Too often we focus on too many tasks when on the road to improve our health and fitness. We track the macro-nutrients ratios and nutrient timing, the tempo of each lift, the rest periods between the lifts and whether we should eat an omelette before or after the sun sets in the east. We like to focus on the cool stuff because it’s exciting. Sure, all these can play a part in a successful fitness program but none of them make any noticeable difference until you’ve taken care of the big rocks of your plan.
I am a man of simple solutions and the are three things I value more than anything else in a solid health and fitness plan. One of them is strength training but I won’t dwell on it this time since I’ve done it frequently in the past. So that leaves us with two. Whether your goal is fat loss or general fitness to feel, look and move well, it doesn’t matter. Most people who improve their health and keep it have these two in common.
1. Walk as much as you can
This, without a doubt, is one of the easiest things you can do for your health. And you can start doing it today as long as you own a pair of shoes. Heck, you can probably do this barefooted if you’re not winning in the shoe section.
Whether it’s leaving your car to the furthest space in the garage on your way to work, taking the stairs instead of the lift or going for a short stroll during your lunch hour doesn’t matter. It is the cumulative effort that adds up over time. No, you won’t lose 20 kilograms a day for doing this, but even an extra 500 meters a day adds up to a 182.5 kilometers a year. That’s the distance between… well, it’s a long way to somewhere. 182.5 kilometers away from where you are now, to be precise.
To me the physical benefits of walking are just an added bonus that happen to come with it. I walk because of the clarity of mind it brings and the improved mood it brings with it. Walking is a great way to think stuff through or listen to a podcast or a book. You can even practice walking meditation and stop frequently to let the sun hit you with some rays.
And since so much of the benefit of walking comes from being outdoors I can’t get my head around why anyone would do this indoors on a treadmill. Unless there’s daggers falling from the sky I would always walk (or run, if you like that kind of stuff, I don’t) outside to get what I call “the positive environmental effect”. Good for the body, good for the mind. Look at the flowers, smell the birds. Beats looking at yourself in the mirror and inhaling the vapors off some dude next to you who’s sweating like a priest in the liquor store. But that’s just me.
If you are a social creature to whom solo walking in solitude sounds as much fun as getting chased with burning arrows, create your wolf pack and walk with others. You can talk stuff through, come up with ideas, have meetings while walking. The options are endless. And if all else fails, get a dog that relies on your walking for a permit to wee. Not having to clean the carpet soaked with dog pee is a powerful motivation in itself.
2. Learn to cook
One thing that people struggling with their health have in common it is not knowing how to cook. What I’ve noticed is that people who don’t like cooking are the ones who don’t know how to cook. The last thing that any of us wants to do is spend time with a task that we suck at. I mean, I hate calculus. And when I first started learning guitar I didn’t always enjoy it but I knew that by persevering I would become more proficient and the playing would turn into something I enjoy. And it did happen. And I am still not good at it, not even close.
Not only will decent cooking skills give you more control of how and what ends up in your food digestion section of your stomach, but it will also increase your awareness of what different meals have in them as you eat out. Information is the king here, you will end up making healthier decisions throughout your day, even when eating out.
To have the sufficient cooking skills doesn’t mean that you need to know every trick in the big book of cooking, you don’t need to cook bouillabaisse like Anthony Bourdain. Learn the absolute basics and if that sparks your interest to explore difficult dishes, go for it. If not, nobody cares. I like to keep my cooking simple on about 99% of the time, unless I am trying to wow the wife (as I did recently with a vegetarian lasagne. If you want the recipe let me know, I aced it). I like simple, easy and tasty.
Start with the easiest dishes possible, put on some chilled music and approach the cooking ceremony the same way you would with something related to your professional life. I can guarantee that if you persevere through the sticking points, such as how to peel a potato or microwave vegetables, you will become much healthier than by going to the gym five days a week and eating take away. I will go as far as saying that if you are pressed for time, swap one of your training session to a cooking session.
If all that fails, you can always make a lot of money and hire someone to do your cooking for the rest of your life. But it doesn’t give you the control of your health compared to knowing the basics of cooking.
You have an empty bucket that you need to fill with the big rocks first before pouring in the sand to fill in the cracks. If you fill your bucket with sand first, you are doomed trying to fit rocks in. That’s like eating a consommé with chop sticks: impossible. Physics that rule the earth won’t allow it. Yet we chase the latest gadgets, pills, tricks and tips in an effort to find a miracle to solve all our problems. Start focusing on the big rocks instead and you’ll notice more improvement than what tiny pieces of sand would ever bring.