3 Essential Steps to Optimal Health

We’re all looking for optimal health in some way and if we aren’t now we will be in the future. So I decided to put together my 3 essential steps to optimal health in an easy to read manner so you know exactly what I believe and what I’ve experienced through the years of teaching sustainable, optimal health.

Think about these 3 essential steps to optimal health as a puzzle or picture you’re putting together. Without each piece the picture won’t be complete. Each and every step has it’s own significance that needs to be addressed. And as you’ll soon find out, each of the 3 steps has 3 steps within them.

We’ll start off with stress because I believe our health right now whether we are over weight, aren’t sleeping, have low self confidence, are emotionally stressed out, etc. has everything to do with our stress levels and how we deal with it. I’ll help you understand how detrimental stress is to our body and how to find a way to release stress to improve your health.

Nutrition is the next step in which case we’ll go over in detail how detrimental toxic substances are that we’re putting in our body, why whole food is the answer to our health and finally hydration which I feel is the most over looked aspect of nutrition regarding overall wellness.

And lastly but certainly not least we’ll go over fitness and how to see real results with the way we’re working out.

3 steps to optimal health

Emotional Stress

Stress plays a more significant role in our lives than we think. In fact, I believe many of our major health issues stems from being stressed out and not finding an outlet to release it. If you want to get into more detail, I truly believe everything from the common cold to major dis-ease in our body comes from stress.

Understanding stress

The very first step to addressing stress and not letting it negatively affect your life anymore is to understand how detrimental it is to our overall well being. We all handle stress in different ways most of which fall under the category of ‘not very well’.

We need to at the very least consciously understand that stress is the cause of our health condition right now.  If you have a tooth ache you can look to stress in your life, if your right shoulder is bothering you (and does often) you can actually track and following along how that shoulder stress increases the more stressed out you are.

Instead of thinking that kink in your neck came from sleeping the wrong way and understanding there is something stressful in your life that needs to be addressed, will make a world of difference simply by understanding stress in your life affects your entire being.

After we consciously change our mind set and understand that all of our health issues stem from some form of emotional stress we can move to the next step.

Identify where stress comes from  

We all have stresses in our life, if you live in the modern world, have a job, maybe a family and deal with ups and downs as life has to offer there’s no choice but to deal with stress or don’t because it’s there either way.

Unfortunately most of us don’t deal with stress, we push it to the side, hope the problem will go away and carry on life usual. Unfortunately stress doesn’t go away, if fact the longer we wait to address stress the more detrimental it becomes on our body

There is where earlier I talked about ‘major dis-ease’ in our body.  I believe we all have a stress valve. Think of a container, a jar or beaker if you will. Your beaker is slowly filled as more stress comes into your life. Sooner or later, without doing anything to reduce your stress, that beaker is going to over flow and we’re going to have a major issue on our hands.

As that emotional stress piles up and your beaker begins to over flow, stress usually attacks the weakest part of your body. This is where injuries come from, regarding both elite athletes and weekend warriors.  Make no mistake about it, sooner or later emotional stress piles up to the extent that your external or physical body is negatively affected simply because your body needs to release this stress in some way.

There are two things we can do to prevent this from happened, first is to identify where your stress comes from and the second is to find different ways to reduce or release stress.

Most of the time stress comes from our jobs. Many of us don’t really like our jobs, and even if we do we have deadlines, our boss to deal with, coworkers and customers. Given that most of these have to do with people in some way it’s very difficult to control how each one of them will change our day.  It could have absolutely nothing to do with when your boss comes in the room and takes his weeks frustration out on you. There’s little you can do if your coworker doesn’t finished their part of the project and you’re left holding the bag.

Regardless of what’s going on with how your stress levels are rising, we already know we aren’t able to control this so, let stick with what we can control which is simply identifying where your stress comes from.

If you know for example a certain person as work stresses you out, you can do a better job of avoiding them. And if you’re not able to avoid them all together, at least being conscious of the fact you allow them to stress you out will make a big difference in your stress levels.

Go into work with a different mind set, understand you control your state of mind and if you don’t let them, your coworker won’t be able to raise your stress levels.

Something as simply as being late or work could stress you out in the morning and cause your stress levels to rise. Again being conscious of this fact we can be proactive and start to wake up just a little but earlier or be more prepared the night before so we can get to work on time without the stress of being late.

Find a way to release stress

And the last step regarding stress when we’re talking about our 3 essential steps to optimal health is, find a way to release stress.

As stated earlier, many of us know we’re stressed out but that doesn’t mean we do anything about it. Action is essential if we want to improve our overall state and reduce stress. We must take action and find ways to reduce stress.

Plan a day of the week or a day of the month for yourself. I know, I know, most of us believe we don’t have time for ourselves, we’re not able to take time to reduce stress, get away and enjoy a day of relaxation.  Here’s my argument, we have time for what we make time for in this life. We usually have time for beer with the guys once in a while, we have time for our favourite show in the evening, we even have time for clients and customers when it’s an emergency but we don’t have time for ourselves. Again, we have time for what we make time for.

*we have time for what we make time for.

Understand the only way to be your best you is to reduce stress in your life and the only way to do that is to make time to reduce stress in some way.

Do something you enjoy. This sounds too simple to do any good but as Marc Allen said, ‘the simpler an answer the more truth it holds’. It could be a day golfing, a country drive, anything from cooking a nice meal to chopping wood. These are mindless activities that take you away from the everyday.  Think of a relaxing sailboat ride, or how about some time in the garden?

Whatever you are doing to reduce stress in your life, it doesn’t have to be an expensive day at the spa, it doesn’t even have to be an entire day. The biggest issue isn’t finding a way to reduce stress, it’s actually taking the time to do it and doing it consistently.

The biggest issue with holding on to stress is how we internalize.  Think of our body as a giant defence mechanism. Our body is continually trying to prevent or protect it (or ourselves) from being hurt both internally and physically.  Unfortunately this is counter productive or actually more detrimental to our health.

Let’s say something tragic happens in our life, we’re traumatized in some way and those thoughts and memories deeply hurt us. Our body understands this and does it’s best to protect us from these thoughts. The good news is it’s incredible how our body is always looking out for our best interest. The not so good news is, the body doesn’t exactly know pushing these thoughts, memories and emotions deep does does us more damage than good. This is called internalization which actually causes more stress on our minds and bodies.

As we push these memories that cause thoughts and emotions deep down we continually find defence mechanism to protect them so they aren’t addressed simply because of all the pain they cause.

By doing so we become self conscious wondering if people can really see how hurt we are, which means this is where not only being self conscious comes from but also where lack of confidence comes from.

We find other ways to protect ourselves like (with our bodies help) continue to put layers of body weight on top of us to protect what we’re hiding deep down. This is where the very root of weight gain comes from. We’ve all seen numerous people lose an amount of weight and then hit a wall. This is where our emotions come in and how our body so tightly holds on to and protects those engrained emotions from years ago.

To get past that initial weight loss (which could be substantial i.e. 25, 50, 100lbs or more) we need to dig deep and find out what’s going on emotionally. We need to find a way to reduce stress, release those emotions and find the root of the issue which for many of us, is something we haven’t even thought about for years.

How do we do this:

  • continually, relentlessly or religiously reach our emotions
  • #1 way to do this is to WRITE (I can’t scream this loud enough. No another form of action will reach another level than continuing to write on a consistent basis to reach your subconscious)
  • Talking and I don’t mean talking just to talk, I mean talking about your feelings, those ones that you haven’t thought about for longer than you can remember. Find a professional or trusted friend that will be there for support and more than anything, listen.

Nutrition

We all know nutrition is essential when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle so let’s go over a few key points that will take you closer to that optimal health we’re all looking for.

Avoid Toxic substances

The very first thing I can tell you regarding toxic substances is to read ingredients on every single thing you put on your body. Side note: you should also be reading the ingredients on everything you put on your body as well. Cosmetics is no different from food, if you’re putting it on your body in some form, sooner or later it will be absorbed by your body (absorbed much sooner than you think, in fact, at times quicker than consumption).

No one is going to read labels and ingredients for you, no one is going to care about your body for you and no one is responsible about your health or than you.  It’s time we start avoiding toxic substances and start to read ingredient labels.

How do we know what to look for?

A simple rule of thumb when it comes to looking at ingredients labels and trying to understand what foods you should be avoiding is:

–   your product should have less than 8 ingredients

  • if you are not able to read or pronounce an ingredient you should not put it in your body
  • If it says ‘sugar’ in any of the first 3 ingredients listed, put it back on the shelf and carry on

Safer products to look for

Now I’m not saying these are perfect but this will help you make better choices.

  • shop locally: farmers markets are the best place to buy your produce
  • look for ‘organic’ products (yes this is controversial but it’s still usually a better option)
  • look for a non-gmo label
  • buy more produce than packaged or frozen

Whole food is the answer

Now when I say ‘whole food’ this is exactly what I mean when I say food heals, food cures and food prevents. I truly believe food is our future and if we all put more whole food in our bodies our health would drastically change for the better.

Whole food is the ingredient, it doesn’t have ingredients.  If you look to the produce aisles, if you stay to the outside of the grocery stores; if you buy less products that come in boxes and packages you’d be much better off.

Food that is the ingredient isn’t full of toxins, yes of course we can bring up the topics of gmo’s, herbicides and pesticides but we’re looking to improve our lifestyles and to find that optimal health. We do that in smaller, sustainable steps and looking to whole food instead of boxed or packaged food is a positive step forward.

If nothing else, remember to shop local, go to your local farms, find local greenhouses and farmers markets. These are the people that care about the food they’re providing you with, they care about your family and what you’re putting on the table.  More than anything, they care about you the consumer because with each purchase you make, you’re supporting them and their family as well.

Hydration 

Hydration could be the most overlooked aspect of your health especially concerning nutrition. It’s absolutely essential to hydrate your body properly when moving towards optimal health.  Our bodies are 60% water which means we need to continually replenish to flush out toxins and have our body working in the best possible way.

Many of us simply don’t drink enough water throughout the day.  Men should be drinking close to 4 Litres of water and women should be drinking around 3 Litres per day. These numbers are only shocking because of how little we’re used to drinking.

Again, we need to keep hydrating our body properly to help everything from our body to our minds function at the optimal level. Some of us know what it’s like to be dehydrated. We have little energy, headaches and really don’t feel well all around. Now compare how most us feel on a daily basis.

How many times have you heard, ‘I wish I had more energy’? How many people do you know that really don’t feel well for seemingly no reason at all? Lack of sleep, lack of nutrition and what we’ll get into shortly, lack of exercise. And more than anything, lack of hydration.

Our hydration usually consists of sugary drinks and juices. When we have coffee in the morning, caffeine directly affects many different aspects of our body and what’s most important in this circumstance is, coffee is a diuretic. Which means we’re taking fluids away from our body first thing in the morning (and throughout the day) when we need more.  And that’s not considering what we put in coffee with toxic flavoured creamers, regular cream, sugar or other products that take us further away from optimal health.

Then we have concentrated juice and sports drinks that have tons of ingredients, are artificially flavoured, coloured and have more toxins like preservatives in them. These shouldn’t be used by athletes, children or anyone looking to live a healthy lifestyle.

If you read the back of the label, some of these products actually have numbers instead of names for their ingredients. We may want to consider why so much emphasis is put on cheap prices and marketing campaigns instead of what’s actually in their products.

Fitness

Within the 3 essential tips to optimal health there are three levels of fitness. First of all we have stretching which is by far the most over looked aspect of overall health in the fitness world, which is why we’ll get into that first.

Then there is resistance training and lastly cardio. I’ll tell you the biggest mistake in first not having a proper program and second, why we usually don’t see the results we’re looking for even after spending so long on a cardio machine.

Stretching 

I understand stretching seems like a pain to a lot of people, it’s kind of a waste of time, there really is no tangible results and for the most part few of us are ‘looking to be more flexible’. We have limited time, and being in the gym any longer than we have to be is rarely something we look forward to.

So why stretch?  It’s always best to do some form of stretching before starting your routine. There are two kinds of stretching, one is dynamic and the other is static. Dynamic stretching is best used before a working. All it is, is a fancy word for moving stretching.  We’ve all done this before, you may actually do it and not even know it. And if you’re not interested in going through any type of moving stretches breaking a light sweat with a jog around the track or on a cardio machine will do the trick. The point of this exercise is to get your blood flowing so you’re not jumping into an intense program cold.

Static stretching is the one many would call boring. It’s the one where you sit and stretch and seemingly waste time, but that’s not the case.

After a workout we have something called lactic acid in our joints and muscles which is a chemical reaction in our body after strenuous exercise. This lactic acid is the reason we’re sore the next day or two days later. There are two things you can do to help lactic acid move through your body and not sit in your muscles. One is cardio and the other is stretch..

It may not seem all that important but the less sore you are after a workout the quicker you can get back to a higher intensity workout which means the sooner you’ll be able to see results.  If we’re sore all the time, there’s a good chance we won’t be putting 100% into the workouts and at times wasting our time at the gym.

Joint stability is another reason to stretch. Some of us have balance issues in which stretching can help with. Stretching actually improves the mobility around joints which means you’ll be able to simply move easier by being more flexible.

There are benefits to being more flexible, all in which stretching can help with. What about being more limber and mobile? We don’t often think about that when stretching. Regarding functional movements, have you every thought about tying your shoe? It’s shouldn’t be difficult to bend down and tie your shoe without have to sit down. We can find benefits from stretching from little thinks like that that will improve our overall well being that won’t show tangible results (which doesn’t mean they’re any less significant).

What about simply feeling good. Think about what we’re doing in the gym when we workout. We actually and physically shorten our muscles when continually contracting a group of muscles. It really does feel good to gently stretch the muscles back to where they’re supposed to be and then some.

Then of course there is injury prevention. By never stretching and continually contracting our muscles (shortening them) our muscles actually become shorter.  You may not know it but this is exactly why a simple movement could turn into a hindering injury not only at the gym but in life. By stretching on a consistent basis, keeping your muscles long and limber we lessen the chance of injuries due to contracted or tight muscles.

And lastly, our bodies were mean to move and be maneuvered, by taking just a few minutes a day after a workout to roll around on a mat, get in touch with your body and learn to appreciate all the little things our incredibly physical being can do, you’ll take another small step toward optimal health.  You may even find yourself stretching in the morning and finding new energy or stretching in the evening and sleeping better.

Resistance Training 

There are many different way to implement resistance training into your lifestyle. Everyone has their own thoughts and mind set around what the proper way is. I’m not here to tell you what I don’t agree with or what I don’t approve of. In this segment I want to share with you what I’ve found to work with myself and with my clients which doesn’t mean other ways aren’t effective.

In fact, I believe everyone has something different that works for them. Our bodies were all designed differently which means for the most part we’ll all need to find different ways to find our results.

The best way I’ve found results is from body weight, functional exercises that not only help you in the gym but they help you in everyday life as well. Think about a multi functional exercise for a moment. This means there are many ways to find benefits from one specific exercise.

If you look at the opposite we can look at conventional training / bodybuilding which has been around for generations. This type of training is perfect if you want bigger muscles. If you want bigger biceps than by all means do bicep curls. But if you’re looking to gain over all strength and even burn body fat in the process look to an exercise that’s multi functional like a squat curl press exercise.

Again, this is my philosophy and my opinion. First of all you’ll need to do your own research to see what aligns with your beliefs. You should also do some guessing and testing to see what method of resistance trainings works best for your body type.

Cardio

So here we are ending off with dreaded cardio. Who likes to sit or stand on a some cardio equipment that makes us feel like a hamster anyways? The good news is, there are many different forms of cardio you can do. It doesn’t have to be in a gym or on a piece of equipment.

The not so good news is an enjoyable walk, a casual bike ride or even yard work rarely count as cardio. If you’re looking to get results you’ll need to put in a little more effort that. ‘Showing is half the battle’ isn’t exactly the mind set that is going to get you where you want to be.

Now as much as we need to do cardio, the biggest issue with cardio is that many people do cardio and cardio alone. They don’t supplement their resistance training with cardio added. Cardio alone also won’t get you the results you’re looking for.

What you want to do is look at the big picture. Remember at the beginning when I said, the entire optimal fitness journey you are on will need to be looked at like a puzzle. You need all the pieces together to fit to have the whole picture.   So look to cardio as a compliment to your resistance training program not as a stand alone workout.

Consistency 

Consistency plays a major role is any form of success but it’s especially important when we’re talking about 3 essential tips to optimal health. As difficult as it is to stay on track, much like the other steps we previously went over, this is incredibly significant in the big scheme of things.

If you want to see results you need to stay consistent. Working out for a couple weeks in a row then taking a week off will make it difficult for you to get you where you want to go.  It’s no different than if you workout hard then hit the drive through. Results will be very hard to come by if you don’t stay consistent with everything we’re going over here.

Percentages 

I like to look at percentages when coving the top 3 essential tips to optimal health. In this case you get to give your own percentage to how well you’re doing.

A number of weeks after you begin this journey to optimal health you look at Emotional Stress and give yourself an honest answer as to what percentage you think you’re at. Do the same with Nutrition and Fitness.

You’ll need to consider if you’ve identified where your emotional stress comes from, have found stress outlets to release your stress?  We’re all our best coach, no one is going to judge here and no one can be more honest than ourselves. If you have addressed each part of the 3 essential tips to optimal health give yourself a lower percentage and looks for ways to improve and raise that percentage.

Do the same with nutrition. Find a percentage of where you think you’re at. Look at if you’re avoiding toxins, if you’ve found more whole food options and if you’re hydrating properly.

We also need to look at Fitness. Give yourself a percentage based on stretching, resistance training and cardio. Remember no one is going to see your number and only you will know if you can put in more effort or if you’re giving this all you’ve got.

Consistency is last on the list but could be the most important. Remember that everything is based around consistency. If you’re working incredibly hard for short periods of time it will be difficult to keep your percentages where they need to be to find optimal health.

We need to persist, we need to stay motivated and keep moving forward even in the difficult times. Find a way, find something inspiration, find a schedule to stick to and be consistent, this is the true secret to your success.

The Secret to Success in Consistency 

Ask yourself these questions

If you’re not seeing the results you’re looking for try to ask yourself the following questions:

Are my current percentage where I want them to be?

What can I do to increase my percentages in each category?

If I were to stay at my current percentages would I reach my goals?

If not, what am I willing to do to change or make more of an effort?

If you want to have something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done – Jefferson