In the past year, I have been going back to basics to enhance my mental and physical performance and emotional behavior.
I have discovered three things that leverage my overall wellbeing.
They are the blocking and tackling of personal growth habits. Everything builds on a foundation of sound fundamentals, and these three things are the most fundamental to life. We tend to overlook them because they are so obvious. We have developed automatic behaviors around them that may not serve us.
Just bringing them to your attention so that you can focus on them can have a profound impact on health and happiness.
These are things you can do without much effort other than being mindful.
By getting the fundamentals covered consistently, other habits become more comfortable, and performance is enhanced.
Things that we do frequently become things we do on autopilot. It’s always worth examining our systems for living and upgrade what’s not optimal. Bringing them to our attention is the first step.
Here are the three things we repeatedly do, ranked in order of how long we can go without doing them:
Each one of these has a profound impact on our health and wellbeing. Breathing, drinking, and sleeping are fundamental. We have been doing them our entire life, and they get overlooked for improvement and optimization.
I thought I knew how to do them, but there is a lot I didn't know. And I didn’t even know that I didn’t know. We are sometimes blind to the obvious and also blind to our blindness.
Most of us can only hold our breath for a minute or less. We are in deep doo-doo if we can't keep continually breathing. But what is the best way to breathe? And how often is optimal?
We should breathe through our noses and not our mouths. The nose passage and sinuses filter the air, moisten it, warm it, and prepare it for the lungs.
Nasal breathing produces nitric oxide, which is a vasodilator and promotes pulmonary function.
The restorative wonders of nasal breathing are well documented in the scientific literature. Don’t be a mouth breather.
Most of us breathe too shallow and too frequently. The reasonable breathing rate for an adult is between 12 and 20 breaths per minute.
Deep belly breaths get air deep into the lungs. Feel your diaphragm and let it drop and expand into your belly. Martial arts like tai chi and Qigong teach focusing on the lower abdomen called the dan tian.
The diaphragm is sometimes considered the second heart for its role in promoting the circulatory system.
Meditation teaches focusing on deep and slow breaths. Mediation breathing is called prana, and yoga breathing practices are called pranayama.
Besides breathing deep into the belly, try focusing on breathing into your back and getting air into the back of the lungs. My yoga teacher taught me that one, and it helps to focus on breathing expansively. When we breathe, we usually focus on expanding the chest.
You can relax with deep breathing. Breathing deeply and slowly calms us down by energizing the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve communicates with the diaphragm. The vagus nerve sends an anti-inflammatory signal to other parts of the body.
When I was quitting smoking, I realized that part of smoking satisfaction was inhaling deeply and slowly. I realized I didn't need the cigarette to breathe deeply, and I started just focusing on my breath and breathing deeply. This practice helped me quit smoking, which is one of the best things I ever did. Many times it's not what you do but what you don't do that brings immense benefits.
It’s not just inhaling that is important. The exhalation is just as important.
Breathing can help us control our weight. For every ten pounds of fat loss in our bodies, eight comes out through the lungs as carbon dioxide and water vapor. Focus on the exhale and think about that.
Remember to breathe. Anytime things seem to get overwhelming, take the time to focus on your breath, breath slowly and deeply.
Expanding the lungs and breathing deeply has been shown to reverse disease states and lengthen lives. Deep breaths decrease inflammation.
Breathing is critical to blood chemistry, PH levels, blood gases, heart rate, and other vital signs.
It's not all about oxygen. Carbon dioxide levels in the blood are essential for efficient oxygen exchange. Slow breathing helps to balance oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the body.
One of the best ways to prevent chronic health problems, improve athletic performance, and extend longevity is to focus on how we breathe.
After breathing, water is the next thing we need to continually replenish in order to survive. To perform optimally, we need lots of it.
Up to 60% of the human adult body is water. According to H.H. Mitchell, writing in the Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, the brain and heart are 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even our bones are watery: 31%.
According to Harvard Health,
Drinking enough water each day is crucial for many reasons: to regulate body temperature, keep joints lubricated, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly. Being well-hydrated also improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood.
Water is the best thing you can drink. It is difficult to drink too much water. It is very easy to drink too little water and be dehydrated.
Dehydration affects performance.
Water detoxifies the body as it pulls waste products out of cells and filters them through the kidneys and out of the body.
I read an interview with quarterback Tom Brady who said he drinks 200 ounces of water a day. That goal stuck with me. That is what I have been using as my aspirational drinking goal. I have a 12-ounce glass, and I keep a casual count of how many I drink during the day. If I get to around ten glasses, I feel good. That's 120 ounces. Someday soon, I plan to mark them down and see if I can get to 15 glasses.
I drink tap water that I filter through a Brita style system.
I drink green tea with fresh ginger and turmeric. I also drink black coffee. That is all I drink: water, tea, and coffee. I have weaned myself off any sweetened drinks with sugar or sugar substitutes. And I drink minimal fruit juice.
I hardly ever have alcoholic drinks. I used to drink a lot of beer, wine, and cocktails. I have lost interest in them. I realize I was drinking to compensate for not feeling so great emotionally and psychologically. I was living for the weekend. I worked on those issues, and now I have no interest in booze. It's not like I exercise will power not to drink, I just don't want to do it anymore. I no longer have the discipline to booze it up all the time. It feels amazing never to have a hangover or make stupid decisions while under the influence.
After breathing and hydration, sleep is the next thing we can’t do without for long.
Sleep is a vital, often neglected, component of overall health and wellbeing. Sleep is vital because it allows the body to repair. Getting adequate rest may also help prevent excess weight gain, heart disease, and increased illness duration.
Research shows that after just 24 hours without sleep, there is an overall reduction of six percent in glucose reaching the brain. To put it simply: You get dumber.
Sleep can boost your immune system, which can be a critical component of avoiding or reducing the effects of Covid.
Lack of sleep is a chronic problem for many of us. We need 8-9 hours of sleep per night. And we can’t make up for lost sleep by sleeping 14 hours on the weekend.
Create a dark bedroom that is cool and quiet.
Reading before bed is an excellent way to wind down and put your mind in a tranquil and thoughtful place.
Turn off the TV well before bed. We can all afford to do with less TV.
If you have trouble falling asleep or wake up in the middle of the night, try focusing on deep, slow breaths. I do this, and I will often fall asleep before I realize I'm doing it very long.
I turn off my phone and leave it on my desk in my study. It’s not with me in the bedroom when it's sleep time.
Better sleep means a better mood.
It’s a new year. Make it a priority to explore breathing, drinking water, and sleeping. Habits like these, when adopted together, have the power to transform a life.
Human mood and wellbeing are heavily influenced by simple things like good sleep, breathing, and hydration. It’s cheap to experiment with these.
Keep fine-tuning these practices to find what works best for you. Let me know what you discover and share your tips. Stay fit and healthy—peace out.