November 12, 2020
Jesse O'Brien 12 Habits For Longevity, Mental Acuity and a Lean Physique
WRITTEN BY Jesse O'Brien

I’m a father, husband and business owner, and as anyone else with several priorities on their plate knows, balancing health and fitness becomes a challenge to do consistently. This is where the “Dad Bod” descriptor comes from-—the inability to make time for yourself.

I periodically get asked what I do to maintain my health and physique. Below are the most instrumental practices that I prioritize on an ongoing basis to maintain my health and fitness.

TL; DR

  1. I do resistance training 4 days per week.
  2. I walk 10,000 steps per day.
  3. 90% of the time I eat a Paleo Cyclical Low-Carbohydrate Diet.
  4. I suggest trying a salad for breakfast to set yourself up for fat-burning and sharp cognition for the day.
  5. I restrict my feeding window to 11 hours per day for the digestive benefits.
  6. I prefer to make large batches of food a few times per week and meal-prep accordingly.
  7. I treat myself with rice cakes topped with SunButter and Fruit Spread. If you haven’t tried this, go to the store now. Thank me later.
  8. Supplements: I work with a practitioner who has a track record of success that aligns with my objectives.
  9. I consider sleep quantity and quality of the utmost importance. Our family aims for about 9 hours in bed per night (which doesn’t always happen).
  10. I manage stress by getting together with my friends and family several times per week.
  11. I choose work that is fulfilling and has never felt like work.
  12. I do not drink but I fancy judicious amounts of Mary Jane, with breaks built-in. Understand the pros and cons and keep your relationship with substances in check.

Training

I perform resistance training four days per week. I naturally have a propensity for gymnastics, muscle endurance and conditioning but my genetics make it difficult for me to get stronger. I have to train more frequently and need to be very consistent in order to make even the most modest strength improvements. This is a lifelong effort for me, but one that is rewarding and positively impacts other aspects of my life such as personal and career development.

The time of year and phase of training dictates the specifics of my daily sessions. Right now I am working on improving my squatting strength with the belief that it will carry over to my Olympic lifts. The goal is to hit a lifetime best clean.

Right now I will:

What I notice is that by training in entirely compound movements, my metabolism stays elevated and I have nutritional flexibility to eat whatever I want two to three times a week. My musculoskeletal system handles the stress well since I have a monthly undulation of intensities. In my current phase of training, I am resting as needed without any tempos so I am able to maximize the amount that I am lifting at each session.

In order to prepare myself for training, typically I will do 5-10 minutes of correctives and soft tissue work and then ,will start my movement-specific prep by building load on my first lift of the day. Currently, the most intense exercise is first, and the intensity diminishes and reps increase as my session progresses.

I block off two hours of training so I do not feel rushed and I can do a cool-down walk or vibration therapy at the end of my sessions. I used to commit less time to training but recognized that I was anxious and not enjoying my movement sessions with the pressure of time. I made the necessary adjustments and added 30 minutes to the time allocated to training per day and now really look forward to training four times per week.

Walking

If you’ve ever had a conversation with me about health and fitness, I’ve most likely emphasized the power of walking. Not only will walking increase your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure), but also it will support recovery from heavy lifting (and general aches and pains) due to the beneficial movement of lymph and blood flow. Relative to most of my clients, I have trained longer, harder and more consistently. I’m not old, but I’m not young. My body feels remarkable considering the amount of strain I place on my musculoskeletal system. I credit having to commit less time to things like warming up, sports therapy, massages, etc. to walking a minimum of 10,000 steps every single day.

I batch several other important habits here such as getting sunlight and conscious breathing. When I go for walks, I am present with my 13-year-old lab, Jamie, and two-year-old son River and do not use my phone. This is one of the most creative times of my day when I am able to reflect upon my life, be present, and become lost in thought. I do some conscious breathing, and let my mind wander. This is a critical habit that leads towards a more balanced mood.

Nutrition

If I had to label how I eat, I would most closely identify as a 90/10 Paleo, Cyclical Low-Carb Diet. That’s a mouthful but it has been what I have gravitated towards over the last decade. I find that I am able to find a sweet spot for my:

  1. Energy
  2. Mental acuity
  3. Body composition
  4. Recovery
  5. Enjoyment of food

Essentially, I eat starches and fruit around the times that I train. Whether it actually helps me make improvements in the gym is up for debate but having some sugars or starchier forms of carbohydrates gives me the sense that I am stronger and more energetic when I train.

After my whole foods, post-workout meal, I stick to a higher fat and protein diet. Meat and vegetables are a staple on my off days and away from training times.

One thing I will add is that it is easy to start accruing all of these “food rules” that will begin to control our lives and possibly lead us towards avoiding delicious foods and/or social occasions. While I have things I tend to live by, I stick to what I am preaching 90% of the time. No one is inspired when they see you refusing cake on your birthday or not partaking in the local cuisine when you travel. It is all about balance.

I would make the argument that social participation is an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Of course, there needs to be a balance between eating for health versus experiencing food and participating socially. I find that maintaining a diet any stricter than 90/10 (90% adherence and 10% non-compliance) causes me to feel restricted and triggers the urge to over-consume food. Any less than 90/10 and I notice body composition repercussions and subtle bouts of self-loathing.

Salad For Breakfast

Admittedly, this is an anti-American breakfast strategy, yet one of my most enjoyable meals. I have tweaked this over the years and I really enjoy it because it:

My current salad is a concoction of:

90/10

If you study bodybuilders and hear them talk about their nutritional practices, you will realize that they have these personal anecdotes about what makes their diet sustainable. These small things that may not be perfect (like sauces, treats, or spices they really enjoy) have such a psychological benefit that it makes the other habits and food choices more sustainable.

The practices that make everything easier are consuming fruit and substantial meals several times a week. If I incorporate a few servings of berries into my meals along with a big meal in which I might have dessert, two entrees, or less than desirable food quality, it “scratches my itch.” I’ve found that if I stay overly-disciplined, this “itch” builds over time to the point where I become ravenous and become hyper-fixated on food. If I sprinkle in these enjoyable culinary experiences, it makes all the other choices easier.

Digestion and Fasting

Since I was about 10 years old, I have had digestive issues including heartburn, diverticulitis, IBS, and GERD; and I have resorted to barium swallows, Zantac, Nexium, Tums, etc. Over the years I have weaned myself off medication and naturally gotten a handle on my food sensitivities and environmental triggers.

One of the most impactful things I have done has been reducing the number of meals I consume and the time frame in which  I am consuming food. When we take in food, it is an immediate strain on our bodies. That’s why 60-80% of our immune system is in our digestive tract. When we avoid eating, it allows that energy to be used elsewhere in the body, namely to repair and recover various systems in our body. If we honor circadian biology, we understand that consuming food early in the morning and then taking a break later in the evening makes a lot of sense.

Personally, I eat between the hours of 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.; however, on some days I will stop eating by 3 p.m. It is worth mentioning that there are social repercussions to this (not eating during family dinners); however, the benefit I gain from shortening my feeding window outweighs the downside.

Meal Prep, Leftovers, and Filling in the Gaps

I’m not a personal fan of meal-prepping in the most traditional way. Food is less palatable and less enjoyable when I make a large batch on Sunday and I am eating the same thing five days later. My preferred strategy is to make large portions of meat, starch, and veggies every two to four days. Often we will eat leftovers for several meals if we cook a meal. This decreases the amount of time spent in the kitchen but it preserves the quality and taste of the food since I am not waiting several days before eating some of these meals.

To decrease the burden of our weekly meal preparation, we also fill in the gaps with some foods and sauces that help us enjoy our weekly food while staying healthy:

  1. Indian food from the farmers market
  2. Salad dressing, chicken and rice sauce from Thai Fresh
  3. Eating out one to two times per week (steak salads from Central Market and meals from Thai Fresh and Pho Please are staples)

Having a style of food that varies from our traditional way of cooking makes our food less monotonous and a bit more exciting. Yes, our diet could probably be a bit healthier but these are “home-cooked” local options that we see as a net-win.

Rice Cakes with Nut Butter and Fruit Spread

I credit Coach Steven for this novel invention. As a kid, one of my favorite meals was peanut butter and jelly. As I have gotten older, I have realized the downside of that comfort food and shifted away from it.

However, one night Steven and I were hanging out, discussing work and chatting when we busted out rice cakes. After we experimented with different combinations, we realized that SunButter with fruit spread (provide affiliate links) was a nice treat that brought us back to our childhood. It is gluten-free and has less sugar than typical peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and contains no lectins and anti-nutrients that would be found in peanut butter.

Supplements

I have had a keen interest in nutrition and supplementation from an early age. In my opinion, there are a lot of overly-marketed and useless products on the market. In fact, some supplements do not have any of what they claim is in their product.

In order to use supplements in an evidence-based and effective manner, I follow this framework:

  1. Hire a professional with a track record of success who uses an evidence-based approach.
  2. Test and retest bloodwork to evaluate quarterly progress.

Social

Getting together with friends and family is another high priority in our family’s life. Laughing until your face hurts and connecting with the people with whom we can be ourselves is one of my favorite stress-relieving tools. I make sure that we have a few social inputs each week that do not drain us.

Going downtown to a bar or a big group dinner are not our preferred ways to relax. Small dinner parties at a friend’s house or a day at Barton Springs rejuvenates me on a physical, social and emotional level.

Purpose

Purpose and fulfillment is something I want to touch on. Health is more than the physical. Health can be an esoteric blend among multiple modalities. If you look at the blue zones, the Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida”; for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.

I chose a career that I do not view as work. I get to hang out with my friends and people I enjoy every day— pursuing things I am curious about and that are intellectually stimulating. If you cannot find purpose through your work, look for purpose and fulfillment with your hobbies and other areas of interest.

Alcohol/Caffeine/THC

I have had an addictive personality at times. I’ve wanted to push the envelope of my capabilities, one-up a friend, and explore altered states of consciousness. During college, my relationship with booze shifted me away from the person I wanted to be and the behaviors that would connect me with where I wanted to go in life. Additionally when I drank, I:

  1. Felt terrible the next day and wouldn’t want to move much
  2. Made poor food decisions
  3. Ingested extra calories from the booze

This year I have had only one occasion when I drank and it was well worth it. However, this largely does not fit into my life. I feel like I can overindulge in food a few times per week and still maintain a lean physique, whereas when I would drink socially, I was not able to get away with both. When I was drinking, I always held onto more fat than I cared to. Removing this from my life has:

  1. Improved my relationship with my wife, family, and friends
  2. Decreased the amount of money I spend
  3. Increased the memories I actually remember
  4. Helped me stay lean

Abstinence is not for everyone and I fully recognize that social drinking can have some benefits; however, I personally prefer a world without booze (at least at this stage in my life). I believe that humans often seek altered forms of consciousness, whether that be through drugs, exercise, meditation, etc.

Marijuana has been something that I have come to appreciate, but as with anything, we need to examine our relationship with plant medicine and things we habitually consume. Plant medicine has pros and cons. For example, a shot of whiskey can keep you warm and alive if you are stranded in the cold, or it can be an escape that primarily damages the quality of your life when it becomes a crutch. The same goes for weed; it can be the perfect remedy for epilepsy, anxiety or insomnia, but using it as a daily escape and failing to address the fundamental issues that cause you to smoke may be problematic in the long-term.

Mary Jane is a sticky plant—sticky to the touch but also sticky in practice. Often when people start, it is easy to fall into a habit. I do see it as a net win relative to alcohol because:

  1. It has no calories.
  2. It doesn’t cause aggression or stupid, risky behavior; in fact, the worst thing that has ever happened to me is that I have overeaten and fallen asleep.
  3. I still feel like training the next day.

The last thing I will say is that we need to take an inventory of our relationships with foods and substances. If we feel lonely and eat chocolate every night for the dopamine and serotonin, this might be an effective short-term strategy, but it does not address the root cause of loneliness and will only lead downstream later in life. The same applies to marijuana, alcohol, and any other substance that we habitually consume.

That is why I am a big fan of taking time off—taking a break from booze, marijuana, chocolate, caffeine. Not only are there physiological benefits but also psychological advantages. Taking time off allows us to see ourselves lucidly and to understand why we are gravitating towards particular substances/foods. The result: a refreshing upgrade in our level of consciousness.

When we reintegrate caffeine, booze, and marijuana, we will need less of the substance for a therapeutic effect and we will gain a deeper insight into why we are drawn to that particular substance—and whether it serves our highest values and priorities.

I recently took a month-long break from marijuana and I noticed:

  1. My dream intensity and recall dramatically improved and I felt more restored when I woke.
  2. I had a considerable increase in energy in the evenings, which actually made it more difficult to fall asleep.
  3. I realized how I was using this substance as a cop-out or a “turning-off” without teaching myself how to regulate my nervous system internally.
  4. I had deeper and more fulfilling conversations with my wife and partner, Amanda.

Overall, I have come to understand that at this juncture in my life, I really enjoy marijuana after I have completed all of my other priorities for the day. However, I schedule periodic breaks to reset myself physically and psychologically and to ensure that I maintain a high level of consciousness about my relationship with ole’ Mary Jane.

If you’re looking to curate your health and fitness behaviors in a manner that promotes longevity, mental acuity, and a lean body composition, schedule a free strategy session with one of our professional coaches today. We take great pride in attaining a comprehensive understanding of our clients and developing a holistic, client-centered plan to keep them progressing and achieving their health and fitness goals.

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