I recently started reading the book 12 Rules For Life and while making my way through the book, a thought struck me. This book detailed the rules for life in general, but given my line of work and expertise, why not put together a list geared specifically towards health and fitness?
So that’s exactly what I did.
These rules will put your mind and body in the best position possible for you to live a long, healthy, and enjoyable life. While some of these rules may be more applicable than others given everyone’s unique life, all of these rules are applicable to anyone looking to optimize their health and fitness.
Rule #1: Use it or lose it.
This can apply to almost anything with regards to your physical, mental, and emotional abilities: range of motion, muscle mass, mental capabilities, empathic communication, special skills (like playing an instrument or sport) power and quickness… you name it.
Our bodies are continually adapting to the stressors placed upon it. When placed under heavy loads, our bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles will adapt by becoming stronger and more resilient. When we practice a new skill, like playing the piano, our brain will essentially re-wire itself to learn and commit to memory the skills necessary to complete that task.
So it’s no surprise that when you stop performing a task or skill regularly, your body becomes less adept at said task or skill. (Duh).
In order to maintain a healthy, pain free body that will perform well into it’s golden years, there are a few physical qualities that everyone should strive to use it so they don’t lose it.
Joint Range of Motion
Our bodies are capable of moving in tons of various ways and planes of motion…. but rarely does John and Jane Doe take their joints through full rotation, extension, or flexion on a regular basis.
As a result, we lose the ability to do so. Our brains aren’t going to waste precious energy and resources keeping your joints mobile when you never take them through their full available ranges anyway. It’s like when a big company discontinues a product that has routinely produced poor sales… why waste money producing the product when no one friggin’ buys it?!
Muscular Strength and Size
Fun fact: your muscles love working. When they’re stimulated adequately, your brain is literally better at recruiting them to do work. Calories eaten go towards repairing them. They’re capable of handling bigger and heavier external loads.
But when they’re not stimulated, maybe because of a desk job that requires you to sit for hours on end, these abilities are wasted away. You become weaker. Your calorie burning, metabolism boosting muscle mass withers away to next to nothing. This can result in all sorts of problems like fat gain and even a decrease in mobility.
That’s right folks! Your “tight” hamstrings or low back are often a result of you just being too damn weak.
via Mogul Millenial
Muscular Power and Explosiveness
There is no other “use it or lose it” quality on this list that deteriorates quite as fast as the ability to move your body explosively. For every percentage point that muscular strength drops by simply not using it, muscular power drops twice as fast.
Perhaps this isn’t a big deal to you now. But when life throws you a curveball in the form of falling off a ladder, needing to chase a pet that has gotten off leash and headed straight for a busy street, or dodging a foul ball at a baseball game, you’ll be damn glad you can still move quickly.
Muscular power is the most overlooked aspect in the general fitness enthusiasts training program, but it shouldn’t be. Muscular power is the fountain of youth. It keeps you spry, agile, and capable of handling whatever life has in store.
So what to do?
Stay moving! Perform some sort of mobility work on a regular basis, focusing on taking your joints through their full, complete ranges of motion. An easy way to do this every day is simply spend more time on the ground. Sit, lay, eat, who cares. The act of getting on and off the floor requires more range of motion in your hips and ankles than you might imagine.
Give your muscles the stimulation they crave in the form of strength training and some sort of power work that matches with your ability levels.
When you regularly use your joint’s full ranges of motion, your muscles, and your ability to move fast, you’ll find that nagging issues and pains that are often associated with growing old don’t seem to be that troublesome as many people would have you believe.
Rule #2: Train to be strong enough.
Telling you to be strong is such a vague guideline. What the hell does “strong” even mean? Should you be striving to compete with The Mountain from Game of Thrones? Probably not.
Strong enough is a relative term for everyone. Their goals, lifestyle, and gender will all factor into creating their definition of “strong”. But regardless of those things, everyone should be able to do a few universal things when it comes to movement.
First off, it doesn’t matter if your male or female, everyone should be proficient in handling their own bodyweight. This means being able to complete the fundamental movements like squats, lunges, hip hinges, pushups, planks, and chin-ups* with no major issue.
*Yes, even chin-ups. For the fellas, this shouldn’t be too much of a concern. And while this may be more difficult for women, it’s still totally and 100% doable.
This means everyone should be able to stand up from a deep squat, knock out a few lunges, and perform a couple pushups without looking like they’re going to collapse in on themselves. If these seem too lofty for you, or maybe you think these standards are too high, you really need to reevaluate your standards of what’s considered difficult in terms of physical exertion. Sorry, but just being honest.
Want a simple test to see if you can handle your bodyweight?
Lay on the ground on your back, completely flat.
Now stand up.
Was it a struggle? Did you need to use both hands, an elbow, both knees, and roll to your stomach first? Or can you pop right up, hands free?
Simple actions like this are good indicators of whether or not you can handle your own bodyweight. If that test was a struggle, you might need to start taking some steps to increase your overall strength in order to preserve your health.
But bodyweight standards are the bare minimum.
Being able to handle your bodyweight is like graduating high school with a D average. It’s like, yeah, congrats… but that’s kind of expected of you. When it comes to higher standards (which all of you should strive for) here are a few standards to strive for.
Bodyweight bench press
Deadlift 150% of your bodyweight
Goblet squat 50% of your bodyweight for 25 reps
Farmers walk with 50% of your bodyweight in each hand for 50 yards
5 strict pushups
Deadlift 100% of your bodyweight
Goblet squat 50% bodyweight for 15 reps
Farmers walk with 35% of your bodyweight in each hand for 50 yards
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Now is it vital for everyone to hit these goals? No, not necessarily. But the individuals who can hit these marks tend to be healthier overall as well. This means fewer mobility issues, nagging pains, chronic aches, and to put it bluntly, a better quality of life.
Strength is a physical quality that enhances all other qualities. It makes fat loss easier, increases endurance, safeguards your joints, bolsters resiliency… you name it.
You don’t need to be a strongman or even necessarily hit the numbers we’ve laid out. You need to be strong enough to adequately accomplish your goals, navigate your lifestyle, and stave off negative issues associated with muscular weakness.
Rule #3: Eat like an adult.
This might be one of the most important rules on this list simply because diet will have a bigger impact on your overall health and longevity than exercise ever will. Period.
Just do some simple math. There are 168 hours in the week. Even if you exercise an hour per day, there’s still 163 hours left. And considering most people eat multiple times per day, this leaves an overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of time to spend stuffing your face, snacking, and undoing any exercise you’ve already completed.
The food you eat will literally become part of the cells within your body, helping to carry out numerous physiological functions. Once digested, the nutrients contained within the food are absorbed into your bloodstream and sent throughout the body to help rebuild muscle, remove disease causing free radicals, boost immunity, etc.
So when you constantly eat honey buns, cosmic brownies, potato chips, hot pockets, and soda all day, you provide your body with an excellent source of calories… but not nutrients.
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Overly processed, highly refined foods like this are often stripped of all the nutrients but jam packed with fats and sugars (which is a perfect combo to make them taste amazing). This results in providing your body with a metric shit ton of calories compared to the nutrients needed to do things like improve heart health, lower cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation, etc.
Think of it like this.
You can put all the gas you want in your car. Fill ‘er up every day. Never go below half a tank. Sounds great, right? Your car can just go, go, go… and that’s what’s important, right?
Now imagine amidst all the non-stop gas tank filling, you neglect to fill up your windshield washer fluid.
Then you forget an oil change.
After that, you ignore the low tire pressure warning.
In a few weeks, the AC and heat break, but you choose not to fix it.
Soon the brakes start to squeal.
…but you’ve always got a full tank of gas!
Well after a few months, you’re now driving a fully gassed up piece of shit.
This is what happens when you eat a diet full of overly processed, calorie dense, nutrient sparse diet.
You need calories. After all, you can’t survive without them. But your body craves and needs “wiper fluid” and “air in the tires” as well. Naturally occurring whole foods like fruits, veggies, animal proteins, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, all provide calories with a whollop of micronutrients and naturally occurring good-for-you compounds that help your body function more effectively and efficiently.
So if your regular diet would excite a 5 year old, you’ve gotta change things up.
Eat your veggies. Drink your water. Learn to cook, or at least as a bare minimum learn how to season your foods so “healthy” foods don’t “taste bad” anymore.
Rule #4: It’s better to be good consistently instead of great occasionally.
The greatest, most scientifically up to date training program completely customized to your specific body type and genetic make up means jack shit if you don’t actually follow it on a regular basis.
When deciding to finally make a change for the better, many people dive head first into a new diet, sleep routine, or workout with the best intentions and unmatched levels of motivation. You’re a new person for 7 straight days. Your body is a temple. Workouts are done promptly and with vigor. Only organic, grass fed, locally sourced food for you! You are the epitome of health!
Until your kid gets sick and you’ve got to play doctor all day.
Or the project you’ve been working on for your boss gets a new completion deadline and your workload doubles.
Perhaps your friend calls and tells you Beyonce is in town doing a surprise concert where the first 50 fans get free tacos. Queen B AND free tacos?!
Life happens. And when it does, your plans and priorities for health and fitness can get totally messed up. This might cause you to miss a workout or swap your healthy meals for an unhealthier, highly convenient take out option.
It’s fine. One hiccup won’t disrupt anything. This was an emergency, an unavoidable occurrence that needed to be taken care of. Won’t happen again….
…until the next “something” happens, and you miss another workout or play fast and loose with your diet because you’re crunched for time. And before you know it, your initial seven days of greatness are followed up by 12 days of mediocrity with 3-4 days of greatness sprinkled in. Over time this becomes the norm, and you find your motivation and effort levels constantly yo-yo-ing between “I am a Goddess of Health” and “is it that bad if I eat the whole can of Pringles?”
The problem with this approach to fitness is that it’s damn near impossible to establish any sort of consistency. One day of being on point with your health and fitness followed by one day of falling off the bandwagon just cancel each other out. This puts you right back at where you started, or worse, even further behind (it’s waaaay easier to overdo it on the bad days than the good days).
This is why being “good” every day will always top being “great” every once in a while.
Being good on a regular basis allows you to build habits, shape behaviors, and cultivate better decision making skills in the long run. It’s the “hitting singles” approach to health (instead of occasionally hitting home runs for all our non baseball people).
Instead of completing an absolutely awesome workout every once in a while, focus on completing an “OK to good” workout 5 out of the 7 days of the week.
Instead of completely cutting your favorite unhealthy foods from your diet, focus on eating appropriate portion sizes of these foods that will still fit within your overall calorie needs.
The problem with the “all or nothing”, let’s-be-great approach to health and fitness is that the pendulum of motivation tends to swing back hard in the opposite direction over time. Radical changes and extreme efforts aren’t sustainable in the long run. This makes seeing results pretty tough because you’re constantly going back and forth between unrealistic efforts and little to no effort whatsoever.
The best approach to health and fitness is to simply be 1% better than you were yesterday. No crazy leaps and bounds in progress. This approach isn’t sexy and it takes time. But it is, guaranteed, the best way to see continual and sustainable results. The old adage “slow and steady wins the race” is definitely true in this regard.
Consistency breeds results.
Nobody wants to take this approach because, well, it takes too damn long. We live in a world where instant gratification reigns supreme. People want amazing results and success with little to no effort put forth on their end. But the cold hard truth is life doesn’t work that way. It sounds dumb and cliche, but the only place where success comes before work is the dictionary.
You’ve probably never heard anyone tell you to just be good instead of great, but that’s exactly what you should strive to do with your health and fitness. Consistently good will ALWAYS trump inconsistently great.
Rule #5: Your ideal lifestyle should coincide with your ideal body composition and/or level of fitness.
Some people love tacos, cookies, and beer. Some people love having visible abs.
Can you love both? Absolutely! Can you eat nothing except the unhealthier foods you love and still have visible abs? Eh… unless you’re blessed genetically, probably not.
It’s no secret that if you want a beach ready body that makes heads turn, your diet and other lifestyle factors need to be dialed in in order to achieve that look. This probably means that tacos and beer can’t exactly be a staple in your diet if your main goal is to look like Gerard Butler in 300.
When it comes to long term success regarding your health and fitness, sustainability is going to play a huge role in determining your results. This means creating a routine that you can repeat over and over for extended periods of time.
Certain health and fitness goals require tons of sacrifice and hard work, often for months on end. Take finally achieving a six pack for example. Getting down to a body fat percentage low enough to get those cover ready abs (<12% for guys, <22% for ladies) requires 7-8 hours of sleep every night, about 45-60 minutes of moderately intense exercise every single day, a diet consisting mostly of protein, vegetables, and fruit, and severely reducing alcohol and sweets.
Some people don’t have an issue with this. To them, it’s no big deal to sacrifice dietary indulgences, navigate (or skip) unhealthier social situations, and dedicate a good chunk of their free time to exercise.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
However, tons of people are not ready to give up drinks on the weekend, unplanned “cheat” meals with friends, or to dedicate an hour per day to exercise.
And there’s nothing wrong with that either!
What you have to do is figure out what your sweet spot is. What lifestyle can you live and enjoy that will simultaneously allow you to look and feel how you’d like?
You want abs year round? You need to be prepared to get your diet dialed in, year round.
You’re ok with a little more fluff without running into internal health issues? Then you can be a little more lenient. Just don’t let this mindset turn into a slippery, sugary, fat laden slope.
Considering we wrote a full post about this topic, we won’t dive too deep into this. Instead, give this a read.
But at the end of the day, you need to find that sweet spot between “how awesome do I wanna look and feel” and “what how hard am I realistically willing to work for it”. Once you identify your sustainable sweet spot, now it’s just a matter of implementing and following through on the steps necessary to maintain it.
Rule #6: More is not better. Harder is not better. Better is better.
To be completely transparent, I blame the popularity of Crossfit over the last decade and social media for this rule. I’d say sorry…. but I wouldn’t mean it.
Incase you’ve been living under a rock for the last 10 years, Crossfit is a form of exercise where high intensity and setting “PR’s” is the name of the game. This is totally admirable as you absolutely should strive to get a little better with every single workout that you perform.
Except setting a new personal record at Crossfit gyms is often placed above all else… many times at the expense of form, technique, and injury unfortunately. Though to be fair, not all locations are like this… but unfortunately enough of them are to make this broad generalization.
And to the average social media user, seeing stuff like this is entertaining so it gets showered with likes, comments, and shares. Gruesome workouts where limits are absolutely pushed and broken (especially when you don’t wear a shirt) are faaaar more appealing to the masses when compared to Jen, mother of two, performing a simple lunge (fully clothed).