21 Ways to Improve Your Daily Health

Spending time in the gym or following a strict diet are great, but they still take place within the confines of our daily life. Improving our health is not difficult, or for that matter even challenging, but it does require making small adjustments to our daily lives.

All the little things we do throughout the day may seem insignificant, but they add up to big changes. Here are twenty-one ways that you can start improving your health today and create a healthier, more pain-free you for tomorrow. Continue reading

One Year Without Black Coffee

I love coffee.

I drink it black. No cream. No sugar. Ever.

It has been extremely tough to quit but today marks the one year anniversary since I went cold turkey on black coffee.

One year ago today, I stopped drinking it. Not caffeine, but black coffee. I didn't eliminate caffeine -- that wasn't the goal -- just black coffee. I still allowed myself expresso as long as it was diluted in something other than water. (Since I'm vegan, that only left soy milk.)

At first I switched to tea. Then I experimented with soy lattes (an espresso diluted in steamed soy milk). Eventually, I removed all sources of high caffeine.

Now I drink water, tea, and the occasional Earl Grey Soy Misto (Earl Grey tea with steamed soy milk).

I no longer wake up in the morning feeling the need to power myself by ingesting a foreign substance. Continue reading

The Passing of my Grandfather

My grandfather passed away in his sleep last Thursday at the age of seventy.

I clearly remember the very last time I saw him. It was three weeks prior to his passing. He shook my hand, as he always did, and asked how I was doing. I only saw him for a brief moment but now that moment is burned into my memory.

The days following his passing were noticeably, and understandably, tough on my mom, grandma, and my aunts and uncles. It was the first time I had seen many of my relatives cry. I was so impressed by my grandmothers strength. At one point, when she started crying into my shoulder, she held back and said "look at me, crying like a little child".

In life, choose happiness. Reserve your sadness for the afterlife.

A strange feeling arises every now and then when I realize he's gone. For that brief moment, it doesn't feel real. Everything, from the wake to the funeral, felt surreal. I couldn't help but contemplate how one day, myself and all the people present will meet the same fate. Life felt animated, a picturesque moment in a film without a known duration. Thirty years? Ten years? Five months? Three weeks? Six days? One hour?

My other grandfather, on my dad's side, died when I was about nine years old. I remember going to his wake and being surrounded by people in black suits towering over me, mourning for a reason I didn't understand and obviously feeling something I didn't feel. I really didn't know him that well and my only other memory of him is of when we visited him in the hospital.

You never know what moment may be the very last you'll see someone, so it's important to treat every moment as if it were your, or their, last. Living that way makes you appreciate every moment of life, regardless of the situation. When we take life for granted we forget who we really are and how much those we love mean to us.

Death gives us the ultimate reason to celebrate life.

A little over a week ago I wrote about how every single one of us will die one day and why that means we should all choose happiness and growth in life.

Almost every day I remind myself of this fact and each time I do I seem to appreciate life a little bit more. It reminds me that I have no reason to be unhappy; no reason to be angry; no reason to be frustrated; no reason to be unmotivated. It pushes me to take action and do the things I've always wanted to do. It reminds me to appreciate family, friends, and most of all, myself. It reminds me that, as my Uncle Dan always says, "your health is your wealth" and that all the money and fame in the world is pointless if I don't have my health.

"Your health is your wealth."

Take care of your health.

The bad guy isn't technology, it's our inexperience

The topic of discussion on NPR this morning was E-Memory and Human Nature. They were discussing how the future prevalence of large-scale computing power and massive storage (resulting in the storing of our memories, events in our lives, etc) will change human nature and what it means to be human.

One of the guests, and most of the callers, were worried about offloading our memories and processing power to a machine. They feared it would turn us into organisms with a powerful brain but with nothing to do; they feared the repercussions would make us less human.

What I think they're missing is that humans are inherently creative and curious. If we have more free space in our heads and more free time on our hands, we're not going to waste it away with pointless activities (at least not for very long); we'll gravitate towards being more creative and exploring areas of life that would otherwise have not been within reach.

The acceptance of mundane tasks and jobs as a part of our daily lives slows the progress of human civilization. While there are many socially, physically, and even culturally harmful effects of technology today, I think they can be directly attributed to the fact that this stuff is so damn new to us.

Humankind has never seen technology of today's complexity, at least not in recorded history. We have no idea how to cope with the changes technology is bringing about and so, like a baby learning to walk, we're bound to make mistakes and do things that make technology appear like the bad guy (and in many cases it is the bad guy; we just haven't figured out how to use it properly yet).

Finding a balance and living in harmony with technology is what I believe we'll eventually realize we must do. However, I don't think that we've even begun to realize that we much search for that, let alone begun the search at all.

My swim trunks and a tiny island

Today at my parents house I swam 1/4 mile to a tiny island (the lake is called Little Island Pond, but it's actually a lake and it has two islands; a little one and a big one). I wasn't planning on swimming all the way there but I decided it was a nice day so why not. I've been wanting to start training for a triathlon and swimming is definitely an area where I need to work on my endurance and technique. I tried to stay close to shore and raise my hand and splash my feet whenever it looked like a boat coming towards me might not see me.

When I got to the tiny island (a big pile of rocks with a few shrubs and lily pads all around) I found a suitable sized flat rock and laid down in the sun. It was so peaceful. Boats and jet skis would roar by every now and then, sending waves rippling towards the rocks, eventually crashing and lightly splashing water on me. My iPhone was a 1/4 mile away. No buzzing. No ringing. Not even the possibility of it. It was literally just me, my swim trunks, and a bunch of rocks in the middle of a lake.

I had no way of tracking time and I don't know how long I ended up staying there. I wasn't thinking about time. I was just enjoying the moment. It's amazing how quickly time can pass when you're thoroughly enjoying the moment. Eventually I slipped back into the water and made my way back. I practiced the combat side stroke, a technique used by the Navy SEALs. It's amazing how well the technique moves you through the water. When I looked up at the shoreline, it seemed like I was moving at the speed of a slow jog!

One thing I like to do is track my distance in various activities. If I spend an hour swimming, I'd like to know how far I swam so I can try to improve on the time. A few days ago I started using an app on my iPhone called RunKeeper. It tracks distance and time using the built-in GPS and even plots your route on a Google Map. Awesome. So I thought, "Hey, if I could get my iPhone in a waterproof case and drag it along behind me while I swim, I should be able to track the distance in the same way!"

With the plan in my head seeming flawless, I purchased a waterproof case from Eastern Mountain Sports. When I arrived at my parents house I put the iPhone in the waterproof case, stole a shoelace from my brothers' boot, tied the case to my ankle, and started swimming. I took a peek at the case to make sure no water got inside. So far so good. I swam about 100 feet and checked again. Hmm, the app stopped recording the distance. It looked like someone touched the screen. Maybe the iPhone touchscreen was being finicky and responding to the temperature of the water? Weird. I turned around and swam back.

When I got to the shore and looked at the iPhone through the case, I noticed water inside. WTF? That would explain the weird touchscreen responses! I was pretty shocked. There was water in the waterproof case! Luckily, the iPhone still worked. (The Griffin hard case I've kept it in since the day I bought it probably helped.) I returned the case to EMS today.

Thanks to Google, I figured out an easy way to estimate my swimming distance using Google Maps:

Swim Route

The total distance round trip was about 1/2 a mile. I plan to continue swimming on the weekends, even as it gets colder. If the Navy SEAL trainees (BUD/S) can swim and train in near freezing water, then so can I (check out some of these videos if you feel like being inspired).

Using my feet for that which they were designed

I've walked more in the past few days than I have in the past few months. Yesterday I clocked in 8 miles on my feet and 4 miles the day before, all while wearing sandals and carrying a 15lb bag in 90 degree heat. My feet are on the verge of blistering and I absolutely love it! It feels so good to finally be using my body for that which it was designed instead of moulding it to a machine.

Going Cold Turkey on all Liquids Except Water and Tea

A few months ago when I went cold turkey on coffee, my goal was not to eliminate caffeine altogether, just black coffee. Many people who learned of my quitting coffee were confused when they saw me drinking a soy latte (which contains expresso), so I had to explain to them the difference between black coffee and coffee diluted in soy milk. As much a I love coffee (yes, love, not loved; I still love coffee!), I have suppressed all the urges (as ridiculously strong as they may have been) and my mouth has not seen a single cup of black coffee in over four months!

Although I did not quit black coffee to eliminate all caffeine from my diet, the negative side effects of high caffeine consumption that I was experiencing from drinking lots of black coffee was my main motivation. However, the past few weeks I have unconsciously been increasing the number of lattes I drink, thereby increasing my caffeine intake, increasing the negative side effects that I originally quit black coffee to avoid, and decreasing the money in my wallet.

So today I decided I'm going cold turkey on all liquids except water and tea (and possibly soy milk for protein shakes), until at least the end of the year. I really need to escape this caffeine addiction (yes, it's addiction, no matter how much I don't want to admit it). It's ridiculous, unnecessary, and costing me way too much money. I quit black coffee, so this should be easy.

Cooking food with positive thoughts and positive energy

While sitting at my favorite vegan cafe, Life Alive, I overheard one of the employees telling a new employee about the importance of positive energy and positive thoughts when making rice. Yes, making rice. She was explaining how even if it's been a busy day and you're frustrated, it's important not to put negative energy and negative thoughts into the rice. Whether or not that's the primary reason the food tastes so good, I'm willing to bet it plays a big role. (I would reference Masaru Emoto's Messages from Water research, but it has yet to be scientifically proven.)

Swollen Shins as a Result of Muscular Imbalances

Over the course of the past 27 years, my posture has suffered greatly from the sedentary nature of my career. The extreme muscular imbalances have created a very dysfunctional body and those dysfunctions become more and more apparent the further I push myself physically.

For example while running, more pressure is exerted on my lower shins than is normal and as a result they've become swollen (and even bruised). They're in pain constantly, even when walking. My hip flexor muscles are locked into flexion, causing my torso to lean slightly forward. Extremely tight calves and quads also prevent full extension of the legs when running.

The past few months I've been doing more running than ever before and I've broken several personal records along the way (dropped my 4 mile run time from 41 min to 30 min in 3 months). Since noticing my swollen shins, I've eased up slightly on the length of my runs (3 miles instead of 4+) and started icing and stretching.

I seriously need to commit more time (i.e., daily) to fixing the muscle imbalances in my body. For the past 6 months or so, I've been using (on and off) Pete Egocsue's excellent postural therapy program, as outlined in two books, Pain Free and Pain Free at your PC. In the long run, fixing the muscular imbalances is more important than any other physical training since exercising a dysfunctional body will only strengthen the imbalances and prevent me from reaching my full physical potential!

To sleep or not to sleep?

Everything I've read about fitness and sleep during the past ten years has talked about the major importance sleep plays in rejuvenating our body -- lack of sleep can be as harmful as eating unhealthy foods! While I've been trying to change my schedule to wake up earlier, I often find myself waking up extremely tired. I justify going back to sleep because I tell myself it's probably healthier than waking up early. But then if I don't deal with lack of sleep for a few nights in a row, I'll never adjust my sleeping pattern.

Started a New Upper Back Workout for the Month of May

I started a new workout for the month of May. It's an upper back workout designed to work the smaller supportive muscles required to build bigger arms and shoulders. It's part of the Men's Health 2009 Poster Series, so I want to wait until the next issue before posting full details of the workout. I'm also keeping up with my running routine. Although I haven't been keeping a regular schedule, I'm trying to run as much as possible (I'm teetering on the edge of shin splints).

Physical Training Involves Body and Mind Conditioning

Physical training is as much a conditioning of the human body as it is the human mind. To make something a reality, we must first be able to envision it with our mind. By conditioning the mind we can push our bodies beyond our perceived limitations. You can do it -- don't let anyone, including your mind, tell you otherwise.

My New Workout Routine: Navy SEAL PT

I've started doing a Navy SEAL calisthenic workout routine that takes about 60 minutes and consists of a warm-up, various types of pull-ups, dips, various types of pushups, various ab exercises, a very tough lying neck rotation exercise, and finally lunges, calf raises, and 250 squats.

The only thing I can keep up with is the warm-up, pull-ups, and leg exercises. However, after two weeks I'm definitely seeing huge improvement. I do this workout three days a week and mix in 4-mile, 35-40 min cardio sessions in-between.

I've never done this much running before (15 - 20 miles a week) and my calves and knees are still adjusting to all the pounding on the treadmill. I'm ignoring the pain, but I need to be careful not to injure myself (I'm crazy enough to push myself to the point of injury; I've done it before).

I rarely feel the need for inspiration when it comes to fitness, but the Navy SEALs have given me a benchmark from which I can compare my own fitness. In fact, after reading so much about them the past few weeks I have undergone some profound changes mentally. But I'll leave that for a separate post. 🙂

Going Cold Turkey on Coffee

Coffee is the one thing that I have tried to quit several times over the past few years and failed (it's been my new years resolution several years in a row). Failing is not like me. If I want to quit something, I just do it. I've never been addicted to anything in my life... except coffee.

I started drinking coffee with cream and sugar when I was 16. When I got into fitness a few years later, I slowly decreased the amount of cream and sugar in the coffee until it was black. From that point on, cream and sugar in my coffee ruined it for me so I continued to drink it black.

The average cup of black coffee contains between 115-175mg of caffeine. More than 300mg of caffeine a day on regular basis has been shown to cause several negative side effects, including increased urination (and dehydration as a result), disruption of normal diet (drinking coffee when hungry makes you no longer feel hungry, even though your body needs food), headaches, irritation, and mood swings. I have experienced all of these, but I'm only now beginning to realize how much they're affecting my fitness and overall health.

I recognized a pattern in my coffee consumption. Over a three month time span, I would go from drinking 1 cup to 4 cups of coffee per day. Eventually I would feel so sick of the high caffeine intake (or its side effects) that I would drop back down to 1 cup a day, only to begin the process all over again. Here's a chart of what I'm talking about:

Cups of Coffee Per Day

For some reason I've felt extremely motivated and strong about the fitness goals I set for this year, so since I'm on a roll I decided to go cold turkey on coffee last Tuesday (February 17th). The first few days were rough. Tuesday the bad headaches started. Wednesday the headaches were slightly better, but the mood swings crept in (mood swings are rare for me, so it was easy for me to recognize them). Thursday it was a combination of mood swings and headaches but by Friday the side effects were starting to wear off.

I had considered leaving the weekends open for one or two coffees, but I remembered when I did that in the past it resulted in eventually making exceptions during the week. I almost gave in on Saturday, almost. Today is Sunday and I can already feel my desire for coffee is slowly but surely wearing off. I feel so much better overall. I'm able to wake up easier in the morning, I'm spending less, my diet and digestion are better, and I don't feel this constant need for something external to keep me going.