Most American adults are overweight (69%) and on at least one prescription medicine (67%). Our lifespans may be getting longer, but our health spans are getting shorter. At the time of this writing I’m 39-years old and I’m happy to say I still love handstands, backflips, pull-ups and head stands. My health isn’t a genetic fluke, though. I’m the only member of my family who is not on prescription drugs to manage chronic illness or struggling to lose weight. In this post I share my rules for staying trim, strong and disease free.
Youthfulness is different from fitness.
Youthfulness is a holistic physical and mental state. Physically, the youthful are limber and without pain. They can get on the ground and roughhouse like little kids. Mentally, youthful people are optimistic, open to new experiences, curious, and loving. Youthful health is general health. Meanwhile, narrow, specialized definitions of fitness can can shorten our lives or make us miserable. Marathoners get too much sun and earn leathery faces by their 50s. Jiu Jitsu fighters risk life-long hand and joint pain. Concussions leave MMA fighters and football players with dementia, aggression, and depression. Even soccer and basketball invite injuries that follow us into old age. And yet all of these athletes are “fit” for their sports. For these reasons, I optimize for youthfulness rather than fitness. Here are my tips for getting there:
1. Embrace aging. Then do it on your terms.
Aging is not a battle. It is not a war to be won or an affliction to be hidden. Attempts to hide it make us look silly and will ultimately torpedo our long-term happiness. We should instead strive to age well with a long, healthy life. We should look forward to dying quickly from a sudden illness like pneumonia (rather than dying slowly from chronic illness).
2. Always play.
Games that bring people together and especially those that make us move and laugh are especially good for the soul. Games can be invented anywhere and any time, and and most people are open to play them. One day I set up an obstacle course at my shared workspace. The video is above… people loved it!
3. Hang out with younger people.
Babies, children, teens and people in their 20s almost always teach me to appreciate something I may have lost sight of. These friendships are a two-way street; I find myself mentoring younger people all the time. My family gatherings are attended by senior citizens and babies alike; I try to spend time with people of every age group at those events. It’s a richer and more fun experience than spending time with just one age group.
4. Get lots of sun, but never suntan.
Wear as little as possible, go outside, and sit in the sun for a few minutes every sunny morning. Combine it with exercise or meditation. You won’t be using any sunscreen, so the lighter your skin, the less time in the sun you’ll need. I spend about 30 minutes in the sun each morning, but I have dark skin and rarely burn.
5. Get more than enough sleep.
If you have the luxury, throw out the alarm clock. Sleep in at every opportunity. Value sleep over exercise. Ignore the high-achieving, light sleepers who wake up at 5 am to go running every day. That lifestyle, I believe, is a formula for killing creativity and playfulness. I sleep 8 hours.
6. Eat plants.
Our diet determines how we age. Eat more meat and dairy and you’ll likely age faster, thanks to the artery-clogging effects of meat, and the growth accelerating antibiotics fed to the animals. Eat more plants and less meat and you’ll start looking better right away. I’ve spent the past 14 years as a pescatarian, and recently switched to a strict vegetarian diet (WFPB). Vegan men have 13% higher testosterone levels and and vegans in general enjoy the lowest diabetes rates of any other group.
7. Exercise 20 minutes each day.
A vigorous, 20-minute bout of daily exercise is easy to squeeze in, won’t lead to overtraining or overuse injuries, and will keep your fitness levels high. Team sports are great, but it’s hard to organize a daily get-together. High velocity sports like soccer and basketball inevitably lead to injuries. I do a Power 20 workout every weekday and no exercise at all on the weekends (except playing games). Full disclosure: this is an app I’ve built, and it’s totally awesome.
8. Avoid negative people.
Negativity is contagious, so stay away. Just one negative person in your life will materially impact your well being by posting rage-bait online, by constantly complaining about their lives, speaking badly about others, showing little empathy for those in need, and by finding creative ways to drag you down into their darkness. Severely limit your time and interactions with these people.