Diet, Exercise & _______? The Essential Component No One Is Talking About

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Diet, Exercise & _______? The Essential Component No One Is Talking About

You're about to discover a core component to a long healthy life. A component as fundamental as diet and exercise, yet no one in the health and fitness industry seems to be talking about it. 


As many of you know, I recently returned from an 8 day trip to the mountains of Peru. Along with me on the trip were my wonderful wife and 15 exceptional members of our Southlake gym, ProCore Fitness. People of every age and background came along for our epic adventure, from 20-year-old college students to 60-year-old dentists. And as you might imagine, the trip was incredible. Life-altering is more accurate, which is why I'm writing this to you today.


After a lot of flying, we spent 2 nights in Cusco getting used to the altitude, 4 days hiking the EPIC Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (put it at the top of your bucket list), and another 2 nights in Peru before flying back. Although we were only on the trail and completely disconnected from technology for 4 days, Peru doesn't really do internet that well, so we were partially disconnected the remainder of the time.



8 days disconnected from the daily whirlwind of American life and connected to the mountains, and each other has an impact on you. It gives you space to think, observe, connect, and just be. As a result, you gain insights you wouldn't have otherwise gained running the rat race back home. It's kinda like a hard reset on your computer. You know how turning your computer off for 10 seconds seems to solve 90% of computer problems? Well, spending 8 days in the mountains of Peru is kinda like that, but for humans.


Of course, you have all the obvious Ted Kaczynski revelations; 


Technology is ruining our lives.


Nature is good.


Stress is bad. 


Blah blah blah. 


You've heard it all before.


But I gained one insight (I think we all gained) that wasn't obvious to me (or Kaczynke). I finally realized the profound value that a sense of community, of connecting to yourself and the people around you, has on your health. But let me set the stage...


In the book 'The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying' Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, details the dying regrets of people reflecting on their life in their final days. Two of these were especially revealing:


  1. I wish I hadn't worked so hard. Literally, every patient she interviewed said this. Every. One. Think about that.
  2. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. They got "too busy" and let those connections fade. 


We probably all know or suspect these two regrets at some level. But we all tend to live as though we don't know these regrets will be ours someday. However, the damage isn't purely mental and emotional. What surprised me, after some research, was just how physically damaging a lack of connection is.


Community and connection are as essential to our health as diet and exercise. Seriously. It's that critical. And yet, community is the most underemphasized aspect of health and fitness. We need to change that.


Let me start with Aubrey Marcus's quote, whose book 'Own The Day' heavily influenced this blog.


  "Our bodies and our genes were formed in tribes. Thousands of years ago, we ate and played as a group, slept shoulder to shoulder, and secured food as a clan. The idea of going off on your own to 'find yourself' wouldn't have just seemed crazy--it would have seemed downright dangerous. The tribe was how you survived.


  For our bodies, then, being around other people is as much a part of our nature as air or water. Which might explain why so many of us today feel so starved, not of those essential life-giving elements but of the life-sustaining bonds that we used to have with other people in our tribe."


The bottom line is we need to be healthy socially to be healthy physically and mentally. 


This isn't just one guy's opinion. There is a surprising amount of data and research on the subject. My favorite illustration comes from one of the longest-running human studies ever done. A 75-year-long study by Harvard followed a large group of people from birth to death, checking in on them every few months. The purpose of the study was to determine 'What makes a good life?'. To find this out, they looked at every criterion you could imagine. They routinely performed physicals, psychological evaluations, financial analyses, and more.


What they found was surprising to everyone involved. Can you guess what factor had the most significant impact on both longevity and quality of life?


It wasn't money, it wasn't stress, it wasn't even diet or exercise. It was the quality of your social connections. That's right, the most significant factor on how long you live and how satisfied you are with your life is directly correlated to the quality and quantity of your relationships.


There's a great TED Talk on that Harvard study if you want a deeper dive.


But it isn't just that study. There are countless others. Here are just a few lowlights that lack of connection is correlated with:


  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease (29% increase)
  • Stroke (32% increase)
  • Obesity
  • Weakened immune system
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Cognitive decline
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • And even death


Generally speaking, loneliness is associated with a roughly 30% increased risk of every major health problem. 


Dr. Steve Cole, director of Social Genomics Core Laboratory at UCLA, puts it this way.


"Loneliness acts as a fertilizer for other diseases. The biology of loneliness can accelerate the buildup of plaque in arteries, help cancer cells grow and spread, and promote inflammation in the brain leading to Alzheimer's disease. Loneliness promotes several different types of wear and tear on the body."


And the scary part is 28% of American adults report feeling lonely. Even more people say they don't feel like they're a part of a strong community.


Those numbers were gathered BEFORE the pandemic. Do you think they've gotten better? The answer is obvious. 


Remember what life was like before 2020 knocked us all on our asses?


You were going to concerts with friends, Southlake Oktoberfest with the family, church services, Art In The Square, and work Christmas parties, all without a care in the world. Connection with ourselves, our family, our coworkers, and our town were undermined virtually overnight when the pandemic hit. 


We tried to stay connected. We had virtual concerts (lame), alcohol-to-go (sweet!), internet browsing, and masked Christmases with extended family. But it just wasn't the same, was it?


The problem didn't stop there, as you well know. The pandemic didn't just isolate us physically. We can all agree that our communities have fractured ideologically. Political differences have polarized us, and social media has allowed us to wall ourselves off from each other. Associating with only "like-minded" people. 


I suspect that with the combination of a global pandemic, busier and busier lives, and the negative impacts of social media, we're near an all-time low of genuine connectedness to the people around us.


This is empirically destructive to our health mentally and physically. This has to change if we want long, meaningful lives.


Now, you might be thinking, 'Justin, we don't have control over any of these social problems.' And you'd be correct. But we do have control of our own attitudes and behavior. I would posit that we are responsible to ourselves and our community to actively repair our own attitude and behavior. Because it's not just the right thing to do; it's the healthy thing to do.


Science tells us we need to think of community and connection the same way we think about diet and exercise. We need to be intentional and disciplined, put it on the schedule. We have to make it happen, especially when we don't feel like it, just like you would with a workout. The data is clear on why we should give connecting such a high priority.


If you can make connection and community a part of your health regimen, the benefits are overwhelming to your health. You'll enjoy:


  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower risk of heart disease
  • Lower risk of obesity
  • Stronger immune system
  • Less anxiety
  • Less depression
  • Stronger cognitive abilities
  • Lower risk of Alzheimer's
  • Longer life with a higher sense of well-being


The bottom line, when you are intentional about building a community around you, you're also giving those health benefits to others, not just to yourself.


So the question becomes, how do we work to effectively build a community around us?



Connect with yourself first


First, you have to MAKE time to connect with yourself. If you're a dysfunctional asshole, you're probably gonna struggle to have meaningful relationships with others. Take time every day to check in with yourself. Make sure you're being the person you want to be. There's no shortage of ways to do this each day.


  • Practice 10 min of mindfulness meditation
  • Journal a few minutes
  • Turn off your radio during your commute 
  • Take a walk
  • Play an instrument


They say marriage isn't about finding the right person; it's about being the right person. All healthy relationships are like that. So remember, if you want to connect with others, you need to connect with yourself first.



Connect with your family


You might be thinking, "great tip captain obvious..."


That's what I would think too. But I'm including this because if you're like me, you probably have difficulty 'shutting it off' when you get home. Especially if you're a business owner. You've got deadlines, employee challenges, sales targets, and more. Those challenges don't disappear just because you went home. It can be challenging to turn it off, so you end up thinking about work when you should be present with your family. That's a tragedy. My daughter is growing up fast, and I don't want to miss a single moment. I imagine you feel the same way.


I suspect this problem is strongly related to the 'I wish I hadn't worked so much' and 'I wish I'd stayed connected with my friends' regrets.


You probably can't do much to solve those work problems when you get home, so why sacrifice the quality of your family time? Is that really a sacrifice you're willing to make? If you're not consciously avoiding it, you will fall prey to it.


I've certainly been guilty of this, but one of our members shared a great tip with me. He told me a story about a friend of his. We'll call this friend Mark. Mark realized that he wasn't being fully present with his family. Even though he'd physically left work, he was still at work in his mind. As a result, he didn't connect with his wife, which damaged their relationship and sex life. His kids were growing up fast, and he wasn't truly "there" for most of it so far. Something had to change.


Mark wasn't willing to trade the quality of his family time for anything. But what do you do? Quit your job? Move into a van?


Mark developed a brilliant way to change his mindset to be present with his family when he got home. Every day on his drive home, he would allow himself to think, vent, yell, whatever, for about half his commute. But about halfway home, there was an intersection with a stoplight. Every day when he hit that light, he would say "STOP" out loud to himself. That was his cue to let go of his workday and shift his focus to being a husband and a father. 


How would your connection with your family improve if you were to implement something similar? We know that working too much is a universal regret, so at minimum, don't bring it home. No one ever regretted getting too much quality family time. You'll be measurably healthier and happier if you can disconnect from work and reconnect to those you love most.



Connect with your community


Between work, time to connect with yourself, and time to connect with your family, it's no wonder we don't typically make much time to connect with the community beyond our immediate family. And hey, I'm with you, it can be difficult. But you can actually make it easy. What's my favorite way? The Gym.


I considered not putting this in the blog because it so obviously looks like shameless self-promotion. But then I realized that's not a very good reason to avoid giving you some valuable insight. 


One big revelation from my time in the Marine Corps AND on our 4-day hike to Machu Picchu was that doing hard things as a group bonds people fast. In fact, it's the quickest way I know to bond with others.


For example, If you're in our small group program (or somewhere else if you don't live here), you get to spend an hour doing a hard workout with people who are similar to you. You get a little time before and after class to chat with the other people in the group, and before you know it, you're friends. 


Hard Stuff + A little chit chat + consistency = Connection


If you're already gonna work out, why not make it your community time as well? That's killing two health birds with one healthy freakin' stone.


The point is, you can usually double up on something you already need to do. Because if what you're doing is important to you, it's probably important to others as well; that's an opportunity. If you pair it with something else, you'll be more likely to follow through and make community a part of your lifestyle.


Of course, there are many other ways to connect with the people in your community. Join a running club, a BNI, or a quilting club. Whatever gets your goat. Just get out there and connect.


3 Key Takeaways


  1. Connecting with others is VITAL to your physical and mental health.
  2. Our deathbed regrets almost all relate to insufficient connection to others.
  3. Make time to connect with yourself, your family, and your community a priority. Schedule it just like you would diet and exercise.


Frankly, this wasn't quite the conclusion I wanted to find. I always planned on retiring in the mountains with no one around. I figured I'd end up a bearded old mountain man fighting wolves like Leam Neason in 'The Grey.' Now I'm reevaluating that; *Shakes fist at the sky*. 


As always, what you do with this info is up to you. But if you plan on living a long and meaningful life... In that case, you might consider putting connection and community in your plan right freakin' now.





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