There are innumerable health maintenance systems out there today. The problem with many of them is that in an effort to appear authoritative, they often become cumbersome. In reality, some of the best programs ever developed have been distilled into a few easily actionable steps that anyone can take with minimal guidance or accountability.
This is exactly the framework I’ve used in developing my own programs for specialized training like weight loss or recovery. Even when dealing with clients who don’t know where to start, it’s developing the mindset of consistent, daily habits that leads to the greatest long-term success.
This is why I came up with this simple 5-4-3-2-1 pattern for wellness and physical training. It can be implemented by anyone at any time, used as a framework for regular healthy living, and taken as a starting point for virtually any other training initiative. Come back to this pattern in between more complex training cycles, and you’ll see how easy it is to maintain.
5 Times a Week: Internal and Breath Work
Most of us have actually forgotten how to breathe. I know we all have to breathe to live, but we frequently breathe in a very superficial way that actually keeps us in a very outwardly-focused mental state. As a result, we can deplete ourselves of oxygen, stiffen through our ribcage, and keep our stressors front of mind while trying to also cope with reasoning and cognition.
The solution: meditation. I recommend meditation with focused breathing at least 10 minutes a day, five days a week. It can be a guided meditation (YouTube has thousands of great channels devoted to this), or something more intensive like the Wim Hof method.
Whatever it is, breath work is vital to correcting breathing and getting the physical stresses out of your upper brain and back into the primal brain where they belong. This, in turn, allows your mind to focus better in the moment, improves your circulation, and helps to release stress stored in your body.
“Meditation is like a gym in which you develop the powerful mental muscles of calm and insight.” – Ajahn Brahm
4 Times a Week: Mobility and Internal Energy Work
At least four times a week you should be opening up your fascia, joints, and connective tissues. This type of work is often associated with breathwork and meditation, so it’s a great companion to the first step mentioned above.
Modalities for internal energy work include yoga, taiji, and qigong. These practices are more gentle, but have a huge (and growing) body of research supporting their use in recovery, trauma, fitness, health maintenance, healthy aging, and a lot more.
The name of the game is coordinating body, mind, and breath into a single, internally focused system that works effectively to enhance oxygenation, circulation, flexibility, and mobility. It doesn’t matter if the training concentrates on prana or qi, or if it’s just plain old stretching coordinated with breathing. Opening up muscles, joints, and connective tissue is the key to undoing a lot of the damage by our modern, desk-bound lifestyles.
You don’t have to be a competitive bodybuilder to train your muscles. In fact, most of us shouldn’t be. But you do need to make your muscles do some work. It isn’t just about being stronger, although that certainly helps. The fact is, muscle is metabolically active tissue, which means you burn more calories just being alive. Training skeletal muscles also puts tension on the bones, which increases bone strength and density. And (one you might not have known) resistance training uses LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind) to transport protein to the muscles, which lowers your risk of heart disease.
Resistance training doesn’t require you to spend hours in the gym. With the right program, you can get what you need in 30 to 45 minutes, three times a week. It can be done with just your body weight, or using a pair of dumbbells or resistance bands. I even have a few techniques developed from physiotherapy that use dynamic tension (flexing the muscle) to improve tone and function without sacrificing the joints. The most important thing is that you get those muscles working so your body does its job.
2 Times a Week: Cardio Training
The old school of thought was that everyone needs to do at least 30 minutes a day of cardio training. The fact is, this information comes from about 40 years ago, and new research suggests much of it is unnecessary (remember: if you’re doing intense enough resistance training plus breathwork, you’re probably doing enough!). Some may even be harmful to your heart, lungs, and joints. Long, steady-state cardio sessions are also proving to be ineffective for long-term weight loss.
My preferred systems are high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and burst training. Both consist of very short, but very intense, bursts of high output activity (like sprinting) that alternates with longer rest periods (like walking, or even sitting). These types of activity cause your body to burn huge amounts of energy in short spurts, but have the added benefit of keeping the metabolism revved up for as long as 24 hours after the workout has ended, making them a highly effective addition to any weight loss or maintenance plan.
“The resistance that you fight physically in the gym and the resistance that you fight in life can only build a strong character.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
1 Time a Week: Play
I mean, if you’re not getting out and enjoying life a little, what are you even doing this for? Get outside at least once a week, and have some fun. Go to the park with the kids. Go for a hike in the woods. Go rollerblading at the beach. Go for a bike ride. Get on a weekend soccer or football team. Whatever. Just have some fun, preferably outside, for at least one day a week.
This is, I believe, the cure-all for most of our indoor blues. We spend so much of our time focusing on fitness goals that we forget the real point: to be able to enjoy ourselves and get the most out of life! I guess I could say, “make it at least an hour,” but that would be restrictive. Instead, no time limit on this one.
Pick your day, and have some fun. Unplug from work, bills, social media, the news, family drama, meal plans, and all that other crap. Take your strength, fitness, breathing, stamina, and flexibility, and put them to work. Lose yourself in how amazing the world is for one day a week, and everything else that bothers you will seem so much easier to manage.