The world can swirl with chaos, anxiety, and stress that leaves you with one white-knuckled fist latched precariously to sanity. Finding time for yourself—for your health, for a deep breath—can be hard. But you can start a self-care routine to seek shelter from your personal hurricane of busyness and responsibility.

There’s nothing selfish about escaping into a self-care checklist to seek your center. Everyone needs a chance to exist solely for themselves and their health sometimes. And it’s not a complex process.

Caring for yourself is what it sounds like—committing the time and space to melt away your daily stresses and focus on you. Standing up for your needs can help you experience self-care benefits—from bolstered mental, emotional, and physical health to improved mood, energy, and resilience.

Taking the first step and starting a self-care routine can be the hardest part. Even the best intentions can land you neck-deep in an avalanche of appointments and to-dos. That’s why you need a plan and patience with yourself—because self-care is bigger than booking a single spa session.

Developing your self-care checklist is an individual process of assessing needs and seeking solutions. Peruse the following options to help you start a self-care routine that works for you. Pick and choose what helps achieve your goals, and—since self-care shouldn’t feel like a burden—focus on what you’ll find enjoyable. Most importantly, commit to carving out the time to put these self-care tips into practice.

Sound Sleep is a Solid Way to Start a Self-Care Routine

You hear over and over how much of your life is spent asleep. A third of your time may still not feel like enough, though. That’s because sleep is essential to build many of the pillars of wellness.

Set your bedtime alarm for a noisy reminder to cut the world off and prepare for the most me-centric activity you do. Make sure to practice good sleep habits:

  • avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime
  • wind down with music, meditation, or stretching
  • turn off the screens
  • set a comfortable temperature
  • tuck in for at least seven hours

Your Self-Care Checklist Must Include Clearing Your Schedule

The world doesn’t care about your plans. It can steamroll your dinner reservation, interrupt evening me-time, or destroy a whole vacation. But the best way to keep your daily to-do’s from derailing a much-needed trip down your self-care checklist is to schedule time for yourself.

Block out your calendar—that means turning off the ringer on your phone, too—so you can dedicate time and energy to practicing the self-care tips that speak to you.

Claim Your Space and Maximize Its Calming Properties

Setting aside your own calming corner of the world can put you in the right physical and mental space for starting a self-care routine. But even the most soothing color scheme can’t overcome clutter and chaos in a room. Decluttering your life and spaces can help you find your center in a stressful world.

Some people like organizing and cleaning because it’s calming. Even if that’s not for you, creating a space that’s free of reminders of your daily stresses is a good idea. Meditation among the laundry landmines, toy traps, or—worst of all—stacks of work isn’t as calming as it could be.

Soothe with Sensory Experiences

Stress is a reaction to troublesome sensory information. So the self-care solution is to feed your body a buffet of soothing sensations.

Wrap yourself in soft, comfortable material—a robe or loungewear works. Refresh your mind with calming scents. Flip off the harsh blue lights that dominate your life and try soft candlelight instead. Fill the room with your favorite songs or the calming soundtrack of nature.

Run your favorite stress-fighting bath or dedicate an afternoon each week to fully embracing the hygge lifestyle. Head to the hammock in the backyard with a book. Hike a picturesque trail. Whatever comforting option you choose, stimulate your senses in a pleasing instead of punishing way.

Eat Up Healthy Dietary Options

Emotional eating is easily confused with self-care. But you don’t want to lose sight of the care part of self-care in your search for comfort.

Eating healthy foods isn’t a punishment. Quite the opposite. It’s a caring gesture key to feeling good. And it can be delicious, too. Feed your body nutritious meals and snacks that pack the vitamins and minerals needed to help you feel your best.

Opt for a plant-heavy approach with easy-to-digest foods that are also good for your gut. That way you can spend your self-care time feeling light and energetic instead of sluggish and slumped over from overdoing it on traditional comfort foods.

Attempt to Achieve Serenity Your Way

Serenity is the ultimate goal of any self-care routine. So stressing about finding the most relaxing and serene experiences is positively counterproductive.

Some people turn to meditation. And there’s evidence showing meditation benefits the brain and your stress levels. But that’s only if mediation works for you. It takes practice to perfect, so give yourself room for mediation to be a work-in-progress.

Yoga is great. It has a long history of peaceful practice. But if you are frustrated by yoga—because you are a beginner or your body simply doesn’t bend that way yet—skip it or find a form that works for you.

Your path to peace and serenity may not look like everybody else’s. And that’s OK. Try different approaches and stick with what feels right.

Stimulate Your Mind

Starting a self-care routine doesn’t mean putting yourself in a stimulation-free bubble. Using your brain for your enjoyment—not for work or figuring out other people’s problems—is a powerful way to care for yourself.

Stop if your mental activities start to feel like work. There are plenty of good options to engage your intellect in service of self-care:

  • read a book, short story, or magazine
  • play word, trivia, or brain games
  • have an enlightening conversation
  • critically think through a piece of pop culture you enjoy
  • write a story or journal entry
  • play a piece of music on your instrument of choice—or just jam without a structure

Experience the Calming Powers of the Outdoors

Nature can nurture your soul and buoy your mood. Study after study has shown why being outside is important for stress relief, focus, and calm.

Step out your door to take deep breathes of fresh air. Visit a nearby natural escape to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest, beach, or park.

Social Support Reinforces Your Self-Care Efforts

Self-care doesn’t require isolation. Humans are social creatures who can benefit from contact with others. Keeping the interactions playful, fun, and easy-going will help you experience the mental and emotional benefits of maintaining your social health.

If you’re an introvert, don’t worry. Interact on your own terms to avoid being overwhelmed by interactions meant to help your mental state.

And if you just can’t deal with another person, there’s a solution. Snuggling up, playing with, or just soaking up love from your favorite furry friend is a great source of self-care support. Pets, after all, can help with mood, stability, and overall happiness.

Slay Negativity with Self-Compassion

You might not be able to tell from some people’s social feeds, but nobody is perfect at self-care. Learning to care for yourself is a process.

Starting the self-care routine you need and deserve might not be as effective as you’d hoped the first time. Maybe you lose focus during mediation, a bug bites you on your peaceful nature walk, or the dog jumps into your bath.

Give yourself a break by practicing self-compassion and building in flexibility. Even imperfect self-care is a step in the right direction—toward a healthier, happier, less-stressed you.

Weight loss is the most popular reason people exercise. But losing weight is far from the only exercise benefit. Working out can support the health of all aspects of your body.

Here’s a full-body overview of other exercise benefits. From your brain to lungs and joints, learn why you should exercise for more than weight loss.


Your body’s command center needs exercise just as much as your waistline does. Moving your body for a few minutes every day is a great way to keep your brain in shape.

The brain relies on building new connections between neurons so you can store important information throughout your life. This action of building new bridges between brain cells is called neuroplasticity, and it increases through exercise.

Scientists believe neuroplasticity and exercise are linked because of the increase in blood flow to the brain during physical activity. With plenty of blood and oxygen circulating in your brain, regions like the hippocampus can wire new neural pathways. This can help your memory adapt and continue to improve through your lifetime.

Aging is hard on your brain. So, exercise is one thing you can do to make the transition into later life more manageable. Regular exercise has been shown to support healthy recall skills and can slow the progression of age-related memory decline.

In one study, researchers noted that even light exercise and a minimum of 7,500 daily steps were associated with an increase in total brain volume. Higher brain volume can indicate enhanced neuroplasticity in the brain. That’s how exercise can help keep your mind and learning abilities sharp as you age.

If you want to exercise to boost your brain power, cardiovascular exercises are best. The bursts of movement during cardio elevate your heart rate and send blood pumping to all areas of your body—your brain included. Cardio doesn’t need to be intense to get the job done. Your brain will benefit from a regular evening walk, bike ride, or swim in the pool. Anything that pumps your blood is great for your brain.

Mood and Hormones

People that exercise can count on a better mood as their reward—not just weight loss. The link between mood and exercise is a strong one. And it can be a great motivator to work out more.

It all starts with aerobics. Faster paced, cardiovascular movements can reduce the amount of stress hormones circulating in your blood. These hormones (like adrenaline and cortisol) often  contribute to feelings of stress, anxiety, and worry. Too much of any stress hormone can even interfere with your sleep habits. This leaves you tired and unprepared to tackle your daily tasks.

Regular aerobic exercise does more than just decrease the presence of these stress hormones. Cardio and other blood-pumping workouts can even add in feel-good hormones to your bloodstream.

Endorphins are hormones produced by your brain in response to exercise. They act like natural painkillers and stress-relievers. Some people even call the rush of endorphins you experience after exercise a “runner’s high.”

Runner or not, you will like the way you feel when endorphins enter circulation. These mood-lifting biochemicals bring on a sense of euphoria and can even help combat anxiety and depression. In addition, they help you relax and calm down.

Let exercise be your go-to way to pick yourself up after a hard day. A light jog, game of tennis, or trip to the park with your family, is all you need to feel the effects of endorphins. At the same time, you’ll be reducing stress hormones and putting yourself at ease.


One of the first organs in your body to see the benefits of regular exercise is your heart. Your cardiovascular system becomes more efficient as you grow fitter. Treat your heart to some endurance training and exercise for the health of your ticker.

As your fitness level improves, you might notice your resting heart rate slow a bit. That’s because exercise makes your heart stronger and more efficient at pumping blood. A slower heart rate is a sign that your heart doesn’t need to work as hard to circulate your blood. Each heartbeat packs a little more force and pumps blood with less energy expended.

Exercise benefits your heart in other ways, too. Regular physical activity is linked to reducing fatty plaque build-up in arteries. This thickening and hardening of vessel walls can make it harder for your heart to push blood to the places it needs to be. Keeping arteries clear of hardened fat is another perk of working out.

Cardio exercises are the kind of workouts your heart needs. You’ll know you’re doing cardio when you can feel your heartbeat start to quicken. Jumping-jacks, plyometrics, running, and other fast-moving exercises are great options for cardio. Take the opportunity to work-out for your heart the next time you exercise.


Tough workouts can leave you feeling breathless. But exercising on a regular basis can help combat this feeling of breathlessness. Aerobic movements can increase the volume of air your lungs can take in with each breath. This measurement is called lung capacity. As lung capacity increases, so does the amount of oxygen available to the muscles powering your workout.

Try breathing exercises to boost your lung capacity. You can incorporate them into your daily exercise or practice them while resting. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing and pursed-lips breathing are two methods you can use to expand your lung capacity.

Just Breathe

To do diaphragmatic breathing, place you hand on your abdomen just beneath your rib cage. Breathe deeply and focus on expanding your abdomen and stomach as you inhale. To exhale, purse your lips together like you would to suck through a straw or give someone a kiss. Push the breath out of your pursed lips slowly.

Bones and Joints

A common myth surrounding joint health is that regular exercise can lead to damaged joints. Consistent, moderate exercise can actually increase bone mass and strength, while protecting joints from swelling, pain, and erosion.

Stronger joints start with stronger bones. When muscles are activated during physical activity, they push and pull on the bones they attach to. Tension from working muscles encourages bone cells to multiply and thicken. As a result, your bone density improves.

This relationship between bone strength and exercise is important. It means that the more consistently you exercise, the stronger your bones become. And the strong bones you develop through regular movement will fare better as you age.

Another reason you should exercise for more than weight loss is to relieve stress on your joints. Swelling and stiffness can happen when your joints aren’t cared for properly. Discomfort in the joints might make exercise seem like a chore.

Don’t give in to the temptation to skip a workout. Movement and regular use of your joints can help them feel great. Daily exercise is a great way to reduce aching and promote strength in your joints.

Bodyweight exercises like push-ups, lunges, squats, and burpees are excellent bone-strengthening activities. Try to hit each muscle groups when you exercise to ensure every bone and joint benefits from your workout.

Immune System

Entire body systems, like your immune system, thrive when you exercise regularly. That’s because exercise has perks that can help keep you healthy.

Exercise promotes the turnover and exchange of leukocytes (white blood cells.) Leukocytes are part of your innate immune response and fight against pathogens that invade your body. When you exercise, the leukocytes that protect you from getting sick are regenerated.

Your immune system needs regular physical activity to defend you from sickness later in life, too. It turns out that along with the rest of your body, your immune system ages, too. Exercise stimulates immune activity that helps keep healthy and free from infection. A habit of everyday exercise can help you maintain immunity in the face of possible age-related decline.

To exercise for your immune system, find an activity that promotes circulation. Aerobic exercises and full-body movements trigger the white-blood-cell turnover that maintains your immunity. Dancing, jogging, tennis, and volleyball are great ways to move your whole body and support your immune defenses.

Working Out for Your Whole Body

Moving your muscles on a regular basis does wonders for your overall wellness. Remember, you can exercise for more than weight loss. So, try to find another factor that motivates you to exercise.

Incorporate a variety of exercises that target different health and exercise benefits. Add cardio and aerobic movements to bolster your heart, brain, and mood. Stretching and deep breathing practices work for your joint and lung health. Find a fitness groove that works for your whole body, and start working out for more than the bathroom scale.

You need all 13 of the essential vitamins and 14 essential minerals to maintain health. But let’s be honest—some essential micronutrients perform a larger variety of jobs than others.

No offense to nutrients like molybdenum—with its focus on supporting detoxification processes—but the list below highlights the 10 multitasking micronutrients you need to acquire from your diet.

Vitamin D

The sunshine vitamin is a fat-soluble force for good all over your body. The spotlight shines brightly on vitamin D’s role in supporting bone health—by helping maintain balanced levels of calcium in your blood.

But vitamin D also helps:

  • Support healthy immune function
  • Maintain a balanced mood
  • Support cardiovascular health by helping maintain healthy blood pressure already in the normal range

Exposing your skin to the sun will help your body make vitamin D. You can also add a supplement, fatty fish, and fortified dairy or grains to your diet.

Deepen your connection to vitamin D.


It’s called a macromineral for a reason. Your body’s vociferous appetite for magnesium stems from the mineral’s participation in 300-plus enzyme systems. This nutritional jack-of-all-trades plays a role in:

  • Supporting energy production
  • Helping maintain healthy calcium levels
  • Supporting normal, healthy insulin function and blood glucose levels already in the normal range
  • Bone-health maintenance

Maximize your magnesium knowledge.

Vitamin C

You know vitamin C. It’s possibly the most well-known nutrient in the world. Much study has revealed wide-ranging impacts on maintaining your health.

  • Acts as an antioxidant, helping protect you from free radicals by shedding electrons to neutralize damaging compounds
  • Helps support collagen production, which is important for skin-health maintenance
  • Plays an important part in maintaining healthy immune function through support for white-blood-cell production and protection
  • Supports cardiovascular health

See more information about Vitamin C.


The connection to supporting bone health is so strong you may miss calcium’s incredible versatility. This amazing mineral:

  • Supports cardiovascular health and normal, healthy blood clotting
  • Helps maintain healthy cellular communication through its role in cell signaling all around your body
  • Supports muscle movements—both contraction and relaxation require calcium
  • Aids in the maintenance of healthy nerve function

Solidify your understanding of calcium.

Vitamin A

Being a fat-soluble-free-radical fighter is just the start of vitamin A’s supernutrient origin story. Sure, it acts as a powerful antioxidant. But did you know its support for healthy cellular differentiation expands vitamin A’s role throughout your body?

Your eyes, skin, reproductive system, as well as organs and tissues throughout your body are supported by this essential nutrient. It also helps maintain healthy cell growth and communication, supports healthy immune function, and is a component in a key protein for your vision.

Earn top marks for your vitamin A knowledge.


Don’t let the trace-mineral tag fool you. Copper is key to help building a healthy body. Here’s what it does for you:

  • Supports the construction of connective tissue throughout your body
  • Helps maintain healthy red-blood-cell production
  • Supports your brain and nervous system
  • Aids in cardiovascular-health maintenance by supporting healthy blood vessels
  • Supports energy production and cellular respiration
  • Helps maintain immune function and bone health

And it even acts as an antioxidant—although indirectly.

Connect with the science of copper.


You can call it vitamin B7 or biotin. Either way, it will help all over your body—from supporting energy production to maintaining healthy cell signaling.

Biotin is also frequently talked about in the context of supporting healthy hair. But it does so much more. It also helps maintain healthy bones and normal gene expression, while supporting the production of glucose from sources other than carbohydrates.

Boost what you know about biotin.


It’s no small feat being second to calcium on the list of the body’s abundant minerals. That’s how important phosphorous is, though. You need it to support energy production—and you have adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to thank for that.

Phosphorous also:

  • Supports bone and cellular health
  • Helps maintain healthy cell signaling
  • Supports protein synthesis
  • Works with B vitamins to help support heart, kidney, muscle, and nerve health

Familiarize yourself with phosphorous.

Vitamin B6

Over 100 of your body’s enzymes wouldn’t be the same without vitamin B6. Let’s jump right to the list—because it’s a long one.

  • Supports production of glucose from the stored sugar molecule glycogen
  • Helps maintain immune health through support for immune-cell production
  • Supports normal modulation of hormones
  • Plays a role in supporting fat metabolism
  • Helps maintain normal neurotransmitter formation
  • Supports cardiovascular health by playing a role in regulating homocysteine levels in the blood
  • Plays a role in coenzymes that help support healthy protein metabolism

Be more aware of all vitamin B6 does for you.


You might not need as much zinc as other minerals, but it still is involved in 300-plus enzymes and many important bodily system and functions.

Immune support may spring to your mind first. Zinc does help maintain healthy immunity. One of the biggest roles it plays in your health starts at the genetic level. Zinc helps support healthy DNA construction and repair. And then it also is a structural component of proteins related to gene expression.

Supporting the health of your kidneys, eyes, muscles, bones, and skin also falls under the job description for zinc. So does antioxidant activity, support for the production of a component of blood, and aiding the absorption of folate into cells.

What more is there to know about zinc? Find out here.

COVID-19 has people are stuck in their houses, video conferencing from their kitchen tables, creating home workouts, and staying distant to stay safe. Joe De Sena, the founder and CEO of Spartan, has another suggestion.

“Socially distance from your kitchen.”

If you’ve read about or participated in a Spartan Race, it’s no surprise De Sena wants people outside and moving. It’s a key part of his Spartan doctrine. To dig deeper into De Sena’s health and fitness philosophy—with a focus on Spartan preparation at home–Ask the Scientists’ Austin Winegar conducted a wide-ranging interview.

Inside Joe De Sena’s Spartan Mindset

Austin Winegar: What parts of the body would you focus on for Spartan preparation? And why do you think those are the most important areas?

Joe De Sena: The number one thing we’re motivated by is the avoidance of discomfort. There are a few of us that are outliers or maniacs that wake up early and get after it. So, my answer to that question has to be very digestible, very possible for folks to engage in. I would say, at a minimum, it’s 30 burpees, 30 of the best pullups you could muster up, and it’s a one-mile walk or run. Obviously, I can go much deeper than that, but I’ll scare people if I do. So, I’ve tried to tone down my message to something really scalable. Walk, crawl, whatever—one mile. Park a little further away from the grocery store when you shopping. Anybody could do 30 burpees in two minutes—even stretch it out to three minutes. And if you can’t do a pull-up, jump up 30 times. If you just did that, it’d change your whole life.


AW: Digestible things that are realistic is your number one recommendation?

JD: It’s gotta be realistic. It’s gotta be something people will actually do. I could give you a giant list that looks like one of those scrolls a king would drop, of things I’d want people to do every day. But nobody’s doing it. I’ve been putting on races for 20 years. And for 10 of those years I used to have to lie to people and tell them they were coming to a barbecue, because they don’t want to do it. ‘Joe, why are we getting up at 5 a.m. for a barbecue?’ ‘Well, we gotta carry the barbecue up the mountain.’ Little did they know they were the ones that were going to be getting barbecued. True story. I’m not kidding.

I would also do hot yoga as often as I could. I would sit in a sauna post-workout. I would take cold showers. I would take stairs instead of elevators. I would carry a kettlebell. I do thousands of crunches. It depends on how far you want me to go with the answer to that question. Yes, I have opinions on physical fitness and diet, but you gotta give people bite-sized pieces.


AW: I’m inclined to agree with your approach. Rather than it being one movement or exercise, it’s probably more important to push whatever your current capabilities are and step it up more every day.

JD: I’d rather see you do it every day—seven days a week—than get after it once, buy a gym membership, go in for two weeks, then disappear for two months. Consistency is everything. Consistency in general, in everything, in life. Stick-to-it-ness. Write it down, be disciplined about it. Forget about motivation. Motivation is fleeting. You might have it, or you might not. Just create a narrative that you constantly talk about in the public. ‘I do 30 burpees every day. I walk one mile, no matter what—rain, snow, shine. I do my 30 pullups even though I’m not good at one pullup. Every single day.’ You say it over and over and before you know it, if you don’t do it, you’ll be a fraud. You gotta do it.

AW: What about diet? Do you follow the same strictness?

JD: I would say if you had the Joe Spartan food pyramid, the very top would be animal protein. The middle would be nuts, oils, and avocados. And the bottom would be veggies.

I would say you must, with all three meals, have a small bowl of salad. And that doesn’t mean covered in ranch dressing, but raw veggies with every meal. If you’re eating eggs—it sounds crazy—but I’ve actually acquired a taste for salad and eggs and sprouts. I don’t need any dressing.


AW: What about Spartan-specific preparation? How much preparation should people do in the weeks leading up to an event?

JD: Do you want to win it?


AW: Let’s say you want to be competitive—upper half—but don’t need to be the first-place person.

JD: We have multiple distance events—three miles, eight miles, 13 miles, 26 miles. Why don’t we keep this to three miles. If your staple training diet was what we said—30-30-1—if you did three days a week of hot yoga on top. ‘Why would we do hot yoga, Joe?’ Because the only thing that’s going to stop you from doing well is injury. So, to avoid injury we have to keep you mobile and flexible. I’m a big believer in that. I would get one five-mile run in a week, and I would spend some time on a rope. Out at a Spartan race, a lot of people struggle with the rope. The pullups will get you through the other hanging things. You’re going to need some grip strength, so I would spend a lot of time on a rope every week.

Let’s say you gotta do 10 rope climbs a week. One five mile run. And three classes of hot yoga. On top of that basic 30-30-1. You’d crush it. You’d do great. And fitness starts in the kitchen, so you want to be eating healthy. You don’t want to be doubling up on chocolate cake while you’re doing this.


AW: How do people set up ropes in smaller spaces?

JD: You could literally hang it off of a pullup bar. It’s not going to be ideal, but if you had no other choice, you’d start sitting down. In the beginning, you aren’t going to be able to get off your butt with your legs straight out like a gymnast and climb up. But you could leave your heels on the ground and work your way up to a standing position and work your way back down to a sitting position. You do it enough times to where your grip strength is able to get you standing up and sitting down.

AW: What’s people’s usual weakness?

JD: Grip strength, in general, is going to break you in a Spartan Race because there’s so many things to hold onto if you’re not used to it. Also, on the rope, it’s technique. You could deal with the lack of technique if you can get your hands strong enough. You’ll get sucked up in the vortex of the people and the music and you’ll get up that rope and ring the bell.


AW: What are the bodyweight exercises you’d have people do?

JD: We do them all. Reverse lunges. Leonidas burpees—which is a double perfect pushup at the bottom. Inverted pushups. I love all kinds of yoga poses. I’ve basically taken a bunch of yoga poses and turned them into callisthenic exercises. So, I’m working on mobility and flexibility at the same time I’m getting a workout.


AW: Why is a healthy approach to life important for people, in general, and not just those looking forward to Spartan Races?

JD: I’m glad you asked that question, because it’s the biggest thing we didn’t talk about. You guys have watched boxing matches throughout your life. The interesting thing about most of those boxers is they fall out of shape. As soon as they get a date on the calendar, they start getting in shape for the fight. And most people are like that. If they don’t have something on the calendar, they don’t get after it.

When I think about why I started Spartan, I recognized 30 years ago if I didn’t have a date on the calendar, I wasn’t training hard enough. I’d go through the motions, but as soon as there’s a date on the calendar—a fight that’s on the calendar, whatever that fight means in your life—you get after it. You work out a little harder. You put down that cookie. You go to bed a little earlier. You get serious. That’s why it’s so important—it doesn’t have to be a Spartan Race, though I wish it were—but it could be anything hard, anything challenging that forces people to change their habits for the better.

Life and health all come down to blood flow and circulation and what you’re putting in your mouth. So, I think of a body like a swimming pool. A swimming pool is 20,000 gallons of water, and the human body is seven gallons of water—depending on your size. A swimming pool has a pump and filter. You have a pump and filter. And a 20,000-gallon pool, if I started throwing French fries and coffee drinks and ketchup and all kinds of things in that pool, and then I turned the pump off and the filters got dirty, it turns black pretty quick. So, we’re expecting this little swimming pool, our body, with this little pump and a few filters to keep clean with all the stuff we keep stuffing into our mouths. Then we aren’t running the pump because we’re sitting on the couch and we’re not cleaning the filters. So, that’s why it’s important for everybody.

Start Your Spartan Journey to Better Health

Now that you’re pumped and ready to turn up the heat on your fitness journey, start with Joe’s 30-30-1 advice. Then try to build out with more home workouts you can try to supplement the Spartan advice you just received.

For more information on Spartan Races and preparation, head over to their site.

Staying on top of your health requires more than seeing your healthcare provider for an annual check-up. It means monitoring key health indicators frequently at home. These measures can help you meet the World Health Organization’s definition of health: a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being—not just the lack of a disease. And that’s why tracking your health data can be an important tool for maintaining your overall health and wellness.

There are five main health checks (called vital signs) that are regularly assessed whenever you see a physician. But you can also track these important measures of health—and more—at home.

Blood Pressure


This simple health indicator of the cardiovascular system measures how hard your heart has to work to pump blood through arteries and throughout your body. It measures the force of blood pushing against the blood vessel walls. High blood pressure (called hypertension) is often referred to as the “silent killer” because there are typically no symptoms associated with this condition.

Regularly measuring blood pressure is so important that there are published guidelines on how to take it properly. And healthcare professionals must routinely learn to take blood pressure measurements correctly during their education. While the manual measurement of blood pressure using a mercury sphygmomanometer (also called a blood pressure cuff) and a stethoscope has long been held as the gold standard, automated devices are now routinely used in clinical practice.

These automated blood pressure machines are the easiest way to track your blood pressure at home and monitor cardiovascular health. This type of device includes a digital monitor that displays blood pressure results (numbers) on a small screen. The top (or first) number displayed on the screen is called the systolic number, which indicates the pressure inside the artery when the heart is contracting (or pumping blood). The second (or bottom) number on the screen is called the diastolic number—the measure of the pressure inside the artery when the heart is resting in-between beats.

Higher numbers can indicate that the heart is working extra hard to pump blood through your arteries. This may be the result of a temporary external influence—like feeling stressed, scared or excited. It could be the result of heavy exercise that causes a temporary rise in blood pressure to increase flow to deliver extra oxygen and essential nutrients throughout your body.

Or the high number could be caused by an internal force, such as the buildup of plaque in arteries. This can cause blood vessels to become narrowed and less flexible over time.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends selecting an automatic, upper arm (bicep) cuff digital blood pressure monitoring device. It’s important to do your research and select a machine that fits your arm and that has been validated for accuracy. Your physician or a pharmacist can help suggest the best type of device for you to use at home. It’s also important to read and follow all instructions and directions provided for setting up your new blood pressure device or have your healthcare provider show you how.

Taking one blood pressure measurement tells you what your blood pressure is right now. It’s not an accurate measurement of overall cardiovascular health. Checking blood pressure routinely, whether that means daily, or a few times a week is a much better indicator. Readings can also vary depending on the time of day, the activity you may have just completed, if you are stressed or even sick. That’s why it’s important to record the results to better track your health data. It’s also preferable to measure blood pressure about the same time each day.

Tips for Taking Your Blood Pressure

For better accuracy it’s important not to smoke, drink caffeine and alcohol, or exercise within 30 minutes of checking blood pressure. It’s also helpful to sit quietly with your back straight and supported (a chair works well) for 5-10 minutes first to help you relax. Place your feet are flat against the floor and don’t cross your legs.

The arm you’re using to measure blood pressure should be resting on a flat surface (a table works well) with the upper arm positioned at the level of your heart with the palm of your hand facing up. Position the cuff so that the bottom edge of the cuff is placed directly above the bend of your elbow, and try not to take a measurement over clothes. Take two or three readings about one-to-two minutes apart and record the date, time, and results each time you measure your blood pressure.

What Your Numbers Mean

A healthy, normal blood pressure is considered anything less than 120/80. Your blood pressure could vary depending on your gender, age, weight, and any medical conditions you have. If you do register a blood pressure reading that’s higher than ideal, wait two to five minutes and recheck. Consult your physician if you consistently have higher blood pressure. A higher pressure reading means the heart is working extra hard to pump blood out to circulate throughout your body. A chronically elevated blood pressure is called hypertension and it’s known to contribute to a variety of health conditions.

Healthcare experts from the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and many others officially updated guidelines for blood pressure numbers in adults in 2017. These new definitions lowered the numbers used for making a diagnosis of hypertension. This means many people who were not previously considered to have high blood pressure are now considered to be hypertensive.

2017 Updated Blood Pressure Categories
Systolic Diastolic
Normal Less than 120 and Less than 80
Elevated 120-129 and Less than 80
Hypertension- Stage 1 130-139 or 80-89
Hypertension- Stage 2 140 and higher or 90 or higher
Hypertensive Crisis Higher than 180 And/or Higher than 120

Data obtained from the American Heart Association

Blood flow is your internal transportation system designed to distribute oxygen and essential nutrients throughout your entire body. That’s why it’s so important to make sure this system runs smoothly. Tracking your blood pressure results over time provides a “snap-shot” of your heart health. And this information may provide the needed motivation to improve lifestyle measures known to support healthy blood pressure and overall heart health. It may also motivate you to consult with your healthcare provider to determine the best treatment options for higher blood pressure numbers.

Heart (or Pulse) Rate

Heart or pulse rate is a measurement of how many times your heart beats (complete heart-muscle contractions) in one minute. Measuring your heart rate is considered an indicator of heart muscle function and is another important measure of health.

A resting heart rate is how many times your heart beats while you are rested or relaxed. This number is different from the amount of beats that occur when you are physically active or stressed. The average heart rate for a healthy adult is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. But age and activity levels can influence heart rate. It may be higher when exercising and lower during times of inactivity. Other factors that can influence heart rate include stress and anxiety, caffeine or other stimulants, certain medications, body position (standing, sitting or lying down), body temperature, and some medical conditions.

How to Check Your Heart Rate

You can check your heart rate at your wrist or on the side of your neck using two fingers. Alternatively, you can see your heart rate measurement when checking blood pressure with a digital blood pressure monitoring device, when using a pulse oximeter to check oxygen saturation levels, and on a smart watch, wearable, or app.

To check your pulse rate using your wrist, use the index and middle finger of your dominant hand and position them so that the tips of the two fingers align. Press them lightly on the inside of your opposite wrist just below the base of your thumb in the soft space under your wrist bone to feel the radial artery beneath the skin. When monitoring pulse rate in the neck (carotid artery), lightly press the same two fingers on the side your neck, just beneath the jawbone to the side of your windpipe.

Count the numbers of beats for 15 seconds and multiple that number by four to see your heart rate. For the best accuracy, repeat this procedure two or three times and use the average of these numbers.

Numerous watches and smartphone apps can track various elements of health. And many provide heart rate monitoring so that you can check your heart rate at a glance.  However, there is no guarantee of accuracy because they aren’t required to be medically validated.

Respiratory (Breathing) Rate

Respirations occur when you breathe in and out. Breathing provides the oxygen required for every cell in the body to function properly. During the respiration process, air is moved in and out of the lungs. This process facilitates gas exchange by bringing oxygen in and pushing carbon dioxide out.

A respiratory (breathing) rate is the number of breaths taken in one minute. And it’s easy to measure. Respiratory rate is measured by counting the numbers of breaths taken (the number of times your chest rises and falls) for one minute. Remember that one rise and one fall are counted as one breath.

When checking respiratory rate, it’s best to sit upright in a chair. But it can be measured lying down if needed. A healthy adult respiration rate is between 12 to 20 times a minute.

Body Temperature

Your body has an internal thermostat and its proper functioning is important. That makes temperature another important vital sign used to assess overall health. Temperature checks are a routine part of any visit to a healthcare provider. But it can also be checked at home if you or a loved one isn’t feeling well, or are just curious what your temperature is. It’s easy to check body temperature with a thermometer.

Your body does a good job of regulating body temperature to keep you healthy. And it’s normal for it to fluctuate in a healthy range throughout the day and throughout your life. Body temperature is also influenced by age, gender, certain medicines, and diseases.

You’ve probably heard the right body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (or 37 degrees Celsius). It was long considered the normal number for assessing a healthy temperature based on data from as early as the 1800s. But newer research shows that a normal, healthy adult temperature can range significantly, averaging between 97 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the person.

How to Pick Your Thermometer

There are options when it comes to choosing a thermometer to check body temperature at home:

  • A digital thermometer uses electronic heat sensors to record body temperature. This no-contact thermometer is typically used to measure temperature when pointed at the forehead.
  • A digital ear thermometer (also called a tympanic thermometer) uses an infrared ray to measure the temperature inside of the ear canal.
  • A temporal artery thermometer uses an infrared scanner to measure the temperature of the temporal artery in the forehead. This thermometer is gently swiped across the forehead lightly touching the skin. It should be cleaned between uses.
  • The mercury thermometer is no longer recommended due to the possibility of the glass getting broken and allowing the toxic mercury to escape and cause contamination. Digital, oral thermometers are good replacements for those used to this type of device.

While thermometers are available in a variety of styles, it’s important to note that not all thermometers provide the same quality and accuracy. So if you’re not sure which one to buy, ask your pharmacist or physician for advice on selecting the best thermometer for home use.

Oxygen Saturation (SpO2)

This metric of health measures the amount of oxygen in red blood cells—also referred to as oxygen saturation. Your body closely regulates your blood-oxygen levels because maintaining a precise balance is vital for health.

A measurement of your blood oxygen is called an O2 Sat (SpO2) when using a pulse oximeter—a noninvasive way to obtain this important measure of health. Pulse oximeters are typically small electronic devices that clip on the end of your index finger. This vital sign is another metric of health that’s routinely checked when you visit a healthcare provider.

A normal, healthy pulse oximeter reading typically ranges in the mid 90s up to 100 percent.  A value below 90 percent is considered low and should be medically evaluated by a healthcare professional.

Pulse oximetry is also used in athletic training and can also be found in gyms and fitness centers. It can provide important information for athletes and amateurs during workouts to help improve endurance, speed, and overall performance.

Advances in technology and direct-to-the-public sales have made it easy to purchase a variety of medical-type devices without the need of a doctor’s order. This includes pulse oximeters. When choosing a device, it’s important to buy it from a reputable company and check to see of the device has been clinically validated for accuracy, otherwise it could be a waste of time and money.

Pulse oximeters have the technology (depending on the brand and model) to measure important vital signs including: oxygen saturation, pulse rate, breathing rate, and more from a fingertip. All these health indicators can help you support your respiratory health. Although SpO2 may not be necessarily relevant for everyone.

Other Important Measures of Health

  1. Blood Glucose

Glucose is a simple carbohydrate (sugar) used as the primary fuel for your cells, and is an essential energy source for your brain and nervous system. Your body converts certain foods to glucose that it needs for energy. It’s normal for the amount of glucose in your blood to fluctuate throughout the day.

Measuring blood glucose is part of an annual visit to your doctor to make sure you’re healthy, and to screen for diabetes or prediabetes. A normal fasting blood glucose level is defined as 70 to 99 mg/dL (3.9 to 5.5 mmol/L). Maintaining normal blood glucose levels is an important part of keeping your body healthy.

Since screening glucose levels is part of an annual physical, health professionals don’t routinely recommend regularly checking blood glucose levels at home unless you are diabetic or have prediabetes. However, if you want to check your blood glucose more often than annually, you can purchase a glucometer and the required supplies at a pharmacy or online. Make sure to educate yourself on the appropriate use of this device, what the results mean, and the best way to dispose of the used supplies. Monitoring blood glucose can help you determine how different foods and activities may influence your blood glucose values.

  1. Sleep

Sleep is important and necessary to maintain good health. During sleep, your body repairs tissues and other cells, and bolsters your immune system. Adults require 7-9 hours of nightly sleep in order to promote optimal health. Unfortunately many are still sleep deprived.

While not as accurate as a professional sleep assessment, a personal sleep tracking device or app can help monitor nightly sleep patterns. This can help provide insight into your sleep habits so you can take steps to improve them.

There are different types of devices to choose from, including wearable and non-wearable options in all shapes and sizes. It’s important to decide what you really want out of a device before making a purchase.

Many smart watches provide sleep-tracking data that you can connect to an app on your phone. Commonly provided data includes: type of sleep (deep, light, REM), how often you wake, and for how long you sleep. Some also provide SpO2 data which is an important metric for health maintenance. The use of these convenient devices allows you to keep track of your sleep metrics and measure progress towards your sleep goals over time.

  1. Activity

Your body is made to move—a lot. But it doesn’t have to be strenuous. Walking is a great way to support overall health. This form of exercise provides benefits for managing body weight, supporting heart health and normal, healthy blood pressure, and even mood and cognition. And walking is considered a low-impact form of exercise because it’s easier on joints. Low-impact exercise also helps maintain and build muscle mass that can decrease with age.

Wearable trackers—like those available on smart watches and other devices—are a great way to monitor steps. The World Health Organization (and many other health professionals and organizations) recommend adults 18–64 perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. A wearable tracker is an easier way to monitor steps, distance, and time so you can meet your fitness goals.

Know Your Numbers to Stay Healthy

Staying on top of your health can be improved greatly by measuring and tracking different metrics. And there are all kinds of apps for your smart watch and phone that can track just about any health indicator you want to know and monitor. Choose carefully, and avoid information overload. You don’t want to spend all your time worrying about and monitoring your health on a device.

If you don’t want to track every aspect of your life, here are some other ways to support your health that don’t require tracking:

  • Include more fresh, natural whole foods and less processed foods in your diet
  • Eat at regular times, and only until you feel full
  • Stand up and move your body on a regular daily basis
  • Drink more water and fewer sweetened drinks
  • Spend less time staring at a screen and more time with family and friends
  • Go outside and enjoy the benefits nature provides—spending time outside is a natural stress reliever shown to help lower stress-hormone levels, and less stress equals better health

Hydration is typically approached one glass of water at a time. You aren’t wrong to try that when tracking your liquid intake. Drinking plenty of plain water really is the best way to attain healthy hydration. But you can also easily add several hydrating foods to your daily menu to help out.

It’s important to do everything you can to stay properly hydrated because it’s essential for good overall health. Healthy hydration helps your body remain in the state of homeostasis it craves. And the combination of liquids and water-rich foods will help your body experience the benefits of proper, healthy hydration. Those include supporting:

  • healthy, normal cognition and focus
  • circulation (since water makes up a big portion of your blood)
  • healthy-looking skin that appears plump
  • your immune system’s germ fighters
  • healthy bones and properly lubricated joints
  • the functions of your vital organs to literally keep you alive

Maximize Your Hydration Mix with Water-Rich Foods

Your body—from head to toe—needs water. The sources you tap for that healthy hydration is up to you. Studies have found a wide range for total water intake that comes from food. Variations by culture, age, and other factors account for anywhere between 20 and 40 percent of water coming from food.

Your target percent is up to you, but having flexibility is good. Maybe water isn’t your go-to beverage and you think it’s kind of boring. Your other liquids count, too. Broth, skim milk, and coconut water are great hydrating options. Even coffee and tea help—despite the myths about caffeine-containing beverages adversely impacting hydration.

Or would you rather maximize your diet by loading up your plate with hydrating foods throughout the day? You’re in luck. There are obvious options you’ll find on any list of water-rich foods—watermelon, cucumber, citrus fruit, a variety of berries, celery, lettuce, squash, tomatoes, and grapes.

There are also some foods that could be real surprises to you. Scroll through the list of eight common grocery store items you might not reach for first while filling your cart with hydrating foods.


From the ocean to your table, this popular seafood item is packed with water. Its moisture content falls somewhere between 70 and 79 percent, depending on processing. Protein sources—from chicken breasts to beef tenderloin—shouldn’t be overlooked as an avenue for adding hydration to the diet, as well. Shrimp are a delicious place to start.


These colorful root vegetables, on first glance, don’t appear to be a juicy option for hydration. But the truth is that carrots contain about 88 percent water. That might be one of the reasons they’re so popular with people who make their own juice.


You’d think it would be the water content (over 80 percent) that has yogurt on a list of hydrating foods. That’s certainly part of the appeal. But potassium and the other electrolyte minerals in this fermented dairy product provide an enhanced hydration boost.

Cottage Cheese

By weight, cottage cheese is about 80 percent water. Couple that with protein and lots of nutrients and the creamy curds become a hydrating—and filling—addition to any meal.

Cruciferous Vegetables (Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Cabbage)

Maybe you could have guessed cabbage is full of water—it does look like lettuce on steroids after all. Broccoli and cauliflower, though? They don’t seem like hydrating, water-rich foods. Cauliflower has a water percentage in the low nineties, and broccoli clocks in around 88 percent. Keeping these vegetables as close to raw as possible will help them remain moisture-packed options.

Boiled Eggs

At 75 percent water, chicken eggs aren’t as flooded with moisture as some foods on this list. But you might think boiling an egg would ruin it’s hydrating potential, right? The fact is, that 75 percent water content remains and combines with high protein levels and a bounty of essential nutrients to make boiled eggs another hydrating addition to a salad.


Hidden beneath that bright yellow peel is a healthy, hydrating snack. Bananas are about three quarters water (75 percent), with a lot of fiber and potassium. That makes bananas an appealing addition to your list of hydrating foods.

Boiled or Baked Potatoes

Potatoes grow underground, soaking up all the water and nutrients the soil has to offer. When they’re harvested—and even after cooking—these popular tubers still sport a water content percentage in the high seventies.

Fill Up on Hydrating Foods to Help Buoy Your Health

Humans don’t have the option to go waterless. You don’t live very long without water. Even if you don’t take in enough each day, you’ll experience a parched and arid existence.

But satisfying your thirst isn’t exactly the same as keeping yourself properly hydrated. That’s because the mix of hydrating foods and beverages requires thinking outside the glass when it comes to water intake.

Luckily, you have a raft of healthy and delicious, water-rich foods from which to choose. They’re also easy to incorporate into your weekly meal planning. Just remember that cooking some of these hydrating foods will impact their final moisture content. So, plan on preparing them in a way that maximizes their hydrating benefits.

Stress is part of the human experience. Since the evolution of early man, you’ve been hard-wired to encounter stressful situations. And though threats from predators may not be common in modern life, the fight-or-flight response has not been left behind. Evolutionary mechanisms for survival are useful tools for long-term health.

By harnessing the power of stress, you can empower your health. It’s true, a certain level of stress can be quite healthy. And given it is nearly impossible to escape stress in your daily life, this is good news. There are ways to utilize the benefits of short-term stress to create a calmer, more relaxed mindset. Purposeful stress—or good sources of stress—can activate cellular pathways that support greater resilience to other stresses.

Too Much Fight or Flight

Moments of crisis trigger complex physiological adaptations deeply engrained in your DNA. When you perceive your safety is in danger, these instincts prepare you to react. Short-term stress response spurs action through a flood of hormone responses. A sudden surge of cortisol and adrenaline produced in the adrenal glands prepares you to react quickly. But as the danger lessens, the parasympathetic nervous system presses the brakes on this excitatory response, helping to bring you back to baseline.

At optimal levels, stress hormones make you feel alive and activate better performance and focus. But when you are unable to return to a state of calm, or if your stress response is activated too often, the effects of chronic stress can take a physical and psychological toll. This negative impact can lead to a variety of health issues.

From Distress to Eustress

Your perception of negative circumstances ties directly to your behavior and the regulation of physiological responses. Adopting an optimistic outlook can change your mental and physical health for the good. By shifting your mindset in moments of stress, you can reframe how you handle these experiences.

Eustress is “good stress,” or normal-to-moderate psychological stress that’s actually beneficial. It helps activate genetically encoded pathways to help you deal with stress. The more you experience life with a positive attitude, new challenges will provide opportunities for growth, focused attention, and activation without expending all of your resources. In its best form, eustress can induce a state of flow—complete immersion and enjoyment in the process of an activity.

Some attributes of eustress include:

  • lasts a short period of time
  • energizes and motivates
  • feels exciting
  • increases focus and performance

Good sources of stress can include a job interview, riding a rollercoaster, the thrill of a scary movie, traveling, or even a first date. These experiences mobilize and stimulate you, making you anticipate what’s to come. Eustress is part of the joy of being human.

Find Your Edge with Short-Term Stress

Avoiding stress altogether isn’t the answer to better health. Many scientists believe building a resilience to environmental stress is the best way to fight back and live healthier.

Evolution has equipped you with an amazing system to handle daily stress. But your physiologic response—how hormones react to distress—is thrown off balance with too much stimulus. Short-term stress can amplify your life for the better, but raised levels of cortisol sustained over long periods can lead to poor health. Paradoxically, introducing voluntary bursts of controlled stress can help increase your stress tolerance.

A Life of Greater Resilience

The ability to cope with physiological stress depends on cellular-level adaptations mixed with your mental perception of difficult situations.

Of course, always consult with your physician before diving into a new routine. But if you’re healthy and excited to experiment with benefits from short-term, stress-inducing practices, give one of these five options a try. You may just open a new gateway for enhanced performance, better health, and a rewarding new adventure.

1. Eating to Adapt

Hormesis is a mild stress response that’s adaptive at a low dose and toxic in large amounts. A hormetic response can cause adaptations in cells and organisms to make them stronger and more robust. Foods you eat mimic this beneficial response to toxins and the transformative effect they can have on your health.

Toxic plant compounds are designed to affect the nervous system of insects and animals in the wild. But in humans, they have the possibility to make you stronger. Nutrient-dense plants have built-in defense mechanisms that can induce a healthy, manageable stress response. Phytonutrients from plants, despite being slightly stressful to the cells, precondition your body to respond to future stress by activating adaptive cellular stress-response pathways. Basically, a little poison can go a long way for improved health. See an example about liver detoxification here.

Common Compounds Found in Plants

  • Saponins—quinoa
  • Lectins—soy and potatoes
  • Gluten—wheat, rye, and barley
  • Anthocyanins—berries
  • Resveratrol—grape skins and red wine
  • EGCG—green tea
  • Sulforaphane—broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables
  • Catechins—cacao

People sensitive to these compounds shouldn’t consume them. If you have existing gut issues, talk with your health-care provider or nutritionist about the best strategy to incorporate healthy, mild stressors into your diet. If consuming a plant-based diet is problematic, cooking with herbs and spices is a great alternative.

2. Born to Move

A difficult workout can scratch your ancestral itch to move. Long gone are the days of scavenging for food or hunting for game to simply survive—activities your body was designed to do.

Today’s more sedentary lifestyle suppresses the all-day-long movement you instinctually crave. Regular exercise is essential for mental and physical health. It gives you more energy for life and serves as a buffer against the effects of stress and mental health issues by enhancing your brain’s endorphins—it’s “feel-good” neurotransmitters.

Movement and exercise of your skeletal muscle also creates oxidative stress in the body, triggering your defense response system. As it repairs, your body becomes stronger, creating a greater level of endurance. However, too much exercise can lead to chronic stress, so it’s important to listen to your body and exercise in the way that’s right for you.

3. Turn Up the Heat

Have you ever wondered why fitness clubs and health spas offer dry and steam saunas? It may seem counterintuitive to crank up the heat and endure the discomfort of a profuse sweat session.

Heat stress is a hot topic in many fitness and health circles today, but it’s been a regular practice in countries like Finland for thousands of years. The ancient practice of purification and healing by heat bathing has taken on modern significance. This lifestyle addition can induce feelings of relaxation and pleasure—whether used after a workout or as its own activity. Heat bathing is also associated with a calming effect and enhanced mood.

But heat stress is no joke. Regular, short-term exposure to extreme heat can have several positive health effects, including making you more resilient to biological stress.

Here are a few of the benefits of exercise and a regular, healthy sweat:

  • Triggers an increased release of growth hormone
  • Increases blood flow to skeletal muscles (muscle profusion) to help recovery and restore glucose, amino acids, fatty acids, and oxygen more efficiently
  • Enhances endurance and supports cardiovascular health
  • Increases red-blood-cell count
  • Improves thermoregulatory control
  • Enhances efficiency of oxygen transport to the muscles
  • Supports healthy insulin sensitivity

With these compelling benefits, regular hyperthermic conditioning (intentionally heating yourself up) may just be the new habit you need for added endurance, improved health, and greater well-being.

4. A Cooler Way to Be Healthy

If you’ve ever stepped outside on a frigid winter’s day, you know how quickly your body reacts. Shivering begins almost immediately. Extreme cold is another hormetic stressor that can do wonders for your body.

Cryotherapy—exposing the body to extremely cold temperatures for a short amount of time—triggers cellular responses that can build physiological resilience. In the right doses, cold can affect the brain, immune system, and metabolism in amazing ways that may be worth the initial shock to your system.

Cold exposure has been found to have a positive effect on the sympathetic nervous system, helping to improve mood and anxiety. It’s also a powerful antidote for the negative effects of chronic stress.

The metabolic response to cold therapy exists for one purpose, to warm the body. As you shiver, your muscles contract involuntarily in an attempt to produce heat. Another process, non-shivering thermogenesis, causes norepinephrine—a hormone and neurotransmitter—to ignite a bodily response to create more mitochondria. As your body heats back up, it converts adipose tissue (fat) into a more metabolically active form. So, a cold dip could even be an exhilarating way to support weight maintenance.

Here are some ways to experiment with cold exposure:

  • Schedule an appointment to test a cryotherapy chamber
  • Construct a cold-water plunge tub in your backyard
  • Crank the temperature way down for the last 60 seconds of your morning shower
  • Add ice to your bathtub and take the plunge
  • Dip into a cold river or lake

5. Fast for Metabolic Flexibility

Fasting—abstaining or limiting your consumption of food and drink—can seem contrary to healthy behavior and stressful for your body. After all, you need nutrients to feed and energize your cells. But taking periodic breaks from feeding may be the healthy strategy you need to boost resilience, energize and rejuvenate your body, and create favorable metabolic health changes.

As you fast, liver glycogen stores (carbohydrates held for later use) are depleted. This forces your body to flip a metabolic switch to shift your energy balance and mobilize fatty acids. In a fasted state, your body liberates fat stores and produces ketones as an alternative energy source to its preferred one—glucose.

Over time, metabolic stress from switching from a fed to a fasted state causes adaptations to improve metabolic and homeostasis function, enhance autophagy (the cells’ clean-up process), and support healthy weight management.

Common types of fasting include:

  • Time-restricted feeding or intermittent fasting—limits food intake to certain designated times of day without reducing the number of calories you consume. The popular 16:8 fast limits food for 16 hours each day with an eight-hour feeding window.
  • Alternate-day fasting—fasting every other day or consuming a small amount of food on “fasted” days.
  • Prolonged fasting—a longer fast that usually exceeds 48 hours. This method should only be practiced with supervision from your healthcare provider.

Reconsider Your Healthy Routine with Stress Benefits in Mind

How humans experience stress has changed throughout history, but your evolutionary biology remains. You have the power to leverage stress-response to transform your health, enhance your performance, and change your mind about discomfort. Experiment with stress tolerance by adding purposeful stress into your health routine today. It’s a great way to help you experience the lasting benefits of short-term stress.

Individual sports take mental toughness. They demand you set personal goals, manage stress, build self-confidence, and develop focus. Team sports build comradery and group empathy, but it takes a strong mindset to compete—at any level—alone on the court. These hurdles, once conquered, make the benefits of individual sports plentiful.

Consider swimming for example. You determine your goals in the water. Do you focus on your stroke or how many laps you want to swim? The water shuts out the world, leaving you with only your stroke and your thoughts. Left without distractions (earbuds or a monitor to watch), this is a good time to focus on yourself and explore why you’re swimming in the first place.

The challenge is to find the mental toughness to keep swimming—digging deep for inner motivation. It’s important to identify why you’re competing and how to improve your performance. Personal goals can range from setting a world record to improving upon last week’s swim.

Let’s take a deep dive into individual sports, how they develop mental toughness, and the ways error management benefits your performance.

Benefits of Individual Sports

Humans are inherently social. Like most mammals, social tendencies develop through interaction with others. Sports help develop social hierarchies and positive self-esteem in a group context. Playing with others is a way to channel aggression into constructive activities.

Individual sports address different aspects of personal development. Athletes who participate in traditional and non-traditional solo sports—like tennis, swimming, rock climbing, cycling, or bowling—don’t rely on teammates for motivation or performance assessments. They set and pursue their own goals. Bearing the responsibility for achievement, solo athletes must push themselves to establish a healthy, competitive mindset. This can be as simple as setting small, obtainable goals. Or in the grander scheme, it can mean doggedly pursuing more ambitious ones.

Most sports help develop fine and gross motor skills, agility, endurance, and hand-eye coordination. But many more unique benefits of individual sports are revealed to dedicated participants. That’s because solo sports also require an additional layer of mental development, along with physical fitness. Your success and failures are yours alone. As you embrace and overcome personal setbacks, strengthening your coping skills and resilience, you develop self-esteem and confidence.

Long hikes, easy swims, or bike rides are all individual sports great for relaxation and reducing stress. They can clear your mind, offer perspective, and allow time for self-reflection. Any form of exercise supports cardiovascular and pulmonary health, can help reduce stress, and build confidence for future exercise.

Mental Toughness and the Tools for Solo Sport Success

With non-competitive sports—like trail running, rock climbing, or weightlifting—individuals set goals and determine how to achieve them. Take a trail runner participating in a 50-mile race. The primary goal is to reach the finish line. But to accomplish it, the runner must meet a series of benchmarks ranging from strategy (pacing, hydration, stretching) to sessions (breaking the run into segments). Each runner must identify personal strengths and pitfalls and create a running plan to best meet his/her needs.

To prepare for the 50-mile race, the runner has to train physically and mentally. Taxing events like ultramarathons require a strong, healthy mindset during the training and competition phase. Mental toughness is how you respond to discomfort or manage an obstacle or challenge. The key to developing mental toughness is to strengthen your willingness and channel optimism.

Willingness is your commitment to endure physical challenges and power through discomfort. Multiple factors determine willingness, but the best indicator is having a specific goal you want to accomplish. If the trail runner can envision crossing the finish line at the end of the 50-mile race, they can develop the mental fortitude to push through discomfort.

Optimism is the power to visualize and believe in your ability to reach your goal. It bridges the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Optimism shapes your short- and long-term goals. It’s motivation to train each day, coupled with the unyielding belief you’ll finish the race.

Mental toughness is developed through a willingness to do the hard work, combined with the optimism to believe you can achieve your goals. Just like your hands develop callouses from hours of work, mental toughness strengthens your competitive advantage while training and competing.

Solo, but Not Alone

Even when you compete for yourself, you still benefit from the support of coaches and teammates. Coaches share their expertise to help you to train and develop to your furthest potential. They guide your workouts and provide encouragement. And teammates give you a competitive edge. They help you set goals, breed healthy competition, and challenge you to work harder.

To Err is to Grow

Identifying errors while participating in solo sports is key to improvement. And the benefits go beyond just your performance while engaging in the activity. Golf is a good example for tracking errors during play.

Golf can be a frustrating game. Even if you’ve never played before, golf presents a serious of pitfalls that can put you in a foul mood. From errant tee shots to missed putts, it’s easy to play but extraordinarily difficult to master. Join a foursome for a full 18 holes and you’re not just competing against the other players—you’re challenging yourself.

Imagine it’s a beautiful morning and you’re teeing up on the first hole. You grab your golf club of choice. After a couple of practice swings, you adjust your glove and prepare for your first drive. You smoothly raise your club behind you, engaging a series of muscles (external abdominal obliques, gluteus maximus, pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi, and forearms), and swing.

If everything goes right, you’ll connect with the ball and send it flying towards the hole. The average golfer (76 percent of all amateurs) will swing a club 100 times through 18 holes. That’s 100 opportunities to analyze your performance in real time, make adjustments, and experience good and horrible shots.

Essentially, golf is a game of error monitoring—the process of assessing performance, making adjustments, and recognizing pitfalls. Researchers have studied focused attention (FA) and open monitoring (OM) meditation in conjunction with error monitoring. FA is your mind absorbing contextualized information in the moment. OM is your mind in a state of calm where it processes collected information. Evidence points toward a higher level of error monitoring when golfers can balance their FA and OM.

Golfers who can identify errors in their game are more likely to predict conditional stressors and self-regulate stress. By absorbing the moment, a golfer may have a better outcome (i.e. a more successful shot) than those who are indifferent to the situation. Specifically, when a golfer focuses on the shot ahead instead of the whole round of golf, they perform better and achieve a stronger level of overall satisfaction—even if the outcome is diminished performance.

Error monitoring is not only identified in golf. Numerous solo sports have real-time error monitoring. Mountain bikers make split-second decisions while navigating rocks, tree roots, and other obstacles. Kayakers experience the same immediate error monitoring maneuvering through rapids. Successful solo athletes have developed this common skillset to optimize their performance.

And the benefits are not limited to sports—developing error monitoring transcends to work and home life. Tracking your performance in real time can assist with decision making, organizational skills, and self-calming techniques.

Finding the Balance

Participating in solo sports is an opportunity to focus on yourself and your performance. Regular training can improve cardiovascular health, motor skills, and general health. In addition, the benefits of individual sports extend to improving your mental acuity for additional success.

From fly fishing to everyday life, balance shapes success. As you build up and come to rely on your own motivation, mental toughness, and error management, you’ll carry the personal skills to accomplish your goals. Individual sports can help your mental strength outside of the activity with improved mental focus which can assist in other aspects of your life.

Hormones fuel so much of how you experience life. Happiness has a hormone. Love has one. Stress has several.

Their power comes from the ability for hormones to influence so many aspects of your health. These complex molecules transfer messages all around your body. They can help you feel serene or stressed. They up the tempo on your heartbeat or ramp down your systems so you’re ready for bed.

Even though they’re some of the most important messengers in your body, how much do you know about hormones? Are you an expert on which hormones are associated with specific life situations? Do you know where cortisol or insulin or melatonin come from in your body?

Show off your knowledge by playing the hormone match game. Answer the questions below by selecting the hormone or hormones that correspond with the action or place of origin.

Play the Hormone Match Game

Need to know more about hormones? Learn all the information you need to know to come back and ace the quiz next time—and help you understand how these important messengers impact your health.

  1. Insulin: This key hormone in metabolism is produced in the pancreas and allows cells all over your body to take in the energy they need—especially via glucose, but also through fat and protein breakdown.
  2. Cortisol: Your main steroid stress hormone’s production is handled by the adrenal glands, but it’s triggered by your brain in response to stressors. It impacts many areas of the body—from blood pressure, memory, and metabolism to balancing salt and water.
  3. Adrenaline: That jolt created by adventures—like rollercoasters or skydiving—is thanks to the flight-or-flight hormone made in your adrenal glands. It preps your body’s systems—cardiovascular and muscular, especially—to flee or defend yourself from a stressor.
  4. Estrogen: This key female sex hormone is mainly produced in the ovaries and controls menstrual cycles and promotes the growth of reproductive anatomy during puberty. It also plays a role in mood, bones, cardiovascular function, and the skin. Found in limited amounts in men, as well.
  5. Testosterone: A key male sex hormone mainly produced in the testes. It helps with the development of male-specific physical features during puberty, and spurs sperm production. Testosterone is also found in women in limited amounts.
  6. Glucagon: The name tells you a lot about this pancreatic hormone that helps support healthy blood sugar levels.
  7. Norepinephrine: Since it’s made in the adrenal gland, this hormone’s connection to stress is pretty clear. As a response to exercise or a stressor, norepinephrine plays a role in heart rate and energy usage. It also acts as a neurotransmitter and impact mood and emotions.
  8. Melatonin: Your sleep hormone originates primarily from your brain’s pineal gland. It helps regulate normal sleep and wake cycles by helping your body prepare for slumber.
  9. Oxytocin: Love’s favorite hormone helps build bond and deepen connections. It starts in the hypothalamus, but the pituitary gland is responsible for secretion of oxytocin. The love hormone also plays roles in reproductive function, lactation, and social behaviors.
  10. Serotonin: You may know it for ties to mood and happiness, but serotonin plays roles throughout your body—in digestion, sleep, bone health, and wound healing. It’s produced by nerve cells all over your body.