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The perfect strategy for a strong, lean, healthy, and happy body

The perfect strategy for a strong, lean, healthy, and happy body
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uppose you want to look and feel as good as possible by the time the sun is out and quarantini will be replaced with a bellini. Suppose you also want to live as long as possible. Suppose you want to optimize your hormone balance, energy, mood, fertility, strength, power, and cardiovascular capacity. Suppose you want to introduce only the most effective strategies into your routine - not to prepare for a triathlon, casting for Baywatch series, or swing your hips - but rather to maximize your wellbeing and look good naked. What’s the perfect strategy for a strong, lean, healthy, and happy body? 

The perfect strategy is the one that works for you. Ideally, this strategy incorporates a mindset shift moving away from constantly “improving, maximizing, enhancing” towards “controlling the damage,” which requires to get the basic fundamentals right. Our body is an intelligent system that, when undisturbed, knows how to repair and achieve its best self.

Sleep 

# 8 hours, regular hours

When you don’t sleep enough, you’ve got double trouble: your body’s ability to metabolize glucose is impaired and your desire to consume more sugar is increased. Research has shown that getting between 4-5 hours of sleep per night causes insulin resistance and high glycemic variability, leading to appetite cravings and weight gain in people who would otherwise be healthy. It’s scary to realize that all it takes to cause this type of damage is a single night of terrible sleep. So fix your sleep. Sleep deprivation is known to raise cortisol levels, reduce glucose tolerance, increase sympathetic nervous system activity (drama mode on), reduce levels of the satiety-inducing hormone leptin, and increase levels of the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin. 

One thing you can do today: Give your body a chance to sleep 8 hours by going to bed at the latest before 23:00 or 01:00. Work on establishing a regular sleep routine by going to bed at the same time every day (+/- half an hour), even on weekends​. Find out precisely how you can achieve results by just sleeping in The 6 Minute Guide to Wellbeing in 2021.

Fast, before you feast

# Fasting

doesn’t mean suffering or giving up all your favorite foods. Our metabolism is programmed for periods of feast and fast. Unlike constantly-grazing cows with four stomachs, we aren’t designed to constantly munch something. Fasting is not just about reduced calorie intake. The food we eat is broken down by enzymes in our gut and eventually ends up as molecules in our bloodstream. Carbohydrates, particularly sugars and refined grains (think white flour and rice), are quickly broken down into sugar, which our cells use for energy. If our cells don’t use it, we store it in our fat cells as fat. But sugar can only enter our cells with insulin, which brings the sugar into the fat cells and keeps it there. Between meals, as long as we don’t snack, our insulin levels go down and fat cells can then release their stored sugar, to be used as energy. We lose weight if we let our insulin levels go down. The entire idea of Intermittent Fasting is to allow the insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off our fat.

One thing you can do today: Limit the hours of the day when you eat to 8-12 hours, and for health’s sake, make it earlier in the day (e.g., 10 am to 6 pm). If that’s tough, start with 12 hours “break” between dinner and breakfast first, then gradually shift your dinner to an earlier hour.

Feast, but smartly

# Reduce inflammation

There’s good and there’s bad inflammation: acute and chronic inflammation. Acute inflammation ushers in a healing process and occurs for example when you do a high intensity workout and your muscle fibers are broken down and then rebuild even stronger. Chronic inflammation is when you overload your body with physical and mental stress to the point that it produces a constant stream of inflammatory chemicals. While there are numerous chemicals and enzymes involved in inflammation which you don’t need to know but just understand one thing: chronic inflammation is systemic and it affects the entire body. Inflammatory food and chronic stress (any kind of stress you can think of, from work to relationship to shallow breathing) are the two most common sources of inflammation. As your limbic system becomes overstimulated, your immune system can become hyperactive and begin to see many foods and supplements as foreign invaders. With prevailing inflammation, building a strong, lean, healthy and happy body is mission impossible. 

One thing you can do today: Eliminate foods that promote inflammation such as added sugar (granola, fruit yogurt), trans fat (cooking oils, pastries), processed food (processed meat such as salami), omega-6s (sunflower oil, peanuts), refined carbs (bread, crackers, white rice). Watch our free masterclass about framework for healthy nutrition. To counteract stressors, do relaxing exercises, breathwork, yoga, meditation, walking in nature, sleep, or any other stress-relieving activity of your choice.

# Eat more micronutrient dense foods / address deficiencies

While fat, protein, and carbohydrates are crucial nutrients, they say nothing about equally crucial vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients that your body needs to function at a basic level. Research has shown that specific nutrient deficiencies are associated with weight gain. Lack of vitamin D, chromium, biotin, thiamine, and antioxidants can prevent fat loss via mechanisms that include altered insulin gene transcription and changes to glucose and amino acid metabolism. Metabolism and weight loss are also negatively affected by deficiencies in magnesium, vitamin A, K2, and choline. Micronutrient deficiencies may also be causing chronic inflammation and sleep disruption, which again inhibits healthy metabolism and mood.

One thing you can do today: Eat colourfully. The more variety on your plate, the merrier. Can you eat 150 different foods in a week? Download a complete list of foods to enjoy, reduce, and eliminate.

# Have a regular eating schedule

Research suggests that for some people - especially women - maintaining a regular eating schedule can improve the metabolic response to meals. So if you are having trouble losing weight, rather than skipping breakfast some days and eating in on others or having dinner late some nights and early the other nights, you should establish a more consistent meal pattern. Heck, I’ve seen clients who drop unnecessary fat layers like greek gods drop their linen clothing (can I say that? Anyways, they ate porridge for breakfast, salad with eggs for lunch, meat or fish and vegetables for dinner) at the same time for a few months. In one study of healthy lean women, an irregular meal pattern resulted in lower post-meal metabolism than a regular meal pattern. In another study, lean women who ate meals on a regular schedule had better insulin sensitivity and improved blood fat levels. So while some people may thrive on a spontaneous eating schedule, for many people irregular meal times may significantly lower the metabolic rate. The result can be dysregulated appetite and altered metabolism.

One thing you can do today: If you don’t have a structured eating schedule and you are having trouble losing weight, try eating at the same times every day for a while, and try to keep the volume and nature of the meals relatively consistent. 

Exercise

# The minimum effective dose: HIIT on an empty stomach

When you strength train, you increase your ability to drive glucose into your muscle tissue instead of into a fat depot. Strength training decreases blood glucose levels and increases insulin sensitivity. When you do pre-breakfast cardio, you also control your blood sugar and increase metabolic rate, so that you burn energy later in the day more efficiently. Find out more, why strength is essential for lean, healthy body.

One thing you can do today: Join our open and free HIT class Monday - Friday at 08:00-08:20. No registration required.

# Move 

Weight loss requires an expenditure of energy greater than the intake of energy. If you sit 8 hours or longer and don’t spend enough energy to counterbalance breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, no matter how much exercise is performed at the beginning or end of the day (especially if that exercise is cardio). A sedentary lifestyle is associated with metabolic syndrome, increased obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. When you sit for too long, your blood sugar levels go haywire because a low level of physical activity causes unfavorable changes in insulin signalling glucose transport and the activity of lipoprotein lipase, the primary enzyme responsible for breaking down fats. One study found that low-volume, easy walking for thirty minutes after a meal can keep the concentration of fat in the blood 18% lower than sitting or standing after a meal. So, not only should you exercise before breakfast in a fasted state, but you should also go on an easy 20-30 minute walk immediately after dinner. And yes, chasing the kids, dancing, or having sex count as walking. 

One thing you can do today: Move more. Stand at work, walk home, take stairs, take a break for 1-minute jumping jacks or squats, find more ways to move. Remember this: while a formal workout in the morning or evening is not necessary for weight loss, low-level activity throughout the day absolutely is. Read this article to get a mental kick and get movin'.

Relax

# Reduce stress

Chronic stress restricts your ability to shed that extra weight around your midsection. Cortisol acts by suppressing insulin secretion, inhibiting glucose uptake into your cells, and disrupting insulin signalling to muscle tissue. In other words: chronic stress causes insulin resistance, which then leads to weight-loss resistance, increased inflammation, elevated blood fat, and cholesterol levels. Once you learn how to manage stress and reduce cortisol, the extra belly fat will vanish. Stressors that spike cortisol include loss of a loved one, relationship and personality conflicts, work or academic pressure, constant pressure to perform, emotions such as boredom (!), anger, hunger, depression, fear or anxiety, toxins from food or environment, poor oxygen intake (shallow breathing), uncomfortable clothing and shoes, social media, lack of support from loved ones. 

One thing you can do today: pick and implement one strategy out of 40 effective ways proposed in this article that helps you relax physically AND mentally.

# Do not over-exercise

Even exercise, when performed in excess, can leave you chronically stressed and with elevated cortisol levels. And overtraining does not only happen to athletes but to anybody who already leads a stressful lifestyle and does not recover properly, undernourish their bodies, deregulate hormones or fail to get quality sleep. 

One thing you can do today: To please the urgency “I must make my body better,” do some easy yoga, a cold bath, a massage, or a walk instead of another intense or medium intense workout. See it as active recovery for better performance later.

Freeze

# Thermogenesis

When most think of fat, they usually refer to the bad fat around the belly, waist, hips, bootie, and thighs. But that’s just the tip of the fatberg. Bad fat, also known as white fat, is the stored energy that sits there waiting for you to use it, and while waiting, it provides a bit of insulation and organ cushioning. In contrast, brown fat is located around the sernum, clavicle, and rib cage and generates heat by directly mobilizing the energy stored in white fat. You guessed it: exposure to cold supports (bad) fat burn. But there is more to it: beige fat. Beige fat is brown fat that, after exposure to cold appears within white fat tissue. This process is known as the browning of white fat tissue. The key takeaway is that cold exposure stimulates brown fat to burn white fat, so one of your “getting lean” primary strategies should be daily cold thermogenesis: daily cold showers, weekly soak in the lake or ice tub, or frequent forays from the sauna to the cold and back. Regular exposure to cold enhances your capacity to burn fat in the long term.

One thing you can do today: take a 30-second cold shower and then increase the duration by 10 seconds every day until you reach 2 to 5 minutes (or as long as you want). Cold showers also stimulate your nervous system, which will make you feel alert and set you up for an active day. Watch our suggestion for how and why getting cold is so worth the pain.

_ _ _ _ _ 

Resources:

Boundless: Upgrade Your Brain, Optimize Your Body & Defy Aging, 2020 by Ben Greenfield

The 6 Minute Guide to Wellbeing in 2021, AURUM

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