This was a long pending book on my reading list that I finally finished reading recently. Just when the book was released a few years back, I had listened to a lot of podcasts featuring the author that raised my interest about the book. Now that I have finally read the book I can say that I should have read it much earlier. I feel that everyone should go through the book atleast once inorder to change their lives for the better. As the author rightfully says, when it comes to well-being, maintaining long term health and quality of life, the best medicine for you is you. This is what this book is all about, i.e, what you can do from your side to keep yourself healthy and strong physically and mentally.
The author of this book, Rangan Chatterjee is a physician, television presenter, author and a podcaster. He is best known for his TV show Doctor in the House and has also appeared on BBC TV news and radio.
The author has shared his ideas in this book that have transformed his own and his family’s life. He is confident in saying that the ideas presented in this book have saved hundreds of his patients from a lifetime of pain and medication. The ideas being simple and achievable can be utilized by anyone regardless of your job, food preference and location.
This book is divided into four main pillars that aims at improving the way you Relax, Eat, Move and Sleep. Each pillar is equally important and it is possible to consider each pillar in isolation that needs more attention. The author provides health advice in this book on the basic idea that the human body is one big connected system. If it starts being treated poorly in one area, by bad diet or lack of sleep, problems can emerge in another part of it. The author being a physician says that a symptom in one domain might actually have a cause upstream in an area of the body that the medical training does not tell them to look into.
Based on the data of majority of patients, the author says that the majority of health problems are driven entirely by their lifestyle. In this pillar, the physician author orders you to give daily relaxation as high a priority as food, movement and sleep. This most often gets ignored, both by the public and also by the plethora of quick fix health books.
Me-Time Every Day
Every day for at least 15 minutes, be selfish, and enjoy some time for you that does not involve your smartphone, tablet or PC. There are many reasons why these breaks make a difference, among which the principle one is that it helps to switch off your overactive stress response.
The level of the hormone, cortisol surges when we are stressed. Cortisol works by activating our sympathetic nervous system, i.e., our fight or flight response. In the modern lifestyle, this fight or flight response is activated many times in a day. This response can be managed as long as we take steps to balance it out with rest and relaxation.
It is important to remember the term ‘cortisol steal’. More of cortisol will be produced to overcome stress situations in a day. Cortisol steals the LDL cholesterol that is used to produce other hormones as well during long term state of stress. This upsets the hormonal balance.
The Screen Free Sabbath
Use devices in a way that helps you rather than enslaves you. The usage of smartphone has become addictive. We are constantly contactable through calls, emails and texts on our smartphones, coupled with constant noise of social media that we let into our brains. This can be an easy road to stress and depression to anyone. Altering the way you use your smartphone can be the way to reset your relationship with electronic media. Create a digital detox plan such that you are e-device free for a few hours in a day or a whole day in a week. The author provides his plan in the book that is worth going through.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Every night before going to bed make it a point to list out a few things that you are grateful for. Irrespective of whether you had a good day or a bad day, listing out the things at the end of day helps to shift the focus towards positivity.
Practice Stillness Daily
In the modern world, we spend most of our time overwhelmed by calls of attention. Lowering our stress by practicing stillness can have far reaching effects on the rest of our wellness. It can be intimidating for the overactive monkey mind to practice stillness instantly. In order to be good at anything you need to train. Similarly, you have to train your mind to practice stillness. Meditation or mindfulness is about stillness. Start with a minute or two and gradually build up to ten or fifteen mins that would be ideal. In a flow state of stillness, stresses and distractions of everyday ordinary life are blocked and mind is at peak state of focus.
Reclaim Your Dinner Table
As recently as twenty years ago it was common for families to eat their evening meals together. But nowadays most of them have their meals in front of TV, which results in over consumption of food unconsciously. Even the social connection deteriorates. The fix is to sit and eat together to eat healthy and feel closer.
The huge problem with today’s food culture is the sheer amount of conflicting advice that’s flying about the place. There is no one true diet that’s optimal for everyone. However, the blue zones have been widely studied by nutritional scientists hoping to discover the one true diet. The people in the blue zones are nearly always in good health with much lower rates of chronic diseases. The common diet across the blue zones consists of:
- A non-processed food culture. They eat fresh, unprocessed, local produce.
- Sit and eat meals together.
- They eat what’s in season.
- They have treats only on special festival times and not every day after school, or every Friday or Saturday.
Our unrelenting habit of sugar consumption sets us on a blood sugar roller coaster. The fix is to get off it completely. If we abuse our system for a long time, our bodies will become resistant to insulin that is helpful to normalize blood sugar levels. Since sugar is absolutely everywhere nowadays it is good to get into the habit of reading the labels of food items for sugar before buying. The strategies to cut down on sugar include some protein in every meal that helps you feeling full and avoids sugar cravings, keep healthy snacks with you readily available. Once you have reset your relationship with sugar start to consume it intentionally.
As per researchers our gut consists of diverse microbiome capable of adaptation and job share. Over the years our gut populations have been decimated by modern way of living resulting in less diversity than we used to have. As mentioned in this book this is a likely factor for growing rates of chronic ailments. There is a simple way to fix the damaged microbiome with plant-based fiber. In the large intestine or gut, the microbiome feeds on the prebiotic plant-based fiber and produces anti-inflammatory byproducts that helps to improve immunity. We can control the gut bugs and help them to work for us with our food choices. The more the number of coloured vegetables we eat, the more we will get of these incredible compounds called phytonutrients or polyphenols. The physician author’s advice is to start eating 5different types of vegetables each day, different colors the better.
Daily Micro fasts
Our bodies are designed for going without food for certain period of time. But in the modern environment we surrender to the temptations to eat frequently. Having your food in a restricted time window allows your body to enhance its own house cleaning. This process of cleaning or autophagy sets in at about 12 hours of fasting. The benefits include enhanced detox, lower levels of inflammation, improved blood sugar, improved immune function. As per recent studies, our body functions are determined by circadian rhythm. Scheduling an early evening meal or skipping it may be more beneficial than skipping the breakfast.
Drink More Water
The author mentions that many of his patients who complain about tiredness, regularly experience low grade and long-lasting headaches, it turns out that many of them are simply not drinking enough water.
So, he recommends his patients and everyone to drink at least 8 glasses or 1 liter of water every day. Care should be taken not to drink calories in the form of fruit juice or diet drinks. Drinking enough water results in fewer headache, increased energy, reduced craving for sugar and so on.
Unprocess Your Diet
The author mentions that it is a pretty safe bet that any food product that contains more than five ingredients is highly processed. More than low carb or low fat diet the point is to consume good quality fat, carbs and protein diet. The major drivers of inflammation in our bodies is transfat, highly refined carbs and vegetable oil. Real food is minimally processed that reduces inflammation and nurtures a healthy microbiome.
As the physician author rightly says, health is so much more than just a comparison of calories in vs energy out. We see the keep fit craze everywhere nowadays. Weight loss is being considered as the goal when infact it should be a natural side effect of living well. Another general thinking is to consider movement and exercise as a separate activity from the rest of our lives when infact it needs to be included as part of our lives.
A simple rule to set us in the direction of being more active is to set an arbitrary goal of 10,000 steps a day. The author wants you to start seeing the whole world as a gym so that you start seeing opportunities to make movement an achievable part of your life. The benefits include improved mental wellness, reduced risk of diseases.
We tend to think of the muscle as nothing more than dumb meat necessary to power our limbs. But the fact is that the muscles control not only how harmones are released into our bodies but also how it is regulated. Our muscle cells contain a high concentration of mitochondria. Mitochondria being our energy factory, the more muscle we have the more mitochondria hence more potential to make energy. Since after the age of 30 we start to lose muscle mass naturally, regular strength training would be a must. The author suggests the readers to choose a strength training of their choice. In the book he provides a workout plan for people with busy lives that needs to be started slowly and built upon later. This strength training includes 5-10 squats, 5-10 calf raises, 5-10 press ups, 5-10 triceps dips and 5-10 lunges.
Begin Regular High Intensity Interval Training
This refers to exercising hard but in short bursts. The difference between HIIT and traditional exercise is that, rather than going non stop for an extended period of time, your workout is sectioned off into lots of smaller sessions. However, in these short sessions you need to go all out, sweat running, heart pumping. The health benefits of HIIT include; weight reduction, getting rid of the dangerous internal visceral fat, increasing mitochondrial numbers and so on. There are a lot of different versions of HIIT, but the author suggests any form of exercise with a period of high intensity movement followed by a period of low intensity movement.
As we grow older we no longer run around having fun. This part of our nature that gets repressed with all the responsibilities of the adulthood needs to be replenished. This intervention is focused on fun and play, either at office or at home. The point is to enjoy the workout like playing together, house gym, office workout with team mates. The author has suggested a combination of movements such as 5 triceps dips, 5 star jumps, 5 hand clap lunges, 5 side lunges, 5 desk press ups to be done five days a week. This is a great way of engaging everyone to be active.
Wakeup Your Sleepy Glutes
As per the author we are a generation who have sleepy glute muscles and flat butts due to our sedentary lifestyle. We usually think of our bottoms as something to sit on, but they are one of the most important muscles in the body. A lot of back pain types are associated with sleepy backsides. If they are off they can knock on effects on many other muscles in the body. The solution is to switch on your glutes by following some body stretch exercises. The author has come up with a set of movement exercises with one of the experts in the field of movement mechanics, the movements include; flexing on a step, the hip adduction, foot clocks, 3D hip extension. He suggests to do at least one of these four movements every single day.
As per the author we are in the middle of a sleep deprivation epidemic. However, what sleep researchers find particularly dangerous is that many sleep deprived individuals don’t even realize they are fatigued and their performance impaired. The fact that we spend a third of our entire lives asleep just hints at how critical it is for both our mental and physical well-being. The potential benefits of a good night’s sleep include increased energy, improved concentration, improved immune system function, better memory, reduced stress levels and so on.
Create an Environment of Absolute Darkness
The author provides a simple hack by recommending the environment in which we go to bed needs to be completely dark. Darkness is a signal to our bodies that it is time to rest by triggering the production of melatonin. For a good night sleep, one more important point is to keep your room free of TVs or e-devices. The blue light needs to be avoided, but in unavoidable situations go for red light instead. Sleep deprivation results in increased level of cortisol, increases BP, impairs our body’s ability to regulate sugar.
Embrace Morning Light
The author highlights the importance of exposure to morning light in this intervention. In the earlier intervention it was about managing darkness at night for better sleep, here it is about managing light in the mornings. In terms of values, full sunlight gives us about 30,000 lux, cloudy day gives about 10,000 lux and a brightly lit room gives about 500 lux of exposure to light. The differential between your maximum and minimum light exposure is also important in helping set your body’s rhythms, boost cognitive function, and increase Vitamin D levels.
The retinal photoreceptors in the eye are most sensitive to a short wavelength of light that is available only in the mornings. One of the great things about this intervention is that by going out for a 20-minute morning walk gives you the me time, helps towards 10,000 steps and addresses your current intervention of exposure to natural light.
Create a Bedtime Routine
We all have a master body clock that keeps its time using signals of light and dark. Each function in our body like harmone production, core body temperature, our memory and so on has its own rhythm. All these rhythms combine to form the awe inspiring and beautiful symphony that is the healthy human body. Aside from having a regular sleep time, one way we can support the internal rhythms is by having a constant routine or pathway that leads us towards sleep. The author suggests having a set routine/wind down before going to bed is as important as having a fixed getting up time. The set routine should include no device time before bed as well.
Manage Your Commotion
This intervention is about reducing emotional tension or stimulation in the precious hours before bed. The author suggests minimizing activities like watching thriller movies, arguing, talking about financial aspects, working out, using devices to check email that will raise the emotional tension before bed. However, activities like meditation, breathing exercises and journaling helps.
Enjoy Your Caffeine Before Noon
Caffeine is the world’s most popular drug. It sharpens our senses, and a lot of new research associates caffeine consumption with better health outcomes. However, caffeine is known to be a big sleep disruptor. It blocks the body’s ability to sense adenosine, the chemical that helps to induce sleep. Hence drinking the right amount of caffeine at the right time matters. It is advisable to take caffeine before lunch time, considering the number of hours it takes for its effect to subside.
The author makes a very good statement about change that reads as follows: By making conscious changes to our lifestyle we make unconscious changes to our biology. As mentioned earlier as well, the best medicine for you is you. So, making it happen should be your top priority since about 90% of your health is determined by your environment and not your genes.
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