Free and Simple, Change Your Life
In 2008, the self-help industry was valued at $11 billion. In 2010, it was estimated that depression cost the US economy $210 billion which included direct consumer costs and loss of productivity, among other things. In 2015, it was estimated that people spent about $41 billion on sleeping pills and other sleep aids. In 2015, the US reportedly spent about 3 trillion dollars on healthcare, or about $10,000 per person. And in 2016, the US spent $446 Billion on medications.
It is not hard to find a lot of staggering figures like these on the issue of health and healthcare. There is, however, a wealth of research on non-medical, non-medication ways to address many of the issues we are spending trillions of dollars to treat. In fact, many of those trillions of dollars are actually spent to treat symptoms of underlying problems, and not the actual problem, so many of these costs are ongoing.
It has been my mission to seek out interventions that both solve problems and prevent new problems, and that are also totally free and simple. For the record, I have tried all of these interventions on myself. The following are totally free and simple (not necessarily easy, mind you) list of things just about 99% of all people can do, starting today to solve, for good, many of the problems we are spending trillions of dollars and copious amount of precious time to manage.
Most people should sleep at least 7 hours but no more than 9 hours a day. Many know that under-sleeping can cause problems. We know that because the effects of not getting enough sleep are apparent right away. You feel bad immediately when your alarm goes off. Under-sleeping is linked with poor concentration, fatigue and premature aging, to name a few. But did you know that over-sleeping can be hazardous as well? Oversleeping has recently been linked with increased mortality. This means that people who oversleep might die at a younger age than those that sleep the right amount.
We have long-known that over-sleeping is both a cause and symptom of depression. For that reason, and with my clients who want to start feeling better as soon as possible I encourage a sleep routine that gets them this 7 to 9 hours of sleep with a bedtime and a wake up time that is the same every day (even weekends). In fact, getting out of bed on time is where I like to start with these plans. Regardless when you went to bed, always wake up at the same time. This is the fastest way I have found to build a sleep routine. My clients report they are tired at bedtime and find it easier to wake up in the morning after about 2 weeks of strict adherence to this routine. After several months many clients report no longer needing an alarm in the morning.
There are a multitude of physical and cognitive benefits to proper sleep. I unfortunately do not have a single source to direct you to on this issue, but people who get proper sleep not only live longer, they have better disease and illness resistance, are more resilient, have better concentration and other cognitive functioning, and better overall mood. The benefits of proper sleep cannot be overstated, and it is not one I usually have to argue for most people who come to my office. Where people usually get stuck is the feeling that they have limited control over their sleep, or that sleep is synonymous with luxury or laziness. Nothing could be further than the truth. Proper sleep is akin to proper exercise.
I have tried a number of methods for controlling my weight. Most of them fall under the categories of calorie restriction or attempts to increase metabolism. We are finding, however, that these methods do not work because they are in direct contrast with the laws that govern how our brains keep our bodies alive. With calorie restriction our metabolism slows down, and with metabolism manipulation, our bodies constantly adjust output to fuel. In both cases one needs to work harder and harder to keep the weight off, and as soon as you stop (or just keep with the same routine), your body seems to go back to a "set weight" with ease.
When looking for diets that promote cognitive functioning and brain health I discovered a line of research on intermittent fasting, and specifically the book The Obesity Code. I am familiar with fasting as a religious practice, but I never considered it a legitimate health practice. As I examined the veracity of the claims in the book I discovered that the health benefits of fasting have been scientifically examined for a while now. Fasting made sense to me because it represented a simplification of my life rather than a complication with food charts and special meals, or multiple decisions about what foods to eat and how much. Also, I finally admitted to myself that hunger would not ruin my life. The evidence was that I was basically hungry all the time anyway.
As simple as it may sound, there are things to consider and questions to answer if you decide to try out fasting, so do your research. You should know, however, that much of the non-Western world practices fasting on a regular basis. Fasting really only sounds exotic and risky to Westerners. As a warning I want to say that you should not fast if you are under 18, are pregnant, or have an eating disorder. I also recommend you check in with your doctor before you start fasting, and especially if you are taking any medications.
Even if "calorie in, calorie out" were true (it isn't), it still was not working for me or for anyone I knew who had the goal to get to a healthy weight and stay there for the rest of their life.
We spend a ton of money on exercise, but exercise is actually free. Clearly we are not actually paying for exercise, but something else. The discussion about that "something else" is for another post. Walking is quite possibly the cheapest, best, and easiest exercise one can do. Running, however, turns out to have the added benefit of being harder than walking, and thus high-intensity. If you stopped running because of body pain, check out this video of a free way to change up your run. You need nothing other than what you have on to do either, and as long as you are wearing clothes, you can start doing either or both immediately, outside.
I could go on, but now that I have made the argument that some of the best exercises on the planet are free and simple, let’s talk about how exercise is going to save your life. I just finished reading a book called The Real Happy Pill. The author presents research that links exercise to stress tolerance, anxiety reduction, treatment of depression, increased creativity, younger brain, increased attention and concentration, and decreased risk of many brains diseases. Exercise seems to have the greatest impact on children, but brain growth in older adults and seniors as a result of exercise has been well-documented. Results are immediate, and continued conditioning compounds results and contributes to even more exciting results (like actually growing the size of your brain).
Free and simple, but certainly not easy. I encourage the reader to do your research, consult your doctor, and then make an informed choice about how to move forward with your health.