is that milk proteins release a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1)[viii] that causes systemic anabolism within the entire body. It makes everything grow – the good (muscles), the bad (fat cells, acne) and the ugly (cancer, tumors). You don’t want to be anabolic 24/7.
- Good quality fats. The more fat you eat, at the expense of carbohydrates, the more efficient you become at using fat for fuel. This will have profound effects on your performance, especially cognition. Butter, coconut oil, olive oil, avocados and MCT oil are all incredibly nutrient dense. They’re good for our mitochondria and give us an abundance of energy.
- Fruit and berries. Berries, such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, currants and cherries are great. They’re full of antioxidants and have low amounts of sugar in them. You can also eat some fruit, such as apples, bananas, pears and oranges. However, fructose doesn’t have any benefit to it. Your body and mind don’t gain nothing exceptionally good from eating fruit that you won’t get from vegetables and berries. If you want to fully optimize, then don’t eat it. If you do, stick to 1-2 servings a day because there’s still a lot of sugar in them.
Eat lots of fat, vegetables and quality protein. These nutrients empower our body and mind all at the same time.
Take it to the Next Level
That’s how you can start taking care of your body. Seek to find a semi-balance between the two sides of the same coin – anabolism and catabolism. You have to break down the old before you can build something new upon it.
Our body and physiology thrive in exposure to small bouts of extreme stress and adequate recovery afterwards. The hormetic response that it causes makes us stronger, better and healthier. To not make the poison deadly, strive to exercise following the 80/20 rule – the majority of the results you’re after can be achieved by doing less, but in a more intense manner.
Food is the greatest drug there is and you should put most of your focus onto nutrition. Don’t eat garbage that damages your biology but eat in a way that nourishes your body. You’ll be more productive and happier as a result.
If you want to take your eating game to the next level, then you should look into the ketogenic diet. It’s not a fad or anything but the ultimate means to altering your metabolism so that your body would be more efficient with its own fuel sources. When in ketosis, you’re in a completely different metabolic state, which is unachievable by eating carbohydrates. It’s a condition of high performance, longevity, health and well-being.