Sabbath Ramblings: Principles – Ben Greenfield Fitness


Have you ever read Ray Dalio’s book Principles?

It’s excellent.

In 1975, Ray Dalio founded an investment firm called Bridgewater Associates out of his two-bedroom apartment in New York City. Forty years later, Bridgewater has made more money for its clients than any other hedge fund in history and grown into the fifth most important private company in the United States, according to Fortune magazine. Dalio himself has been named to Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Along the way, he discovered a set of unique principles that have led to Bridgewater’s exceptionally effective culture, which he describes as “an idea meritocracy that strives to achieve meaningful work and meaningful relationships through radical transparency.” It is these principles, and not anything special about Dalio—who grew up an ordinary kid in a middle-class Long Island neighborhood—that he believes are the reason behind his success.

In the book, Dalio shares what he’s learned over the course of his career, arguing that life, management, economics, and investing can all be systemized into simple rules, AKA principles. As I read the book and took copious notes (or in this case, Kindle highlights) as I’m prone to do, I got to thinking that in the same way certain key principles can be used to skyrocket the success of a business, certain key principles can also be used to manage one’s body, mind, and spirit.

While my entire book Boundless fleshes out many such principles in intricate and practical detail, I got to thinking that it would be nice to lay out, in one simple article, the basic principles for healthy living that ensure your human “machine” is running optimally. Based on the nature of what you are about to read being an article and not an entire book per se, the list I am providing below may seem like too much of a basic bird’s eye view summary to you, but I thought it would be quite helpful nonetheless, as it tackles the one major question I receive most often when I’m consulting with my clients, namely…

…What are the primary principles I can implement to look good, feel good, have an optimized combination of lifespan and healthspan, and be happy?

So, with that introduction and explanation, let’s dive in, shall we? For each key principle, I will include my top book(s) recommendation based on titles that I’ve personally vetted to ensure you’re not wasting your time with an inaccurate or boring read on the subject, although every topic below is explored pretty thoroughly in my own book Boundless (consider this to be your cheat sheet for that 650+ page behemoth!).


12 Key Principles For Optimizing Lifespan, Healthspan & Happiness

1) Walk.

Walking is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated activities in one’s health arsenal. It increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which acts like a sort of Miracle-Gro for the neurons; circulates blood, lymph, and cerebrospinal fluid; decreases cortisol (especially when done in nature); allows the eyes to adjust the horizon and relax after being contracted while staring at screens; strengthens tendons and ligaments in the feet, knees, and hips; stabilizes blood sugar (particularly when done for 10-30 minutes following a meal); and is a perfect pairing to breathwork (I explore this concept of breathwork walks in my book Boundless).

Your life goal should be to take 10,000 steps a day. I personally average 15,000-20,00 steps per day (and yes, this can include any formal workouts you do during the day). What is measured is managed, and for this reason, I use an Oura to track my own steps, but any wearable will do.

Book recommendation: In Praise of Walking

2) Heat.

I explore the many beneficial aspects of both hot and cold therapy in my comprehensive Fire & Ice podcast. If you listen to that audio, which I encourage you to do, you’ll hear how regular sweating or getting hot in an infrared or dry sauna (avoid steam rooms unless you know the water is well-filtered and the room is mold-free) results in endurance, red blood cell, muscular, brain, stress resilience, and blood sugar management benefits. Most notably, using the sauna four to five times a week for 20-45 minutes can decrease most causes of all-risk mortality, dementia, and Alzheimer’s, particularly in men.

Try to do a “sauna sit” meditation, yoga, breathwork, or reading in the sauna at the beginning or end of day, at least three times per week, and preferably four to five times per week if you can. Finishing with cold (see below) allows you to also get the cardiovascular and immune benefits of hot-cold contrast therapy. To learn about what sauna I use and the type of supplements or oils that enhance hyperthermia, listen to this or read the shownotes.

Book recommendation: Sauna Therapy for Detoxification and Healing

3) Cold

Similar to heat, cold introduces a mild stressor (known as a hormetic stressor) to the human body, resulting in increased cellular resilience and immune system strength. It is also particularly good for fat loss when performed in a fasted state and is not very time-consuming at all—especially if you use colder temperatures, which require far less time to reap the benefits of cold. Most people find that the decrease in core temperature and regulation of circadian rhythm brought on by cold will also enhance sleep architecture.

I personally take a cold shower or jump into any cold body of water (needs to be 55°F or less) twice per day, for 2-5 minutes, every day of the year. To learn about what cold tub system I use and the type of supplements or oils that enhance cold thermogenesis, listen to this or read the shownotes.

Book recommendation: What Doesn’t Kill Us

4) Weight

Nearly every biological system in your body benefits from being under some sort of heavy load several times per week. While in the past, for most folks this would have included activities such as farming, gardening, lifting rocks, building fences, carrying loads at a construction workplace, etc., in our modern post-industrial era, this type of loading is typically accomplished via “hitting the weights.”

The sweet spot for load-bearing for most people following the other recommendations in this article is about a 3x/week for 20-45 minutes of a full body weight training protocol using weights that are extremely difficult to lift for more than 10 repetitions, with occasional bursts of more powerful, quick, explosive sets under body weight or light load. I lay out the perfect such protocol in BoundlessI personally lift weights for 30 minutes, 3 times per week, then try to do some sort of challenging 45-60 minute routine as a bonus on the weekends if time permits. I also will often wear a 30-50lb weighted vest for several of my walks during the week.

Book recommendation: The Physics Of Resistance Exercise

5) Breath (both HIIT and breathwork)

If you don’t have an intimate relationship with how to use your own breath to activate both your sympathetic, fight-and-flight nervous system and parasympathetic rest-and-digest nervous system, you’re missing out on a big part of the full human experience, and a free way to tap into a host of health benefits: from increased nitric oxide, to a stronger immune system, to better sleep, to higher energy levels and cellular oxygenation, better sex, psychedelic experiences without the use of substances, and much more. The best place for you to begin to learn breathwork would be this same 5-week course I designed from a host of different breathwork practices I was familiar with and brought my twin twelve-year-old boys through last year (we did much of it in the sauna, actually).

I personally breathe through my nose as much as possible the entire day, thus filtering the air and introducing more humidified air and nitric oxide into my system and begin each day, and most workouts, with activating breathwork, typically via rapid “Wim-Hof-esque” breathing—sometimes even while jumping up and down on a mini-trampoline to enhance lymph and blood flow (be careful if you use this approach, as you may get dizzy). I also use breathwork to calm myself down for both sleep and afternoon naps (typically via 4-7-8 or 4-8 breathing, which you can learn more about here), and one to two times per week I do longer 20-60 minute breathwork sessions in the sauna, similar to those described here. I also practice tantric breathing during sex. Finally, whenever I am walking, I am typically doing long exhales and holding the exhales for as many steps as possible, along with decompression breathing (which can be done while standing or while walking) and while walking I also incorporate the use of breath restriction devices such as the Relaxator or the PowerLung.

Book recommendation: Breath

6) Air

Of course, if you’re practicing breathwork, it’s crucial that you ensure the air you are breathing is filtered, clean, and pure. Air pollution is something most people don’t think about until they’re struck with some type of mold, vascular, or lung disorder such as chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS), erectile dysfunction, or exercise-induced asthma, then realize too late they should have been paying much more attention the quality of the air they were breathing.

I address air pollution extensively in Boundless, here, and in this podcast about the link between air pollution and COVID with Zach Bush, but the big factors for air cleanliness that I personally incorporate, besides the focus on nasal breathing mentioned above, is that 1) I have a central HEPA air filter (I use one called an AllerAir) in my home and home gym; 2) a standalone Molekule air filter in my bedroom and an Air Doctor in my office (both are effective, and those are just the two I happen to have); 3) I call ahead to hotels before my arrival and request a standalone air filter in my room, as hotels tend to be notoriously moldy or full of artificial chemicals from cleaning supplies; 4) I only use natural cleaning supplies, low VOC paint, and low VOC furniture in my home (also addressed extensively in Boundless); 5) I get a mold analysis of my home on an annual basis (see website SurvivingMold.com for details); 6) I use an essential oil diffuser beside my bed and in my office so that I am triggering my olfactory nerve with specific compounds to induce certain biological states, such as the activating scents peppermint and rosemary in my office, or the relaxing scents lavender, rose or bergamot in the bedroom. Finally, if you’re a more advanced “biohacker” you may want to consider the use of oxygenation concentrating devices such as EWOT (the LiveO2 is good) and HBOT (I use a softshell home chamber by HBOT USA).

Book recommendations: Clearing The Air, Essential Oils to Boost the Brain and Heal the Body, and The Healing Power of Essential Oils

7) Light

Similar to air, modern lighting and the concept of “light pollution” is something that most people, even healthy people, don’t think about until they develop myopia or other eyesight issues, headaches, brain fog, or sleep disruption. Modern fluorescent and LED lighting, along with imperceptible flicker from overhead lights and screens, can bombard your retina and the photoreceptors on your skin surface all day long, creating similar issues as you might experience if you were holding a phone up to your head all day, or sitting next to a WiFi router all day.

To mitigate these issues, I have the healthy screen software Iris installed on all my computers, use a BenQ eye-friendly monitor in my primary writing office, wear Ra Optics blue light blocking yellow lens glasses by day and red by night, have red incandescent bulbs installed in the bedroom and master bathroom of the house, full-spectrum incandescent bulbs in all other areas of the house, and use the “red light iPhone trick” to switch my phone to red light mode at night. In addition, I take advantage of the healing and restorative aspects of red light therapy by standing sandwiched in between two Joovv light panels for 20 minutes each morning while wearing a Vielight and working on my computer, use a low-EMF infrared sauna 4-5 times per week, and, for circadian rhythm regulation, use Re-Timer glasses and the Human Charger in-ear device to regulate sleep and sleep rhythms before and after travel across multiple time zones. This may seem like a lot, but consider we are fighting a constant uphill battle between our ancestrally programmed light rhythms and post-industrial, artificial light, I pull out all the stops to feel good and sleep well. If you’re indoors or use screens much, I recommend you do the same.

Book recommendation: Miracle Medicine

8) Electricity

Because your entire body operates on a proper electrochemical balance across cell membranes, the biological “issues” with non-native EMF and dirty electricity could fill nearly an entire library, and a simple search for “EMF” here on my site will reveal a host of podcasts I’ve recorded and articles I’ve written on the matter. So, for brevity’s sake, rather than dwelling on the research and the host of biological damage excess exposure to Bluetooth, WiFi, 4G, 5G, and other forms of EMF can create, I’ll cut straight to the chase with my “best practices”—the lowest hanging fruit for mitigating EMF damage.

First, I recommend you get a home and office EMF analysis if it fits your pocketbook. Brian Hoyer at Shielded Healing is the very best for this. Next, hardwire as much as you can, especially by using ethernet instead of WiFi to do the majority of your work. Keep your phone in a shielded case, in airplane mode unless absolutely necessary, and when using it, have WiFi and Bluetooth disabled unless absolutely necessary. If talking on your phone, use an airtube headset. If you must use WiFi, consider a digital wall timer so that it can automatically switch off during your sleep hours so that there’s at least 1/3 of your life you’re not being bombarded with signals. Avoid entertaining the concept of a “smart home” and instead have as few connected, signal generating devices such as Alexa or other Bluetooth/WiFi enabled appliances running as possible. For any wearables, such as watches, activity trackers, etc., place in airplane mode whenever possible, or only use wearable devices that allow you to disable Bluetooth/WiFi. Though research is scant on the efficacy of such devices, I have personally found an increase in HRV, recovery, and sleep by using so-called EMF “scrambling” or healthy signal generating devices extensively in my living room, office, kitchen, and bedroom—particularly the BluShield, the Somavedic, and the Qi-Shield devices. Such devices are scattered all over my house, and though some snicker at the use of them, I personally feel much better when they are on and activated. Finally, when exposed to high levels of EMF, such as during travel, on airplanes, etc. consider supplementing with ketones, magnesium, NAD, and resveratrol. I explain why and include links here.

Not to make things too complicated, but certain forms of electricity can also be used to combat inflammation, enhance sleep, or heal injuries For example, as I discuss in my podcast about grounding with Clint Ober, you can expose your body to a wide range of healing frequencies emitted by the planet earth by being outside barefoot every day for 20-45 minutes, or using a grounding/earthing mat frequently throughout the day or under the top sheet for a night of sleep. You can also use PEMF devices to amplify these signals even more, as well as taking advantage of everything from Rife frequencies to negative ions to further “biohack” healthy forms of electricity into your life. Though this is a more complex/expensive strategy, I do it personally by using a Biocharger 1-2x/day while I am reading or stretching, standing on a grounding mat while using the standing desk in my office, and traveling with a grounding sleeping pad for hotel rooms and AirBNBs, using grounding/earthing sandals and grounding/earthing straps on my shoes when I’m not barefoot, and doing much of my reading while sitting in a PEMF chair.

Book recommendations: The Body Electric, Healing Is Voltage, and EMF*d)

9) Water

Look, you’ve heard it before: Hydration is important because your body has a lot of water in it. According to my chemistry textbook, up to 60% of the human adult body is water, the brain and heart are 73% water, the lungs are about 83% water, the skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery at 31%. In the same way that your cell membranes will have a similar composition as the fats that you eat, because they’re built from those fats (yes, this means you should put down that peanut butter and grain-fed beef please), your body is comprised of the water you drink. Furthermore, related to Principle #8 above, water is the medium via which all those electrons are carried throughout one’s body to support a proper electrochemical gradient. This means you not only need to pay attention to the quality of your water intake, but the electron-charged minerals contained within that water, and furthermore, if you have seen the science on water as an information carrier, even the type of vessels in which water is stored and the energy that water is exposed to.

So, here are the basic key steps to follow for optimizing your water (and you can listen to both of my podcasts with Dr. Robert Slovak to learn more about this here and here). First, when at home or in your office when possible, use a really good water filter. For a countertop unit, I suggest the Aquatru, and for a whole-house system, a Greenfield Naturals Whole House Filtration System, which is comprised of a carbon block filter paired with a water structuring unit. Next, when traveling, only drink clean, pure filtered water from brands such as Pellegrino, Gerolsteiner, or Mountain Valley. For any form of water, drink preferably out glass, not plastic. Liberally re-mineralize both your water and your food with a trace mineral solution or good salt (for the former, I like Quinton and for the latter, Celtic salt or Colima salt). Finally, I recommend my own personal morning health and energy tonic, which is comprised of 24 ounces of clean, pure filtered water drank from a giant glass mason jar and “seasoned” with 4g baking soda, 8g Jigsaw Health Adrenal Cocktail (which is a whole food Vitamin C source), 2 packets Quinton hypertonic, and 3 Water & Wellness H2 tablets.

Book recommendation: Your Body’s Many Cries For Water

10) Sound

So many of us, including me for the longest time, underestimate the power of acoustic and sound frequencies in our lives. Because every cell of every organ in your entire body vibrates at a specific frequency, and because each of these vibrational frequencies can be affected by electrical, magnetic, emotional, and sound frequencies in your environment, it is a very good idea to pay attention not only to the type of people with whom you associate, the nature of electricity in your environment (see Principle #8), but also the sounds and music in your personal environment. This is the entire theory behind the practice of sound medicine, which I didn’t fully appreciate until I read the book Sound Medicine and recorded a podcast with my guest Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary in this podcast episode.

So, how do I use this theory to optimize my own self? First, I am picky about the type of music to which I listen. In addition to listening to the type of WholeTones music composed by my former podcast guest Michael Tyrell, I also primarily choose uplifting, positive, and non-chaotic music such as classical, orchestral, and spiritual in my own living and working environment. Second, I frequently use binaural beats, sound frequency generators, and other forms of audio to induce a state of either relaxation or excitation. My current top two devices I use every single day are the Apollo sound frequency wearable and the NuCalm device. I also own a Biomat Bioacoustics sound healing mat, which I use several times per week for naps or massages.

Book recommendation: Sound Medicine: How to Use the Ancient Science of Sound to Heal the Body and Mind

11) Nutrition

I’ve said it many times before: There is no “one size fits all” diet. For example, within the pages of Boundless, I present thirteen different dietary options—from a whole foods Weston A. Price diet to a carnivore diet to a liquid elemental gut-healing diet—and tell you exactly which goals, lab tests, genes, blood, and biomarkers determine the appropriateness of each for you. I also create personally tailored nutrition plans, which usually take me 2-4 weeks to create for someone after reviewing all their personal data. So I would never tell you to eat this diet or that diet because there is no one single perfect human diet. But no matter what nutrition plan you are following, there are specific characteristics that are repeatedly seen in the diets of most of the healthiest and longest-living individuals on the face of the planet, namely…

1) Incorporate fasting regularly. I personally do a 12-16 hour intermittent fast every day, a 24 hour dinner-t0-dinner fast one to two times per month, and a five-day low-calorie or liquid fast on a quarterly basis;

2) Eat in a parasympathetic state. Prior to each meal, pray, sow your body with breathwork, chew each bite thoroughly, don’t engage in stressful work or commuting during meals, and when possible, eat with people so that you can engage in relaxing conversation;

3) Eat real food, as fresh and close to nature as possible. If your pantry and refrigerator is primarily comprised of packaged food from Trader Joe’s, Costco, Whole Foods, then don’t fool yourself into thinking you are optimizing your health, even with those dark chocolate covered raw almonds that have been sitting there for two months;

4) Unless your gut is compromised, eat a wide variety of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, plants, herbs, and spices. If your gut is compromised, follow a more restrictive diet until it is healed, then reintroduce a broad range of real food;

5) Minimize inflammation, particularly from vegetable oils, and glycemic variability, particularly from processed sugar and acellular carbohydrates.

Finally, you may be wondering if nutritional supplements are necessary. I personally use them, but I don’t fool myself into thinking they are going to make a bigger difference than making good choices when eating real food. My own personal supplement arsenal is basically comprised of everything in the Kion product line, with the addition of Qualia Mind Caffeine-Free as a nootropic, SEED probiotic for gut health, Thorne Biogest digestive enzymes before meals, Bioptimizers Gluten Guardian for any restaurant trips, Jigsaw Health MagSRT, Element Health CBD before bed, and plenty of the Four Sigmatic mushroom elixirs sprinkled throughout the day.

Book recommendation: Nourishing Traditions

12) Spirit

Nothing is more important than caring for your soul. I’ve written an entire book about that. If you are not regularly training your soul with spiritual disciplines just as frequently as you engage in physical or mental disciplines, you can have a sound mind and body, and yet be unfulfilled and unhappy or, worse yet, die of a horrible disease related to pent-up negative emotions.

I personally wake in the morning to read my current favorite Word On Fire study Bible, usually following a free Bible reading plan that my entire family subscribes to on the YouBible app. I then listen to a sermon. (I subscribe to nearly a half dozen different sermon podcasts, with my favorite being John Piper’s “Sermon of the Day.“) Later in the morning, when the family is awake, I gather them, and we meditate for 5-10 minutes with the Abide app, then we journal by writing down one thing we are grateful for, and one person we can pray for, help, or serve. Throughout the day, I continually pray. In the evening, before bed, the family regathers to sing a spiritual song together, to pray, and to return to our journals again to write down and share one way in which we lived out our life’s purpose statement, something we could have done better that day, and something we did well that day. Finally, throughout the week, I prioritize service, charity, church attendance and answering the questions and completing the exercises in the current Spiritual Disciplines Handbook that my family is studying. If I could choose only one of each of the 12 principles you have just discovered, this final twelfth principle of caring for my spirit would undoubtedly be the one I would choose, as it is the only principle from which I derive true personal happiness, meaning, and fulfillment.

So where do you start with all this? My #1 recommendation, if you have no time for almost anything at all regarding the spiritual disciplines, is to simply start here: read the Bible every morning before you get out of bed, and when you have finished, get on your knees next to your bed and say the Lord’s prayer. That’s by far the most powerful way to start your day – beyond gratitude journaling, breath work, red laser lights on your head, fancy mushroom-infused coffee, or anything else!

Book recommendations: Fit Soul, Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, and Celebration of Discipline.


Summary

Author and self-improvement guru Og Mandino wrote:

“The prizes of life are at the end of each journey, not near the beginning; and it is not given to me to know how many steps are necessary in order to reach my goal.  Failure I may still encounter at the thousandth step, yet success hides behind the next bend in the road.  Never will I know how close it lies unless I turn the corner.  Always will I take another step.  If that is of no avail I will take another, and yet another.  In truth, one step at a time is not too difficult.”

So, if you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of incorporating each of these twelve principles into your life, then simply take things one step at a time.

Walk more.

Get a water filter.

Disable Bluetooth and WiFi on your phone.

Take your last ten seconds of a shower in cold water.

Breathe for two minutes before bed.

Read the Bible every morning, then say a prayer.

Write down one thing you’re grateful for every day.

You get the idea. Approach the idea of optimization via key principles as a year-long process of habit-stacking. And also keep me posted, in the comments section below, about how I can help you along your journey to looking, feeling, and performing better. Finally, for more detail, and to take a deep dive into any of the key principles listed above, I highly recommend that you read my books Boundless and Fit Soul.

How about you? What are your key principles for mind, body, and spirit optimization? Have I missed anything in the list above? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave them in the comments section below. I read them all.


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