Let me just get it out there…I’m not a “car guy.” Despite regular urgings from my wife to upgrade, I drive a used 2007 Toyota 4 Runner with over 175,000 miles on it. That said, there is one car that almost took my breath away the first time I ever saw it.
It was the summer of 2010 and I was walking down Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California with my son, Andrew. We were on vacation from Texas and thought it would be fun to hang out for a while on arguably the most opulent, over-the-top street in America. It’s actually pretty crazy…Tiffany, Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Gucci…you get the idea. While navigating the busy sidewalk I looked ahead and saw a fairly large group crowded around what I guessed to be a parked car. Initially, I couldn’t see the car, but since we were in Beverly Hills I assumed there had to be someone famous inside. Brangelina? Leo? One of the Kardashians? (Naw, they weren’t really a thing yet).
As it turned out, there was no one in the car. It was the car itself that was attracting all the attention. Once I was able to get close enough to get a good look I understood why. This creation, whatever it was, was absolutely gorgeous. It was blue and white, with impeccable lines and although it was not running, I could sense this was an amazingly powerful machine. People were standing beside it taking pictures pretending it was theirs. I had never seen an inanimate object generate such a giddy reaction but, I’ll admit, I was not immune.
Right then and there, I decided I needed to have one.
You may have already guessed; the masterpiece was a Bugatti…the most expensive production car in the world. The model I saw was the Bugatti Veyron and with a bit of internet sleuthing I quickly came to realize it was most likely never going to find a home in my garage. The price tag…then…was $2 million. The price tag today…with the newer version which is the Chiron…is a cool 3 million! For a car!!!
But the Bugatti is clearly not just any car. It’s loaded with an 8-liter, 16-cylinder, 1,500 horsepower engine. It goes from zero to 60 in less than 2 and a half seconds and has a top speed of…wait for it…261 miles an hour! The Bugatti is without question an engineering marvel.
Now here is what I would like for you to consider. You are much better designed than the Bugatti, and of greater importance, you’re worth more than $3,000,000! I’m not talking about your net worth or balance sheet. I’m talking about the incredible vessel that you have been blessed with. The human body is beautifully engineered and if you treat it properly it will perform even more impressively than the most expensive automobile in the world. You can certainly just get by without paying much attention to “your car” but you are not going to hit on all cylinders. It’s the difference between being sufficient versus optimal. I’m interested in optimal!
If you want to maximize all aspects of your life, I would encourage you to pay attention to all 16 of your health cylinders which I outline below. How many are you currently hitting on? These are all backed by solid research and will dramatically increase your odds of living a long, happy and productive life. As you will notice, some of these are easier to embrace than others, but I encourage you to “check under your hood” to see where you might have some room for improvement and how you can BE A BUGATTI!
- Wash your hands whenever appropriate. (Yeah, I know. I thought I would start with something obvious and easy). This is one of the most fundamental things you can do to improve your immunity. Pay attention to how many folks don’t wash their hands after using the restroom at an airport or sporting event. Gross! Use soap and hot water and wash long enough for you to say your ABC’s…twice!
- Schedule an annual physical, today. John Kennedy claimed that “The time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining.” I agree. Establish a relationship with a good primary care doctor and make sure you don’t have anything going on that you’re not aware of. Most health insurance plans cover an annual preventive exam. I suggest using the five risk factors associated with Metabolic Syndrome as a great place to start the discussion with your doc. If you don’t know what those are simply ask. If your doc doesn’t know what they are then find a new doc!
- No more than 7 drinks a week. I realize for some of you this is not good news. In the U.S. the recs are still 14 drinks a week for men and 7 for women, but the new international data, supported by substantial research, indicate 7 max for both genders. A 40-year-old man who consumes 14 drinks per week can expect to live one to two years less than men who have 7 or less. What’s a drink?…A 12 ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine, or an ounce and a half of the hard stuff.
- Strength train at least twice a week. I’m guessing you may be saying to yourself, “That’s all?” or possibly, “There’s no way I’m going to do that!” Your call. All I can tell you is that if you’re in your mid 30s or older, and you’re not strength training, then you’re losing muscle mass and bone density…right now! If you want to maintain functionality and quality of life then find a way to lift weights, at a minimum, twice a week. Hit all major muscle groups, don’t just focus on the “mirror muscles.” If you know what you’re doing you should easily get done what you need in no more than 20 minutes. If you’re not sure where to start, then hire a qualified trainer for one of two workouts. It’ll be well worth the investment. And ladies, don’t worry, you’re not going to look like “Ahhnold”…it just doesn’t work that way. Strength training offers a magnificent ROI…both above and below the neck!
- Cut the crap (starting with sugar!) It drives me crazy when people say that nutrition is “so complicated!” No, it’s not. If you’re struggling with where to start, then simply cut the crap…or at least cut back. Even if you don’t know the difference between a carb and a carburetor I’ll bet you certainly know the difference between a lentil and a lollipop. Take a look at what you routinely put into your Bugatti and ask yourself, is this quality fuel or am I simply eating because it’s cheap, convenient and tastes good? If you’re like most Americans you’re consuming a tremendous amount of sugar and don’t even know it…and it’s not coming directly from the sugar bowl. “Food scientists” know that by adding sugar, or some artificial sweetener, they can get us to eat and drink more. Don’t blame them, that’s good business. Be mindful of your fuel quality and choose the foods you know will provide benefit to you, not just the manufacturer.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Oh boy, I know, with close to 80 percent of American adults either overweight or obese, this is a lot easier said than done. But, again, it’s not as complicated as many people make it out to be. If you want to lose weight, and keep it off, then you are going to need to find a way to eat less (duh!). What I’m about to say will probably make you question my sanity but, listen carefully, it’s not what you eat, but when and how you eat that will help you lose weight! Full disclosure, this is the tenet of the Naturally Slim program which our company delivers to more than 800 organizations nationwide. I know, because I hear it on an almost daily basis, most people don’t believe you can eat the foods you love and still lose weight. Well, we have tens of thousands of participants, and peer-reviewed published data, to prove otherwise. Successful weight loss requires building skills that will allow you to not just function, but flourish, in an obesogenic environment. Losing weight and keeping it off IS possible! You just need to learn the basic tenets, practice them until they become habits and you’ll be shocked how easy it is to maintain a healthy weight. If you want to learn more visit www.naturallyslim.com. One important note…your feet cannot outrun your mouth! Exercise does not play a huge role in weight loss. It is critical in weight loss maintenance and in the prevention of weight gain, but it’s of little value in the weight loss process. Exercise has about 1,000 benefits, but weight loss is not one of them.
- Get a minimum of 7 hours sleep per night. If your Bugatti is not hitting on all 16 cylinders the odds are quite high this is one of the factors affecting your performance. Most of us are sleep deprived. Close to 70 percent of us struggle to get enough sleep every night and it’s impacting just about every aspect of our life including our health, happiness, productivity, and weight. We need at least 7 hours every night although for many of us, 8 or more would be optimal. Think about how you feel after a great night of sleep and start being mindful how to make that happen on a consistent basis. As sleep expert Dr. James Maas points out, your body has just one biological clock, not one for week days and one for weekends. Great sleep hygiene starts by maintaining a consistent schedule Monday through Sunday. It’s also critical to create the perfect “Sleep Cave” which should be very dark, quiet and cool (ideal temperature is 65-67 degrees). If needed, Dr. Maas recommends a Power Nap (a phrase he coined), of about 15-20 minutes. Any more than that will most likely make it hard to fall asleep at night. Remember, quality sleep is not a luxury, it’s a necessity!
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss at least once. Trust me, just do it.
- Cultivate healthy relationships. The Harvard Study of Adult Development started in 1938 and has been focused on determining what is most important when it comes to happiness. Guess what they found? It all boils down to relationships…not the quantity but the quality! Establishing and maintaining healthy relationships takes intention and effort but if you want to be happy, I suggest you pay attention to the evidence. The research shows that great relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they also protect our brains. Of note, sibling relationships can be the most important (Well that’s just terrific, I’m an only child!).
- Practice gratitude. There are many definitions of gratitude, but I like this one: the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself and represents a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation (Sansone and Sansone, 2010). I’m convinced that starting your day on a positive note is critical for setting the stage for what’s to come. Rather than focus on what is wrong or what you don’t have, try being intentionally grateful for what you do Try thinking about this as you brush your teeth in the morning or when driving to work: Today I am fortunate to be alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it.
- Make sure you are consuming enough omega-3 fat. Omega-3’s are the healthiest of all fats and are, by definition, essential for overall health. The “long chain” omega’s, EPA and DHA, offer the greatest benefits and are found primarily in fatty fish…salmon, trout, herring, mackerel, and anchovies. The problem is the average American eats fish once every 11 days. If you want to get your omega-3’s in supplement form (usually in fish oil) make sure you are getting at least 1,000 mg of EPA+DHA per day. For more information visit fatsoflife.com.
- Get your Vitamin D level checked. Vitamin D is actually not a vitamin, but a steroid hormone and it plays a role in 10 percent of the human genome. Vitamin D, as well as omega-3 fats, help to lower systemic inflammation. If your vitamin D “bucket” is low or empty, then there’s no way you can hit on all cylinders. Research shows over 75 percent of adolescents and adults are low in D. Although a blood level of 30 ng/ml is considered sufficient, many experts recommend you maintain a level of 40-60 ng/ml. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to all sorts of conditions including immunity, 17 types of cancer, bone health, autism, and mood. Sunshine is the most natural source of vitamin D but needs to be delivered in the proper dose. Sunscreen blocks the majority of vitamin D synthesis. In supplement form, 2,000 IU of vitamin D is a great place to start but many experts recommend 5,000 units. For more information visit vitamindcouncil.org. Heads up! Make sure you ask your health care provider what a vitamin D test will cost before you have it done. The variance in pricing can be dramatic depending on where you have it done and what your insurance covers.
- Use ALL of your vacation days every year. Compared to the rest of the world, Americans are notorious for not using their allotted paid days off. Six weeks off seems about ideal, but in this country we average about 11 days per year. There are a variety of reasons for that but if you would like to increase your happiness then plan and take a vacation. It doesn’t need to be one big trip. Several, shorter breaks often provide greater pleasure. Having something to look forward to can make a huge difference in your outlook and attitude.
- Avoid negative people. This is pretty obvious. Life’s too short to hang around folks who bring you down. Be mindful of this. Have a candid conversation and if “Debbie Downer” can’t change her tune, then cut bait. Some people make your laugh a little louder, your smile a little brighter and your life a little better. They’re the ones worth hanging onto.
- Do something for someone who will never be able to repay you…every day. I borrow this mantra from the late, great UCLA Basketball Coach, John Wooden, who felt you couldn’t live a perfect day without it. The older I get, the more I realize that everyone, and by that I mean EVERYONE, has “stuff.” They may try very hard to hide their “stuff” but they still have it. Being intentional about helping others, especially when you do it without any expectation of a reward, will go a long way in helping to make your day perfect!
- Walk the dog…even if you don’t have one! I intentionally saved the most important recommendation for last. If you truly want your Bugatti to hit on all cylinders, then achieving a healthy fitness level is mandatory. There are hundreds of things you can do to improve your fitness but taking an intentional walk, every day, is a fantastic place to start. 30 minutes at a moderate to brisk pace is terrific but remember: something is ALWAYS better than nothing! Listening to music, books on tape, or podcasts while walking really helps the time fly.
So, there you go…16 keys to helping you achieve overall health and happiness. How many of these are you already doing? If you’re 16 for 16 then kudos! If not, which ones are you willing to start working on?
Aristotle said: You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit! A habit is something you do without thinking about it…i.e. brushing your teeth or putting on a seatbelt. The more you have to think about something the less likely it will ever happen but if you can turn healthy behaviors into habits, then your odds of living a wonderful, meaningful life go way up.
Remember, if it’s important, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.
Now, say it out loud: I’m a Bugatti!