Along with my loathing of the gym another bunch of fitness bores I roll my eyes at are the 10000 steps a day merchants, and largely for the same reasons – particularly the Fitbit Squadron. I can’t stand the gym not only because of the whole staring at the wall and picking things up and putting them down thing, but also because of the vanity of men trying to pick up girls there. Trust me guys – she’s breaking a sweat and working hard. She doesn’t want you to talk to her. The other thing about gym workouts is that they are often pointless because people often sit around all day, literally not moving, then flog themselves to death for 45 minutes before returning to a sedentary position. This is no good for staying well, and the 10000 steps a day mantra is the same.
I also typically don’t like self help books either but one of the best books I’ve read in a while is Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones, in which he visits the six places on Earth where people live longest, happiest and most free of chronic illness. These areas all have huge concentrations of centenarians, almost no cancers or diseases associated with chronic inflammation and no lingering chronic illness killing people. When people in the Blue Zones die they just have one bad day, and in the meantime they live lives of healthy productivity well into their eighties and nineties. The book uses hard data and observations and Buettner discovered several things they all have in common. They are all more or less vegans, drink tea, coffee and a little red wine, they gather as a community regularly, venerate elders, often have several generations in one house and so forth. One thing that stood out to me, however is that these people never stop moving. I should be clear that they aren’t trying to live long lives, rather their longevity is a byproduct of their lifestyles. So, for the same reason that I long since ceased calorie counting, I have never tried to hit an arbitrary number of steps. Instead of fostering the ‘I’ve moved 10000 steps and thus have earned this 500 calorie chocolate muffin’ attitude I have lived, for many years, a de-convenienced lifestyle.
Below is yesterday’s health data from my iPhone:
Not bad huh? This is a typical day in the summer for me. I had no idea that I had covered such a huge distance yesterday. I didn’t try to either. All I have done for the last five or six years is to live according to a set of principles that essentially force me to move constantly. So, for example, below is what yesterday entailed. I preface this by saying that I work from home so I’m lucky in that sense, and I can arrange my day around bursts of work.
- Walk the school run
- Go running straight from school
- Come home, draw a bath
- Hang out wet washing, start new load
- Prepare evening meal whilst dripping dry
- Work for three hours, raising to either prepare food, hang out washing, prepare next load etc. Much of work is reading and I do as much as I can standing up
- Walk 2 miles to shops, collect what I need
- Another hour reading in the sun by the canal
- Walk home and collect children
- Whilst children change hang out more washing and prepare another load
- Walk 3 miles to the park, play with children for an hour
- Go home, eat
- Collect washing
- Put children to bed
- Another burst of work
- Walk the dog 3 miles
Obviously we all live our own lives but what you can see there is that I never stop moving and this raises my metabolism all day. Rather than being sluggish and sedentary for 12 hours with one burst of high intensity exercise, this way I ended up moving over 15 miles without even thinking about it. This is a better way. As long as you eat well you simply cannot gain weight living like this.
I also live according to a few simple rules that make a huge difference. This will read like luddism but there’s a reason that the Blue Zone communities are all relatively poor ones, or in the case of the Seventh Day Adventists, living lives of modest means deliberately.
- The car is a deadly sin. Use it only when the journey cannot be made without it.
- All journeys under 3 miles are walked
- Any activity done whilst sitting can be done standing – getting a standing desk at work for example can be a remarkable change
- Never automate that which you can do by hand
This list is not exhaustive but you get the idea. I also stress the need for common sense in the sense that this has to work with one’s lifestyle. Fit these things in so that it’s natural. Even simple things like taking the stairs rather than the lift make a huge difference to one’s heart rate and keeps the calorie burn ticking over in the background. Walking everywhere also frees up time for podcasts, audiobooks, quiet reflection etc, or if walking with family it frees up time for conversation.
Previously we would often drive to places to do things and view the car as a time saver, but then I realised that we rushed around like that for no reason. I literally thought that it was best to get out and in as soon as possible. Why? We would only sit around during the time saved. The constant drive to get somewhere more quickly is pointless. What will you do with the time saved? You can’t put it in the bank to use it later. When we stopped the lunacy of rushing around everywhere we found our days to be much more pleasant. No mindless rushing around like headless chickens, no stress from trying to park with energetic children bouncing around in the back. Just joyful nature and long, productive days of healthy activity.
I also live by the following dietary rules:
- No animal ever
- Default morning drink is green tea
- Cook by hand, from scratch with fresh ingredients
- Where possible buy local, as this makes you walk to the shops
- Snack on food that looks like it does when it is in the ground, on the vine or branch etc.
- Where possible grow your own food
- Put turmeric in everything as it is a natural anti-inflammatory
In addition to this I would also argue that counting calories is a disaster. When I used to engage in this ridiculous practice of logging meals to the gram I would always eat right up to my limit, even if I wasn’t hungry a lot of the time.
I’ve discovered that living a life of convenience is a disaster. Spending 3 hours a week in a gym trying to run off 168 hours of sitting or lying around just doesn’t work. I’ve seen the future and it is one where I never sit still. Not only is it good for physical health, but also being productive and useful all day has a profound effect on mental health and wellbeing. Being outside is how humans thrive, and making our bodies work constantly generates a life of purpose and induces healthy sleep.
I remember as a kid I never tried to be thin, I simply was thin and I never thought about it. The main reason is that I never stopped moving and nothing was convenient. The things I do now are the things I did as a kid. The only difference is that I have to do real life as well, so I adapt.