There is a phenomenon such that when multiple and even infinite options or data points become available for review the process leads to confusion and paralysis. We see this daily when confronted with DirectTV and its 200+ choices of what to watch or the menu with four pages of dinner options. We search with the typical FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and ultimately burn up extra time, get decision fatigue, and make poor choices or no choice.
Efficiency and happiness experts teach us the dangers of too many options and the reality of the phenomenon called “decision fatigue”. The solution is to embed simple favorable life strategies into our daily life that “like brushing your teeth at night” become a habit and generally non-negotiable. This is really important going into the new decade where advances in technology will cause logarithmic increase to our available options for how we fill our 24 hours. Let’s apply this to the longevity strategies in our daily life so we can make fewer decisions on the simple things in order to save energy for careful thought on the important things.
Acting on the five factors that impact health long-term is the most productive place to start. There is always debate but most people agree that the modifiable predictors of our health and happiness incorporate the BIG FIVE: sleep, movement, nutrition, gratitude, and cognition. Let’s apply some possible small modifications to our day that will embed lifestyle habits that automate our health and wellness going forward.
Our ancestors dedicated one third of their 24 hours to sleep at a cost of not seeking food or reproduction and exposing themselves to risk of predators in order to sleep. We know from scientific studies that sleep deprivation for as little as three days can lead to significant mental illness manifestations. Sleep is almost as important as food to our well-being and health. Try the simple intervention of setting an alarm to initiate the "go to bed process". This will mean turning off the lights and darkening the household about 90 minutes before you anticipate going to bed. This will greatly improve your sleep quality with a better quality of Deep Sleep and REM sleep. The more sleep you login before midnight generally improves the quality of deep sleep and sleep efficiency. I suggest setting that sleep stage initiation for as early as 8:30 PM so you’re off to bed by 10 PM. Just like brushing your teeth make this a habit and don’t think about it.
Everybody knows they should exercise, has goals and visions of fitness clubs, Spartan races, half marathons, and tennis club championships but few of us ever get there in our busy lives.
Do you have five minutes most mornings before you get in the shower? Then you have time for fitness. You can couple the shower with a five minute muscle activation effort every morning.
I suggest 30 to 60 seconds of stretch band workout hitting the 5 to 6 major muscle groups and escalating intensity by the speed of repetition. Possibly start with air squats with the band under your feet to increase resistance, go to biceps with the band in each hand standing straight up, then bend forward and do triceps with the bands still under your feet. By the time you get three minutes into it you will start feeling some fatigue especially if you do them quickly until the ”muscles say enough!”. Now wrap the band around the door handle and do the classic back muscles with the rowing move then turn around and work the chest muscles with a pushing move. You can finish the mini workout with 30 to 60 seconds of jumping jacks. You haven’t done enough until the muscles say “that was hard”. You’ll get a growth hormone signal pop and start to shed fat and add muscle while increasing your metabolic rate through the day. The benefits to your brain are also profound as you make BDNF- Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, that fosters neuronal health. Possibly do this on Monday Wednesday and Friday and maybe do a stretching five minutes such as Sun Salutation (look up on YouTube) on the Tuesday and Thursday pre-shower mornings. In summary, never get into the shower without some muscle activation in five minutes or above. It can go a long way. Just like brushing your teeth, don’t think about it..
Nutrition is a thorny topic and any diet can be defended or refuted with extensive literature support. Sometimes the best results emanate from “nonnegotiables” that you commit to never doing. This greatly helps with the concept of decision fatigue and making the hard choices easy. In my busy hospital career I would frequently see group tours of new nurses walking the hospital near the cancer center. I would frequently stop and welcome them and give them my unsolicited advice: try committing to three things when you work here and it will change your health future.
Always take steps rather than the elevator
Make every meal a salad
Only drink water, or sugarless hot tea and coffee.
Those simple life changes at work where most people spend 1/3 of their day can lead to a different person in 5 to 10 to 20 years.
In home life:
Consider making water (hopefully filtered tap water rather than bottled) your default fluid of choice. Don’t buy anything else to sit around the house and tease you except medicinal tea or coffee prepared cleanly.
If you eat breakfast, consider “an always go to” maximally healthy option that is quick to prepare. Since I favor the low carbohydrate approach, options like an organic soft-boiled egg or two drizzled with olive oil or grass fed butter, or avocado drizzled with lemon and sea salt (or whatever healthy option you know you can make in five minutes).
Stop with the fast food, sweet packaged processed bars and such, and sugar-based cereals. All of these are nonnegotiable “nevers”.
Wow, we just wiped out a whole block of potential bad decisions, hand-wringing and fatiguing decision moments- you should feel much lighter inside. Feel that momentum…..
We have all heard that some sort of daily practice of mindfulness, meditation or gratitude can work magic with results such as reduced anxiety, improved mental focus, diminished irritability and overall improved happiness. In the spirit of “Keep it Simple,…….” Consider a first step of just identifying three things that you can be grateful for in your life when you wake up in the morning. That way before your foot hits the floor you have contemplated the first three things that come into your awareness and spent a moment “emotionally marinating”on the positive nature of these items. This 2 to 5 minute exercise will also by default replace the anxiety driven thinking of all the things that you have to do that day. So the memory link is reviewing three simple things, in the three minutes upon awakening before your feet hit the floor. This simple exercise adds no time to your day and is a catalyst to get us less focused on ourselves and more on others which is the pathway to mental health and happiness.
Finally, what simple thing can we do to improve our cognition? Well the good news is you already have! By reading this you demonstrated curiosity and if you do simple steps on the above four topics, you will greatly improve your brain function and long-term health. In brief;
Exercise is the single most thing you can do to reduce your risk of dementia
Good and efficient sleep is the second most important thing to restore memory and cognitive function and reboot the brain’s detoxification process.
Good hydration and low blood sugars are clearly aligned with dementia prevention as the new type III diabetes is dementia.
And finally, a gratitude, breathing or meditation program is the new effective tool to prevent mental illness and the cognitive dysfunction that follows.
So like most things in nature, there is a harmonious genius of how things work together and by addressing the first four you get the fifth one as a 2020 New Year Gift.
Automate your easy healthy decisions going forward, think less and do more, and never forget ...“You Are Your Own Best Doctor”
Stay Strong and Humble,
Disclaimer: This information is not meant as direct medical advice. Readers should always review options with their local medical team. This is the sole opinion of Dr. Meakin based on a literature review at the time of the blog and may change as new evidence evolves.