Vibrant Health is About More Than Food

I’ve been thinking about human health for a long, long time – pretty much my entire life. When I was running marathons and battling injuries and illness, I was missing it, and so I sought it. I figured moving on to triathlons would help, maybe by “spreading the damage” across three disciplines, rather than just the one, but that didn’t do it. And so I started tweaking my eating plan by paying attention to anthropological evidence of the human ancestral diet. Obviously, this worked, and for a while, I felt I’d found the optimal path to human health. Things were good.

But my journey didn’t stop at diet. It wasn’t enough. My physical activity had to change, too: resistance training; sprints; hikes, walks, and other long, easy movements; and a marked de-emphasis on Chronic Cardio.

Then I started thinking about sunlight. I’d always felt better when I had a bit of a tan going, and sunny days are invariably happy days, so maybe there was something happening to our physiology. Maybe it wasn’t just “psychological.” This suspicion was confirmed by the production of vitamin D in our skin in response to sunlight. Hmm.

This really got me thinking. Sunlight, nutrition, exercise – what do they have in common? They’re all environmental factors. Bear with me. You’ve got to think about these things a little differently that usual; the classic connotation of “environment” refers to one’s physical surroundings; stuff like trees, buildings, forests, the composition of the atmosphere, or climate. But really, if you’re going to be technical about it, environment refers to an organism’s temporal, physical, spatial, cultural, nutritive, hormonal, and psychological surroundings. Anything that affects or impacts an organism’s physiological or emotional development can be said to be an environmental factor.

So I started thinking about how all the other environmental factors in Grok’s life may have shaped him (and us). As far as I was concerned, everything was fair game. It all matters, albeit to varying degrees.

You’ve cleared the pantry, Primalized it, and you’re paying attention to the way you exercise. You’re even playing again. But you’re not done. You still need to pay attention to a few more things, a few more environmental factors. Some may seem strange or unlikely, others totally doable and intuitive. Still others will require exiting your comfort zone and enduring odd looks (as if you aren’t already used to those). Give them all a chance, though. This is a challenge, after all, and challenges require at least a modicum of effort.

Challenge #6: Get Adequate Sleep

Make sleep high priority: Late nights at the office. Late nights partying. Late nights… watching TV. Whether it’s business or pleasure, we’re busier than ever and sleep is often the first thing to suffer. I challenge you to get adequate sleep every night this month. What amounts to adequate is for you to decide. I think most people know how much sleep they need. Some people get by on six hours a night no problem. Others need eight or more. The important thing is you wake up feeling energized and ready to go.

(This is just one of many challenges. Learn about all of the 30-Day Primal Blueprint Challenges here.)

There’s a lot more to adequate sleep than just the time spent in slumber. Eight hours might feel like six if you sleep with bad infomercials illuminating the room with blue light following an espresso nightcap. Six hours might feel like eight if you sleep in total darkness following a day of hiking. Play around. Tinker. But be honest. You know how much sleep you really need. You know how early you should get to sleep. Do you really need to watch Leno tonight? Conan was better, anyway. Tape those shows. Set your DVR. Good, solid sleep is becoming a real rarity nowadays, but it feels so satisfying and it’s so ultimately rewarding. Do it for a month (and just try to revert when it’s done).

Challenge #8: Get Adequate Sunlight

Soak in the rays: It’s difficult to emphasize enough the importance of vitamin D. In a world where we go from our houses to our cars, from our cars to the office place, from the office place to our cars and back home again many of us are woefully deficient. My challenge to you this month is to get 15 minutes of sun exposure each day of the 30-day challenge. If sun is hard to come by in your area take a supplement instead.

(This is just one of many challenges. Learn about all of the 30-Day Primal Blueprint Challenges here.)

I hesitate to call this a real challenge. After all, basking in real, unfiltered sunlight is one of the greatest feelings in the world. Plus, you don’t have to worry about getting greasy sunblock all over your hands. Where the challenge lies is in finding the time and finding the actual sunlight. Fifteen minutes isn’t much, but it has to be fifteen minutes squeezed into a limited window. Where I live, I can get adequate UV from around late morning to early evening, so I’ve got a big window for my fifteen minutes. Finding fifteen minutes of good sunlight in, for example, the Pacific Northwest, Canada, or the UK, is a different story altogether. If that’s your situation, a vitamin D supplement will suffice just fine.

There are other factors, too, even if they weren’t mentioned in the official PB Challenge post, and I want you to think about them throughout the month.


Lose it. Our feet are finely crafted (yeah, yeah, it’s just an expression, not a literal description of how they developed over the millennia) things, forged of sinew, muscle, and numerous bones and tendons. I’m not going to say they’re perfect, but they’ve undergone a lot of environmental stress and fine-tuning to get to where they are today. And so, for this month, I ask you to let them be. Go barefoot as much as possible. Barring that, wear only minimal shoes. Wide toe beds, no arch support, no raised heels. Vibrams are a good option, or maybe a pair of soft moccasins. For extra credit, try to work out barefoot or in barefoot-esque footwear.


I think we can agree that modern folks’ postures are pretty poor. We sit at jobs for eight hours a day, we slump on the couch, we “take a load off” and flop down upon getting home. But, for most of history, people were on their feet. Heck, even chairs were limited to nobility until a couple centuries ago, and I don’t think I need to go into toilets. I’m not going to command you to squat to poop or burn your chairs, but I will ask you to be mindful of how you stand, sit, and, yes, use the facilities. For this month, limit your sitting to inextricable situations: driving (unless you’re a Segwayer), dentist visits, roller coasters. Note that I didn’t say “the office” or “the bathroom.” That’s right – now’s the month to talk to your boss about getting a standup workstation and to consider putting some footprints on the toilet rim. Good luck.

Stress Management

As a people, we are drastically overstressed. Grok experienced acute stress and trauma, not chronic stress in the form of hour-long traffic jams or all night study sessions before the final because you forgot to take notes during the semester. Grok worried about food and shelter, but so do we – in addition to everything that modern life exclusively heaps upon us. It’s all stress and our body interprets it all the same. So, removing excess stress from your life is the next challenge. Avoid stressful situations – the superfluous ones, at least. We all need some stress in our lives, and we can’t avoid everything (nor should we), but losing your mind over political arguments in blog post comment sections, trying to change a vegan’s mind, or entertaining the destructive presence of a nagging, selfish, parasitic significant other in your life are all examples of superfluous stress-inducing influences. Avoid those and welcome the good type of stressors (exercise, IF, mentally challenging yourself).


Nature is our default position, our starting point, yet we live apart from it. It isn’t necessary to go starting up a commune in the woods, but it is important – and healthy – to visit the great outdoors. There are established benefits to immersing oneself in nature, and I, for one, find it recharges my batteries. This month, make it a point to go for a hike, visit a park, or just get away from it all as best you can at least once a week.

And one final challenge: what other environmental factors play a role in human health? This article isn’t comprehensive. Tell me what I’ve missed. Do some thinking and report back in the comment section. Identify the factor(s), explain how they have the potential to affect human health, and talk about how you’ve positively impacted your health by paying attention. Thanks!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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