In these times, the amount of health and fitness information is indeed overwhelming.  While the intent of many is genuine, we must not ignore the fact that there is a tremendous amount of financial gain that can be sought in promoting health and fitness products and fads. How can one possibly know what to do to be healthy and fit with the barrage of information available? There’s no one magazine, one journal article, or one website that makes it simple to understand what needs to be done to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Through many years of personal training, fitness blogging, and through taking care of patients and helping them manage their weight and other comorbidities, I have found three main principles of health and fitness that have resulted in the best outcomes. These three principles are prayer and meditation,  intermittent fasting, and high-intensity interval training.

Prayer and Meditation

Without the foundation of prayer and meditation there really is no point to doing anything regarding health and fitness. The spiritual component of commitment and dedication is so vital to maintaining good habits. Mainly having the spiritual strength to overcome temptation is most important. Not to mention that stress reduction through prayer and meditation can also help prevent binge eating and drinking, which can be detrimental to health. It can also help to prevent bulimia and anorexia secondary to anxiety. A fitness program without beginning here is completely worthless.

There is no one better to hold yourself accountable to than to God. There is also no other better place to draw strength from when you will need it during heavy times of temptation and lack of motivation than through God. Therefore one must learn to develop a daily habit of prayer in order to be able to ask God for anything that you may need while you are developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which can indeed be very challenging. He will help you do what you need to do as you honor His Temple.

I think it’s quite underestimated how stress affects our bodies. It’s fairly obvious that stress affects our minds in negative ways, but there is a mind-body connection that is research supported but still underestimated and not completely understood. Meditation is the art of learning how to focus on the present moment. How many times have you eaten a meal and not even realized it until it was done. Can you even name the three meals that you ate yesterday? Chances are that you may not be able to because you are not present in that moment of eating. Your mind is more than likely thinking about things that occurred earlier in the day or things that you will need to be doing instead of focusing on what you’re eating in that present moment.

Meditation and developing a meditation habit can help you learn how to keep your mind focused on the present moment, which will become an important art to also practice when eating food. When you’re present when eating food you will tend to not eat as much and you’ll tend to appreciate more of the healthy, natural food groups such as fruits and vegetables. You’ll learn to appreciate the beauty of a tasty fruit or vegetable coming out of the earth’s soil for a sole purpose of providing nutrition for you and your body. Finally, meditation can also help you to prevent using food as a coping mechanism for stress and anxiety. Develop a habit of spending five to ten minutes in a quiet room focusing on your inner self and spiritual self instead of turning to the kitchen for a serving of unhealthy food.

Put meditation and prayer first in your healthy lifestyle development and there’s no way you can fail.

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is truly gaining a lot of research in the modern day. However, many centuries and millennia ago food was not as easily available as it is in most parts of the world today. Therefore, it may be an accurate assumption that this is what the body was built for. It was built for times of feast and times of famine. The stellar molecular physiologic aspects of the body can easily adapt to these methods. However, over the years we have mentally learned to consume three, typically large meals a day while this is not necessary for our physical being. The results of mindless consumption of three large meals is evident in today’s society with obesity rates being higher than ever in both children and adults.

While it is important to adapt the principle of the Mediterranean Diet as your baseline food eating habit, intermittent fasting is also important to incorporate into this. The Mediterranean Diet includes a diet of fish, fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, nuts and seeds, poultry, and limiting meats and sweets to only a few times per month. The Mediterranean Diet also emphasizes the use of healthier oils, such as olive oil instead of butter.

Intermittent fasting has various types and forms. If you do a simple Google search you can find many different methods of intermittent fasting. I, however, am a fan of the 16:8 method in which you only consume foods for 8 hours a day and fast for the remaining 16 hours, in which most of the fasting takes place overnight. This mostly involves simply skipping breakfast, depending on what time you eat your last meal at night. This is really not hard to do and does not need to necessarily be done on a daily basis. During the weekends when having breakfast with family or if you’re feeling a bit groggy the next morning because of maybe a late night workout or study session per se then it is okay to eat a healthy breakfast. However, intermittent fasting as often as you can will most likely result in the most benefit.

There’s significant research regarding intermittent fasting that is actually continuing to be published on a daily basis. Intermittent fasting has shown benefits in, not only weight loss, but has also shown benefits in strength and energy gains and has shown benefit in the neuro-protective effects in preventing mental diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Even better it doesn’t involve you actually having to purchase or read any special books or do anything extra. Just skip a meal a couple times a week and you’ll benefit. Take intermittent fasting as far as you wish. The only caveat is that you would probably need to run this by your doctor if you have any medical conditions such as diabetes, in which skipping meals can cause harm.

High-intensity Interval Training

The days of walking and jogging should be extinct. The whole point of exercise is to stress your body and your muscles to promote a recovery period in which further rebuilding in growth will pursue. Simply walking and light jogging and light swimming and light biking, while somewhat beneficial, are not the best means to gain fitness. Furthermore, to get benefit from light exercise, it may take many minutes even up to an hour to gain some benefit. With high-intensity interval training you can exercise in as little as four minutes a couple times a week and gain as much, if not more benefit than low-intensity to moderate-intensity exercise. This can be hard to accept because it is such a paradigm shift. Ever since exercise has been promoted we’ve been taught that you need to do a thirty to forty-five minute walk or jog five days a week in order to be healthy. This is far from the case and further research is backing it up on a daily basis. High-intensity interval training can be done in many different means and should be adapted to your lifestyle.

High-intensity interval training does not necessarily need to be sprinting, per se. You can practice high-intensity interval training while biking, swimming, doing jumping jack exercises, while weightlifting, or doing any other physical activity that gets your heart pumping fast. The whole point is to push yourself, nearly to your limit for a matter of seconds followed by a few seconds to minutes of recovery. The typical high-intensity interval training workout would involve a twenty second all out sprint, followed by maybe a thirty to forty-five second walk, then repeated by another twenty second sprint. This can be alternated typically around eight to ten times for maximum benefit. Put it all together and a 10 minute workout can suffice. This should be preformed three to four times a week, which will result in amazing benefit throughout every system of the body.

As far as weight loss is concerned, high-intensity interval training can also help you lose weight. Obviously you’re burning calories and your body is using energy to get you through the workout and to repair itself. In addition, not only is your body using energy during the workout, it also uses energy for many hours following the workout. The higher the intensity of the movement, the more energy your body needs to repair itself. This is similar to revving up an engine of a car. The faster that you rev up the engine, the hotter the engine gets and the longer it takes for the engine to cool. If the engine is revving under low RPM’s it doesn’t get that hot and it does not take that long to cool. Learn to exercise this way, in which you want to rev your engine up as hot as you can for a number of seconds at a time, let it rest at low RPM’s and then rev it up again and let it rest again at low RPM’s. Adapt this workout method and you will see great results.

To Sum it All Up

Build an amazing foundation of prayer and meditation in your spiritual life before you decide to take on any other change in your health and fitness lifestyle. Without this strong spiritual foundation you are bound to fail. Once this is developed, make two simple changes in your eating habits, as far as developing Mediterranean Diet principles and learning how to fast on an intermittent basis. As far as exercise, definitely learn to make high-intensity interval training part of your regular exercise regimen. You will find that while this is challenging it is more fun, you will feel better afterwards, you will burn more calories, and you will be healthier in the end. There are numerous high-intensity interval training workouts available on this website and there’s also more information about intermittent fasting as well as prayer and meditation. I hope that adapting these three fitness foundation principles will truly make a difference in your life.

Good luck!