Ambitious men are often very concerned with being at the top of their game when it comes to mastering their careers, getting that startup off the ground, wooing the ladies, or getting as shredded as a cover model from a fitness or bodybuilding magazine.
All of that stuff is great — but none of it means much, and none of it is sustainable, if you aren’t also doing everything in your power to ensure that you’re in peak health at any given moment.
“Health” is a somewhat vague term these days, and people use it to mean everything from free from disease, to athletically accomplished, lean, and confident.
A good way to think about health when understanding how it applies to every aspect of your life, is in terms of the old-timey concept of “vitality” that was frequently preached by the insanely tough strongmen of the 19th and early 20th century. “Vitality” means something like “life force”, almost “chi”, in fact. It’s the thing which makes you strong, happy, energetic, outgoing, dominant, charismatic, and free from illness.
“Vitality” is the thing that separates the man who is able to jump out of bed in the morning, with a grin on his lips, and a lust for life, to the poor guy who dreads every waking moment, constantly feels beaten down and un-energetic, and can barely summon the willpower to make his way into the office each morning — never mind starting up a successful side hustle, writing a book, or crushing an Iron Man triathlon.
Without further ado, here are some things you need to do in order to boost your vitality.
Avoid starvation diets
Yeah, yeah, I know, you want to be shredded, right? Cuts like diamonds, body fat percentage so low that you can rival some skeletons, and all the rest.
The problem is, cutting back significantly on your calories in order to get leaner is by no means as safe and normal as you’ve been led to believe. The Minnesota Starvation Experiment, done during WW2, had male test subjects eating around 1,500 calories a day for 6 months, and guess what happened?
Their health and vitality went straight down the toilet.
The men in the study lost all physical endurance and would get out of breath on short walks. They lost just about all their muscle tone. Their mental health fell apart, they had no sex drive at all, they had no motivation to do anything, they could barely bring themselves to get out of bed in the morning, and some of them had full-on psychotic breaks.
When they were allowed to refeed, after the 6-months, it took around a year for their metabolisms to recover, and they gained substantial amounts of fat in the process — a lot more than they had before the experiment.
Of course, there are other variables involved. The men in the study weren’t taking in adequate amounts of protein, for one thing.
Nonetheless, this research has been supported by numerous other studies that show that chronic caloric deprivation — even within ranges commonly used by dieters — can completely waste the body and ruin an individual’s vitality, contribute to male infertility, and turn functional people into shells of their former selves.
If you really want to maximise your vitality, forget the bulking and cutting cycles, and stop counting your calories. Eat whole, nutritious foods, and eat as much as you need to not feel hungry, throughout the day.
Get enough sleep
Arnold Schwarzenegger — icon of all things related to testosterone — famously gave a series of talks a few years ago on his “rules for life.”
There were some solid points in there as you would expect, but there was one abysmally poor suggestion, too. Arnold advised that his audience should only sleep 6 hours a night, and that if they normally sleep more, they should “sleep faster.”
Maybe Arnold is one of the genetically blessed few who can maintain optimal health and function on that level of sleep, but very few people are. Researchers find, time and time again, that people who routinely sleep less than about 8 hours a night have lower testosterone levels, suffer impaired mental function, poorer immune function, and just don’t embody the archetype of Conan the barbarian at all.
To perform at your peak in all areas of life, get as much sleep as you need each night to feel good and rested the next day. Do not “sleep faster”, and do not sacrifice sleep for work. Sooner or later, you’ll have to pay the piper, and you can expect to go through a serious burnout.
Kick your addictions
Many — though admittedly not all — of the strongest advocates of “physical culture” in the olden days, peached the benefits of avoiding all forms of “intoxication”. Eugen Sandow, the Herculean “father of bodybuilding,” stated that he never drank tea or coffee, and avoided spirits.
When you’ve got a dependence on an addictive substance such as nicotine, alcohol, or yes, even caffeine, you throw your body’s natural state of equilibrium into chaos. Stress hormone levels are chronically elevated, physical and mental recovery and function diminish over time, the adrenal glands become strained, the thyroid ceases to function properly, and more.
Kick your addictions. Sure, it’s easier said than done, but living a “clean” life really is one of the ultimate keys to enhancing your vitality in a meaningful and consistent way.
Seek help if and when you need it, but be aware that once you’ve fought through the mind-numbing fatigue and mood swings that frequently accompany withdrawal, you will be a new and improved form of yourself.
You will be calm and collected, a cool-headed leader, while others are chaotic and stressed. You will feel strong, confident, and balanced, while others go through the shakes. You will have consistent energy throughout the day, where others will go through soaring energy highs and deep, cataclysmic energy crashes.
Your body has all the features it needs to get you through a night out with friends without reaching for the bottle, and to get you through a tough day of ambitious work and training, without reaching for the coffee, or “calming down” by having a smoke.
It’s just a matter of giving it the natural fuel it needs to get into the right shape. Good food, and plenty of it. Good sleep, and plenty of it. Exercise that leaves you feeling like a king once you’ve finished, not like a man who’s just been beaten into the dirt by an enemy army.