What to do first when we want to live healthier?
A lot of people who want to “be healthier”, lose fat, and gain muscles would like to have it done in five working days. But we all know that is not how it works. If we don’t know where to start with improving our health at all, the best place to start is the foundation – the basic steps towards a healthier routine. Before we start work out every day and maintain calorie deficit deep as Grand Canon, we should look at the basics in this slightly sloping pyramid:
One of the problems is that a lot of people start on the top of the pyramid – they buy some bullshit skinny tea, pre-workouts, three hundreds of vitamin pills, start running twice a day but their foundations are as stable as a lego tower made by my four-year-old nephew. This article won’t bring anything revolutionary to the table but sometimes it is better to stop and see if our foundations are in check and we have nothing to improve there.
The foundations of the pyramid…
7-8 hours of sleep
Something everyone knows but almost no one does. Nowadays, four hours of sleep and at least three cups of coffee a day is a classic. Sometimes it just cannot be done differently- we have so much work that we don’t know what to do first, plus family and other responsibilities and suddenly it is so late that we have only a few hours before we have to get up again. It is completely normal that there are periods of our lives like that but it shouldn’t become our new normal.
It is much more likely that instead of sleep we watch videos and scroll Instagram for two hours or we drink till late hours with friends. In that case, it is about priorities. If we set our sleep time as a priority, it is much easier to actually compromise and go to bed earlier.
To have enough sleep is the alpha and omega of the quality of our everyday life. If we don’t sleep enough, we are naturally very tired (surprise!) which means that we will be more hungry as our body tries to get the energy from a different source. Also, we won’t have as much energy for our training, run, or other activities, and even for some smaller movements during the day (such as walking up the stairs, we will much more likely take an elevator). A lot of very important processes are happening during the night such as regeneration, regulation of blood pressure, and others and they need enough time to actually be able to finish.
The quality of our sleep is, of course, important as well, so to improve the quality we shouldn’t for example look at screens that produce blue light (which blocks the release of melatonin) or drink before we go to bed (so that we wouldn’t wake up to go to the toilet) and such.
Walking is the most natural movement for our bodies. Unfortunately, with cars, public transport, elevators, and escalators it is sometimes hard to walk at all. And the establishment of the home office due to the pandemic was the last nail to the coffin. Walking is, however, very important – for digestion, better sleep, an increase of energy expenditure during the day, lowering the blood sugar level, and many more reasons! So if you don’t move at all, it is much better to start with an hour of walking instead of intense cardio or weight training.
I am not saying that carbs and fats are not important, because they are. But usually, they are not the macronutrients that are missing in our diets. Sometimes it is very beneficial to look at the food and meals we eat every day and examine if we have enough protein sources whether plant-based such as beans, tofu, tempeh, seitan, or animal products such as eggs, meat, cottage cheese, etc. Protein helps not only to build muscle but to maintain it as well which is harder and harder the older we get. But there are many more reasons to eat enough protein…
Fruits and vegetables
To eat nutrient-rich foods is, of course, extremely important as well. Nowadays, a lot of people go on about their days and weeks without seeing as much as a single piece of vegetable. It is really not necessary to eat pounds and pounds of vegetables and ten apples a day, but we should have at least one meal a day, where the main component (or at least one of the main components) is vegetables.
It is beneficial not only for its nutrients but also for the feeling of satiety. Fruits and vegetables are high volume, low-calorie foods with a lot of fiber. So if you are often hungry, it is a good idea to include extra portions of broccoli or any other vegetable that you like. And with that, throw in one or two pieces of fruits a day…it won’t kill you, I promise.
Fibre will not only help you feel full but it is extremely important for digestion so if you have a problem with that, check if your diet is not fiber deficient 😊 (the recommended amount of fiber is 25-35 grams a day, while the average American eats only 15 grams a day).
Last but not least, drinking enough water. There are a lot of reasons why to drink enough water – feeling full, staying hydrated, well-functioning organs, and many more. If you often struggle with headaches and your mouth is dry all the time, it is very likely that you don’t drink enough. It is important to drink water during the whole day, not only when you feel thirsty because that is sometimes too late and your body is already dehydrated. You can read how much to drink, why, and how to know if you are drinking enough in one of my older articles.
Before you go overboard…
Before you start with extremes, be sure to have these points covered. If you don’t have enough sleep, water, protein, nutritious food, and natural movement, you can do hours of cardio, heavyweight training, and be in a severe deficit but the results won’t be even close to what they could be if you just started with the basics. I don’t want to say that it wouldn’t work but it will be probably very difficult to maintain and a few months from now you will be right back where you started. And also…why would you make it harder than it has to be for yourself?
And if you know that you are lacking in a few of those categories, or maybe in all of them, don’t stress yourself too much – don’t try to change everything from day to day. Just pick one or two and focus on that for a few weeks. When you build it as a habit, try to add another and another. It is hard to change everything at once and you wouldn’t probably stick with such a big change.