For many years, I have tried to be sensitive to my health and to do as much as I think is in my control to ensure a healthy life.
Maybe it is due to my mother’s advice – “Health is wealth” – or a realization that I need to be more focused on my health due to a lifestyle of heavy business travel and the demands of leading a high-growth global firm.
Over many years through my own trial and error, speaking with various people about their approach to a healthy life and keeping an eye out for the latest research, I’ve developed my list of “best practices” that I follow to try to avoid the hazards of a demanding work life and the natural process of aging.
It all started when I asked a doctor for some basic health advice. The answer was extremely simple and extremely profound - “maintain normal body weight.” Since then, I’ve developed my own approach to maintaining normal weight without going on diets, without counting calories, without any gym membership, and without using any devices such as Fitbit or other wearables.
My list of best practices can be grouped into three categories – diet, exercise, and some miscellaneous stuff.
Diet is by far the biggest component of maintaining normal body weight. A lot of the diets focus on eating particular foods (proteins, salads) and not eating other foods (carbs and fat). I believe that any diet that strikes of an entire class of food is neither healthy nor sustainable.
How much you eat (portion size) is more important. Eating sensible portions is rule #1 followed by eating “less” of the bad stuff – sugars and fat. I have a bit of a sweet tooth and like to have a dessert after my meal, but I balance this off by having only half of the normal portion (or even less) and savoring it to enjoy the taste for a longer duration.
When you eat smaller portion sizes you will need to snack between your meals. Snack on fruits (focusing on dark / deep colored fruits) and nuts – all natural stuff.
I avoid all packaged / processed foods such as drinks including soda’s, juices, chips, cookies, etc.
Someone once said to me “don’t drink your calories.” I don’t drink alcohol, and I also don’t drink sodas or any type of juice. Many juices available have added sugar (and goodness knows what else). Rather than juice, I recommend eating the fruit it comes from to get the full benefits of its fiber.
I also avoid fried items such as french fries.
There are two types of people – those who eat to live and those who live to eat. I’m in the former category and developing the above diet habits has been very easy for me. For those who live to eat this can be the most difficult part.
Second, and the most important factor in maintaining health via a normal body weight is the need to exercise or put more simply - be active. I know many people who are gym rats or run marathons or other types of significant physical exercise. I’m very happy for them, but that level of physical activity does not come naturally to me. Instead, I’ve developed simpler and hence more sustainable ways to generate physical activity that has worked well for me.
The first is walking. I love to walk.
The second is cycling. I love to cycle.
I also have an elliptical machine at home which I use when the weather is not ideal for walking or cycling.
When in the day you exercise and specifically its relationship to your meal timings is also very important. 30 minutes of cycling/brisk walk first thing in the morning before your breakfast will trigger a quicker fat burn than at any other time during the day. And, to maximize weight loss, I advise a “slow” breakfast after the cycling/walking too. A simple illustration of my routine –
7am to 7.30am – Cycling / Elliptical / Brisk Walk
7.30am to 8.30am – Shower and get ready for work
8.30am – Coffee and a slice of toast
9.30am – Two boiled eggs (no yolk)
10.30am – Banana
1pm – lunch
As you can see from the above my breakfast consists of 1 slice of toast (with a little butter and jam), two boiled eggs, and a banana, but I eat them over a 2-hour period. I call this a “slow breakfast” which allows me to sustain the fat-burn that was triggered by my 30-minute exercise on an empty stomach.
Whenever I can, I also do a 30-minute routine in the evenings, preferably before dinner. This allows me to burn-off my dinner.
The main point here is that I’ve found that a simple exercise of walking or cycling is effective, fun and sustainable (I don’t need a gym) and the timing of it (pre-meals) has a multiplier effect.
To me, the most under-rated part of staying healthy is the importance of sleep. Somehow, we have developed a culture that encourages less sleep. I’ve heard many colleagues brag about how they only get or “need” 4 or 5 hours of sleep. I can’t say enough how important sleep is to long-term health. If I had to choose between an extra hour of sleep and an hour in the gym it will be an extra hour of sleep without the slightest hesitation.
These days I’ve noticed there is a growing awareness of the importance of sleep with personalities such as Ariana Huffington emphasizing its importance, and this needs to continue.
Health is not based on diet and exercise only. It also includes mental well-being of which stress, anxiety and depression are high risk. These are big topics in and of themselves and warrant dedicated attention of their own.
In terms of physical health, going for routine / scheduled medical checkups is very important. Some people avoid this which to me is akin to burying one’s head in sand. I try to do full annual checkups or at least a complete annual blood test. I also have a blood pressure and blood sugar testing kit at home that I use once a quarter.
My approach is no guarantee to perfect health. Our health is also determined by our genes and some illnesses like cancer are based on the unlucky lottery system, but a lot of it is in our hands and recognizing this and managing it increases our chances of a healthy life.
I wish you good health.