Introduction: The Complete Guide to Living Healthy, Happy, and Safe

About: "Black socks and Birkenstocks do not maketh the geek. I would argue that the essence of geekitude comes from within. To the true geek, it's not enough that things work. He or she must know how things work. And…

 Psst, can you keep a secret? If you can, I’m going to tell you the secret to losing weight, getting healthy, and living a long and prosperous life. The diet and exercise industry in the United States is a multi-billion dollar affair and everyone is looking for the “quick and easy” way to lose weight and to get fit. But you are about to read the most definitive guide to the secrets you need to make yourself healthy, happy, and prosperous. Note, this ‘ible isn’t meant to go into incredible detail on each topic; it’s just a starting point.

This ‘ible is being written for the Humana Health by Design Contest. So if you like it, please vote for me. I’m putting over 38 years of experience into just one ‘ible (I REALLY would love that Wii)! So, sit down and read the secrets to changing your life, then you can use your New Year's Resolution for something else from now on instead of the same old, “Lose Weight” one.

Before I begin, a little background about me so you know where my experience and information is coming from. I was a 3-season athlete in high school (and I still hold a record for a 12-second pin in wrestling), I’ve spent 21 years in the US Army where fitness is drilled into your head daily. I’ve never failed a PT test in my entire career. I’ve run half and full marathons, numerous 10 and 12 milers. I’m a member of the 500 mile club in Camp Bucca, Iraq, and a member of the 1000 lbs club there as well. In the time I’ve been in the military, I’ve been deployed to Iraq twice and I’m sitting in Kabul, Afghanistan writing this ‘ible.

So the information in here is almost 4 decades' worth of trial and error. I’m still learning each day. Like the saying goes, “Life isn’t a destination, it’s a journey.”

On with the ‘ible!

Step 1: Before You Start, Some Important Information

Before you begin any major alteration in your life habits, you should consult a doctor. Talk to her, and listen to what she has to say. It’s also a good time to get a baseline of your current fitness level and abilities. It will be important for you to see progress along the way to help motivate you when things plateau.

Also, take some pictures of yourself in a neutral background standing normally to get a “before” picture (like you see in all the diet commercials.)

Finally, try to get your significant other or a close friend to start getting healthy with you. It’s much easier to commit when you have another person that can help motivate you when you are feeling down or worn out. Make sure this person WILL commit. If they quit, it’s that much harder for you to succeed.

Yes, this is a long ‘ible, but I’m trying to give you all the tools you need to make your life better, more healthy and more fulfilling. There isn’t an easy and short way to do that. 

Step 2: The Secret to Getting Healthy

OK, I might have been a little misleading to get your attention. The secret to getting healthy is simply, “There is NO secret!” You just have to commit to doing it, and stick to it. There is no magic bullet that works for everyone. You need to find what works for you and keep doing it. I will present my findings (along with most of the major scientific research consensus on the topics) for you to think about and apply the lessons here as they best fit in your life.

This isn’t a “fad diet” or another cheesy “workout only 5 minutes a day and be a bodybuilding champion” program. The information I will present here is for you to make lifelong changes, in all aspects of your life. Some of these changes are harder than others. At times, you will want to quit, that’s normal. Just don’t give in to those feelings. You are better than you think!

In the end, just try to make the affirmation* to “get better” each day. It may only be that you take the stairs instead of the elevator one day, but it’s important to strive each day to do something healthy for yourself.

*=Please see my other ‘ible on “Daily Affirmations” by clicking here. This is also being submitted to the Humana Health by Design Contest.  

Step 3: My Promise to You

If you follow this guide, you will get healthier. Like I said, there is no magic bullet to losing weight. But if you follow my advice (again, this isn’t really “MY” advice, I’m just compiling my findings together in one easy reference) you will see results.

I also bet that there is at least one gem of information you didn’t know in this ‘ible. So please take the time to read the whole thing. I also welcome any comments or criticism of this piece. Please feel free to add any of your own findings to this 'ible as well. I would love to see this become a “living document” where everyone can share best practices with each other! 

Step 4: First Things First, Lose the Scale

Really, lose it. That bathroom scale is your WORST enemy in getting fit. Besides the fact that even the best and most expensive scales are not accurate, the results will be deceptive and will subvert your best efforts.

Here is why: as you lose fat and build muscle, you will most likely GAIN weight. But that is normal, fat weighs less than muscle mass. More importantly, because the force of gravity on you has no bearing on your health, there is no reason to worry about what a scale says. Different body types, heights, and ethnicities have different builds and hence different weights while all of them may be healthy.   One more thing to think about, as you build muscle mass, you will burn more calories doing the same workouts.  So make sure that you work on muscle building as well proper nutrition.

So, how do you measure progress you may ask? Ideally, a Body Fat Index (BFI) reading is the most accurate, but it isn’t realistic to have one done weekly. The best measurement of success is how you feel! You will have more energy, and you will sleep better at night. These indicators will be more powerful than any reading on a rusty scale.

If you need more measurable results, use your waist line. As you tone up, your waist will shrink. But realize that any “measurable” benchmark will produce plateaus and even regressions throughout your training. This is normal. If you rely on them too much, they can become discouraging over time and can hurt your progress.

Step 5: Cut It Out!

I’m sure it’s no secret, but there are a few things you owe yourself to be healthy. These are NOT up for debate. Just STOP DOING THEM.

Quit smoking. ‘nuff said about that

Quit the “Energy” drinks or other supplements. They are all just sugar or other chemicals.

Limit or quit drinking alcohol. Maybe a drink or two a week at most as a guideline. Remember, less is better.

Limit or stop your caffeine. Try switching to tea instead of a cop of coffee each day.

You don’t need vitamins. While they most likely aren’t hurting you, you are more than likely wasting your money on them. It you eat right, you will get all the nutrients that your body needs. More than likely your body can’t absorb the vitamins when you take them in pill form anyway.

Step 6: Next Step, Evolve Your Eating Habits

Maybe you heard of Jamie Oliver and his Food Revolution. If not, here is a link to his show…
Note, I’m not trying to promote his show or any network, but it’s just that he really nails down a major problem in our culture. The way we eat is literally killing us, and no one seems to care. In a recent “” lecture, it was revealed that 5 of the top 10 killers of adult Americans were all preventable afflictions that were directly related to our diets. In that same lecture, it was pointed out that as third world countries started more “western” diets, they started seeing the same health problems and morality that US and other western cultures are experiencing.

Think about this, right now, YOUR life expectancy is GREATER than your kids. If that doesn’t wake you up, I don’t know what will. This is a direct reflection of our diets.

Instead of regurgitating what Jamie Oliver and other leading researchers had found, please just read their work on the subject.

In a nutshell, we need to eat food that is NOT processed, and that is fresh and local. It can be done with a little commitment. The biggest obstacle for most people is convenience. But once you start eating healthier foods and learning more about the fuel you are putting in your body, the better off you will be.

Make a game out of it with your significant other. Try to find fun recipes. Try new foods. Try to cook together and make “quality time” together. Not only will your physical health improve, but your relationship will grow stronger!

A couple of other quick tips, eating more often, but smaller portions are better for you than fewer, bigger meals. Spread your eating out over the entire day, but taper off towards the evening. Instead of eating your big meal at dinner, have it at breakfast. There is a saying that goes, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a Prince, and dinner like a pauper.” Try to eat your dinner at least 3 hours before you go to sleep.

Never go on a fad diet. There is nothing healthy about messing with your insulin levels or by eating bacon instead of apples! A diet, buy it’s very nature will set you up to fail.

You need to learn what foods are healthy. You need to understand where your calories are coming from.

Some things to just plain avoid, soda, fast food, limit any food that contains “High Fructose Corn Syrup” (or any of its other names and forms.)

Drink lots of water. All the time, throughout the day. The best measure of this is the color of your urine. It should be just slightly tinted yellow.

Step 7: Now the Hard Part

You knew it was coming. Exercise! This is becoming a dreaded word for most people. The very thought of spending hours in a sweaty gym is such a turn off. I agree, but there is a better way.

First question, “When should I exercise?” The answer is pretty universal, “Whenever you will continue to do it.” If you enjoy the mornings, then that is the best time for you. If you prefer the evenings, then that is your time. (Note, try not o exercise right before going to bed.)

There are two major types of exercise, both of which you need to do. The first is “Aerobic” exercise. This will work your cardiovascular system. It’s is the “running, swimming, walking, bicycling” types of activities. The next type is “anaerobic” exercise. This works the muscles and joints. It’s the “weight, push-ups, sit-ups” type of exercises.

The next question, “What type of Aerobic exercise should I do?” Here is the great part, it doesn’t matter that much! Find something you enjoy doing. Better yet, find a bunch of things you love to do and mix it up. But here is the part that most people fail at; they try for distances or speeds. Forget that. You need to work you heart, so trying to get faster isn’t the objective here (although it will come with exercise.)

Get yourself a heart rate monitor; learn how to use it, and exercise within your target heart rate (THR) ONLY. Most Americans start working out well ABOVE their THR. This means that are working TOO HARD and not getting the maximum benefits of their labor (which only helps to discourage their exercising.) When you first start out (depending on the shape you are in), you’ll be amazed at how little you need to work to get in your THR zone. There is plenty of information on the Internet about how to find your THR so feel free to investigate that issue more.

You should do Aerobic exercise everyday, for at least 30 minutes for maximum benefit. But again, that doesn’t mean running everyday. You can run one day, bike another, do a stair climber the next, etc. (Note if you are serious about losing body fat, you should increase the time to at least 60 minutes a day.)

OK, so we have the heart and cardiovascular system covered, now we need to work the other muscles. The best anaerobic method I’ve found is the “Momentary Muscular Failure” method. I’ll be up front with you; this method will make you very sore in the beginning. As you progress, you body will recover quicker each time and you will feel less sore as the weeks go by.

This method can be adjusted for either “mass” muscle building or for muscle toning without “bulking up.” Here is the basic principle. You work a muscle until it actually fails. This is the point when your body has to build the muscle up, stronger, each time.

How it works, let’s say you are doing push-ups. You do as many as you can. Then, when you can’t do another one, you do about 3 or 5 more of just the “negative range” of the exercise. For a push up, that means just doing the “down” part of the push up, then get on your knees, get in the “up” position, and do another “down” stroke. Repeat this about 5 times.

When you are done, your arms will feel like jelly! Note, if you are doing an exercise that involves weights, set the weight to a resistance that will allow you to do about 15 reps before you can’t do a full rep anymore, and then do 5 reps of the “negative motion.” You can drop the weight and do another set of 15 full reps and 5 more negative reps after that. (Note you will need a partner to help you with the “positive” part of the exercise for the final 5 reps.)

As you do a rep for any exercise, always do the “positive” portion in a 2 count and the negative in a 4 count. That means that as you are going down on a push up, to should count to 4. When you come up, you should only be able to count to 2.

Here are some important parts of the anaerobic workouts. If you do this workout with intensity and without resting, it can be your aerobic exercise for the day as well. Also, and most importantly, do NOT do this workout everyday. The muscles that are worked require at least 48 hours to heal. So, either do this workout every other day, or work out your arms and abs one day, and you legs the next.

To fine tune this workout for the desired results, if you do more weight in an exercise and less reps, you will build “bulk”, if you do less weight and more reps, you will tone the muscles. 

Step 8: Medicines

This one is going to be controversial, so I will say it again, you need to find out what works for you, and do it.

I find that as we, as a population, constantly look for easy solutions. The medical industry is well aware of that and they take full advantage of that fact. They constantly look for new ways to sell you drugs. Don’t believe me? What the heck is “Restless Leg Syndrome?” It’s a completely made up condition to sell you a pill.

What I ask you, before you pop a pill, ask yourself, do you REALLY need it? (Obviously for medical conditions, you need to take medicines.) But for almost every non-prescription medicine out there, you can do without. If you are having problems sleeping, make sure you exercise well each day, limit your caffeine intake and try to relax before you try to go to sleep instead of popping a pill. BTW, here is an ‘ible I did a while ago on better sleeping habits.

If you have a headache, try to relax a little and put up with it before you just take an aspirin. What happens to most people is that they are so quick to take a pill for something that their body builds up a tolerance to the medicine.

For prescription drugs, work with your doctor to try and find alternatives to them. Maybe a good program of exercise will do more for your high blood pressure than more pills. Don’t forget, that each pill has side effects; you may end up taking more medicines just to deal with the side effects of other medicines. In fact, I’m sure the drug companies are happy to sell you more medicines! I’ve known many people that worked with their doctors to get them off ALL the medications that they were on, and they never felt better.

If you still aren’t convinced, just look at how much money you spend on pills in a given year. I bet you can find a better use for that money.

Step 9: Other Things to Do and Some Things That Help Me Out

Being healthy isn’t just something that happens at the gym, being healthy means that you make good decisions in all the events in your life. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking to the store instead of driving or taking a cab, not ordering desert at the end of a meal are all excellent examples on how healthy choices are all over your daily life.

Many people thing that going to the gym gives them a free pass the rest of the day to ‘take it easy.’ You need to always find little ways to make a healthy choice.

Some things that help me out…

Instead of desert, I find that a black coffee satisfies my “sweet tooth” after a meal. It is also perfect if others at the table want to get desert you can get a coffee and not feel “left out.”

Just drink water, every meal, every time. It’s water for me. There are too many calories in juice and soda. As a nutritionist that I worked with for a year in Iraq used to say, “Don’t drink your calories.” She was right. In a 2000 cal/day diet, a 20-ounce regular soda can contain 200 - 320 calories! That is over 10% of your intake in a single drink. If you have two of them a day, that is almost 30% of all your calories for the day!

Use an exercise ball for an office chair. Instead of sitting in a chair all day, every now and then, sit on an exercise ball for a while. It will firm up your abs and butt while you do your office work.

Find new hobbies. Maybe take up Scuba diving or hiking. Find ways to stay active and you will not focus on the “exercise” as much as you will be having fun.

Limit your TV time. TV can have a place in your life, but you need to make sure that it doesn’t consume all your free time. Never let TV take you away from an activity where you will be getting exercise.

Volunteer. This may not seem to be a way to get “healthy” but it is. Your overall heath isn’t limited to you waistline. Your health is a sum total of your mental, spiritual, psychological, and physical well being. To truly be healthy, you need to work on every aspect of your life. Besides, there are plenty of 5K runs, walk-a-thons and other charity events that allow you get some exercise, have fun, and raise money for good causes.

Never stop looking for ways to “get better.” As events in your life change, you need to adjust your habits to them. Keep looking for ways to get active and stay involved.

I am not going to “end” this ‘ible. Like I stated, a healthy life is a journey and not a destination. There are plenty of other ways to get healthy and I encourage each and everyone to add your comments and suggestions to this ‘ilbe.

Enjoy and don’t forget to vote for this ‘ible in the Humana Health by Design Contest if you learned or enjoyed this ‘ible!

I will end with saying, “Get Better!” 

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