As mentioned a few weeks back, Chris and I are working on a new book focused on resilience. In it, we leverage our own version of the 8 Forms of Capital framework to emphasize the point that Financial capital is just one of a number of equally-important components of true prosperity.
One of those other components is Living capital, which can be loosely defined as the natural systems (plants, animals, soil, water, etc) we depend on. It also includes our own bodies — our physical health and well-being.
For me, Living capital's importance to true wealth is well summed up by the quote "If you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything" (extra credit to those who can name the source for this quote). No matter how much of the other forms of wealth we amass (money, possessions, knowledge, etc), if we're too infirm (or dead) to enjoy them, what's the point?
Our longtime readers likely remember Chris' recount of his health transformation back in 2011, in which he trimmed off over 30 pounds through a process of prudent changes to his lifestyle. I should add that 4 years later, he's successfully maintained his healthier state and kept the weight off.
I've gone through a similar transformation as Chris and have been meaning to share that story for a while now. Mostly, because the results I've enjoyed are in many ways informed by, as well as validation of, the many health experts we've interviewed on this site over the past few years. And because I hope my example will show and inspire others that real, lasting positive health changes are possible — regardless of age, fitness level, how 'busy' you are, etc.
The path of my transformation has occurred over a longer time than Chris' did, but the results are similarly large. But don't take my word for it: the "After" photos provided further down in this article will let you judge for yourself.
I spent most of my 20s and 30s working within the rat race of corporate America. In the morning I left early for work, fought traffic on my commute, arrived home late (too often, after my young children had gone to bed), snarfed down a late-night dinner, usually followed by logging back in to my work VPN to prepare for the next day.
This schedule left little time for investing in myself. I rationalized my situation by viewing it as a sacrifice that would yield returns in the future. But exactly when — or even if — those returns would materialize, I had no clue.
I was stressed-out, unhappy, and chronically over-programmed. So, like most desk jockeys, I added a little more padding around the middle each year. And with every birthday, I'd accumulate another new ache or infirmity that the Age Fairy gifted.
By this time, my eyesight was pretty shot from years of reading the footprint type of too many financial statements, and all-nighters with Excel and Powerpoint. I was one of those people who, if they took their glasses off and put them down somewhere, needed their glasses to find them.
And by my late 30s, I was beginning to have dental issues. While a pretty low-key guy during waking hours, the stress of life manifested subconsciously: I ground my teeth constantly while sleeping. By my late 30s, I had worn the enamel completely off the top of several molars.
Here's a picture of that happy guy, taken at some point in my 30s. Let's use this as the "Before" photo:
If my circumstances at this point feel familiar to you, if you perhaps see a little bit of yourself in the guy in this picture, read on to learn how it's possible to reverse many of these effects, and re-discover many of the health benefits you enjoyed as a teen. I'm not exaggerating.
Reclaiming My Health (And Youth)
I'll provide a quick recap of the steps and resources that were most effective for me. If you're looking to make a similar transformation in your own health, I'm confident you'll see similar results if you follow these (or at least, those that are relevant to your personal condition).
But first, let me start with the single most important step: Making your health a priority. For many, many years, I simply didn't feel I could do that. I always subjugated it to the needs of my family, work, finances, and all the other demands life placed on me. I imagine most of you reading this can relate.
To break out of this trap, you have to realize that everything you hope to accomplish in life depends on you being present and capable of performing it. Your children, your work, your dreams: they need you alive and well-functioning, now and in the future. If you sacrifice your health in pursuit of them, you actually jeopardize the outcome you're hoping for.
You need to give yourself permission to invest in your health, and to protect that investment. In my case, I started by creating a monthly time and money budget. I set a goal of how many hours per week I'd devote to working on my health (exercise, educating myself, specialist sessions, setting goals, etc), and what I was willing to spend per month in pursuit of that goal. That's not a bad way to start, and you don't have to start big. In fact, I'd recommend starting small so that your goals are achievable and your progress sustainable.
An early step I took was to address my vision issues. I hated how limited I felt by my glasses. And given that I had recently watched The Crash Course for the first time, I saw my pronounced near-sightedness as a real vulnerability should the future ever contain periods for me where eye care may be hard to come by.
After consulting with a few eye doctors, I decided on laser surgery to correct my vision. This was hands-down one of the top best decisions I've ever made in my life.
I ended up having PRK surgery instead of LASIK due to my thin corneas, but the two procedures are more similar than different. It's the closest to magic I've ever experienced in my adult life. I quickly went from being fully dependent on my glasses to having 20/20 vision; 20/10 vision in my right eye. And nearly a decade later, my vision is still excellent.
The procedure isn't cheap — on average laser eye surgery costs about $2k per eye these days — but it is COMPLETELY worth it. What's the value of clear vision and independence from glasses and contacts? A lot higher than the cost of this procedure, in my book. And when amortized over the several decades of benefits you receive, it's a screaming deal.
Based in part on my positive experience, Chris underwent LASIK in 2013. He's similarly pleased. I'll stop raving here, but I welcome readers who have also had the surgery to share their experiences in the Comments section below.
Emboldened by the success with my eyes, I tackled my teeth next. Similar to vision, dental issues compound the older we get, and get more extensive and expensive to correct the longer they go unaddressed. Reading When There Is No Dentist really re-inforced to me the wisdom of fixing the structural issues in my mouth while the dental system is still working dependably.
While I never needed braces as a child and I had enough room to keep my wisdom teeth, the nightly grinding had created a misalignment with my bite over time. As a result, before they could repair the enamel damage, they needed to fix the alignment. So, at the age of 39, I got my first pair of braces.
Yes, it was a little socially awkward. But not nearly as much as I had feared. And the braces were off in less than two years, allowing for my dentist to repair the enamel damage to my molars with crowns, and provide a bite guard to protect my new perfect teeth from grinding in the future.
From the research I've done since, I figure I saved myself a boatload of future pain and money over the course of the rest of my life. As with eyes, what's the price of decades of trouble-free teeth? Many multiples more than the cost and short-term inconvenience this required. Plus, I also enjoy a relief from worry that has been and will remain with me for years to come.
For these reasons, if like I had, you have a dental condition that may lead to bigger problems down the road, I highly advise making the investment now to take care of it.
As you can see from the "Before" photo above, I wasn't morbidly obese or overly sedentary. I just was carrying about 20-25 pounds more than I needed to.
I was running 3 miles most mornings. In fact, I ran two marathons in my late 20s/early 30s, as well as completed a half-Ironman triathlon at 36. So I wasn't a total lump.
But still, each year another pound or two crept on. And increasingly I was plagued by persistent infirmities that started handicapping my ability to exercise. Joint pain (especially in the knees), plantar fasciitis, tennis elbow, shin splints — age seemed to be creeping up on me. For a long time, I just thought this was the tax we all pay for getting older.
But after learning about the benefits of high intensity, constantly varied training — explained well here in our excellent podcast with Mark Sisson from 2013 — I explored the many options in this growing movement and ultimately decided to try CrossFit.
I joined my local CrossFit "box" (that's how CrossFitters refer to their gym) in July last year. The first month absolutely crushed me. Each workout was an exercise in survival. During the second month, I realized that not only was I not going to die, but that my 40-something year-old body was capable of much more than I thought possible. By the third month, I was addicted.
Here's where we get to the "After" photo.
(This is awkward for me to share publicly, as I've always had a little bit of a body-image insecurity throughout my life. But if this helps lead somebody to decide to take control of their physical health, then the potential embarrassment is worth it).
We just took photos after completing a two-month challenge at my CrossFit box (men have to do these photos with shirt off). Here are mine:
So…not the Hulk. But not the Blob, either. And a BIG difference from where I was in my 30s.
Short story: In my 9 months of CrossFit, I've gotten — by far — into the best all-around shape of my life, and dropped from ~208 pounds to ~185. I haven't been that weight since college. And I'm able to do things with my body I couldn't come close to doing in high school, despite playing 4 varsity sports back then. Even better — as the weight dropped, my supporting muscles strengthened, and my body responded to the conditioning — all those supposedly age-induced joint pains and related aches disappeared.
I believe strongly that anyone can reap huge benefits from such a fitness regime, focused on constantly varied functional movement at relatively high intensity. Especially when coupled with a performance nutrition plan and a solid support community. Why do I believe this so strongly? Because I've seen it work. With myself, and with many people I've witnessed go through their own transformation while following this program. People of all levels of physical ability and all ages.
Good next steps for those interested in learning more about this type of fitness training are reading Mark Sisson's The Primal Blueprint, visiting your nearest CrossFit box, or searching for gyms in your area that offer 'Boot Camp' style classes.
Despite my raving above about the CrossFit program, the secret weapon to better health and fitness is nutrition — hands down.
Whether you're looking to lose weight, feel better, or boost your performance, nutrition is going to be easily 80% (at least) of the solution.
So much of what we in the West have been conditioned to eat is terrible for us. And just as with other machines, bad fuel = bad performance. A bad diet not only makes us feel crappy, but it leads to inflammation which accelerates the aging process on our bodies, as well as makes us vulnerable to all sorts of disease.
The good news is, there has been a recent revolution in understanding what type of food is best for our bodies (hint: as close to nature as you can get) and how diet affects health and performance. Putting it into a nutshell, strive to eat whole foods: meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruits, little starch and no sugar.
The literature on nutrition these days is vast, and can be a little overwhelming for the uninitiated. Good starting resources are our diet-related podcasts with Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson and David Seaman. Nutritional programs worth investigating are the Paleo, Primal and Zone diets. It sure won't hurt to consult with a professional nutritionist to discuss your personal health situation and goals.
As discussed in Chris' recent interview with neuropsychology expert John Arden, sleep quality is one of the greatest — as well as one of the most over-looked and under-appreciated — factors for good health.
The benefits of sufficient sleep are many, and the cost of too little can range from chronic fatigue and lack of focus, to weight gain, to greater risk of diabetes and heart attack. Sadly, over 75% of Americans experience some form of chronic sleep disorder. Our frenetic pace of life often cuts into sleep quantity, and the impact of digital devices messes with its quality.
I was definitely one of those who was quick to sacrifice hours of sleep to accommodate other priorities. I figured I'd sleep enough when I'm dead. And I was frequently guilty of bringing my smartphone or laptop into bed to continue working, not appreciating how badly the bright glare was messing with my body's ability to recognize time of day and shut itself down properly for the night.
Over the past year, I've made a concerted effort to avoid entering sleep deficit. I've shifted my average bedtime a few hours earlier and enforced a hard "bed before midnight" limit on any nights that threaten to go late. I do my best to log off from phones/tablets/laptops/etc at least an hour before bedtime. And to help further, I've downloaded software (f.lux, for those curious) that removes the blue light from my digital screens after the sun goes down, so as to minimize my electronics' impact on my ability to sleep soundly.
As a result, despite all of the CrossFitting, I'm more rested these days than I've been in decades. Not only is my sleep quality greatly improved, but I've re-discovered my childhood identity as a "morning person". I awake easily with the sun and have found that my most productive time is in those first few hours when my internal batteries are full, I'm clear-minded, and the rest of the world hasn't begun its bustle yet.
This is an easy win for those looking to boost their health. Give yourself a sleep curfew. Ditch the devices an hour beforehand. You'll notice a big difference in just a few days.
Even without the science telling us the toll stress takes on our health, I think we all pretty much intuitively agree that chronic stress is not good for us. But how to reduce it?
I used to get really irritated by folks who would tell me I shouldn't stress so much. No Duh! I'd think. Thanks for the newsflash. Now…can you tell me exactly how it is I should do that? Because if you haven't already noticed, life is stressful!!
I'll admit to having not exactly mastered the ability to insulate myself from stress yet; but, I have made a ton of progress here that may be instructive for you.
By taking a hard look at what I wanted out of life, and where the gaps existed between my reality and my goals, I was able to make some big life decisions. I made a few really big changes, most notably, I made a big career transition — deciding to leave the executive track at Yahoo! (where I was a Vice President) and partner up with Chris to found Peak Prosperity. This change, while stressful at times in itself, brought my daily work into much better alignment with my beliefs and values, which ultimately has given me a tremendous amount of inner peace.
Similarly, my wife and I looked at the frenetic, impersonal lifestyle that we and our friends were living in Silicon Valley and decided to leave for a location much better suited to our desired manner of living. So we moved to a much more rural, resilient and community-oriented town. Our only regret is not having made the move sooner.
The message here is to find those areas of greatest misalignment and tension in your life, and then identify the steps you need to take to bring them into harmony. These may be small steps, or ones as big as those I took. You'll need to figure out for yourself what's needed given your specific situation. For those looking for help in this process, the steps provided in Stage One of my book Finding Your Way To Your Authentic Career are focused on guiding you through this process.
Reclaiming Your Health
If you're one of those people who identify with the 'me' described in the "Before" stage of this article, know that I've written this for you.
Our behaviors are shaped by the beliefs we hold, by the stories we tell ourselves. If we tell ourselves we're too busy to act, we won't. If we think we're too old for exercise, we won't try to.
Chris and I place a lot of value on having teachable models of success to show people, because they're one of the most effective means for influencing beliefs. Hopefully both his transformation and mine can serve as compelling models for some of you, and spur you to ask yourselves: If these middle-aged guys can do this, why shouldn't I?
All the steps I've documented here are available and actionable by the vast majority of folks reading this. I promise that if you follow them, and pursue them with discipline and commitment, you will see good results. Great results, even.
You'll feel better. Look better. Be stronger. Faster. Less likely to get sick. Happier. More peaceful. You'll likely live longer, and with better quality of life.
So my question to you is: Regardless of your current state of physical health, what are you willing to commit to start doing, today, to improve it?
Let us know in the Comments section below. We're all here to support each other.