Why our health industry is broken – and the 10 daily Smart Wellness habits that will help you live to 100
Neuroscientist and author Dr Julia Jones, aka Dr Rock, reveals how you change you life with smart wellness, and shares the 10 daily smart wellness habits that can help you live to 100.
Have you ever stopped to question why several decades of global diet and fitness trends, billions of dollars of advertising campaigns focused on those diet and fitness trends, government-driven healthy eating campaigns and the wide availability of prescription medicines have all completely failed to produce healthy nations?
This fact was highlighted in a devastating manner last year when COVID-19 arrived in our world. Due to our general poor levels of health and immunity, we’ve been locked inside our homes on and off for almost a year.
Put simply, despite the efforts of the diet, fitness and health sector, we are still not “well”.
Why diets and exercise don’t work
So, let’s learn from this and not keep repeating the same mistakes. Diets and exercise routines are never going to produce healthy nations. The science has clearly shown this for several years.
These approaches have long been proven to be highly successful as revenue models, but not as long-lasting health transformation and preventative wellness models. They offer inefficient, short-term effects that require sustained effort and results that naturally begin to fade as soon as your “diet” ends or you discontinue your exercise routine.
These approaches simply don’t align closely enough with our natural, ancient, biological systems. If you are someone who enjoys and whizzes with glee to your regular gym sessions and exercise classes then, of course, these practices give you great psychological and physiological benefits in the short to mid-term.
However, for most of us, these approaches require forced effort, a major time commitment in an already hectic life (include the time it takes you to get changed into exercise gear, travel to the gym/class, park up, check in, go to locker room, do the workout, have shower, travel home). They also induce feelings of guilt when we eventually fail to maintain the schedule. Exercise actually makes very little difference to weight loss attempts. Yet obese individuals are typically encouraged to join a gym – often a deeply harrowing experience for many.
This is not a recipe for success and the decades of population health data proves this. The reality is that if you can fix your poor eating and drinking addictions you only really need to do some regular movement, such as standing up more often, walking, and using stairs instead of lifts, to keep your biological systems working optimally.
Diet and fitness industry revenues are growing… but so are our waistlines!
Diet and fitness industry revenues have continued to increase year after year (pre-COVID-19 but so has the average waistline size. It’s time to face facts, properly acknowledge the recognised science, and adopt a different, more effective approach to help the nation get well and stay well.
These aren’t just my views. They are accepted amongst the world’s leading scientists and at government level. A few days ago I was invited to the launch of a new health report. On that zoom webinar the UK’s Secretary of State for Health and Chief Medical Officer stated with conviction that a prime immediate objective is to tackle the misconceptions about health and help people break their poor food addicitions.
Nutrition, and the chronic inflammation that unhealthy eating habits causes, is now known to be a driver of most chronic illnesses and our poor levels of underlying health. The government knows that we urgently need to prioritise ‘prevention’ instead of ‘cure’.
The real secret to good health is Smart Wellness
The good news that a solution to this problem is now within easy reach. In both my professional and personal life, I’ve spent almost 30 years searching for the ‘holy grail of lifelong good health’ and I believe the approach that’s most likely to help us succeed in that goal is ‘Smart Wellness’.
It’s a simple and highly effective movement that’s fast sweeping the globe, thanks to the expansion of the ‘biohacking’ community and a new generation of neuroscientists, physiologists and nutritionalists, intent on educating the public about our basic biological systems and the things in our modern world that confuse and eventually wreck them.
Smart Wellness is simply the act of combining (i) basic knowledge about our biological systems, (ii) natural simple habits and techniques embedded in our daily routines that easily help those in-built systems function properly, and (iii) tech devices and wearables to monitor progress and track trends so we can make adjustments to our daily habits when necessary.
Why I’ve banned myself from the supermarket
Last year, I did a fairly simple 12-month Smart Wellness experiment on myself and was truly amazed at the health transformation I experienced. The cynics among you are going to suggest that I’m saying this because I have a new book and wellness course about this approach. But, the truth is my health supercharged as a result of a collection of simple changes in my daily habits – and the science proves this.
For example, I started going outside for a few minutes early in the morning to improve my sleep quality. Did you know that our brain’s sleep timer is only properly activated if it receives early natural daylight via specific cells at the back of our eye? This, combined with a few other fixes to my indoor lighting during the evenings, and the shift of my eating and drinking to much earlier in the evening, resulted in significant improvements in my sleep quality.
I also completely banned myself from the supermarket and set up an online weekly delivery stacked with lots of colourful fruits and vegetables. The box is a joy to behold! The supermarket is a colossally unhealthy environment and we’ve become addicted to “just popping to the shop for a few bits”.
The shop layout, and the recipes and packaging of the items they stock, use brain science to purposefully influence your decisions. You always come out with more than you had on your shopping list. Stay out of supermarkets as much as you can. They are deadly environments that are fuelling your poor eating and drinking addictions.
The rise of our supermarket culture has driven our health decline. Break your supermarket addiction. The simple act of setting up my online delivery of healthy, delicious foods and pushing my breakfast back from 7am to 11am (except at weekends) resulted in a weight loss of 10lbs. Now in my 50s, I’m back to the same weight I was in my 20s. An unexpected bonus that I was not expecting.
Maintaining wellness is easier than ever, but the modern world gets in the way
Maintaining ‘wellness’ is actually a lot easier than we’ve been led to believe over previous decades. We have many in-built sophisticated systems in our brain and body that have been designed over millions of years to keep us well automatically… if we let them.
The problem is we’ve created a modern world that constantly gets in the way of these systems, preventing them from keeping us healthy. Most of our inventions, such as light bulbs, screens, processed foods, the early breakfast, stressful work commutes, social media apps, and bulging email inboxes, confuse our brain because it’s still using an operating system that’s ancient.
It doesn’t know that your bright overhead ceiling light at night isn’t the sun. To the cells in your eyes that’s a bright light from above, so it must be daytime and, therefore, not time to gear your biological systems into sleep mode.
I want to live to over 100 – and to stay healthy and happy (not ‘fit’)
Let’s be clear. “Fitness” isn’t my goal. I’m not entering competitions and I’m not aiming for visible muscle definition. I don’t need to keep improving “personal best” scores. My goal is simply lifelong “wellness” – in other words avoiding illness. I want to stay well, enjoying a healthy, long life to 100+ and I want achieve that with as little effort, time and money as possible.
I want my next 50 years to be as healthy as my previous 50. You don’t need gyms, diets or exercise machines to achieve this. You just need to remember that our brain still thinks we’re living as our ancient ancestors did. Once you realise that, and learn the very basic biology that governs those in-built circuits, you’ll immediately identify things in your daily routine that are stopping these amazing systems from doing their job of keeping you well.
If you want to live healthily to 100 and beyond here’s my advice. Assume that what you think you know about health is probably now out of date – even if you work in this field. Also assume that the health professionals who gave you those recommendations are possibly using outdated ideas that science has superseded since they did their training.
I’m giving you permission to cancel your gym membership
Cancel your gym membership and spend the money on learning about the simple science regarding your basic biology and how to help it operate optimally, especially in relation to eating and drinking habits. It’s an investment that will continue to deliver dividends throughout your life.
If you can afford it, splash out on some tech devices, or wearables, that help you track your biological systems, so you can begin to understand how your daily habits positively and negatively impact them. Within a short while of using a tech device you’ll begin to clearly witness how your late-night beer and curry habit knocks your biology off-track for days as it battles to repair itself.
This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a beer and curry. It just helps to understand that it makes sense to eat and drink these things earlier and less often if you don’t want it to wreck your health.
Talking of food, did you know that processed food is on the Group 1 carcinogen list alongside tobacco and asbestos? Yet, despite the known danger there are no warning labels on that food packaging or in the supermarket aisles. Most of us are unwittingly sleepwalking towards a later life filled with chronic illnesses, because we’re constantly being misled.
It’s time for us to take matters into our own hands and get smart about our wellness.
My top 10 daily smart wellness habits that can help you live to 100
Here are the top 10 daily wellness habits that will help you enjoy a healthy and happy life – and maybe even live to 100.
1) Make your bed really well
This easy rewarding task helps trigger the release of positive brain chemicals and increases the likelihood of me having a good day.
2) Pop outside for a few mins as early as possible in the morning
Natural daylight reaching your retina is the essential trigger to set your ancient Circadian timer to help ensure a good sleep (don’t look directly at the sun as that is damaging).
3) Smell the coffee and use filter paper
Caffeine during the morning can bring a host of benefits but research has shown that the oils can be harmful. So brewing your coffee through a filter paper helps maximise the positive effects. Remove caffeine from your afternoon routine as it sits on your adenosine receptors and confuses your brain into keeping you awake. I make sure that I savour the smell and taste of my first cup of coffee to also help trigger the trickle of positive brain chemicals.
4) Enjoy your meals in an eight-hour window
Research shows that our cells need fuel to operate but they also need periods without fuel. During this ‘fasted’ state they perform other tasks that are essential to our health. I eat my meals between 11am and 7pm during weekdays to give my cells an extended period of fasting overnight.
5) Practice gratitude
This simple act of sitting with my coffee and thinking about all the things (big or small) that I’m grateful for seems to basic to be able to deliver a health benefit. However, science has shown that even short regular sessions of gratitude can alter the shape and size of our brain and lead to considerable health benefits.
6) Make a list
Our autonomic nervous system often gets in a tizz due to confusing signals in our modern environment. It’s easy to begin to feel overwhelmed by our busy lives and this triggers cortisol that over time can be very damaging to our cells. Making a list helps us feel in control and the act of ticking off completed tasks triggers the release of positive brain chemicals .
7) Get social with positive people
Admittedly this has become harder during Covid but even a video call with friends and family members helps give my brain a positive chemical boost because it usually invokes periods of smiling and laughter. These emotional responses are wired to help our brain feel safe. In addition I try to spend lots of time with positive people and avoid those who tend to emit negative energy.
8) Move around and practice breathing
As I mentioned above, we don’t need to do a lot of movement to stay healthy, but we need to do it often. I made changes to my environment and routine to help achieve this.
For example, I now use a smaller cup which means I have to get up and go and refill it more often. I also moved my printer into another room so I have to get up and retrieve printouts. I always use the stairs rather than the lift (I’ve recently published a wellness strategy for the new £5bn Brent Cross Town development in London, encouraging developers to be more inventive with their staircases and make them more experiential and interesting to use).
I also combine breathing practices with my walks. Breathing properly, slowly and deeply in through the nose and out through the mouth. This helps train your vagus nerve, a vital component of your stress regulation.
9) Use technology to monitor your biology
I believe this is the practice that is going to transform wellness in the coming years. I use an Oura ring to monitor my sleep, activity, heart rate variability (recovery and stress levels), breathing, temperature. I also use simple biological tests to measure my cellular inflammation and gut microbiome. I adjust my daily habits as necessary when I notice the readings heading in the wrong direction. This takes just a few minutes a day.
10) Use music as a quick and easy smart wellness tool
I’ve been using music and sound as a wellness tool for decades and I find it astounding that this still isn’t common practice amongst the wider population. Here’s all you need to know about why you should embrace music – the ears lead to the brain not a dead end.
Engaging with music can instantly produce a broad range of benefits such as releasing positive brain chemicals, helping you synchronise breathing, and slowing down (or speeding up) brainwaves. Music is one of the most powerful wellness tools at our fingertips, and probably the most enjoyable. It never fails. Find the songs that work for you and use them regularly for sleep, focus, energy, relaxation, stress reduction and enjoying life.
She’s also the author of ‘Neuron: Smart Wellness Made Easy’. Please consult with your medical professional before making significant changes to your daily routines that may negatively impact your health.
Photo by Matt Seymou