The one habit to rule them all
What is the best habit in existence?
I’ve wondered this for the longest time. I've gone through journaling, various morning routines, to-do lists, sleep journals, and other productive habits just to track down the ultimate, universally useful habit. After a lot of turned stones and newfound diamonds, I’ve finally discovered the best habit that's worth your time every single day.
It’s the habit of movement.
The built-in miracle drug
I cannot overstate how healthy regular physical movement is. Yeah, we’ve all heard the health education mantras in school telling us to ”sleep well, eat your greens, and move regularly.” We've become so numb to it that we don't seriously consider the benefits of exercise. We already know it’s healthy, but once you become aware of its incredible potential, you’ll will never look at it the same way.
If physical exercise was a drug, it would be the most widely used medicine in the world. Regular physical exercise improves thinking, mental health, energy, mood, mobility, general health, sleep, and it even increases your life expectancy. It positively influences nearly every facet of human health – it helps some with depression, others with memory and cognition, and can even reduce the risk and symptoms of chronic disease.
This is what makes daily exercise such an important and foundational habit. It acts as a regulating baseline that keeps you both physically healthy and mentally sharp.
From primal to primary
Human beings are made to move. As hunter-gatherers, we used to do nothing but run around, chasing after prey and exploring the diverse food sources that nature had to offer. Within the past few centuries, we transformed into a species that has to motivate itself to move physically.
Not only is this depressing, but it is our primary health concern to do something about it. We sit more and move less, even though it's crucial for us all to be moving more than ever before. Many even question the importance of movement, arguing that it is mental effort and comfort that are more important.
They couldn’t be further from the truth.
Daily movement is essential to your mental capacity and well-being because your fitness level determines the health of your heart. A fit heart pumps blood more efficiently around the body, resulting in more oxygen being carried to the brain. This oxygen then improves your cognition and thinking, so being in shape literally means that you think better and are more focused. The old Latin adage of a healthy mind in a healthy body is more relevant than ever before.
It is also crucially healthy for our physical well-being to be on the move. While office jobs offer comfort and peace, they are destructive to our long-term well-being. Sitting in a chair weakens your back, knees, neck and shoulders. A daily habit of movement, whether walking, running, or something else, is incredibly important to your health. Both walking and running are extremely healthy options for daily movement because they improve your cardiovascular (heart and lung) health efficiently.
Some 80 and 90-year-olds occasionally make the news because they’re still running. Joe Handelman, 90 years old, swears by exercise as the reason for his well-being despite his incredible feat of age. He has run since the 1960's, and tends to go on his daily jog for 30 minutes per day. “At this point in my life I am running, well, walking, to stay alive,” Handelman said.
People like Joe have embraced physical movement their entire lives, especially after retiring. It’s a core part of their daily activity.
Exercise is needlessly overcomplicated
The fitness industry is a very overcomplicated business. Expensive supplements, experimental fitness classes, and complex workout programs are marketed as miracle solutions for a problem that is actually very simple.
To successfully start a habit of daily movement, you need to embrace a type of physical movement you hate less than the others. There's no magical solution to becoming athletic. I was always very clumsy, slow, and had poor motor skills, so I hated sports. I couldn't stand basketball, football, running, or skiing. But when I found strength training, it felt a little less horrible than other sports I had previously tried. Gradually, I fell in love.
Find the exercise that makes you fall in love with movement. It could be walking, exploring, doing push-ups, curling a dumbbell, or squatting. If conventional movement doesn't interest you, it could be fencing, rock climbing or martial arts – there is no single right path to a healthy exercise habit, but the simple approach of getting started and exploring is the best.
If you can’t choose, just start with regular 15-minute walks. They're amazing because of the fresh air, surrounding nature, and the opportunity to disconnect and destress for a moment. Alternatively, you could play peaceful music or listen to a really interesting podcast.
If you are struggling with consistency, start with just five minutes of walking and work your way up to 15. Put on your shoes and take a short walk around the block for five minutes. That's all you need to do: You've started your journey of feeling much better, both mentally and physically.
An exceptional addiction unlike any other
Like every other drug, exercise has its side effects. But unlike pharmaceuticals, the side effect of exercise is completely different.
You've most likely heard of runner's high. After finishing the last stretch of your run, you feel your legs burning and body drenched in sweat – despite this, a sudden powerful feeling of euphoric happiness washes over you. "This feels amazing."
This feeling is addictive and quickly contributes to the consistency of your habit. This is because during the runner's high your body secretes β-endorphin, a naturally occurring opioid. Your body is literally taking a small natural hit of oxycodone whenever it finishes a workout, except that this type of opioid isn't harmful. Isn't that wild?
Advice from a slightly overworked law student
As you might know, I study law. It’s grueling at times, especially with 3–4 days of office work per week on top. Even then, I try to get my movement in every single day.
I love kettlebell workouts. I do a lot of kettlebell swings with my 20 kg (45 lbs.) kettlebell, which has transformed my fitness. My daily goal is a hundred swings which has changed everything from my overall appearance to my age-old back pain. However, I didn’t start with a hundred swings per day – far from that. In fact, I started with sets of just five swings when I was starting out because I needed to learn the technique and not hurt myself.
Like with kettlebells and walking, moderate consistency is the crucial component to improvement. Had I started with attempting a hundred swings per day from the start, I would have quit within the first two days. Taking small steps every day turn into miles in just months.
Becoming physically active daily was the best decision of my life, and it could be yours as well.