By Ben Greenfield
As a successful fitness trainer — I get a lot of questions about how people can become healthier versions of themselves. Most of the time, they want to know the absolute fastest way to lose weight, tone up, build muscle or as I like to call it, become “superhuman.” In case you’re wondering the same thing — here are a few ways to get started.
1. You should only sit down to eat.
Most of us plant our butts in a chair for 8 hours a day, then begin or end the day with some exercise designed to combat the damage done all day long, an approach that may not reduce your cardiovascular risk factors by much.
The simple solution? “Fool” your body into engaging in low-intensity levels of physical activity all day long. I practice this by only sitting down during the day when it’s time to eat (an exception is flying on an airplane, or sitting in a train or car).
Otherwise, the rest of the day, you should choose to lunge, kneel, lay on your stomach, lay on your back, stand, lean, etc. You’ll be surprised at how difficult this habit can be at first, and how you’re probably sitting far, far more than you thought you were. Watch this video of the myriad of positions I maintain all day long in my home office.
2. Trade long, hot showers for short, cold ones.
I take two 2-5-minute cold showers each day, and one longer 15-30-minute cold soak or cold water swim each week. Why? In the book “Anti-Fragile,” the author, Nassim Taleb, discusses how as your bones and muscles become stronger when subjected to variety, stress and tension. Many other elements of your life can benefit from mild amounts stress, disorder, volatility and turmoil as well.
The technical term for this is hormesis, which is the term to describe favorable biological responses to some stress exposure. In other words, by exposing yourself to discomfort, you bounce back stronger and you become more resilient to stress.
For example, refrigerators have not always been a luxury of humankind, so it’s OK to sometimes be hungry and fast, and sometimes eat completely random meals you’d normally never eat (breakfast for dinner, anyone?).
Sometimes lions and bears jump out and chase you — so it’s OK to skip that aerobic bike ride and instead do a short, intense, four-minute Tabata set — and vice versa. Be uncomfortable. Expose your body to occasional, sane amounts of natural stress and disorder. This will fight fragility, keep you alive and vibrant, and allow your lungs, muscles and heart to overcome gradually adapting to the demands you place upon them.
Trading hot showers for cold ones is a great way to launch into some natural hormetic stress. Two of my favorite ways to use temperature to elevate your body and make yourself “anti-fragile” are cold exposure with cold showers, temperatures, baths and soaks and alternately, heat exposure with weekly 20-45-minute visits to a sauna or steam room. A very simple way to get started with developing a less fragile body is to give yourself a 30-day challenge of not touching the hot water handle in your shower or bath. That’s it. See what happens.
3. Quit running marathons.
And by this I mean don’t exercise too hard. If you study the habits of the longest-living populations (the new book “Blue Zones” by Dan Buettner is a great introduction), you won’t find them doing CrossFit, P90X, Beach Body Insanity or any kind of daily extreme exercise. Instead, you’ll see low levels of mild physical activity such as walking, gardening, and standing throughout the day.
That’s right: the world’s longest-living people didn’t pump iron or run marathons and triathlons. Instead, they dwell in environments that nudge them into moving without thinking about it. So here’s the takeaway message: My habits of extreme obstacle racing, triathlons and hard-exercise sessions are not making me live longer and could even be taking hours, days or weeks off my life.
Because of this, you should re-frame your perspective on physical activity. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that hard exercise is the key to longevity. Will it help you get fit and strong? Sure. But so will gardening, cleaning your house, building a rock wall, walking or riding your bicycle to work and hiking in the forest.
Ultimately, if you want to get fit, strong and live longer, begin with habits that are small, sustainable and do-able: sit to eat, tweak your temps, and re-frame your perspective on exercise.
Ben Greenfield is a former body builder, Ironman triathlete, Spartan racer, coach, speaker and author of The New York Times Best Seller “Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health and Life.” In 2008, Ben was voted as the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Personal Trainer of the Year and in 2013 and 2014 was named by Greatist as one of the top 100 Most Influential People In Health and Fitness