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12 Daily Habits for Primal Well-Being

Most longtime readers of this blog could probably rattle off a dozen daily habits based on the inviolable Primal Laws [1]. That’s not exciting, though.

Let’s consider the basics just that: basics you should already have a handle on. These are practices that you’ve already integrated—eat whole foods, avoid unnecessary carbs, stop fearing fat and animal protein, lift heavy things, and such—and don’t require any more cajoling or prodding. It’s more helpful to develop some daily habits that you probably hadn’t considered.

What are some daily habits for better Primal health?

Share a Meal

Humans are social beings. On a historical scale, food has been an extremely social activity. Hunting and gathering was a group effort. Meal prep was a group effort. So was eating.

Most of us no longer hunt or participate in large scale cooking projects on a regular basis. But all of us eat, and most of us have someone with whom we can eat. We sh

There’s considerable evidence [2] that people who eat alone are less healthy than people who eat with others, though they can’t establish causality. There’s a good chance that people who eat alone have more pre-existing health conditions.

But man, if you have access to a family or friends, you need to take advantage of that as often as possible. Meet a friend for lunch. Join a co-worker in the cafeteria. Sit down for breakfast or dinner with the family. Plan a dinner party for the weekend.

Make it actually social. Keep the smartphone away from the table and truly break (keto) bread with the humans sitting at the table.

Learn For an Hour, Create For an Hour, Move For an Hour

This is the golden ratio. My ideal breakdown is write for an hour, read for an hour, and standup paddle for an hour. I consider reading good fiction “learning,” mind you. And my writing usually extends past the hour mark. But sticking to this format keeps me productive, engaged, and always moving forward and improving myself.

It’s open-ended for a reason. We all have different predispositions, predilections, and urges. I create through writing and by growing my business; I learn through reading and experimenting; I move on my board, in the gym, on the Ultimate Frisbee field, on the trail. You might create with a paintbrush, with a chef’s knife, or with redwood lumber. Learn through watching videos or taking classes. Move with CrossFit WODs, martial arts classes, pickup games at the park. If you stick to the 1/1/1 format, good things will happen.

Give Thanks

When you express gratitude [3], you kill a ton of birds. Assuming you’re thanking another human directly, you’re making that person happy. You’re increasing the chance of that person doing someone nice for you again at a later date. You’re drawing your own attention to the gift. Oftentimes, giving thanks for something we were taking for granted changes our relationship to it, helping us become more aware of how good we have it. When you express gratitude, you’re more likely to appreciate the thing that aroused the sentiment. All these effects lead to a better life and better outcomes.

I suspect this is one of the major benefits of religious observance. You always have someone to shower with gratitude, so you’re constantly aware of the good parts of your life.

For a nice trick, try giving thanks for the “bad” things that happen to you, too. Can’t ignore them that way. Tragedy is often the best teacher, if you’re willing to listen.

Touch the Four Elements

Every single day, interact with each of the four elements.

Fire: Cook something delicious, grill outdoors, sit around a fire, get some sun exposure, hop in the sauna.

Earth: Garden, walk barefoot [4] through the park, run on the beach, nap [5] under a tree.

Water: Go swimming [6], take a hot bath with a good book, drink Gerolsteiner [7] or Topo Chico, find a natural spring near you [8], hike in the rain.

Air: Jump as high as you can, climb a tree, leave city limits, go outside, cruise with the windows down no matter the weather.

Come up with your own.

Making Walking a Ritual

Sure, we all walk. Primal folks aren’t likely the ones looking  for the closes parking spot. But consider assigning it meaning beyond your step counter. Elevate it into a daily ritual [9].

There are many ways to incorporate walking into your daily practice, all of them beneficial.

Morning walks in the sunshine [10] are a great way to start the day and establish a good circadian rhythm [11]. In the afternoon (depending on the climate), they’re a good way to get some sun exposure.

Short (10 minute) walks after meals reduce the blood sugar response [12].

Anecdotally, brisk fasted walks enhance fat loss.

But those details aren’t even the whole point. Walking is the foundation of human movement [13] and, therefore, health. We have the obligation to use our bipedalism, to move around on our two legs, scanning the horizon with our stereoscopic vision, our upright posture, propensity to sweat, and access to clothing mitigating the sun’s rays. We are made for long walks. To stay sedentary is to abdicate our birthright.

Walk as much as you can, but go further and make one walk a day something sacred. A time you bond with a friend, partner or child. A time when you consciously connect with the natural world. A time you brainstorm creatively. A time you infuse a spiritual practice. Whatever works for you.

Insert Novelty

Time appears to speed up the older we get. We fall into comfortable, predictable patterns of behavior that our conscious brains can safely ignore. You’re going to do the same thing today you did yesterday, and the day before that, and the one before that—why divert brain power to it? Life blurs. Weeks, months, and years pass without us noticing. If we do something novel, like take a different route to work or visit a different part of the city, our brain pays attention. Time slows down. We effectively live longer.

Insert enough novelty [14] that you avoid the blurring.

Do Something That Makes You Uncomfortable

The world’s more comfortable than ever, but discomfort is still out there. You have to find it, because facing discomfort makes you stronger and embracing comfort without healthy interruption makes you weaker.

Many things qualify as uncomfortable.

Do a cold plunge, take an ice bath [15], or blast the cold water for the last few minutes of your shower.

Do a hard workout. Nothing quite so terrible (but ultimately rewarding) as high-rep heavy-ish squats.

Assent to your 6- and 8-year-olds’ request that you carry them “like you used to,” even though they collectively weigh over 100 pounds and it’s all uphill back to the car.

Ask for that raise.

Take the stairs.

If that first voice in your head says “Don’t do it, that’s gonna suck,” maybe you should do it. Many uncomfortable things improve your physical health, by making you stronger, fitter, faster, and they can improve your mental health, by honing resilience and training discipline.

Note: by “embrace the uncomfortable,” I don’t mean “injure yourself” or “get yourself killed.”

Feel Hunger

I’m not saying you have to fast, or even follow a condensed eating window. But everyone should feel real hunger before they eat, every day.

This is hard for many people. If you’re a sugar-burner whose mitochondria are bad at utilizing fat for energy, you may not be able to hold out for long. The glucose gods demand frequent sacrifices. They don’t wait for you to liberate and burn stored body fat. They want that easy energy.

Getting fat-adapted [16] by cutting out unnecessary carbohydrates or even going keto [17] will help you tolerate hunger. Your mitochondria will become better at utilizing fat. If you’re fat-adapted, your hunger is a helpful physiological signal that you should probably eat. If you’re not, hunger is an emergency.

It’s the best spice, too. True hunger makes things taste bette than expected.

Eat Something Colorful

Of all the “superfoods [18],” the ones imbued with rich hues appear to have the most effect. Hues are never “just” colors in nature. They are bioactive compounds with often beneficial effects.

My personal go-to favorites are the Wild Boreal Blueberries from Trader Joe’s. They’re frozen and do not use pesticides (despite not being organic). The mouth stain they provide is incredible, an indication of polyphenol content.

Another is wild sockeye salmon. I scour the butcher case or frozen aisle for the salmon filet with the deepest red, which indicates high astaxanthin content. Sockeye is the absolute reddest.

Other options include purple sweet potatoes, most other berries, turmeric [19], and beets.

Crawl Around For Five Minutes

In babies, crawling [20] develops and supports the musculature and connective tissues around the shoulder. It sets the stage for upright walking by establishing the neural pathways involved in contralateral movement (left arm swinging, right leg moving). Even though we can walk, even though we should be past this, many of us are so broken that it’d be a great idea to return to the source and shore up that most fundamental of movement patterns.

I know several high end strength athletes who rehabbed a bum shoulder by crawling for a few minutes each day.

There are good general health effects, too. It trains balance, trunk stability, and overall upper body mobility and strength.

Crawling in different directions and at different speeds will provide the broadest range of stimuli.

Find Your Meditation

We’re normally a swirling ball of doubts, emotions, memories, anxieties, and thought loops. Worst of all, we’re reactive to them all, letting each and every one commandeer our attention and our emotional energy. When you meditate [21], you declutter your brain. The thoughts and doubts and stuff remain, but you don’t really notice them, or give them any particular legitimacy. They just are.

Many people like the Headspace app, which provides short guided meditations that only take about ten minutes to complete. Ten minutes in the morning? You can do that.

Many people find their meditative state outside of the yoga mat, the smartphone app, the mantra. They reach it doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, riding the board, rolling or sparring with an opponent, doing deadlifts, walking through nature, reaching the creative flow state. I gave my recommendations for meditation alternatives [22], if you want some specific ideas.

Do the Project You’ve Dreamed About

All the optimalizationizing (just made up a word) won’t get you anywhere if you fail to simply take action. Marcel Proust stayed in bed until the late afternoon, hotboxed his bedroom with opium fumes, lived off coffee, boiled milk, and croissants, occasionally went out to eat huge late night meals, and took caffeine pills to stay up and write by his circadian-disrupting green lit lamp. He did everything wrong but ended up a world famous writer because he made time to write.

I don’t suggest following his routine in lockstep, but put an end to the wistful longings. Do what you feel you’re on this earth to do—even if you have just 15 minutes a day at first.

So, isn’t this too much? Can any one person actually do all these daily habits?

The point of a habit is to remove the guesswork and willpower from the equation. When you do something enough, it becomes part of you, second-nature. Habits disappear into you so you don’t have to think about them.

You can absolutely do it.

Thanks for reading, everyone. I hope this post helped you discover a few new healthy habits to include in your days. What about you? What daily habits do you practice?

References:

Tani Y, Kondo N, Takagi D, et al. Combined effects of eating alone and living alone on unhealthy dietary behaviors, obesity and underweight in older Japanese adults: Results of the JAGES [2]. Appetite. 2015;95:1-8.

Terman JS, Terman M, Lo ES, Cooper TB. Circadian time of morning light administration and therapeutic response in winter depression [11]. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2001;58(1):69-75.