The Longevity Plan Chapter Five – Find Your Rhythm

For me this means having a routine. I am a creature of habit and love routine maybe more than most. I find it comforting. Some people seem to enjoy living chaotically and stumbling through the day from one crisis to the next, but I like to know what to expect. I don’t find it boring; I find it calming. From the moment that I wake up I know what is going to happen, as I have a morning routine and I look forward to each part of it. Every evening I plan the routine for the next day. I can’t do the same each morning as my work pattern varies. Sometimes I leave the house at 8am and other days I can log on to my computer at home at 9.30am.

Waking Up Slowly

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My day starts when my sunrise lamp gradually lightens the room. Sometimes this wakes me up, other days it takes the alarm to do that, which is actually the radio coming on. The dulcet tones of Mr Humphrys arguing with a politician on the Today programme is my choice of listening in the morning.

Every day starts with a cup of tea in bed – you may be able to guess that I don’t have children! This used to be a weekend treat, but now it happens every day. Monday to Friday I make the tea, but on the weekends I get to stay in bed and my other half makes it.

Whilst drinking my tea I read a non-fiction book; at the moment it is A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button, founder of the website, Buy Me Once.

If I have time I exercise. This is usually a short jog on the treadmill. If I don’t have time I just shower. Before I leave the bedroom I turn back the duvet to let the bed air. I don’t agree with the recommendation that you should start your day by making your bed, because my understanding is that you sweat in the night and you need to let the bedding and mattress dry out. I would say that it is actually unhygienic to make your bed straightaway.

Quiet Time

I always have ten minutes sitting in silence. I am not sure whether I would call it meditation, as I don’t think that I have mastered that art. I sit with my eyes closed and try to concentrate on my breathing. Thoughts come and go and sometimes things that I had forgotten come into my head or solutions to problems dawn on me. Other times I can’t focus and I give up before the timer goes off on my phone to say the ten minutes are up. Then it’s breakfast time before I start work for the day. Whilst eating my breakfast I read emails on my phone.

Sunlight

Dr John Day recommends getting outside into natural light, especially in the morning, but at some times of year it isn’t light in the morning! He believes that it is incredibly effective at adjusting our circadian rhythms. Sometimes I think so many of these things would be easier if I lived somewhere warmer and sunnier, rather than in Wales where we’re more likely to have torrential rain or fog than sunshine! Maybe I need to try to incorporate this into my routine once the warmer weather comes or just move to the South of France – one day maybe!

Making the transition from work to home

As you may guess I have an evening routine as well. When I come home I get changed out of my work clothes and straighten the duvet now that the bed has had the day to air. Even if I work at home for the day or am there for the afternoon, I don’t get changed into my evening clothes until after I have logged off for the day. It is a psychological thing. Once I am in my tracksuit bottoms I am off-duty. I cook dinner, listening to iplayer, usually a comedy from Radio 4 Extra; some light-heartened entertainment helps to pass the time.

We are very unsophisticated and dinner is usually taken on our laps watching TV. We rarely have puddings and so we treat ourselves to a square of dark chocolate after dinner. I usually spend time on my computer, reading emails, catching up on social media and working on my blog. I also review the day and plan the next morning.

Bedtime

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Dr Day states that fundamental to establishing a good rhythm is to get plenty of sleep i.e. seven to nine hours. Me, I like to be in bed with my head on the pillow by 10.30pm. After computer time I may watch a little bit more tele if it’s not too late, but about 9.30/9.45pm I’m upstairs, doing my ablutions – as my other half calls them i.e. brushing my teeth, washing my face, etc. Then I spend 30 minutes reading fiction. By this time of day I am too tired to read a non-fiction book and immersing myself in a story about other peoples’ lives helps me to wind down before sleep.

Obviously there are days when this doesn’t all happen. At weekends I don’t always have my quiet time. Breakfast can be a very leisurely affair drinking coffee and doing a crossword. If I am going out for the evening there is no routine, but on the whole this is how life is and l love it.

Your Routine?

So what are your daily routines? Do you even have a routine? If not, have you thought about starting one? What would be your ideal routine? I would love to know.

If you are thinking about starting a morning routine I would suggest checking out the recent post by Radical Fire in which she tells you about ‘The Miracle Morning’ by Hal Elrod and how she has used that to shape her routine. It might give you some ideas.

Be In Motion

In chapter four of ‘The Longevity Plan’ Dr John Day states he believes that a life of constant, but not overly taxing movement, using every muscle group in our bodies, is a model for the very best kind of exercise there is. This should include short bursts of more strenuous activities. He believes that we are designed to be in movement all the time.

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For me the challenge that I face is that, like most of the population, I earn money by sitting in front of a computer for much of my day. Our modern lifestyles meant that we are mainly sedentary creatures. The message from Dr Day is that although doing some strenuous exercise during the week i.e. going to the gym or for a jog, is of benefit, the best thing that we can do for our health is to be on the go most of the time.

My own pattern is that I tend to spend Monday to Friday either sitting in front of a computer, sitting in the car or sitting talking to someone…as you can see there is a theme here! The weekend is fortunately a different matter. As I don’t have a cleaner I can be almost constantly in movement doing all those lovely jobs such as dusting, vacuuming, cleaning the toilet. When the weather is warmer there is also gardening to be done and walking up and down the garden gets in much needed steps.

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I really need to find ways of incorporating more movement into my day, but like everyone I find that going out for a walk is much more attractive when the sun is shining and in this current cold weather I just want to stay in the warm.

Dr Day suggests the following:

  • using part of your lunch break to take a walk or bike ride
  • using the stairs in your office
  • parking far from the office door and walk
  • if you must sit, set an alarm to remind yourself to stand every 30 minutes

In ‘The Four Pillar Plan’ by Dr Rangan Chatterjee he recommends what he calls the ‘five minute kitchen workout’. Basically, whilst you’re waiting for the kettle to boil or the rice to cook, do a few squats, lunges or calf raises. That seems much more manageable to me.

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He goes on to suggest ‘high intensity interval training’ – two ten minute sessions each week. By ‘high intensity’ he means going all out, sweat running and heart pumping. By the end you should be out of breath and unable to hold a conversation for a good thirty seconds. An example he gives is running on a treadmill for one minute and twenty seconds at 4km hour and then 12km per hour (or whatever feels very hard to you) for 40 seconds. This should be repeated three to five times. If my maths is correct that is a maximum of ten minutes exercise.

If you don’t have a treadmill his suggestion is to walk out of your front door and go to the end of your road. From there, walk as fast as you can for one minute. When that minute is over, look to see which house number you’ve arrived at, then walk at a normal pace back to the start. Now you repeat the same sequence, but this time you want to see if you can beat yourself and get to a house further down the road. Try to do this five times in total.

Dr Day concludes by saying that it is so important to stack the deck in favour of motion and the best way to do that is to make it fun. Do the exercises you enjoy doing, because if you don’t enjoy doing it, you won’t do it.

So how do you fit movement into your day? I’d been interested to see how people squeeze this in during their busy schedules. Do you try to be in constant motion or is short bursts of intensive training your thing? Maybe like me it’s just the vacuuming workout on the weekends!

Master Your Mindset

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This is the second chapter in the book by Dr John Day, ‘The Longevity Plan’. He states that a positive mindset isn’t just about feeling happy. He believes that the way we think about our lives is perhaps the biggest factor in how our bodies will respond to the conditions of our lives. If we are going to change our lives for the better, we must first change our minds for the better.

He gives us three statements to ponder:

Buddhism teaches that the root of all unhappiness is desire. This does not mean that we should desire nothing, but rather than we should focus our desires on that which is most important to us – family, health and safety – and leave all feelings of entitlement by the water’s edge.

When we’re burdened by trying to maintain the inessential things we have (let alone procure more) we have less time, space and energy to devote to making the real changes that are so vital to creating healthier and happier lives.

Somewhere along the way, many people in our society began associating happiness with ‘having more’.

Considering these wise words I feel that they could have been written for the FI/RE community or for those trying to live a more frugal and simple life. Isn’t that about deciding what is important to you? For each of us we make conscious decisions about what to spend our money on rather than just buying to keep up with the Joneses.

He suggests simplifying one’s life by asking yourself two basic questions:

  1. Do we have what we need?
  2. Do we need what we want?

These questions help us to begin the process of decluttering our lives which is a vital step towards stress relief. Marie Kondo is popular at the moment in the world of decluttering. Marie believes that each of your possessions should bring you joy and if it doesn’t you should thank it for the service that it has provided to you and discard it.

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Although our age is often a tremendously large part of our mindset about ‘where we’re at’ in life, it is a perfectly pointless measure of who we are. In Western culture getting old has negative connotations, but in the village where his study was based maturity was something to be respected. He states that the mere belief that growing older is a positive thing might be an influencer of good health. When you start to worry that you’re over the hill I suggest thinking about the alternative – being dead. I am sure that we would all choose the former!

We all have stressors in our lives. The key to living well with stress lies in how we perceive and manage it. For example, if you have a stressful commute try listening to the books or podcasts you never seem to have time for while driving. At the time that I made this note I didn’t act on it, but now I absolutely love podcasts and have discovered a whole new free world of learning. If you find podcasts you like you might actually look forward to the days when you have to drive for work in order to be able to listen to something. The miles will pass and you may not even notice them.

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Dr Day believes that at its best, exercise is something we should look forward to. Positive anticipation is a vital part of a healthy mindset. How to fit this into your day is probably something that you may still be struggling with. In our sedentary lives, mostly spent sitting at a computer, even thirty minutes a day may seem impossible. Laura Vanderkam, who has written several books about time management suggests that the most successful people, who she has spent time studying, exercise first thing in the morning, as they are least likely to be interrupted at this time. I am sure many of you will be saying, ‘But I don’t have time in the morning’. Check out her advice about time tracking and building a morning routine which may help you find the time in your week.

Linking back to the first chapter on healthy eating Dr Day goes on to suggest ways to change your thinking which will help you address your diet and improve your physical health. For example, when we have achieved something positive or had a difficult day at work we often ‘reward’ ourselves with unhealthy food. He suggests picking something healthier and ultimately more rewarding. For him that is doing something athletic with his family.

We need to challenge customs which are intrinsically unhealthy. For example, why is inviting someone over for alcohol, caffeine or sugar-packed pastries socially accepted while inviting them over for veggies might be considered weird? Why do we celebrate birthdays with cake instead of a complete healthy meal? I have to say that my manager now brings fruit to our team meeting, but it never seems quite as attractive as the biscuits and cake she also brings.

Little by little we can take actions that fly in the face of conventional wisdom especially if what we do conventionally isn’t particularly healthy. That’s not just limited to food. One of the most promising work-place trends over the past few years is the advent of the standing desk. I had thought about this, but it costs over £1000 to buy a desk that you can both sit at and stand at. One option, if you have the space, is to have a shelf at which you can stand to use your computer and then a desk at which to sit when you want a rest from standing.

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If you’re going to take actions that are better for your life and the lives of people you care about you’re probably going to have to endure a bit of ribbing. And if that’s going to happen the best thing you can do is to simply adapt the mind-set of not really caring what those people say. My colleagues call me the ‘food police’ as I tend to refuse the offer of sweets, biscuits and cakes and frequently Google what they are eating and tell them how many spoonfuls of sugar are in that iced Greggs doughnut that they are eating – eight in a ‘pink jammie’!

I think that much of the advice in this chapter is about reframing your life and experiences. You need to have the courage to be different and not just follow the crowd. Have confidence in the choices and changes that you want to make to improve your life. Maybe others might follow your example and join you on the road to improving their mindset as well.

Lessons from ‘The Longevity Plan’

This book was the one which started my note-taking habit. There was just so much interesting and useful information that I wanted to be able to remember it. I read it, then I read it again and took notes.

The main author is Dr John D. Day, who is a cardiologist and speaker of Mandarin, along with his wife Jane Ann Day and Matthew LaPlante.

He went to study a village in China where a disproportionate amount of people live to one hundred or more.

General message: if we apply the principles they live by/their way of life to our lives we will be healthier and happier.

Seven principles:

  1. Eat Good Food
  2. Master Your Mindset
  3. Build Your Place in a Positive Community
  4. Be in Motion
  5. Find Your Rhythm
  6. Make the Most of Your Environment
  7. Proceed with Purpose

So here’s the first one:

Eat Good Food

Surround yourself with food that is good for you

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As you are reading this I would guess that you have more than likely surrounded yourself with food that is not good for you. We all do it, those bars of chocolate and packets of crisps and biscuits stashed in the cupboard ready for the post-lunch dip. Unless you have a great level of willpower then at some point you will eat them. In order to surround yourself with food that is good for you then you need to clear your cupboards of junk food. Maybe it feels wasteful to throw food out. You could give it to a food bank instead. Then, fill the cupboards with healthy food. When you are peckish and bored at three o’clock in the afternoon you won’t be able to munch through that packet of biscuits as they won’t be there anymore.  You just have a handful of nuts or an apple with some peanut butter to eat.

Eat unrefined grains

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We all know this – brown rice, bread, pasta, etc. The low carb movement has increased in popularity recently and many people try to reduce the amount of grains they are consuming as a route to weight loss. On the BBC Food Programme in 2018 the issue of fibre was discussed and the view that without these carbohydrates we wouldn’t consume enough fibre. Apparently, there are many types of fibre and just eating vegetables does not provide the full range. If you do choose to each grains, and Dr Day says that we should, they should be whole grains.  An alternative is the recent ‘pasta’ products that have appeared on the shelf in some supermarkets which are made of red lentils or green split peas.

Eat one portion of fruit and two portions of vegetables at every meal

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In the UK we are advised to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but Dr Day recommends two portions of vegetables and one portion of fruit with every meal. If, like many people, you’re struggling with this it may be because for most people breakfast rarely features vegetables. That’s where everyone goes wrong. We have moved away from the unhealthy fry up to ‘healthier’ cereals, but in fact we are eating dessert for breakfast. Muesli, followed by toast with jam, washed down with a glass of juice is just sugar, then sugar with sugar on top, accompanied by liquid sugar. What we should be eating and what would make getting those veggies in before midday easier is having some eggs to start the day. My accompanying veggies of choice are mushrooms, avocado and sweet potato. You may be thinking that you don’t have time to made a cooked breakfast, but how long does it really take to scramble some eggs? Cooking the mushrooms may take a little longer and I would suggest steaming the sweet potato on a day when you have plenty of time and then reheating the leftovers on subsequent days. You should be able to cook and eat your breakfast within 20-30 minutes.

Eat nuts and pumpkin seeds                           

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According to Dr Day nuts help to maintain a healthy weight, prevent cardiovascular disease and fight back premature death – lofty claims!  Pumpkin seeds are even better – a superfood no less! Historically nuts were avoided, and still are by some, due to being high in fat. Their promotion now is because is it recognised that we need fat and apparently nuts are full of ‘good fats’ – not sure exactly what this means, but eating a handful a day is considered good for us. The fat also keeps you full, as opposed to a biscuit which lasts a couple of seconds and makes you feel hungrier in the long run rather than satiated. Buying five cute plastic containers and filling them with a daily portion of pumpkin seeds and nuts on a Sunday will make sticking to this easy. You won’t have to think about it each morning, just put the pot in your bag before you go out of the door and you’re all set.

One portion of lentils/beans, every day

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In Britain we have the famous ‘baked beans’ which most people eat and I think are regarded as a good source of fibre, but unfortunately also contain a lot of sugar. A couple of years ago I saw a display in a chemist shop’s window which showed the amount of sugar in several products. One of them was a tin of baked beans and there were five sugar cubes sitting in front of it. Instead we need to eat the beans without all of that sugary sauce. It’s as easy as emptying a tin of kidney beans or a handful of dried red lentils into your stew or curry. Red lentils cook really quickly. They’re particularly good if you’ve added a bit too much stock. Dried lentils and tinned beans keep in the cupboard for years.

Fish – particularly mackerel, salmon and sardines

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I have recently discovered how easy it is to make your own fishcakes. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a great recipe using tinned mackerel. You coat the fish cakes in polenta which gives them a crisp coating when fried. As he aptly says this is a good store cupboard recipe which can use up some old potatoes. Polenta is not something that everyone will have, but once you buy a bag it lasts for ages, like other grains.

Drinking water

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Drinking two litres of water a day can burn as many as 96 calories. He advises drinking when you’re feeling thirsty, when you’re feeling hungry and 30 minutes before every meal. Please don’t buy bottled water. Hopefully the focus on plastic recently will make you reluctant to increase the rubbish we create which ends up in landfill or our oceans. It is also a complete waste of money – just buy a pretty reusable bottle that you enjoy using and fill it from the tap. It’s free and it’s good for you. If you don’t like the taste of plain water just add a slice of lemon or a few crushed mint leaves to the bottle. Please don’t add squash as that is just sugar.

Eat sweet potatoes several times a week

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Apparently these are one of the best sources in the world for beta-carotene, which helps maintain healthy skin. Sweet potato fries have become trendy recently.  I often choose these as an alternative to regular fries, but apparently they can be covered in unhealthy oils, sugar and salt and therefore should be avoided if this is the case. You might want to try making your own sweet potato wedges at home, but if you can get them crispy in the oven I’d be interested to know how you do it.

No snacking before bed – twelve hour fasting window

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Once you’ve eaten your dinner, that’s it, no more food until breakfast. Satchin Panda, who writes about circadian rhythms, says that your body needs time to repair and if you are still digesting food during the night it is like trying to patch tarmac on the motorway with cars still driving up and down the road. A great analogy I thought.

So that’s it for the moment. I am sure that you are familiar with some of these suggestions, but maybe not all of them. A few things to try maybe before next time when I will be looking at ‘Master Your Mindset’.