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Living a healthier lifestyle is something I think almost all of us want to make happen.
Whether it’s exercising more, eating better, or aiming for better mental health, we all know that living a healthier lifestyle helps put us on track for a longer and happier life.
But… @#$% happens. And by that, I mean life tends to get in the way.
Things like lack of time or energy, stress at work, or even social pressure tend to make us stumble toward that goal of self-improvement.
New Year’s comes along and we make goals to try to improve on one of these aspects, but those attempts are usually fleeting and we fall back into our old habits quickly.
I’m in that same boat. But over the past few years, I’ve been doing a lot better.
And it’s that time of year when I like to hold myself accountable by giving you an honest blog post to show how I’ve been doing. Hopefully, this can also provide a little motivation if living a healthier lifestyle is something you’re striving for as well. Here are past posts on the fitness side of things if you want to see how things have progressed over the years:
- 09/06/22 – This Set of Dumbbells Is So Good That My Cheap @#$ Just Spent $300 on Them!
- 01/28/22 – Strength Training – One of a Few Big Workout Changes I’ve Made
- 01/26/21 – More Topless Photos for Your Enjoyment!
- 12/15/20 – Overthinking the Cost of a Gym Membership
- 12/12/20 – Here’s Why I’m Liking… The Fitbod App
- 03/27/20 – My Home Workout during the Lockdown in Panama
- 01/14/20 – Would You REALLY Work Out Once You’re Retired?
- 04/02/19 – Early Retirement = Healthier Lifestyle
- 06/13/17 – The Lazy Man’s Guide to Fitness
The 3 Legs of the Self-Improvement Stool
Although there’s no finish line to living a healthier lifestyle, it feels like I’m more on track than I’ve ever been in my life.
I’m at a point in my life where suddenly I feel like I’ve switched from thinking almost solely about the here and now to where I’m thinking a little more about “the end.” I’m scared to death of cancer and other life-threatening diseases over which I have little control. Call it a midlife crisis or whatever you want, but I’m now more determined than ever to improve my health to help me live a longer life.
Obviously, there are no guarantees and I could get hit by a bus tomorrow (yikes!). But if I escape that fate, I’d like to be in a position to be healthy and active in my old age.
To be clear, I’m far from perfect with my health but I’m not aiming for perfection. Some folks go all-in working out twice a day and eating nothing but healthy foods. More power to you if you’re in that camp, but I’m just not ready to go that far… at least for the foreseeable future.
That doesn’t mean I can’t improve my well-being though. Three legs to this stool of self-improvement are important to your health:
- Eating right
- Staying fit
- Taking care of your mental health
There shouldn’t be any surprises here for anyone. I think we all know that living a healthier lifestyle means improving on each one of these legs.
The question is how well are you doing in each area?
Getting in Shape… and a New Trick!
I’m going to start with the fitness leg of the stool since I’ve been pretty consistent with this one over the past probably 4-5 years now.
I started out not knowing anything about what I was doing and just focused on some basic exercises like pushups, situps, and pullups. I later added in weight lifting and still had no clue what I was doing. Eventually, though, a good friend in Panama recommended using the Fitbod app, which turned out to be an amazing help for me for probably close to 4 years now.
One change I made a year or so ago was switching to strength training versus bodybuilding. I’m a skinny guy and my goal isn’t really to bulk up, especially in my late forties, so this made a lot more sense.
While in Panama, I was working out at the gym in Valle Escondido at the resort where we were living. Then when the pandemic hit and we were completely locked down, I worked out using resistance bands. Eventually, I was able to get back into the gym for a while and eventually switched to another one for several months until we moved back to the U.S. last year.
Although I love the choice of equipment that gyms offer, I prefer the convenience of working out at home. So last year once we moved back to Ohio, I bought a set of Bowflex SelectTech 552 adjustable dumbbells. They aren’t cheap but I can tell you that they’ve been fantastic over the past several months that I’ve had them. Combine that with my FLYBIRD weight bench and a basic doorway pull-up bar and I’m all set.
So I consistently work out 5 days a week for about 60-90 minutes with each session. Fitbod gives me a routine each time using the equipment I have as well as bodyweight exercises. It tells me how much weight to use and how many sets/reps to do. It continues to slowly increase the weight I do over time and it works extremely well for me.
It’s embarrassing to share these with the world, but it’s all about accountability, right? Here’s how this skinny guy who could probably use a tan is looking today…
And here’s a comparison since I started doing this on the blog several years ago…
As far as looks go, it doesn’t appear as if I’ve gotten much more muscular (though there is a difference).
But remember, bulking up isn’t my primary goal on the fitness side of living a healthier lifestyle. My training is for strength and I can tell you that that’s been going well. In fact, as a testament to my strength training, here’s something cool I recently found out I can do now…
This one’s brand new but I was astounded that I could do it. It was so motivating that now I want to be able to do more!
Outside of my workouts, I try to walk regularly. When we were living in Boquete, Panama, that was pretty easy. It’s essentially 75° Fahrenheit there every single day so there’s no reason not to be outside walking a lot.
But we’re back in Ohio. And while the summer is great and the park system here is amazing, I feel like you only get a handful of good months out of the year to enjoy it. Don’t forget that I’m a freeze-baby!
So my solution to this problem (you know I’m not walking outside in the winter!) has been to walk the halls of my apartment building. The halls are long in this 9-floor building with staircases at both ends of the hall that are inside.
After each workout, it’s time to go walking. I zip through each floor from 1 through 9 and then work my way back down again. That ends up being about 1.3 miles. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing and, regardless of the weather outside, shorts and a t-shirt work just fine when you’re indoors! 🙂
Finally, I’m starting to get more excited about challenging myself physically and mentally. After I hiked up Volcán Barú last year, I became hooked. I’m not a runner, but I can now understand why runners push to do marathons – there’s a huge psychological win after completing something so difficult (not to mention good training along the way!).
I have an interesting idea for my next challenge and as soon as it’s confirmed, I’ll let you know. This one’s a little crazy but should be fun regardless… and no running involved!
Eating Somewhat Better and Quitting Drinking – Wait, What?!
Did somebody say chocolate?! No? Oh, ok… never mind.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a sweet tooth. I also enjoy my share of junk food like chips (who doesn’t?!). Neither of those is a good ingredient for living a healthier lifestyle though. How ridiculous… why oh why can’t sugar, salt, and fat be good for you?!
I don’t want to put myself in an all-or-nothing situation where it’s way too easy to miss my goodies and just fall back into the same bad routine. So instead, I’m striving for a little more balance by still allowing myself to enjoy some of the bad stuff… just not nearly as often. Additionally, I’m trying to fill in the snack cracks with healthier alternatives.
Here’s typically how it goes for me…
A pack of Lance Whole Grain Peanut Butter Crackers. There’s no doubt this isn’t a great choice. I use the Fooducate app on my phone and it ranks it as a C+…
Not great, but it’s simple and that’s all I want. I’m not a big breakfast guy and just want something to tide me over for a few hours.
Sometimes if Lisa’s making eggs for herself or Faith, or Faith’s making a healthy smoothie, I’ll go with that instead.
Generally, I make my own lunch and I try to keep that “living a healthier lifestyle” mantra in my head. Again, this is a lot of the time but not always.
Bear in mind that I have no interest in cooking… I want simplicity. The problem is that easy and healthy don’t usually go together. Some common lunches I might have could be:
- A tin of sardines in olive oil – Yeah, a lot of folks are grossed out by that idea but most have never even tried them (or they get them mixed up with anchovies). I mash ’em up and spread ’em on saltine crackers. Easy lunch and extremely healthy.
- Tuna fish sandwich – Sounds healthy, right? Until you mix it with mayo. I used avocados as a mayonnaise replacement for a while until I got sick of dealing with them. Now I try to use a healthier mayo and then add in some relish and make a sandwich on whole wheat bread. It’s not the healthiest lunch, but still not too horrible.
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich – Getting worse, right? Well, it’s not too often but it does happen.
- Leftovers – I hate to see food go to waste so if there are leftovers in the fridge, that’ll be lunch a lot of times.
- Plant-based chicken patty, black bean burger, or whatever else I find in there.
Along with whatever my “main course” is, I’ll eat raw veggies, fruit, nuts, etc.
We’ve done a good job as a family of cutting back on red meat over the past few years. For the most part, it seems like the only time we have that is occasionally when we go out to dinner and I’m craving a juicy bacon cheeseburger, for instance. In general, on the meat side of the equation, we tend to eat chicken the most and sometimes fish or even plant-based alternatives, which have improved quite a bit!
Other than that, dinner varies a lot. I’d probably give what we eat for dinner an average of a B on the health scale. We do pretty well but we’re not eating perfectly by any means. We eat a lot of salads and I usually go with olive oil and balsamic vinegar as my dressing choice. Tacos and tostadas are always enjoyed. Stuffed peppers are delicious. Sometimes we’ll do salmon on caesar salad, which is healthy until I pour on the caesar dressing, of course!
But we eat our fair share of meals like pasta, which doesn’t bode well for living a healthier lifestyle. That said, it’s not horrible for you either.
In other words, we do pretty well on the meals. I don’t usually cook so beggars can’t be choosers, right? But Lisa makes a lot of good choices for dinners that are good and usually fairly healthy for us.
Snacks / Sides
But then there’s the killer for me… snacks! Ok, I’ve been doing a heckuva lot better in this area over the past several months but again, I’ve still got some work to do.
The biggest key has been trying to cut back on sugar. Usually, immediately after dinner, I need to eat something sweet. It’s weird and I don’t know if it’s just some psychological trigger or some other kind of habit but I’ve just got to have something sweet as soon as dinner’s over.
Normally, I would eat a couple of those “fun-size” chocolate candy bars (so delicious!) and that would alleviate it.
Instead of trying to eliminate that completely, I just cut back. Rather than eating two of those, I’m now eating just one or usually going for something smaller – like a “bite-size” piece of chocolate instead.
My strategy is to play off the law of diminishing returns and know that with each bite, the feeling of joy goes down slightly. There’s no better bite than that first one so that’s what I’m focusing on. Get a bite of chocolate to satiate the craving and call it a day.
And finally, I try to fill in the gaps on sides and snacks with healthier alternatives. We eat a ton of veggies – raw as snacks and cooked for dinner. We eat a ton of fruit with apples, blackberries, raspberries, and bananas being my favorites. And I eat a lot of almonds and trail mix as well.
I’ve been trying to make apples my fill-in snack whenever possible. First of all, nothing beats Honeycrisp when it comes to apples… so delightful! Because they’re sweet, they fill in great for my sweet tooth problem. And they’re high in fiber, they help keep you full. I’ve been eating an apple a day for several months now but I recently started eating more than one a day sometimes.
I stopped allowing myself to eat chips throughout the week except for Tuesdays and Saturdays (just two random days). That’s helped me to cut back tremendously.
My fill-in for the saltiness is now regular popcorn. I just buy a big container of something like Orville Redenbacher’s Original Gourmet Yellow Popcorn Kernels. Then I put about ⅓ of a cup of them into a regular brown-paper lunch bag and microwave them.
Here’s where the magic happens though. I was struggling to find a way to get the salt to stick to it, so I got two things: an olive oil sprayer (that I fill with water) and popcorn salt.
The olive oil sprayer works great because it coats it with a nice fine mist of water for the salt to stick to it (I tried all sorts of other ways that didn’t work well). And then popcorn salt is a lot finer than regular table salt so it sticks much better.
All in all, it’s a great healthy snack for a fraction of the cost of regular microwave popcorn.
The final piece to my nutritional part of living a healthier lifestyle is that I quit drinking. My last drink was on September 19, 2022. Although I really haven’t been a heavy drinker since my twenties, quitting strangely feels like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I’ve always thought that I should quit but always had a bogus reason not to do so.
Funny enough, I didn’t notice much improvement in my belly over the years of working out until I quit drinking. Mind you, I wasn’t drinking a ton (I averaged around 6-8 beers a week) and I didn’t have a big gut – it was just a little flabby. Over the past few months though, my gut is slowly starting to disappear and I might even have some abs starting to take form! 🙂 I don’t know if this is a coincidence or not, but it’s nice to see a little bit of a change regardless.
A New Project… Bringing My Mind Up to Speed
I’ve saved this leg of the stool for living a healthier lifestyle for last because it’s something newer to me.
Being fit and eating healthier doesn’t mean you’ve set yourself up for a picture-perfect life. You need one more piece of the puzzle to be in place for that and it can be a real doozy… getting your mind in the right place.
This is an area that’s never been at the forefront for me to work on. I’ve always just done my thing and it’s worked well.
But once we moved back from Panama, things just hit me like a rock. I felt like I just lost my place in the world and it’s been hard for me. I’m still struggling to figure it out.
Living in a foreign country for almost 3 years shortly after I retired was exciting and new and we learned so much and did so many amazing things. It kept me busy and I loved every minute of it.
Now, 4 years after retiring, I’m struggling to find a sense of purpose and that’s not good. I’ve checked a lot of important boxes in life but not having this one checked has taken me by surprise and rattled me big time.
So after a lot of depression and sleepless nights this past fall, I’ve turned around and have been working on figuring things out… that’s how the mind of a former engineer works!
I’ll have a lot more to share on this subject in the future, but I’ve been mapping out where my passions lie and the tasks I’d like to accomplish in life. I’m working on tying this into a bucket list I’m building as well because I think the two will have quite a bit of overlap between them.
In addition, I’m starting to read more books on finding purpose. The first one I read was “The Happiness of Pursuit: Find the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life” by Chris Guillebeau. This turned out not to be what I was expecting but it was inspiring and helpful nonetheless. It also aided me in figuring out a new challenge that I’m looking forward to telling you about soon if the stars align for it.
I’m now reading “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl. This one is even further from what I was expecting. What I’ve read so far is an account of Frankl’s time in the Nazi concentration camps. It’s astonishing and sad and it’s hard to put down the book. It makes you appreciate life more and I’m going to guess that soon it’ll be going into him finding meaning during this time.
There are several other books I’m planning to read as well. As a side note, my friend Fritz Gilbert from The Retirement Manifesto wrote a book called “Keys to a Successful Retirement”, which has a lot of worthwhile material in it as well.
And finally, I’m probably going to start trying out meditation. This is something I’ve always sort of scoffed at in the past but I’m now willing to give it a shot. If I go down this path, I’ll be sure to let you know my thoughts on it.
If you haven’t figured it out, this is the wobbliest leg of my 3-legged stool. I don’t have all the answers to a healthy mind but I’m going to keep working on it!
Living a healthier lifestyle calls for a healthy mind and body. Staying fit, eating right, and taking care of your mental health are the three most important factors in making that happen.
I don’t know if it’s possible to master them all, but it’s important to keep getting better at each of them. My goal has never been to just crush them all at once but rather to just continue to make regular small improvements that build on each other. Over time, these add up and can help you live a long and healthy life.
Plan well, take action, and live your best life!
Thanks for reading!!
18 thoughts on “The Art of Self-Improvement: My Journey to Living a Healthier Lifestyle”
Thanks for the shout-out on my book, Jim. (Ironically, I also mention you in my post this week!)
Finding your Purpose is definitely a major struggle as you work through the “Messy Middle,” but I’ve no doubt you’ll find your path. And, regarding those handstand push ups…you’re a stud!
Ooh, you’ve piqued my interest on your upcoming post! Looking forward to it!
I’m on the upswing of figuring things out. It’s funny how moving out of the country didn’t mess me up but moving back appears to have done just that. I’m attributing a lot of that to reverse culture shock that you mentioned to me months ago… such a strange phenomenon!
And its true… I am kind of a stud! 😉
Congratulations on your health and lifestyle gains! I have also seen improvements in my health and daily routine since leaving a stressful job. I get regular exercise and love to go for long walks. My diet has improved, and I also quit drinking. I’m not posting pictures without a shirt or doing handstand push-ups, though. Awesome, man.
Congratulations to you as well, Topher! It’s an adjustment leaving a stressful job but it sounds like you’re hitting on some of the best things you can do! I don’t blame you for not posting any shirtless photos either – I’m not sure why I do this to myself every year. ????
Awesome post, Jim!
Congrats on everything you’re doing to improve yourself: stronger physically, more balanced mentally, and healthier food.
It’s because you include posts like these (from just a regular guy!) that we continue to read your blog. You encourage others to get fit in ALL ways, even though we found through because of your financial posts.
Keep up the good life you’re building for yourself and your family.
We’re always sending you, and those you cherish, love and prayers of peace and hope.
Thanks, Cynthia – that truly means a lot to me!
This is the best post you’ve put up; many thanks. It aligns with my own gradual journey toward figuring out life’s priorities.
For most of us progress is gradual, incremental; two steps forward, one step back. You capture that well with your journey’s description.
Thank’s for your honest reporting; I look forward to reading about your meditation experience as I am now sticking my toe into those waters.
Thanks, Thomas – much appreciated! I try not to slant things on here and just tell it like it is. Sounds like we’ll be figuring out this meditation stuff together! 🙂
Very impressive transformation from the 1/19 picture to the 1/23 picture! I have a hard time with each of the 3 legs you point out, but eating right is definitely most challenging for me. I cannot remember who said it (it may have been a guest on an episode of the Huberman Lab podcast), but getting yourself to work out 1 hour a day is easy in comparison to getting yourself to be disciplined with food the other 23 hours.
Thanks for sharing all this!
That’s a perfect way to put it! I enjoy the Huberman Lab podcast but I struggle to listen to a lot of the episodes just because they’re so darn long (though as thorough as can be!). Yeah, eating right is such a challenge. He’s right, too (him or the guest) – if eating healthy was just a once-a-day routine like working out, it would be a heckuva lot easier to conquer! 🙂
Nice work Jim! Staying fit is just as much mental as it is physical, so you’re setting yourself up for success for later in life. It’s easy to get out of a workout or cooking routine when retired, so you’re on the right track.
I hear you on losing the sense of purpose when retiring, yet now you have more options than ever! I’ve found volunteering or just attending city council/community meetings can help uncover areas of interest that you want to make a difference on, and you don’t have to worry about voicing your true thoughts!
Those are great ideas, Gary! I do plan to do some volunteer work at some point – I just feel like I need to fix a few things with me first and then I can pay it forward more with others. That’s a cool idea on attending the community meetings as well… I’m sure there are some interesting things that go on in those! 🙂
Great post Jim, I concur with all of it. I’m trying to exercise more, I see other people who just abuse their bodies and mind, and truly I feel sorry for them, I wish I could help. You have to want to help yourself, and your being conscious of wanting it, will help you weather the emotional storms that come when you’re less than prepared. It’s hard, but like The Great Zig Ziglar would say: You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want. I’m trying to focus more on the needs of others, much like your blog does, and it’s helped, I have to admit!
Yeah, I try to just focus on myself with these things (other than putting my entire life out here for everyone to read! ???? ). What others want to do with their minds and bodies is up to them but hopefully a few folks find a little motivation here anyway.
Hi Jim! I do owe you an e-mail from awhile back, but just wanted to recommend reading the book 10% Happier – it’s not a meditation how to, but rather a pretty entertaining memoir of a guy who was also a skeptic and found that it helped him.
Loved this post and will be passing it on to my dear husband in hopes it will inspire him!
Thanks, Kelly, I just added the book to my reading list – appreciate the recommendation!
Great post. I also found your previous post related to alcohol to be beneficial. I watched the YouTube video you posted describing the impact of alcohol on the human body. That video made me reconsider my relationship with drinking and question why I would expose my body and brain to the inherent negative side effects which result. Since watching that video, I haven’t been motivated to drink any alcohol and have not regretted that modification to my lifestyle. Although I was not a frequent or heavy drinker, my sleep has improved and it has eliminated bouts of brain fog.
Wow, that video “ruined” alcohol for you as well then! ???? I’m just kidding – that’s fantastic though. I’ve found that I don’t miss alcohol at all either. I do enjoy the taste though so it’s great that there are so many good N/A beers popping up all over the place. I’ll usually just have one occasionally and that gives me the taste I appreciate without all the downsides of drinking. I agree 100% with sleep being better and brain fog seeming to dissipate. Congrats on the new path, David!