The top five questions I use to check my health:
1) How’s my hunger? What am I craving?
- My health and performance are determined by a combination of sleep, stress level and food quality. Hunger and food cravings are the first indicator my chemistry is out of whack. “Out of whack” is almost always caused by some combination of too much stress (mental or physical), too many carbs and not enough nutrients.
2) How’s my mood? How clear is my head?
- Along with hunger & cravings, mood and mental clarity are early warning signals that I need to take better care of myself. Sleep and stress play huge roles in how I feel and how well I’m making decisions. If my food, stress levels, and the quantity and quality of my sleep aren’t supporting clear thinking, I know I’m negatively impact my health.
3) How’s my skin? Do I have any aches & pains?
- Skin quality, aches and pains are indicators I use to track systemic inflammation. The frequency and size of any rashes or skin issues and the intensity and longevity of any aches and pains provide indicators of my inflammation levels. I track systemic inflammation because elevated inflammation levels lead to longer recovery time from workouts, injuries, and illness and a higher probability of developing chronic health issues.
4) How’s my digestion?
- Right now our son is a year and a half. My wife and I talk about our son’s poop everyday. Size, frequency, color, the works. I don’t talk about my poop but I pay attention to it. The consistency and frequency of poop and the absence or presence of indigestion are all indicators of how healthy my gut is. I know that a healthy gut is critical for adequate nutrient absorption. I know the body is a tube, skin controls what gets into the body from the outside of the “tube”, the gut controls what gets into the body from the inside of the “tube”.
5) How much fat am I carrying? Where am I carrying it?
- Fat is a lagging indicator – there’s a delay between when I eat pizza and when it shows up as a load of laundry on my washboard abs or bagels on the waist band. There is a direct correlation between how much fat I’m carrying and how many carbs I’ve been eating. There’s a direct correlation between my hormone levels and where I’m carrying the fat. Excess pounds and/or uneven distribution are indicators that I’ve been running with excess blood sugar and/or excess stress for a prolonged period of time.
Regardless of the symptoms, if my health and performance are not 100% there are five items that I always start with to make things better (I’m always trying to be better, so I’m always tweaking one or all five of these).
1) Lowering stress.
- Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) are the fancy terms. I know some stress is good – stress keeps the pipes clear and promotes adaptation. Too much stress and cortisol levels remain high, the maintenance system (i.e. the PNS) never kicks in and the body doesn’t do maintenance and healing. Stress can be driven by thoughts, not enough sleep, too much exercise or not enough food. I know that eating less and exercising more is a “double whammy” for driving up stress levels and elevating blood sugar.
2) Improving sleep quality and quantity.
- My wife and I have a toddler. He eats well and has a ton of energy – so my wife and I rarely get the sleep quantity we need. I know we can’t “bank” sleep, so we catch up where we can and I try to improve the quality of sleep as much as I can with cool, dark rooms and clearing my brain before hitting the pillow. Quantity and quality of sleep indicators I track are: (1) how hard is it to fall asleep at night? (2) how easy is it to wake up in the morning? (3) how often do I wake up in the middle of the night? (4) If I do wake up in the middle of the night, how hard is it for me to get back to sleep?
3) Improving food quality and drinking more water.
- My meal planning is: (1) choose a vegetable. (2) choose a meat. If my chemistry is out of whack it’s usually due to laziness. If I’m “hangry” (hungry + angry), it’s usually because I’m eating too many carbs (i.e. pizza) and not enough nutrients (eggs, soup, green leafy vegetables). To fix the situation I make sure and get green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, etc) and nutrient dense foods (eggs, butter, soup) back in my meals ASAP. It’s possible to drink too much water, but I usually run at the “too little” end of the spectrum. More water is an easy first step for headaches and fuzzy thinking.
4) Getting 15 minutes of focused movement a day.
- I’ve found that the greatest return on investment for exercise is 15 minutes of mobility work per day. I know my over all physical fitness (the measure of my physical capacity to do work) is a combination of mobility, coordination, strength and endurance. Without a strong base consistency of mobility (range of motion for the work) and coordination (movement efficiency) strength and endurance will suffer and injuries are guaranteed. I know my lymph system (waste management system) relies on muscle contractions and gravity to do it’s job. My goal is 10 to 15 minutes of focused movement a day, no gym, no equipment required. More workout time yields bigger gains in capacity, but the first 15 minutes provide the largest return on investment.
5) Thinking and sorting it out.
- The goal is to be present – to be aware of what is going on around me and enjoy the little things. For me, being present requires preparation. A few minutes everyday thinking about what my priorities are and sorting out what gives me energy and what sucks the life out of me helps make decisions easier and reduces stress. I know the brain has a remarkable ability to adapt to anything. I know all my emotions are driven by triggers. I know the triggers aren’t always obvious or conscious.