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A healthy, active, sustainable lifestyle must have a strong foundation. This short guide will teach you 5 healthy habits to start in the new year. It’s based on foundational principles and associated habits that will help you keep crushing life on a daily basis in this new year and for years to come.
As the nutrition coach at San Francisco CrosSFit, I work with many clients who want to make various body composition and performance improvements. By the time they contact me, they’ve likely tried nearly every fad diet, diet template, other nutrition coaching, macro counting, etc. The great thing about these methods is that they work. In fact, they work very well…until they don’t.
This can be very frustrating and stressful for people, and I can sympathize. I, too, have tried nearly every popular diet that has been lauded as the new savior of human dietary needs. When your diet/plan stops working or is unsustainable, it’s time to lean on principles. It’s easy to get caught up in the details, so when that happens, take a step back and check-in with the basics: Sleep, Stress Management, Hydration, Food Hygiene, and Movement.
Sleep is the most beneficial performance-enhancing activity we use each day to prepare us for the rigors of tomorrow. However, most of us don’t get nearly enough hours in the bedroom. The minimum I want my clients to get is seven hours per night in a dark room with zero electronic distractions. This is the bare minimum that is widely accepted by sleep experts and health professionals. Optimally, we would all get 7-9 hours of high-quality sleep.
I say this with the understanding that we lead very complicated, demanding lives. I’m in the same boat. Instead of wagging my finger at you about hours of sleep, here are some ideas on how you can set yourself up for quality over quantity approach to your sleep habits.
Stress is unavoidable. Having some stress in our lives is great. It drives us to chase goals, complete important projects, gives us purpose, and makes life interesting. Stressors are neither good nor bad. It’s how we react to the stressors in our lives that shape our perception. Each stressor will elicit its own unique stress response.
Practice at least one activity that brings you some joy or calmness each day:
Find balance in your exercise routine: Many of us use exercise as a way to release stress. That’s great! However, intense exercise is also a stressor, so please find a day or two to rest or actively recover with low intensity, cyclical movement (light walking, jogging, rowing, cycling, etc.).
Water is essential to our very existence. Here are a few reasons why we need to make sure to drink plenty of water daily:
Dehydration can wreak havoc on your body and mind. Here are some symptoms of dehydration:
Aim to drink about ½ your body weight in fluid ounces of water per day.
Monitor the color of your urine each time you urinate. If it’s dark yellow, you should definitely drink some water. If it’s nearly clear, hold off on consuming water for a little while or until you’re thirsty. Aim to have your urine be a pale yellow color.
Add a pinch of salt to your water glass or bottle each time you fill it. Fancy pink salt, Morton’s…it doesn’t matter. The sodium will assist in helping your body absorb the water you drink. This is especially important when training for an extended time in the heat.
Like hydration, eating is essential to our performance in all aspects of life. We have all been fed narratives about food that shape our view on certain macronutrients, micronutrients, the evils of one ingredient vs. the virtues of another, etc.
To help wade through the confusion that you’ll find when researching nutrition methods on your own, here are some key ideas and habits you can use as a “home base”:
Key Food Hygiene Ideas
Food Hygiene Habits
If you’re reading this article, I assume you have a movement practice or sport that keeps you regularly challenged and entertained. As humans, we do best when we can move–a lot. Exercising at the gym for one hour per day isn’t enough. We should also be performing physical tasks, getting-up from our desks to walk around, and finding ways to get our blood moving throughout the day.
The main idea is to challenge yourself and move blood several times per week. Here are some ideas and habits for exercise and non-exercise activities that are useful:
Non-Exercise Movement Habits/Activities
Step-up your NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) game:
Weeks 1-2: Pick one item from any one category that you think might help you and seems doable. Spend the first two weeks injecting the new habit into your life. For example, you might try to add 8-10 minutes of soft tissue work to your night.
Weeks 3-4: Pick another habit from one of the categories. Spend the next two weeks practicing the new habit, while also practicing the first habit. You continue trying to get in 8-10 minutes of soft tissue work each night, and you add a pinch of salt to your water each time you fill a glass or bottle.
Weeks 5-6: Pick the third habit and continue refining the first two. By now, the first habit will likely be ingrained and the second should be pretty easy to perform each day. You might try to fit more movement into your day as a new habit. While you try to add more movement each day, you continue trying to get more sleep each night and add a pinch of salt to your water.
This pattern can continue indefinitely. Acquiring nutrition and lifestyle habits is a skill and should be treated as such. It’s just like in the gym, there’s always a way to scale a movement or workout up or down so it suits the individual. Habits work in the same manner.