Healthy food, exercise, good sleep. We all know these things are important to good health but it seems so hard to get them right and are there other important things we should think about?
There are so many conflicting opinions on which foods to eat, how to go about your exercise, how to get good sleep as well as what other things are important to live a healthy life.
There must be a simple way to get all this right, surely?
Well, we think we’ve cracked the code to make small but massive improvements in all the right areas. The advice in this article should help you see definite improvements in your life and lead you into the next, exciting, developmental stage of your life.
The key is to make small changes, see those changes taking effect on your life in a positive way and then build on them further.
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” Confucius
Nothing here is going to be rocket science.
We arrived at the concept of the 6 keystones of health:
- Brain training
- Social interaction
This is not a new concept. However, we felt there was an element of simplicity missing from the implementation of it. How could we make this accessible to all, easy to do and have massive bang-for-buck impact?
We will take you through those 6 keystones of health that are most important in everybody’s life. We outline small steps or hacks you can take to make big improvements. Only after you have mastered these baby steps will we encourage a deeper dive into improving your health and, ultimately, your life.
Creating Good Habits, Breaking Bad Habits
You may not have a particularly bad lifestyle. You could well be doing a few things right, but I guarantee there will be some habits that are holding you back.
We all have habits, good and bad. But why do we have habits and why do they stick around?
Simply put, if you do something repeatedly for a period of time then that action becomes hardwired into your brain. You don’t have to keep reminding yourself when, how, or where you need to do it, you just do.
In general bad health is based on bad habits, you simply need to swap the bad habits for good ones.
The way to make positive changes to your health is to master the art of making this swap and sticking to it in the long term.
Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement – James Clear, Atomic Habits
Stacking several good habits at once is a great way to pack big health improvements into a short space of time and we will point out these ‘power up’ stacks throughout the article.
We talk more in depth about habits; how to introduce them and why they are important in another article.
The 6 Keystones of Health
Getting good sleep is number one on our list for a very good reason. It is the mechanical and computational servicing department of our daily life.
When we sleep our body is doing the vast majority of repair, strengthening and re-balancing necessary as a result of the rigors of everyday life.
Our brain is also going through it’s own therapy session, analysing information it has taken in, processing it and storing new memories.
So sleep is very important and if you’re good at it then we’re very happy for you! If you struggle, don’t worry, there are some very easy things you can do to improve that.
The first set of improvements you can make almost straight away are about your sleep environment.
- Make it Dark. We’re talking removal of any source of light (even tiny LEDs) and using blackout curtains or shutters. Your eyes and your skin (yes, skin!) can be stimulated by the tiniest light so you’re just giving yourself the best possible chance of avoiding that. If those situations are difficult, have a go with an eye mask. Otherwise, get as close as possible to darkness. Any improvement is good!
- Keep it Cool. The ideal is in the range 60-67 degrees F (16-19 degrees C). Too high a temperature is an indicator to your body to start the waking process and in our conveniently warm homes it’s harder to tell our body it’s night time. If your heating system is tricky, get a digital thermometer for your room and experiment until you know how to get the right temperature.
- Design a Calm Bedroom. What the hell? Sure, that is totally subjective but you don’t have to be an interior designer here. Just start by making sure it is clutter free every day. Perhaps invest in an essential oil diffuser. Bring some plants into your room. Play some relaxing tunes as you get ready for bed. Get creative! This is the fun part! Just don’t start thinking about these things when you’re trying to sleep! Remember, your bedroom is for sleep and sex so keep the TV, tablet, laptop out of there!
Your sleep environment will set the scene and provide the backdrop for good sleep but the real benefits come from changes in your habits.
- Have a Bedtime Routine. This can be both in the form of timing and activities. If you want to get regularly good sleep then you need to be going to sleep and waking up regularly. It’s no good staying in bed later at the weekend, your body just gets confused. With a set bedtime you can introduce a wind down routine. I like to turn off my phone at a certain time (more on that next!), make a chamomile tea, write a few thoughts down in a journal and read before sleep. Have a think about what would get you in a sleepy frame of mind and try it out tonight.
- Turn Off your Phone. Say what?!! I have only one thing to say about this… Ask yourself why you think you need it on and if it’s nothing life threatening then turn it off (or at least to airplane mode) an hour before bed!
That wasn’t too difficult was it? Just 5 things to consider about the way you set up for sleep.
There are obviously far more methods of getting good sleep but we’re all about simple changes to make a big impact here so you can get into other ideas once you’ve mastered these.
Our second keystone is vastly overlooked by most people. Do you drink enough water? What is enough water? Why is it important?
Let’s have a quick look at the latter question. It’s a simple answer really. Your body loses water in various ways (sweating, passing urine and bowel movements) so that all needs to be replaced. The more hydrated you are, the better all these and other functions work.
Apparently we should all drink 1.5-2 litres (50-70 ounces) of water a day but ‘we’ are all different. We differ in size, genders, levels of activity, the climate we live in. 
If you are thirsty then you’re already dehydrated, we suggest you use the age old method of looking at your pee colour to determine if you’re drinking enough. Try to keep it a clear to pale yellow colour. Worried about drinking too much? Your kidneys process up to a litre of water every hour so you have a safety margin!  Here’s our 4 step hydration method:
- Drink 250-500ml water when you wake up
- Download a water reminder app (we use water reminder) and set it to go off every 2 hours
- Drink a glass every time your water alarm goes off
- Have a bottle of water with you at all times and drink from it whenever you like in addition to your 2 hourly glass. Make it a stainless steel bottle that won’t contain harmful plastics and will reduce waste!
You can use your water reminder to power up with a combo of taking a break to walk, meditate, doing some yoga. It’s all about stacking those habits!
This is where is gets complicated, right? Wrong!
Sure, the best way to eat properly is to personalise your diet to your body type and take into consideration any complications you might have with some foods. However, there is an even simpler way you can make huge improvements before you contemplate any of that.
We’re going to take this right back to the one thing you can do today that will make your body sing with joy:
Eat more vegetables.
“Oh, I thought it might be more exciting than that!”
It may not be a sexy solution, but it is cheap, accessible for everyone and you literally can go to the store today and make it happen.
Need a bit more direction? This is our big impact, improved diet plan:
- Pick a meal you like (we’re trusting you not to go and select burger and fries! Be sensible!)
- Just make a half portion of the meal
- Make up the other half with a variety of vegetables (get some different colours in there, try some new things out)
- Repeat the next day
Whether you are eating a terrible diet to begin with or already eat fairly well, this will instantly make it better! The only thing you might need to work on is cooking a meal from scratch if you’re not used to doing that.
Of course, you can take things further from this baby step by ensuring your entire meal is made without any processed foods. Then slowly level up to organic foods and you start to create a super-diet.
We look in more depth at creating the perfect diet later.
I’m sure you’ve got the concept by now. We’re going to make something that initially seems like hard work, such as exercise, and make it look easy! Well, you’re right!
The key to getting started with exercising in a way that you’ll stick to is to just make sure you’re being as mobile as possible every day. In fact, you could get rid of the word ‘exercise’ and use ‘movement’ instead!
You will be like a rolling stone gaining momentum from then on as your body responds to the improvements in cardiovascular fitness and strength. There’s no need to jump right into being as fit as possible within a short time. Just be better than you were yesterday.
This philosophy works whether you are just starting or already have a good level of fitness.
Here are some ideas to be more mobile during the day (which everybody could benefit from)
- Get up from your desk. Use a standing desk occasionally, conduct a meeting while out walking, go for a walk at lunch time.
- Do Some Yoga. Do a 5 minute easy beginners yoga routine when you wake up. You’ll feel the benefits all day!
- Go for a walk with your family. Find the nearest forest, beach or just green space and go play!
- Tend to your garden. If you don’t have one tend to someone else’s!
- Do some volunteer work. This powers up your exercise, mental well being and social interaction in one hit!
- Clean your home. A great power up stacking opportunity. You will use energy cleaning and end up with a brain-enhancing uncluttered and clean home!
- Dance while you clean. If you don’t like cleaning all that much, put on some music and get your groove on while you do it!
- Just dance! No need for an excuse to dance, just do it whenever you like. Especially if you have kids!
If you’re already well ahead with keeping mobile every day then let’s take things just one step further as you become ready to introduce regular exercise.
We recommend going fast and hard (yep, still talking about exercise!)
Instead of thinking about building up how long a run/cycle/row you can do, think about speed. If you go for a run, add in some sprints and make the run shorter. If you go for a cycle do the same thing. This makes the workout seem much less daunting rather than thinking of how much time you’re going to have to spend pounding the pavements.
Alongside all of this it is really important to think about maintenance of your body. If you take a simplistic view of exercise it is basically training your body to work better by showing it where it is weak and improving itself.
In order to do this it goes through a cycle of stress (exercise), repair and enhancement (muscle growth) and muscle efficiency training (a combination of brain and muscle working more efficiently together).
During the repair and enhancement stage there are lots of things we can be doing to help our body. We’ve pared it down to the three key activities:
- Flexibility Training. Finish any strenuous exercise with a basic 5-10 min yoga routine as a warm down. You can also do this at any point during your day to enhance your flexibility. I love to start the day with a yoga stretch and some meditation.
- Cold Therapy. After strenuous exercise gets your repair mechanisms working faster by cooling your stressed muscles down and increasing blood flow around them. A cold bath is ideal, but just taking a cold shower for a few minutes is a good compromise! (not going to lie, it never gets easy, but you can feel the benefit straight afterwards, trust me!). Check out our guide on getting into a cold shower routine.
- Feeding Those Muscles. Give your body the materials to repair muscles by having a healthy protein-carb-fat meal soon after your exercise. For example poached eggs and avocado on rye bread or grilled chicken and roasted vegetables. Also, make sure you are well hydrated throughout any exercise.
Sometimes the hardest part of exercise is just getting started so make it easy by having an accountability partner that you exercise with. It makes it harder to skip the exercise if someone is expecting you to join them!
Better still, start an exercise group with a few friends and get a real buzz created about trying different activities and getting fitter each time. A bit of healthy competition and FOMO can work wonders! Here at Better Life Heroes we have a group of ‘Good life Pioneers’ that do exactly that.
5. Brain Training
Exercising your body always gets the headlines while your brain misses out on all the fun. A body at the peak of it’s physical capabilities is all well and good, but if your brain is deteriorating then it’s like a sports car without a spark plug.
Mental health is slowly getting talked about more, but it still has a long way to go. There are many ways we can be training our brains in the same way we train our bodies so that our brains stay healthy just as long as our bodies.
You may have noticed personally or generally in society that real degeneration of the brain commonly begins after retirement. Without daily stimulation in the form of work, there is little basic level brain training happening and this allows the brain to decline in performance.
This doesn’t mean you just have to wait until retirement and then keep doing things that stimulate your mind (although that is important). Why not start right now and improve your brain’s abilities.
You can become smarter.
That’s a bold statement, but something that has gained traction recently.
The notion is that we get stuck thinking in the same ways every day and while that makes us more efficient at everything we do regularly, it doesn’t help when we need to use our brains in a different way.
This whole subject is fascinating and something we will certainly go into in more depth. For the purpose of this article, though, we have some very simple ideas.
- Meditate. Oh, I said the ‘M’ word! All I will say is just try it. You can do as little as 1 minute to start with. Just find a moment in the day without any distractions. Sit and let your mind go blank. If you find thoughts entering your mind that’s ok, just acknowledge them and let them fade away. Slowly you will get better at it and be able to meditate for longer. To start you off have a read of our easy meditation guide.
- Challenge Your Brain. Do something every day that requires thinking differently. This could be as simple as holding your toothbrush in the opposite hand (put a post note on your mirror to remind you otherwise your dominant habit will take over!). Challenge your brain by coming up with ways to challenge your brain (it makes sense, trust me!)
- Learn Something New. We expand our knowledge base by learning new things. The process of learning something new will not just help you with whatever you are learning, it will open up new connections in your brain that will be beneficial in other areas of life. Through learning we make our brain more efficient.  It’s also fun to learn new things!
Learning something new also links in well with the final keystone of good health: Social Interaction. You can power up both brain training and social interaction by joining a group where everyone is learning something new, whether it is a new sport (powering up your exercise!) or an interest such as biohacking. Perhaps you could learn more about meditation to double up on your brain training!
6. Social Interaction
There is a study that identified areas in the world, known as ‘blue zones’, where it was observed an abnormally large percentage of the population became centenarians. In other words, people in these regions seemed to live longer! 
Of course, certain common aspects of everyday life in these regions were identified too and the common traits were:
- Low participation in smoking
- Plant based diet (ie, lots of plants, not necessarily vegetarian)
- Constant moderate activity
- Eating legumes
- Strong family bonds
- Regular social interaction
The last two on this list are striking. They are perhaps not the first things that come to mind when you want to improve your health, but they are incredibly important.
It’s obviously very easy to get more social interaction in your life, or at least it should be! Just putting in a little more effort to see your friends and family more often is a good start. Strike up a conversation in the supermarket queue. When you’re calling up to book a dentist appointment, ask how their day is going.
You can turn it into a challenge. Make it a habit to introduce just one conversational sentence/question/compliment into every interaction you have during your day. Notice how it makes you feel. I promise it will be a good feeling, not only for yourself but for everyone you interact with. This concept of making the world a better place is something we feel strongly about at Better Life Heroes.
I also believe increasing social interaction will open doors to improve other areas of your life as you inevitably build your network and grasp opportunities that you might otherwise have missed.
Good health does not have to be difficult. Starting off with some of these simple changes will lay the platform for the life of good health that you’re striving for.
All of these ideas are incredibly simple, but if they stay as ideas and not action then they are pretty useless. If you want to make a change then get started now.
“You need to know it’s your actions that will make you a good person, not desire.” Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook
I’ve been there before, I’ve done the learning and getting excited about making changes bit and then found myself a month down the road without anything to show for it. It was only when I got the concept of action that things really started to happen for me. It’s that rolling stone effect I mentioned earlier, once you get going it’ll be hard to stop you.
“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is now” Chinese proverb
Believe me, this is only the beginning and we would love you to stick around for the journey at Better Life Heroes.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this article, but even better would be your success stories and commitments to take action. Feel free to leave your comments below, but also to get in touch if you want an accountability partner.
If you want to arrange a free conversation about improving or changing your career with a coach, send us an email to [email protected]
We want to see you fulfil your potential!