One of the most overlooked discussions within the prepper community is in regards to personal health but is by far the most requested topic whenever I do surveys on my channel. So instead of the typical “eat healthily and exercise” article, I reached out to a licensed Occupational Therapist that works with patients on a daily basis training them in diet and exercise routines and I asked him to help me build the foundation for this article. I’m going to present a lot of information, some you’ve probably heard before, but at the end, I’ll share with you something I recently discovered that has helped me implement what we’ll outline plus I’ll share some personal goals I’m setting. So let’s jump in.
For this blog, I’m going to start off by pointing out some background information you really need to understand. Let’s start with a very critical discussion most people have never heard of. Again, stick around until the end where I’ll discuss a way I’ve learned to practically implement all of this.
Improving Your Healthspan
You have assuredly heard the term lifespan, but have you ever heard of healthspan? Your healthspan is the length of time in your life during which you are in reasonably good health. While you might live a lifespan of over one hundred years, if forty of those years are spent in a wheelchair, drug dependent, blind, or dramatically diminished, your healthspan is shorter. Experts have been able to break down the critical components of an excellent long healthspan by starting with older, healthy individuals and working backward to define what elements of their lifestyle had led them to not only longevity but useful and healthy life. These decisions we make now will impact us long-term, but we need to decide now and begin taking actions to secure a longer healthspan. Experts agree that increased sedentary behavior, inadequate sleep, poor eating and drinking habits, and negative psychosocial factors are the leading risk causes for decreased health and wellness. However, these risk factors are within our control because they are attributed to lifestyle choices, habits, and routines. Additionally, which may come as no surprise, is that these factors are all interconnected. A positive change in one area will positively impact another area.
This is important to us as preppers because our healthspan correlates to our survivability– the ability to remain alive or continue to exist. Our bodies; our healthy well-being are all directly in relation to our overall health. The greater our healthspan is, the more likely it that it will intersect an optimal point in our healthspan when disaster strikes. Then, the impact of added physical and mental stress, the effect of sudden dietary changes, even the effect of traumatic injuries are less likely to derail us.
Study after study has revealed the same outcome. A body in motion is healthier. One recent study of more than 1 million men and women showed that those who were mostly sedentary (whether sitting, lying, or reclining) and had little moderate or vigorous physical activity had the highest risk of mortality. A consistently sedentary life can double the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity and increase the chances of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, lipid disorders, depression, and anxiety. As we have seen, these comorbidities can dramatically decrease your healthspan. Conversely, those who sat less and had higher moderate or vigorous physical activity had the lowest risk for disease.
You may be thinking that this equates to anaerobic exercise, but it doesn’t. When we were children, we weren’t necessarily in need of exercise. For most people, our bodies could go on forever, tirelessly running. The choice to exercise for health reasons probably was a conscious decision made sometime around our mid-30’s when we noticed a few unwanted pounds or started to get fatigued a little easier. Fortunately for those who still didn’t decide to exercise at that point, experts say any physical activity is good. Your opportunity to start getting activity is always right now. The guidelines are 2.5 to 5 hours a week of moderate-intensity activity or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or some combination of those two. The bottom line is you need to be moving between 2.5 hours and 5 hours a week.
This could take the form of traditional exercise. It could also be hiking, brisk walking, gardening, dancing, cycling, sports, raking leaves, stair walking, running, swimming, or any other activity that elevates the heart rate and breathing. If you work at a desk all day, as I do, set the alarm to get up, get some water, maybe do some deep knee bends or jump around a little bit. Don’t let your healthspan sink into your sitting. That’s the key, and here are the other keys to getting on a program and sticking to it. First, break up the physical activity into smaller chunks. Many people fail their exercise programs because they try to instantly commit to a very high level of activity when they really can’t handle that level yet. Instead, try to commit to walking the dog an extra little bit a few more times a week. Try to walk to and from your lunch break at work. Look up some chair aerobic exercises and stretch to keep your blood flowing. Get out on the weekends. Think of what you will do to keep moving, and then do it.
Second, insert movement breaks into your daily routine. As I mentioned, if you have to sit for long stretches, set the alarm to get up and move every 30 to 60 minutes. Research shows your body can start an inflammatory response after approximately 45 – 60 minutes of sitting. Chronic sitting for long periods can cause chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can eventually damage healthy cells, tissues, and organs that can lead to DNA damage, tissue death, and internal scarring, so commit to breaking up any sitting periods.
Third, make an activity to-do list. Plan to take your dog out or go for a walk after work. Go to bed and wake up a little earlier, and use that time to go for a walk or exercise. Fourth, remember that you don’t have to go at it full force and risk burning out. Start small with a mind to continue to build a little more every few days. Get in a few more steps or stairs. Get in a few more stretches and deep breaths. Get in a bit more weekend work in the garden. Death from unintentional falls is the 8th leading cause of death if you are over the age of 65, so go it slow until your coordination, balance, stamina, and muscles are ready to, literally, take the next step. Finally, print a calendar and keep track of your progress. Don’t just rely on your memory to recall what you have done. Keep a visual record to help inform you of when you may be doing too much or haven’t done enough.
Physical inactivity and being sedentary are some of the most significant risks to our well-being. On a positive note, there is evidence to support that once someone starts becoming more active regularly, it tends to spill over into other areas and positively influence sleep, eating and drinking habits, and psychosocial factors.
Get Some Rest
The second key factor to a long healthspan is rest and sleep. Getting enough sleep can be challenging, especially as we get older and our bodies change or as we increase our physical workload. For optimal health, sleep is non-negotiable. Any sleep deficiency, categorized as 6 hours or less per day, can decrease the immune response, lead to high blood pressure and heart disease, increase the risk for diabetes, increase weight gain, lower sex drive, reduce balance and coordination, affect mood, behavior, emotional control, decision-making, and problem-solving. Also, one of the ways sleep deficiency promotes weight gain, and obesity is that it results in increased cortisol production. Cortisol is a stress hormone that prepares you for fight or flight, so this hormone’s extra production over time can lead to diseases, anxiety, depression, digestion, and lack of memory or focus.
Proper regulation of Cortisol is the difference between your body making it through a disaster and your body becoming overloaded when disaster strikes. The same hormone that tells us to fight or flee is the same hormone that gives the body the little extra it needs to survive. It’s like human nitro in our tanks. The downside of it is that it’s hard on our engines. It can age us prematurely or compound other problems like stress, weight gain, and high blood pressure. So when we have a release of Cortisol, we want it to be during times of disaster, and we want our bodies to be able to utilize it properly. The only way to make our bodies ready to handle the Cortisol stress of disasters is through consistent physical activity and adequate rest.
To achieve proper sleep, develop good sleeping habits. Establish a routine to help transition the mind. Keep stressful conversations to the early evening or earlier to avoid the release of stress hormones. Avoid artificial light by turning both your TV and your devices off. Excessive blue light from these devices in the evening and right before bed can decrease your melatonin levels. Your body makes melatonin to help you wind down and sleep better. Therefore, trade your electronics in for a book in the evening or calming music. If electronics are a must in the evening, use a “night mode” on your phone or invest in some inexpensive blue light filter glasses. However, you should still “unplug” from screens, at the very least, 30 minutes before bed.
Of course, avoid alcohol and caffeine consumption several hours before bed. Avoid napping during the day. If I’m tired during the day, I typically go for a walk or jog. Set aside a specific window of time to start your bedtime routine and get to sleep. Don’t get frustrated if sleep doesn’t come to you. Just relax and rest until it does. Keep your room dark and cool. Don’t look at your clock and instead wake up at the same time each day. Find the combination and ritual that works best for you and stick to it. If you are increasing your physical activity, your sleep should want to increase and deepen naturally.
Eat & Drink
The third aspect of cultivating a long healthspan and properly prepping your body is eating and drinking right. Most diets only work because they deny your body suddenly some fat or fiber that it typically needs. The prepper should be already aware of the quality and caloric content of the food they are taking into their body. If you aren’t, start keeping a food journal. Write it down, so you have a visual representation of what you are taking into your body. This may, at times, motivate you to increase your physical activity. Eat fewer highly-processed foods. Reduce refined sugars in your diet. Favor healthier non-hydrogenated fats. Think of what you are eating as what you will be carrying with you for the next weeks or months. Is it food your body needs as fuel, or is it going to be extra weight?
Don’t make dietary changes you won’t be able to maintain. Reflect upon what you are eating and when you are eating. Are you eating out of boredom or stress? Identify your food triggers and the types of food you are consuming. Replace triggers with healthier activities and options. Slowly replace foods you know aren’t truly feeding your body with anything good with foods that you know are healthier. Don’t be hard on yourself if you occasionally still reach for a donut at work. Just let it be a motivator to add a few more steps to your physical activity program. Let it motivate you to drink more water. Don’t skip meals, and try to make your meals balanced between carbs, fats, and proteins. When it comes to carbs, make sure they are quality carbs like vegetables–especially leafy vegetables. I have found eating a cup of red grapes reduces my hunger and is low in calories. Make sure your fats are healthy and natural. Make sure your proteins, if from meat, are fish, chicken, turkey, and lastly, red meats. Avoid processed meats.
The second part of the equation here is to drink water. Cut out most of the drinks that aren’t water. Make sure you are drinking water in the morning before you drink coffee or tea or anything else. Make sure you are drinking water throughout your day. Make sure you are drinking water a few hours before bedtime. Make it a conscious choice. If you make only one change in your life, let it be to commit to drinking at least 2 liters of the cleanest, purest water you can find per day. If you make only one change in your life, let it be to commit to drinking at least 2 liters of the cleanest, purest water you can find per day.
The last component proven to lead to a long healthspan for individuals is psychosocial. Studies have shown that people who live the most extended useful life are connected to their communities, other people, and themselves. They are well-grounded, well-established, rooted, and relied upon. The connection between feeling good and functioning effectively is how experts define psychosocial wellbeing. Studies have discovered that people with higher psychological well-being are more likely to live healthier and longer lives. To achieve this, connect to yourself and connect to a community. Create a life founded in purpose.
By creating a life with meaning and purpose, we can all improve our psychological well-being. It can be as simple as showing kindness, encouragement, acknowledgment to someone who is unseen, or advocating for the voiceless. Ultimately, it boils down to how you want to be remembered by others and not forgetting that each day, you’re leaving a legacy behind whether you like it or not. For many, this will mean freeing yourself from toxic people and toxic arguments. Get rid of your divisive nature and embrace a more accepting and meaningful existence. Tune the noise out if you have to because, at the end of the day, so much of it is only noise.
Start thinking about your future and what it could look like if you’re living your best life. Then, think of small attainable goals to start living your best life now. Routinely spend time reflecting on positive experiences, memories with people you care about, places you’ve been, and some of your greatest moments. Intentionally be thoughtful or go out of your way to show kindness to someone else. This can create a sense of empowerment that you can have an impact on others and your surroundings. Even if that doesn’t fit your personality type, our bodies are hardwired to release both endorphins and oxytocin—the feel-good hormones—and create new neural connections with performing these selfless acts, making it easier over time. Endorphins elevate your mood, and oxytocin is the same hormone released when we connect with someone by hugging or touching.
Finally, and most importantly, make sure to have meaningful and quality connections with people. Although technology has provided some unique ways to connect with others and even allowed for creating new ways to keep long-distance relationships during this pandemic, there’s no proper substitute for in-person contact and human touch. Without quality human connection, we are subject to the perils of loneliness that are just as damaging to our health as smoking a pack a day of cigarettes. So strive for maintaining those healthy relationships over the phone and in-person and don’t get caught up in the pseudo-connections on social media. They are no replacement for real engagement with other people. We genuinely need those social interactions when things are great and especially when experiencing adversity. Building a network for the prepper should be as high of a priority as storing food and water. If you don’t have people or aren’t feeling connected to people, go get some people. They will help you survive life, and not just life’s hard times.
The science is in on improving your healthspan, that time you have where your health is good between your lifespan. Consistent movement, adequate rest, a well-regulated and intentional diet, hydration, and connecting to the core of yourself and a community are all essential elements of a long healthspan.
As always, please stay safe out there.