Diet, Health, Body Composition and Longevity
The Strength Matters coaching system is primarily concerned with meeting people over 30 at their current ability level, coaching movement, and programming for complete athleticism and longevity. However, success within any fitness training environment is heavily dependent upon factors affecting health. For instance, inflammation restricts movement and eventually causes pain. Inflammation is caused by stress, poor food choices and less than optimal lifestyle habits. As your coaches, we may hit success roadblocks if we fail to consider the many other possible factors affecting your physical being and wellness.
Part 1: Diet Habits For The Everyday Athlete
Would you agree that many people hold emotional attachments to food? Some people are so deeply attached to certain foods that anything except extreme caution could lead to epic failure and the loss of a client. In this section, if we somehow offend your food religion, please skip to the next section on self-healing and don’t burn Strength Matters to the ground. We’re only trying to help.
For the record, the Strength Matters company policy on nutrition is this: Everyone is unique. Most diets work (at least for a short period of time), but it’s a matter of finding the right solution for the right body. We believe in eating real food, listening to your body, questioning where your food comes from and being open-minded and critical when reading studies on food and nutrition. Very cleverly and strategically vague, right?
According to the functional medicine community (specifically Dr. Debbie Bright, Functional Medicine expert and good friend of Strength Matters), out of hundreds of blood labs, the same eight foods keep falling into the red category. This means that people are intolerant to them, can’t digest them, they play havoc with gut health and can cause a host of negative side effects such as skin blemishes, inflammation, common medical conditions or lead to disease. This is not to say that all people are intolerant to all eight, but these are the top eight out of hundreds of tests:
- Added sugar
- Artificial sweeteners
Dr. Bright has had enormous success with turning peoples’ lives around by prescribing a diet that eliminates these eight usual suspects. She made a short manageable program that consists of the top anti-inflammatory foods and the foods that have been found to be the most effective at repairing gut health.
Repairing the gut is powerful stuff. Four of Dr. Bright’s patients have thanked her for saving them many thousands of dollars for infertility treatments because they became pregnant soon after participating in her program. Other clients have thanked her for “curing” medical conditions/illnesses such as depression, IBS and leaky gut syndrome that they have been stuck with for their entire adulthood. Her patients’ skin becomes vibrant. Energy levels soar. Oh, and they tend to be very pleased with their healthy new body composition.
The top anti-inflammatory foods according to Harvard University are:
- Olive oil
- Green leafy vegetables
- Almonds and walnuts
- Fatty fish
- Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries and oranges
- Raw, organic gluten-free oats
- Green tea Dark chocolate
- Red peppers
- Black beans
- Chia seeds
The top gut-repairing foods according to Dr. Debbie Bright are:
- Bone Broth
- Steamed vegetables
- Non-dairy fermented foods (unsweetened coconut milk yogurt, coconut milk kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi)
- Coconut oil
- Grass-fed meats
- Wild-caught fatty fish and high-quality fish oil
- Cooked apples (with skins on)
As humans, we are all very different and no single diet is right for all of us. However, a good place to start seems to be cutting out the foods that we know cause inflammation in most people and eating more of the foods that we know decreases inflammation and repairs gut health.
Does Your Diet Work?
“Is your skin in good health and completely free of blemishes? Can you see your abs? Do you maintain consistently high energy levels throughout the day without drinking coffee? Do you take a dump at least twice per day?”
If the answer is no to any of the above, there’s something wrong with your diet.”
— Steve Maxwell
Superfoods and Blood Labs
Hang on a minute! According to insert any trusted source, yogurt is a superfood. But yogurt contains dairy. Oatmeal is also a superfood but could contain gluten (always look for the gluten-free version). Eggs are one of the most nutritious food sources on the planet according to a trusted source. How can they be inflammatory? Deep sigh, it’s all so confusing. Just give us pizza.
Remember, everybody is unique. Greek yogurt may be great for some people’s immune system but could cause skin irritation around the nose and mouth for others. Egg whites, while a great source of protein, could be your secret nemesis. But reaping the benefits of the delicious and highly nutritious yolk could be just what you need. There are more than 60 forms of gluten and, according to some highly respected functional medicine practitioners, none of them are digestible by humans.
As far as we can tell there are two ways of finding out for sure what you should and shouldn’t eat.
- Get a blood lab done by a reputable source. This is the quick and accurate, albeit expensive, method. We hear the following are very good: Cyrex Laboratories and Vibrant Wellness.
- Elimination diet. Cut your diet down to a strict Pegan (paleo-vegan) style (eliminating nuts or seeds as well) for three weeks. Then once a week, introduce one of the eliminated food groups back into the mix. This can take an age and an almost inhuman level of discipline, but this method has reportedly cured a huge range of ailments including diabetes, osteoarthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and abscesses on the skin. However, it generally takes a life-threatening illness or intense pain to offer enough motivation for anyone to comply with this hardcore method.
We’re nearly at the end of the diet section so we’ll leave you with some food rules. These are partly stolen from Michael Pollan’s amazing little handbook, Food Rules, and partly our own. Sticking to these simple rules will generally fix problems and keep you out of harm’s way.
- Spend 30-60 minutes every Sunday planning your meals for the week
- Eat locally sourced, real food, mostly plants
- Eat veggies that are fresh and organic
- Eat meats of animals that were free range and ate well themselves
- Maintain a constant state of hydration
- Eat fish that swam in the wild and ate foods that fish are supposed to eat
- Avoid mass-produced and processed foods where possible
- Anything cooked from scratch at home is fair game
- Read all food labels
- Don’t eat anything if you don’t recognize every ingredient
- Don’t eat anything your grandmother would not have heard of unless it’s a superfood
- Eat less inflammatory food
- Eat more anti-inflammatory food
- Don’t eat poison (see below)
Poison: Common food-like substances or ingredients that reduce life and cause inflammation with every bite or sip.
- Diet soda
- High fructose corn syrup
- Palm oil
- Shortening or partially hydrogenated oil
- White flour, white rice, white bread, white pasta
- Artificial sweeteners
- Sodium benzoate/potassium benzoate
- Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
- Sodium nitrates/sodium nitrites
- Artificial colors blue, green, red and yellow
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Part 2: Self-Healing
The human body is a brilliant organism that’s hardwired for survival and reproduction. We are the product of millions of years of adaptation and evolution. Our bodies want to thrive and be healthy. We are built to be strong, robust, athletic and resilient. When we’re sick, our bodies want to kill the virus and return to full health. When we’re injured our tissues magically heal. When we’re in pain our brains always find a way of performing necessary movements without causing further injury. All we must do is provide the right environment for all this to happen.
While most wellness professionals are not qualified to assess or treat medical conditions or injuries, we, as fitness professionals work on the front line of health. We have the most contact and the closest relationships with our clients. For some, we are the only source of advice relating to their health and fitness. It is extremely common for one of our clients to confide in us about certain medical conditions that possibly nobody else knows about.
On hearing about a medical condition or injury that we know we are not insured or qualified to advise on, assess or treat, we refer out. However, we do advise that if the following five elements are present, they will give your body the best possible chance to heal itself, while they wait for a medical appointment.
- Healthy eating habits:
(See the previous section)
- Locomotion: From the moment we were born we’ve been trying to move from A to B. Locomotion is the master movement pattern. Forget squats, hinges, etc., without locomotion we can’t procreate and we die. All humans are built for walking and are meant to do so for a reasonable distance every day. Every able-bodied human under the age of 80 should walk a minimum of 10,000 steps a day. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t walk more than 2,000 steps per day. Walking (if you are physically capable), without looking at smartphones, is one of the most effective ways of reducing stress and inflammation, and therefore is one of the most powerful natural medicines.
- Hydration: Ninety-nine percent of adults live in a perpetual state of dehydration. When we are dehydrated, the brain puts the body into survival mode. A signal is sent to store fat under the skin because we’ll need it for energy later on. Living in a state of hydration increases the function of all systems in the body. It reduces stress, helps with immune cell production, skin health, heart health, cardiovascular performance, and strength. The list of benefits is endless.
- Rest: When we sleep, all of our cells repair and grow. Many of the oldest people in the world attribute their longevity to having had lots of sleep throughout their lives. Granted, sleeping is easier said than done when kids, traveling, a stressful job — so many of life’s stressors— are involved. A hydrated human who walks a minimum of 10,000 steps per day has a way better chance of sleeping well.
Sleep = reduced stress = good health
- Daily joint mobility: Moving our joints to their end range of pain-free motion repeatedly every day helps remove toxins, improves circulation, reduces stress and acute pain in other body parts, increases lymphatic flow and heals many common, chronic musculoskeletal injuries.
Although applying these elements may bring you back to full health, we strongly advise that you still make use of a great medical network.
The Medical/Pharmaceutical Industry
Medical doctors are good people and our respect for them is huge. Reaching their level of education took years of hard work, sacrifice, and expense for the purpose of helping people. We are not qualified to contradict any advice given by a medical doctor and we do not intend to do so.
However, the fact remains that the medical school curriculum is heavily dictated by the sponsorship of pharmaceutical companies. Most medical practices are sponsored and incentivized by pharmaceutical companies. Most treatments prescribed by medical doctors involve a mass-produced synthetic drug. Many medical doctors are overworked and the time allocated to them per patient is nowhere near enough time to make a full appraisal of the case they have before them. Is it any wonder that 70% of all Americans are on at least one prescription drug?
We know that taking antibiotics kills the all-important good bacteria in our gut and makes us infinitely more susceptible to future viral and bacterial attacks. We know that the vast majority of prescription drugs only treat symptoms, not the cause. We know that more people die from prescription medication abuse in America than from road accidents. Ingesting a synthetic product into our beautifully evolved, self-sufficient systems that upsets the natural chemical balance and causes side-effect after side-effect is a violation of common sense. Sure, some drugs save lives, but in the event of sickness why not try giving your body what it naturally needs for good health before defaulting to manmade, mass-produced chemicals?
Ask any medical doctor this question: On the first signs of illness, if every would-be patient took the following steps, how would that affect their health or symptoms?
- Fully hydrate for two to three days.
- Cancel everything and just rest.
- Cut out inflammatory foods. Eat anti-inflammatory foods and superfoods.
- Do some light movement in the form of a low-threshold joint mobility sequence.
- Spend a few minutes, several times per day doing focused diaphragmatic breathing.
- Go for a slow relaxing walk if energy levels allow it.
Six out of ten doctors that we asked said that most illnesses would be cured. The other four said this would cure all illnesses that they prescribe pharmaceuticals for on a day-to-day basis.
Part 3: Managing Body Composition
“How many sessions per week do you think I need in order to strip two inches from my waist in three months?”
“I want three personal training sessions per week because I need to get into my wedding dress.”
“I need a six-pack for my Vegas trip in four weeks!”
Do any of these sound familiar? Many coaches, trainers, and therapists love to help people move better, improve fitness and work towards specific strength or performance related goals. However, the sad truth is that the vast majority of everyday exercisers between the age of 25-50 years of age only participate in physical exercise to change their body composition and reduce fat. Very few actually care about being able to move well, build strength or agility for the sake of health and longevity.
When we hear a goal relating to body composition during the consultation process, the response is: “There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s say you paid us to train you four times every week. We assess your body type and give you the most effective combination of exercises and movements that would be guaranteed to give you the biggest bang for your buck. If you put 100% effort into these sessions but changed nothing else in your life, results would be minimal and temporary. You’ll end up paying some other trainer this time next year to go through the same thing.
However, if you had no personal training sessions and did no extra exercise but managed several key diet and lifestyle factors, you would see faster, longer-lasting results. Would you be willing to take on some daily habits that would nail long-term success and help you get the very most out your sessions with us?”
Exercise only counts for about 20% of body composition goals. The rest is approximately 50% diet and 30% lifestyle habits. We’ve already covered diet habits in Part 1. In our experience, the following lifestyle habits offer the greatest bang for the body composition buck.
Imagine the response to a sudden fright — BANG! It causes a sharp shallow breath with the chest and shoulders. Most adults spend all day breathing with their chest and shoulders, mainly as a result of spending years in a chair. This is exactly the type of breathing caused by stress and panic, and most adults take 20,000 – 35,000 panic breaths every day.
The signal is sent to the brain that we’re in survival mode, and immediately the body goes to work storing fat under the skin.
breathing with the chest = unnecessary fat under the skin
The diaphragm should be about 95% responsible for every breath we take, but most diaphragms remain dormant (leading to an extensive host of other common ailments (one such ailment is elbow tendinitis). Re-teaching yourself to breathe correctly takes some time, but a few minutes of focus diaphragmatic breathing every day is a perfect place to start. It is also one of the most powerful tools you have available for reducing stress, decreasing the rate of injury and increasing your ability to perform. Try to spend the very first three to five minutes of every day practicing diaphragmatic breathing.
2. Address the Workstation
The negative effects of sitting all day deserve an entire chapter. But in terms of calories, the difference between someone sitting at their desk for eight hours per day, versus being on their feet, is equal to the calorie expenditure of ten to twelve marathons a year.
Rick was a senior member of a bank based in London and had struggled with being clinically obese for many years (mostly due to his playboy lifestyle and drinking habits). He agreed to try standing at his desk for six weeks. He changed nothing else about his routine. He still had two personal training sessions per week, he still ate out for most meals and binge drank two to four nights of the week. For the first three weeks, he stood up for the first five hours of his day until lunch and sat for the remainder. For the following three weeks, he stood at his desk all day (eight to ten hours). He lost 11 pounds in six weeks.
Standing still all day long is arguably worse than sitting in a chair all day. There are key elements to a standing workstation that create a shrine for productivity, good movement, and improving posture.
3. Walk/Cycle to Work
Try to think outside the box. People think that walking is impossible, but maybe they haven’t considered parking a mile from the office or alighting the bus/train one or two stops early.
4. Shopping Lists and Meal Prep
Generally, people go wrong when impulse decisions are made about what to eat. A great lifestyle habit that also encourages good food habits is spending 30-60 minutes every Sunday planning meals and writing a shopping list. After a few weeks of success, a follow-up habit could be preparing lunches and snacks for three of the five work days, for example.
5. Movement Snacks
Try to take regular movement snacks at pre-agreed intervals. This needs to be something that easily fits into your daily routine. Each movement snack should not be more than two minutes, to begin with, so you don’t see it as an interruption to your work. You could set up automatic alerts to remind yourself.
This is probably the most effective of all the above mentioned. Try to figure out a way of drinking enough water throughout the day. One large glass of water should be consumed five to ten minutes before eating meals. This not only offers the endless benefits of being hydrated, but it also reduces hunger and leads to more activity (trips to the toilet).
Women: 2 – 2.5 liters of water per day
Men: 2.5 – 3 liters of water per day
7. Fitness Tracking
The use of a fitness tracker to measure ones’ steps, such as that built into a smartphone or Fitbit, can be a very powerful means to get someone moving more. With devices such as Fitbit and Apple Watch, you can form groups and competitions for increased engagement. It also helps you monitor friends and family activity with ease.
Part 4: The Blue Zones
Blue Zones are areas that have the highest proportion of people who live to be over 100 years old. These are the regions that Dan Buettner, founder of the Blue Zones study, researched:
- Barbagia region, Sardinia
- Ikaria, Greece
- The Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
- Loma Linda, California
- Okinawa, Japan
Buettner was sponsored by National Geographic magazine to closely examine these areas and, among other things, find evidence-based common denominators. The similarities amongst these populations were:
- They live in environments that encourage natural movement.
- They live with purpose. They know why they wake up in the morning.
- They regularly downshift. They reduce stress levels by participating in a daily ritual. (Okinawans take a few moments to remember their ancestors, Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Linda pray, Ikarians nap and Sardinians have cocktail hour.)
- They eat until they are 80% full.
- They eat mostly plants. Meat (mostly pork) is only eaten an average of five times per month.
- They drink wine moderately and regularly (in all locations but Loma Linda).
- They have a sense of social belonging to a faith-based group.
- There’s a strong family connection between generations and they put their loved ones first.
- They are part of a strong social circle.
We direct you to learn a lot more by visiting www.BlueZones.com
Part 5: The Six Pillars For Health, Fitness, And Longevity
As far as we are concerned at Strength Matters, if the following six elements are present in everyone’s daily lives, all health and fitness goals would be relatively straightforward, and life expectancy would rise.
Managing these pillars comes before any programming because, without them, success in reaching any fitness goal is inconsistent, slow and temporary. Without going too crazy, the following habits could also be added into the mix which might eliminate the need for healthcare, indefinitely:
- Sit in chairs less often. Ideally, no more than three hours per day.
- Floss teeth once daily, brush twice daily.
- Wear a seatbelt.
- Don’t fiddle with a mobile device while driving.
- Don’t drive while under the influence.
- Spend the last 15 minutes a day reflecting on the things you’re most grateful for.
- Spend at least one day per week completely detached from all electronic devices and spending time with loved ones.
- Avoid household cleaning products that contain toxic chemicals.
- Avoid using soaps, shampoos, shower gels or any other personal hygiene and beauty products that contain synthetic chemicals.
- Think of things you are grateful for. What went well today?
With the exception of having to spend a little more money on good quality foods and taking an Uber home when drinking, all of the above habits are completely free. There you have it. We’ve solved healthcare in the western world and added 20 – 30 years onto the national life expectancy. As you know, the real trick is sticking to and adopting these daily habits. The key is baby steps.
Every Journey Begins With A Single Step
If you’ll take that first step, you can achieve anything you want. The Five Steps won’t be easy, but they’re guaranteed to work if you follow them. And we’re here to help every step of the way. But it’s up to you to get started. Are you ready?