Remember the Stoic Triad? Body, Mind, Spirit? At this point, I would like to talk about Body, about minding your health.
“Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos-the trees, the clouds, everything.” Thich Nhat Hahn
“Provide things relating to the body no further than mere use; as meat, drink, clothing, house, family. But strike off and reject everything relating to show and delicacy.” Epictetus
“In every affair consider what precedes and follows, and then undertake it. Otherwise you will begin with spirit; but not having thought of the consequences, when some of them appear you will shamefully desist. “I would conquer at the Olympic games.” But consider what precedes and follows, and then, if it is for your advantage, engage in the affair. You must conform to rules, submit to a diet, refrain from dainties; exercise your body, whether you choose it or not, at a stated hour, in heat and cold; you must drink no cold water, nor sometimes even wine.” Epictetus
Without a doubt, taking care of your health is very important. The condition of your body is essential to maintaining your virtue. It provides you with energy on your path to virtue. However, it is more than that: respecting your body by tending to its health is virtue (see first quote above). Much of your health is not in your control. You cannot control what you inherited genetically. If heart disease runs in your family, this is the hand you have been dealt. Similarly, you may have been destined by fate to cancer or any other terminal disease. The simple fact of the matter, though, is that much of your health condition is in your control. Like so much in the philosopher’s life, this is very simple, but not easy. Maybe you don’t know what it takes to stay healthy. I am going to share what I recommend because it has worked for me (so far). Even if and after you know how to tend to your body, then it still requires discipline…great discipline…the kind that most do not have. You must commit now and every single day to minding your health. Taking care of your body can be broken down into three components: Diet, Exercise, and Rest. So, without further ado I will explain these in turn.
Diet – Of course what, when, and how much you eat has a drastic effect on your health. I am not a diet expert. However, I have experienced how diet has affected my life firsthand. I can tell you what I eat, and how, and I can tell you that I have tweaked my diet over the years into what I really think can work for anybody. I will discuss this soon, but for now I will tell you that Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint captures 95% of what I would recommend. To put it very simply: Say yes to meats, vegetables, fruit, and nuts. Say no to bread, sugar, grains, and processed foods.
Exercise – Short, infrequent, intense. That’s the simple way for me to talk about exercise. I have written about this before in my Stoic Exercise post. In short, I will say that I was heavily influenced by training pioneers Arthur Jones, Mike Mentzer, and most recently and with most impact, Dr. Doug McGuff and John Little. Their book Body by Science: A Research Based Program for Strength Training, Body building, and Complete Fitness in 12 Minutes a Week, was pivotal in how I understand exercise.
Rest – There are two types of rest I am talking about here. The first is not to exercise too much. After one of my short and intense workouts, I take at least 3 days before I even think about working out again. Sometimes, I rest for up to 10 days. More on this later, and this is also covered in the Body by Science book. The other kind of rest is sleep. Make sure you get tons of it. Don’t laugh at me here, but you should be waking up on your own without an alarm. For most of us, this means going to bed much earlier. How does one do this with so much to do? Well, what are you doing at night? If you’re watching TV then you can definitely afford to hit the sack earlier. If you are still working or doing stuff, then you really need to reassess things, because you really need to sleep. You will work and live better if you are rested. If you can manage it, you should try to catch a quick nap during the day, too.
So, that’s a quick overview of taking care of your body. The main point is that I must do this, if I am to live Heroically like I want to. I have my way that I have found through the use of rational assessment, research, and through years of trial and error with my own body, and I will share it with you. It has worked for me in my experiment of one. You may have just a little different approach, but here’s the “foot stomper” (the main takeaway):
The essential ingredient in whether you will take care of your body is your will. I could give you an exact recipe, that you completely agree with, but to put this into execution takes discipline and commitment. A commitment to yourself.