Sure, in many ways, we’ve never had life easier: as a 21st century gent, it’s supremely unlikely that you’ll ever be called on to fight a mammoth, haul a siege engine, or raise your own wheat. At the same time, modern living comes with its own problems – and if you’re feeling the pinch of the odd trapped nerve, the bloat that comes from over-engineered food or the sleeplessness born of an anxiety that’s all 2018… well, we can help. Read on, and give your body and brain an overhaul.
Fix your posture
The problem: Working at a desk, hunching over a phone, slumping over a PS4 controller: most of your everyday routine is conspiring to give you a Gollum-style spine-curl. Worse, working out can actually exacerbate things, by working the ‘mirror’ muscles that tug you into an ever-more exaggerated slouch.
The checkup: The ‘Wall Wings’ sounds like a rejected Dr Who villain, but it’s actually stern test of scapula health. Stand with your back to a wall, hands up like you’re an unwilling bank robbery participant, with your elbows and the backs of your hands against the brickwork. From there, brace your abs and bring your arms all the way up, then back down, keeping your arms in contact with the wall. Can’t do it without your shoulders making grumbling noises? Consider it a warning.
The fix: A couple of slow sets of ‘wings’ a day – aim for 3-5 reps per set – is a good start, but for better results invest in a resistance band and do three sets a day of the circuit below.
Pull the band apart across your chest, pause, and bring it back in. Do ten reps.
Hold the band overhead with your hands wide, then bring it down by your head so your arms form a ‘W’ shape. Five slow reps will do it.
No, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Keeping your arms straight, bring the band overhead and down behind you to your lower back, then in front of you. Your mobility will soon improve.
Sort out your lower-body mobility
The problem: Let’s be honest: sitting isn’t all bad, but moulding yourself into a variety of sofas and office-chairs every day isn’t doing you any favours. Tight hip flexors and hamstrings, inactive glutes and inflexible ankles might be fine when you’re in the flush of youth, but hooo boy they’ll catch up with you.
The checkup: You’ll need a wall again, but face it this time: toes flush to the brickwork. From here, squat down, keeping your chest high and sitting back until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Wait, did you fall over? Yeah, that’s a fail.
The fix: The ‘Goblet’ squat is self-correcting, and easy to do: grab a dumbbell, kettlebell or bag of books and hold it by one end, then squat down, keeping your heels on the floor, until you can touch the insides of your knees with your elbows. Do one, hold it for ten seconds, do two and another hold… all the way up to five. Twice a week.
Re-engineer your core
The problem: Your mid-section is key to everything from running form to spinal alignment, and doing the odd situp when Rocky IV pops up on Netflix is doing nothing (nothing!) to help it.
The checkup: Get into a plank position – forearms on the floor, feet together, body straight – and hold it, without lifting your hips in the air. Can you do two minutes? If not, it’s a problem.
The fix: Just doing regular planks will help: start with five 30-second sets, resting for another 30, then switch the ratio to 40:40, 50:50, and so on. When you hit the minute mark, cut down to two or three sets, and keep going.
Rethink your sleep
The problem: Even if you’re hitting the sack for your regulation 7-8 hours – only a genetically-gifted 1-3% of the population can manage on less – waking up at night, or staying up to fret about robots taking over the world isn’t helping.
The checkup: Are your sleep patterns frazzled? SleepBot will monitor your actual shuteye, but consistency and quality is a better test: ideally, you’ll be getting up and nodding off at roughly the same time every day – ‘Having a Saturday lie-in is like giving yourself jet-lag every weekend,’ says Sleep Geek James Wilson – and shutting off the electronics at least half an hour before sack-time.
The fix: Start with your bedroom – get rid of blinking standby lights, and grab some darker curtains. If you can’t live without late-night Netflix, download the F.Lux app to your devices – it filters blue light out of your screens to promote melatonin production and sleep easier. Oh, and downgrade to a single pillow: it’ll feel awkward at first, but leaves your neck in a better position for uninterrupted slumber.
Get un-addicted to your phone
The problem: Your stupid caveman brain is ill-adapted to compete with the app age, where a hopeless addiction to ‘seeking’ hormone dopamine ensures you check your phone more than is productive, or even healthy.
The checkup: You’re not addicted, you say? Then you certainly won’t mind downloading Quality Time (qualitytimeapp.com), which breaks down your time by app use, for the app-equivalent of being shown all the packets of crisps you’ve just eaten in one horrendous pile. More than an hour a day on Twitter is bad.
The fix: Create ‘speed bumps’ to make sure that your browsing is a conscious choice and not habit, suggests How To Break Up With Your Phone author Catherine Price – change the lock screen to a phonebreakup.com one. If you’re on Chrome, download the CrackBook app - it makes you stare at a black screen for a minute before you can log in to your biggest time-sinks.
Be less stressed
The problem: Scientists have spent decades tranquillising baboons to better-understand your endocrine system (Robert Sapolsky’s A Primate’s Memoir is your primer), but all you need to know is the basics: stress prompts your body to divert resources from ‘non-essential’ areas into the old fight-or-flight systems, which is great news if you’re running away from a tiger, but less so if you’re fretting about paying the mortgage. You’re not evolved to cope with frequent, low level stress, so get rid of it.
The checkup: Heart Rate Variability tracking – available through the EliteHRV app, and most modern health-trackers, will give you an idea of how strained your system is. Or ask yourself how frazzled you’re feeling after a typical day, or jot down things that worry you as they occur. Is it a lot of things? It’s probably a lot of things.
The fix: When things are bad, what’s known as a strong internal ‘locus of control’ can be a benefit, reminding you that, even if you’ve lost your job you’re capable of getting another one. In more disastrous times, the same mindset can cause stress, as you ponder whether you could have done more. Sapolsky says if something bad happens, focus on what you do next. If something terrible happens, remind yourself that you can’t control everything.
There’s no need for an overhaul, just tweak the diet to get back in order
Fix your gut
Your gut bacteria play a key role in overall health – including brain function – and the little chaps could use some backup. Make fermented foods like kimchi, kefir or kombucha regular staples of your diet: they’re prebiotics, which means they’ll act like fertiliser for your microbiome.
Kick your fast-food addiction
‘Hyperpalatable’ processed foods have been custom-designed to be easy to over-eat as they provide a combo of taste and mouthfeel that sets up your brain for binge eating. Kick them by finding your ‘triggers’ for snacking, and setting yourself to respond with a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts.
Re-evaluate your portion control
Skip counting calories and rely on your own paws. Aim to eat two palm-sized portions of protein, two ‘thumbs’ of fat-dense foods, two fists of veg and two cupped hands of carbs, three times a day: simple and self-regulating.