“If I’d known I was going to live so long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”
“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”
“Start using your head, that’s the lump three feet above your ass.”
Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks; A League Of Their Own)
Death may be rule, but like all rules, it can be bent.
In other words, the end result to your life is consistent, but when the end result occurs is flexible. More importantly, what happens before the end result is flexible. Yes, there are numerous cases where a person’s life ends suddenly or cannot be extended past a certain knowable point. And these cases may make it seem like figuring out ways to enjoy life more is pointless.
Understand: there is never a case when a person should stop trying to increase the quality and length of his life. These two things, quality (how to enjoy life) and length (how to live longer) need to be personally balanced by each individual. To elevate your enjoyment and lengthen your lifespan, I recommend a technique called practicing invincibility. Practicing invincibility involves more than a few simple tips on healthy living and it goes beyond finding ways to eat healthy.
Practicing invincibility is a lifestyle. It is the process of seeking and acting on information that will help you boost vitality, improve self-confidence, generate influence and find ways to enjoy life more. The following list begins where Part 1 of the quick start guide to practicing invincibility left off:
6. Sleep like a champion.
Whether you’re trying to figure out how to avoid belly fat or how to increase happiness, getting a good night’s sleep is the answer. You will die of sleep deprivation before you will die of starvation. Seriously. Healthy, consistent sleep is one of the most important things you can do to boost vitality and increase happiness. Sleep deprivation shuts down your prefontal cortex (required for reasonable decision making) and causes you to rely more heavily on your amygdala (in charge of your base emotions). Even an hour less sleep can impair long-term memory and nerve cell generation. This is why people who sleep poorly even one night often wake up bitchy and pissed off.
Sleep is now a vital sign. Three giant, cross-sectional studies revealed that sleeping five hours or less per night increased mortality risk from all causes by roughly 15 percent. As your sleep debt builds up, your risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease increase. Several hormones in your body are carefully balanced during sleep. Inadequate snoozing leads to decreased levels of human growth hormone (regulates fat metabolism and repairs muscle, bone, and collagen), while increasing levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) and insulin (a hormone that promotes fat storage). This hat trick of imbalanced hormones will make you chubby in a hurry and may turn you into a type 2 diabetic.
There are two overall types of sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep comes in four flavors: transition to sleep, light sleep, deep sleep, and intense deep sleep. These stages progressively prepare you for REM sleep, during which your eyes move rapidly, your breathing is shallow, your heart rate and blood pressure increase and your arm and leg muscles are effectively paralyzed. During REM sleep, your brain consolidates and processes the information you’ve learned during the day, forms neural connections that strengthen memory, and replenishes its supply of neurotransmitters (feel-good chemicals that boost your mood). The average person will cycle through 5 five bouts of REM sleep during the night. Understand: you need to hit all five cycles to be at your very best. Here are a few ways to make sure that you complete every cycle:
Make time to sleep 7.5 to 9 hours a night. Make it a priority.
Invest in a comfortable, supportive bed and put it in a room with no electronics.
Reserve your bedroom for sleeping, dressing, undressing and sex. Nothing more, nothing less.
Keep your bedroom a few degrees cooler than the rest of your house.
Make your bedroom the cleanest room in your house (dust, dirt, dander and other microparticles can clog your mouth, throat and nasal cavities and prevent you from sleeping well).
Start preparing your body for sleep at least an hour before bed by not eating or drinking anything and avoiding blue light like the plague. Blue light is sleep kryptonite. These light waves are emitted by almost all light bulbs (even night lights), televisions, computers, smartphones, tablets and digital clocks. Instead, light a few candles or a fireplace (which emit only red light) and relax by meditating, having a mellow conversation, or reading fiction (try not to read non-fiction because it activates the planning part of your brain).
7. Exercise in short bursts.
Can you spare 1.5 hours a week to cut your chances of dying by a third? People who exercise as little as 15 minutes a day have a 14 percent lower mortality risk than people who don’t exercise at all. This statistic covers all causes of death and translates, at age 30, to a 3-year increase in life expectancy. It gets better. If you exercise vigorously 3 days a week for 30 minutes, your risk of dying of any cause decreases by over 30 percent. Regular exercise is the single most important thing you can do to practice invincibility.
Intensity trumps extensity. Martin Gibala, PhD, chairman of the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada performed experiments during which a group of college students rode a stationary bike at a sustainable pace for 90-120 minutes, while another set of students went through a series of short, strenuous intervals: 20 to 30 seconds of cycling at the highest intensity the riders could stand. After resting for four minutes, these students pedaled hard again for another 20 to 30 seconds, repeating the cycle four to six times. In sum, the second group of students worked out for a total of 2-3 minutes, albeit very intensely. All of the students went through their respective workouts 3 times a week. The results of the experiment showed that both groups experienced the same increases in endurance (as measured by the stationary bike work monitor) and showed the same increases in size and number of mitochondria (used to turn oxygen into energy) in their muscles.
In addition to the above study, several human physiology experiments have shown that increasing your VO2 max (maximum amount of oxygen that the heart and lungs can deliver to the muscles) is the key to increasing your endurance. You can beef up your VO2 max by training your cardiovascular system vigorously for short periods of time. This can be accomplished by performing interval sprints outdoors, on a treadmill, or on stationary bike. You can also increase your VO2 max by strength training.
Strength training is not only a great way to boost vitality and practice invincibility, it is an incredible way to improve self-confidence. Consistently lifting heavy objects will lead to increases in strength, power, endurance, flexibility and muscle tone. Similar to cardiovascular exercise, lifting weights will boost your metabolism so that your body burns more calories at rest. Weight training increases HDL (good cholesterol) levels and decreases LDL (bad cholesterol) levels in your body. It also reduces your risk of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Finally, strength training has been shown to improve posture, minimize osteoporosis, amplify immune system activity, increase sex drive, and and reduce anxiety.
Lift heavy objects, explosively. Learn to do a few multiple joint power lifts like squats, deadlifts, and presses. Perfect your technique using lighter weights, or your body weight only. Then, start adding weight. Lifting heavy weights at low repetitions (3-5 reps for multiple joint exercises) is critical to increasing ligament strength and bone density. This type of strength training combats sarcopenia, which is the inevitable and debilitating loss of muscle mass that accompanies advancing age. The best way to blunt sacropenia is to maintain a regular workout program while remembering the importance of a healthy diet.
8. Play with others.
Finding ways to enjoy life more with other people is an essential ingredient to practicing invincibility. Having fun offers numerous medical benefits, especially if laughter is involved. Laughter induces a wide array of physiological responses that boost vitality and increase happiness. One scientific study showed that hearty laughter relieves physical tension and stress for up to 45 minutes. Extended bouts of laughter trigger the release of endorphins, which temporarily relieve pain and increase your overall sense of well-being. Laughter has also been shown to bolster your immune system by decreasing stress hormones and increasing infection-fighting immune cells and antibodies in your body.
Laughter prevents heart disease. Individuals who reported playing and laughing more displayed increased blood flow and improved function of their blood vessels. The key is creating an environment conducive to laughter and having fun. The best way to do this is to schedule periods of unstructured activity, or playtime. The New York Times recently covered a study showing that leisure activities improve immune function faster than stress can suppress it. Harness the benefits of play by going to to a comedy club, attending a laughter yoga class, joining a recreational sport’s league, or by simply spending time relaxing with friends that make you laugh.
9. Stretch your mind.
Increasing your mental vigor will help you live life like a lion. If you really want to boost vitality and practice invincibility, you have to do more than figure out how to avoid belly fat and find different ways to eat healthy. You also have to find ways to nourish and exercise your brain. You can exercise your brain daily by reading a book or working on a crossword puzzle can cut your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia in half. A study lead by Michael Valenzuela from the School of Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales in Australia combined data from 29,000 patients and found that individuals with high mental stimulation had a 46% decreased risk of all forms of chronic mental disorder. A previous study performed by Valenzuela’s group showed that a person could substantially change their brain chemistry in as little as 5 weeks by doing certain cognitive exercises.
Learn anything. Do something new. Get out of the rut. The following simple activities have been shown to generate and strengthen neural connections: Sudoku, chess, crossword puzzles, walking through a different neighborhood, driving a different route to work, cooking a new dish for dinner, getting dressed in the dark, showering in the dark, using your opposite hand to brush your teeth. The more you do these activities, the stronger your brain will become. One study showed that individuals who complete four crossword puzzles a week are less likely to develop dementia than those who manage only one. The more intensely you challenge your brain, the stronger it will become. Another study showed that people who take the time to learn a second language delay the onset of dementia by up to 5 years. Start challenging your brain with cognitive exercises in the same way that you would challenge your body with a barbell in the gym.
10. Fight for your fate.
Practice invincibility and boost vitality by turning your life into an epic battle. Sooner or later in life, you will have to face the adversity of either an acute or chronic health issue. Whether you are faced with a broken bone or life-threatening illness, maintaining a passionate sense of your purpose in life is essential to overcoming it. Ben Sherwood, the author of the New York Times Bestseller The Survivor’s Club, interviewed hundreds of people that had survived a wide variety of catastrophic events and found that those individuals classified as “fighters” had a greater chance of surviving any type of adversity. Sherwood explained that in prisoner-of-war camps, the people most likely to collapse were the eternal optimists who believed rescue was imminent and failed to plan for the possibility of long-term imprisonment. He also provided evidence that individuals who stoically accepted their fate when they were diagnosed with cancer had the lowest survival rates.
There is always something worth fighting for in your life, you simply need to define it. A fighter, as defined by Sherwood, is an information seeker who plans ahead and takes massive action to prepare for and to overcome hardships. Fighters believe that there is an overarching purpose of living and that they are tied intimately to this purpose. Whether they are battling to advance an idea, a business, a charity, or a faith-based organization, the battle itself drives the fighter to overcome any and all problems. Determine your purpose and craft it into your own personal mission. Practice invincibility by seeking out productive challenges and attacking these hardships with information and action. Facing and overcoming adversity on a routine basis will develop your resiliency and tenacity so that you will be better able to fight against life’s more serious challenges.