I’ve been thinking a lot about health lately, which will come as no surprise if you’ve read my previous blog about injuring my back.
I think of health as a three-legged stool. The legs are sleep, nutrition, and exercise. I cover the principles I use in some detail in my new book The Theory and Practice of Historical Martial Arts, but I don’t go into my personal routines all that much, because they’re probably not relevant to most readers. The underlying message is ‘diligently study to find out what works for you, then do that’. So what do I do?
This morning, I got up before my wife and kids and did about 20 minutes of breathing exercises, 20 minutes of calisthenics (push-ups, stretching and so on), before making my wife a cup of tea and going back upstairs to deliver it before having my cold shower, then getting dressed and having breakfast. This is normal, and doesn’t count as ‘training’.
But today, I did walk the long route to the gym (about 3 miles, fast, with nordic walking poles), and did my 7-way legs, hex bar deadlifts (I’m back up to 60kg, but won’t go higher for a long while as my back recovers), arm exercises (such as the ones on my free arm maintenance course), and the rest of my routines. The walk and gym time totalled about two hours 20 minutes, which means that by the time I got to my office, I’ve done about three hours of health-dedicated exercise. I don’t do that much that often because I’m not a fan of ‘more is better’. I prefer to find the minimum effective dose and do that.
Perhaps the hardest health practice I do is fasting. Not because fasting itself is hard- it isn’t, or at least it doesn’t have to be. The difficulty is I don’t want to normalise not-eating for my daughters. They are heading into the age where anorexia and other eating disorders become a significant risk, and one of the things I’m doing to try to mitigate that risk is model healthy eating and a healthy enjoyment of food. (Other things include never praising them for their looks, letting them not finish their dinner if they are really not hungry, or stop eating when they’re full, and above all giving them a firm sense of being in control wherever possible- this includes things like letting them choose a recipe, do the shopping, and prepare the meal (or more commonly, cake), even when– especially when– I wouldn’t make the same choices.) But they were away for a couple of nights, so I managed to get some fasting in. I set it up like so:
Dinner as normal, but a bit early, on Sunday (roast lamb with all the trimmings). Then Monday morning, a small ketogenic breakfast, made up of some lightly steamed cabbage with a tin of mackarel, some nuts, olive oil, and MCT oil, with a dose of raspberry ketones and a dose of BCAAs. That put me straight into ketosis, which I prefer for fasting because a) it prevents muscle mass being digested for calories and b) it hugely reduces hunger, making compliance much easier. I don’t fast for character-building or spiritual reasons; this is all about biochemistry.
Then I just ate nothing at all until breakfast on Tuesday morning. I drank only water. The only other thing I ingested was, on Monday night, I could feel I was thirstier than normal, and as I usually eat a lot of salt, and had just had a long hot bath, I figured I might be low on salt, so had a pinch (I was right, it helped immediately). Monday was a training day, so I went to the gym for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Being in ketosis means that there’s no problem with ‘low blood sugar’, which (except for diabetics and people with other conditions) is a bullshit reason for feeling unable to train anyway. If you can’t train when hungry, then there’s something wrong with your diet, or your training. If everything is working properly, there should be no energy drop from low blood sugar unless you are fasting the hard way (i.e. not triggering ketosis first), and are in day two or three. If you’ve eaten in the last 24 hours, you ought to be fine. If that’s not the case, then you have some metabolic work to do!
Do I think you should do this? I have no opinion whatsoever, as I don’t know you, your medical history, or anything else. But folk ask me about this stuff, so I’m sharing.
If I had to pick one thing I think is most useful and important, out of all the things I do for health reasons, it would be breathing exercises. I do them every day. They are the one constant over the last 25 years of training. They combine a kind of meditation, some useful movement, and provide a back door into your metabolism that is startlingly effective. That’s why I created an online course covering the basics of several styles of breathing training, so you can find what works for you. I’m offering a 50% discount on the course that’s valid until the end of April, just use this link.
Try it out! The course comes with a 30 day money back guarantee, so if it’s not your thing, no harm done.
I look forward to seeing you on the course.