First of all, who am I to decide for you, health goals that are worth aiming for?
I hope I've made that clear, it doesn't come down to me deciding, only you can do that. Personal responsibility and decision making is key. All I am hoping to do is throw some ideas your way that may not have crossed your mind while perusing the articles of muscle, health, fitness and beauty magazines or websites. They are awash with 6 pack abs, squat booties, "longer muscles" (whatever that means to you this article will correct any misconceptions), thigh gaps, big arms, small arms, big deadlift numbers, losing inches, losing wrinkles... whatever. Do any of these things really mean healthy? Do they mean anything? Of course, you are a human, what is relevant to society is relevant to you it just might not be indicative of what you associate it with. Healthy outcomes are regularly associated with aesthetic ideals yet a lot of "invisible" factors are lost in the glamour of perfection.
- An un-boosted immune system A calm immune system is a comfortable immune system. One of the most over used phrases in faux health circles is the idea that boosting your immune system is good. Imagine your immune system like a police man. You want him to be a friendly officer of the law who helps old folk cross the road and acts to preserve social harmony. When called upon he can pull out a shotgun and deal with problems fast and accurately due to his local knowledge. You do not want John McClane. Wherever he goes shit gets blown up, and witty puns are thrown out ad nauseam. Boosting your immune system is akin to turning it into a Die Hard film, when really what you want is a savvy precise operator.
- Being a healthy weight Maintenance of a healthy weight is a far more appropriate goal then attempting to look like a cover model when its not your job to do so. The main ingredient for those people is the dedicated energy they give to that ambition. If I have to ask "do you have the commitment?" then you probably don't, its a harsh truth. Im not suggesting settle where you are, far from it. I am saying attempt to maintain a reasonable weight and make sure you are 100% committed to it. Its not unreasonable to expect those cover models to look the way they do, its their job to. I doubt its your job, so be honest. BMI is a good start and very simple to calculate online, getting a BF% estimate is better and depending your age and sex there are individually appropriate estimates of what range you can aim to be in.
- Adequate muscle Having adequate muscle mass is a huge indicator of long term health and can mean years extra to your life with maintenance of function. Think for a second of the oldest person you can, they are walking, how do they look? I sincerely doubt you thought spryly along, swinging arms and big fluid steps. The reality is with age we lose muscle and with loss of muscle we lose function of joints and movement of the skeleton. The hopeful part is you don't have to lose that much muscle if you do enough work to maintain it. Adequate average daily protein intake (1-3g per kg/bodyweight) and a commitment to more and relatively heavy lifting in an structured fashion allows you to offset a large proportion of age related muscle loss. Instead of Schwarzenegger amounts of muscle, aim a little more realistically.
- Unhindered daily movement Having enough muscle is just part of the puzzle. Being effective at moving that muscle around requires effort and time to produce a skilled body, which is as troubled by a set of stairs as John McClane is by seemingly insurmountable odds. Get to "know your body". This takes time, feel movements that you do in the gym or as you move around day to day. Where is there tightness, strength, weakness or instability. Don't just perform comfortable movements, try different ways to do an exercise become curious about your limits and your tolerances for load. Resistance training is all about moving against resistance of any kind. Thats not to say exercises can't be performed poorly with dangerous amounts of force applied to weakly supported joints or limited movement patterns. There is no wrong exercise, there are shit ones however. If an exercise can be performed safer, with more load and more repeatability than a "new""zany" alternative, then the alternative is shit. The body can move lots of ways, that does not mean that all of them are good. If you have a morbid curiosity regarding where the body can but shouldn't go click here.
- Regular and "consistent" bowel traffic This infographic explains a lot and I'm not sure what I can add except to say this is really never mentioned in my experience and is a significant measure of your detox success, forget those foot bath dirt pad crap that the local witch doctor offered you. A cyclical and predictable pattern of elimination is necessary to be healthy. Days on end without one and you are literally a bottle neck for toxins.... LOL not really. More on that later.
Power steering for your diet Extreme self control is a common trait attributed to individuals who do extraordinary things. Fitness idols are often always lauded for the perceived ability to avoid a blow out or stick to the diet or the training plan. In reality I find this to be generally incorrect. The common attribute I see and perceive as more of an indicator of success to is a real love of the goal or the process or better yet both. Successful people in all fields get a rush from doing something they are passionate about, they almost universally describe their endeavours as not being a chore but rather, a joy. If you want to develop a body a certain way and are passionate about it, the likelihood is you are on the way or already there. If you have tried and failed many times, don't beat yourself up over the failures, instead get curious about them. Learn more and more about food, behaviour and where they intersect. Here is a video with some info on being fitness curious.
- Consistent "drive" and motivation If you are continually struggling with motivation to stick to your dietary and training goals and objectives, you have two choices, change you or change the goals. Can you guess which is easier? A key thing to get across here is the MD principle, manageable and doable. If you are aiming for something which upon realistic reflection is not both manageable and doable then the endeavour will fail, (for me its usually to a large tub of nutella and 2 or 3 packets of rice cakes... yes I have failed a diet before... briefly, then I realised its impossible) It is possible for you to get better and develop strength and resilience and that is both advised and admirable as it will increase your capacity to think bigger and dream of bigger goals. My advice here is think momentum. Start with something eminently achievable and then push on from there. Base camp on Mt. Everest exists for this very reason, create your basecamp and then head on. Success attracts more success so set up goals which are incremental in difficulty or develop some way over time to make the next step less of a chore and more of an inevitability.
- Healthy detoxification system The body is always detoxifying. Everyday, irrespective of whether you are on a juice cleanse or a cabbage cleanse or are just hammering the Berroca after a heavy night out. The important thing to remember is that this process is like early morning traffic, it'll clear up when its good and ready. Now I don't pretend to know all of the ins and out of the bodies detox system but there are some basic requirements from the different stages. Water, amino acids, vitamins. So to summarise eat a variety of protein sources, eat plenty of vegetables and fruit perhaps consider a daily multivitamin and adequate water with some electrolytes if you have trouble drinking enough overall. One thing tragically missing from a lot of juice cleanses is protein, simply put if you don't ingest enough your body cannot do its detox well. Pay little attention to detox products, a recent review of some of the better known ones concluded "At present, there is no compelling evidence to support the use of detox diets for weight management or toxin elimination", so really, just don't bother with them.
- Regular restful sleep Regularity with sleep is really important. Irregular bouts of insomnia are a surprisingly frequent issue for current and past clients. Not being able to get to sleep easily, not being able to stay asleep or not feeling rested and awake come morning/waking time is something we all deal with at times however if either or all of these are the norm for you developing good sleep practises may help your health a lot. Keep a journal of your sleep, record disturbances manage that which can be managed and put the unmanageable out of your mind. Breathing and relaxation practise can offer some help on getting to sleep, timing your liquid intake (water, coffee, tea) and investing in proper blinds, a smart alarm clock or just let go of negative emotion and guilt can hep you stay restful and wake up fresh.
- Lifestyle focused exercise plan The best program is the one you will do, its almost that simple. Knowing the basics may help you devise your exercise plan, and filter out the nonsense. Train to stay injury free first and foremost, if you are injured where will your training be? Yes, non existent. Appropriate for you, WODs are fine if you're a "machine" and don't use them, realistically they do not often cater for everyone assess your level or better yet have a competent coach do it for you. Train for a purpose, ask the body a question with your workouts, don't ask it something completely different every time as it really won't get whats going on and won't change as predictably as it can. Increase something if you want to continue making progress, increase anything, there are a myriad of training variables available to you and all can be increased. The basics are reps and sets, there is rest, leverage, time under tension, angles I could go all day. Once you know a little about making good progress its easier to not involve yourself with insane workouts and match your training to your lifestyle. How often can I train? How often should I train? What exercises should I do? All easily answerable when you ask yourself, what can I manage? Do that.
Being healthy is a mix of the tangible and intangible. Feeling energetic, vibrant and alive is part of it. Looking healthy, sustaining a healthy weight and staying measurably strong is another. Consider some of these alternate health goals and not "alternative healthcare". If "alternative healthcare" worked it would be called healthcare. Thats a can of worms for another day.
Stay posted for an expanded discussion on these ideas.