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May 2, 2023 | Max Jenkinson

The 4 Secret Habits For Effortless Health

Every single human wants one thing – to improve their overall human experience over time.

There are three main aspects that most people inherently understand to be important to do this:

  1. Health

  2. Wealth

  3. & Happiness.

James Clear, of Atomic Habits fame, tell us to make it easy to make good decisions.

We need to lower the friction to do things that are good for us and increase the friction to do things we know we shouldn’t.

Building habits in the present allows you to do more of what you want in the future

James Clear

Greg McKeown, the author of Essentialism, points to the fact that we are all limited by one thing, time.

Because of this, if you try to improve everything all at once you will get nowhere.


Because an object (in this case, you) with equal forces applied from every direction will remain stationary.

It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

Greg McKeown

Your health is only getting worse

You are probably aware that your health is slowly deteriorating.

You might not look as good, be as strong, or have as much energy as you once did.

Maybe pain is now a normal part of your life.

This deterioration is often brushed off as a “normal” part of ageing.

It is not.

With very little effort you can get a lot healthier.

The question is – where should you put that effort?

To actually get somewhere, be it in health, wealth, or happiness, we need to do less to do more.

We need to get our priorities straight and define what is essential, and what is not.

What are the things, habits, and behavioural patterns that have the highest leverage, and the highest ROI, in your specific context?

In this post, I am going to share the concept of The Minimal Effective Dose for Health (which I believe everyone should do.)

From the ones that prioritize health the most to the ones that do it the least.

This is the bare minimum.

Not only is it the bare minimum but the four habits that I have found to have the highest leverage with the least effort.

The lowest friction behaviours to improve health.

The Minimal Effective Dose For Health is:

  1. Simple

  2. Has profound effects on your health

  3. Takes almost no extra time out of your day


Why it works

Andrew Huberman often tells us that for people to implement actionable tips there needs to be a basic understanding of why they work.

To understand the profound effects of these four habits, we need to define what health is. Bear with me because this is important.

I like to define health as a biological system’s capacity to positively adapt to external demand.

In other words, your body’s capacity to handle stress.

Physiologically we can split stress into two parts:

  1. Imposed demand, or stress.

  2. Energy production, or the capacity to handle stress.

With this in mind, to be healthy we need to lower stress and increase energy production.

The reason I view health this way is because almost every single process that keeps you healthy demands energy.

Not only that. Everything that imposes demand both uses energy and lowers the body’s ability to create it.

The major levers to increase energy production are movement, nutrition, and sleep.

To maximize energy production we want to:

  • Move sufficiently throughout the day

  • Eat digestible, nutritious, and calorie-dense foods

  • Sleep enough with high sleep quality

The major levers to minimize imposed demand are also movement, nutrition, and sleep.

To minimize imposed demand or stress we want to:

  • Move sufficiently throughout the day

  • Eat digestible, nutritious, and calorie-dense foods

  • Sleep enough with high sleep quality


Habit 1 – Reversing the effects of a sedentary lifestyle

We have all heard of how a sedentary lifestyle is ruining our health.

We sit all day at the office, we come home, sit down to eat, we then sit in front of the television, and at night lay down to sleep.

Here I could share all the studies of how important movement is or just how bad a sedentary lifestyle is.

Those are out there. You can find them.

Instead, I want to keep putting on the evolutionary lens.

The lens through which I see health so that you can start figuring out what advice makes sense and what doesn’t.

We evolved constantly moving. Walking, running, sprinting, climbing, throwing, carrying, dancing, standing, and sitting on the ground.

All these movements can be seen as oiling the machine. The body does not keep tissues, functions, or movement patterns it does not use.

Again, evolution optimizes for energy conservation. If you do not use it you lose it.

Walking more is one of the easiest ways to reverse the effects of a sedentary life. To get a massive effect it does not seem that we need to walk massive amounts.

Here’s the habit

Looks doable right?

Walking 40 minutes total every day is 280 minutes of low-intensity cardio per week. Going from 0 to 280 extra minutes will do you wonders.

So why should we walk after meals?

Stacking actions is one hack we learnt from Atomic Habits. It makes it easier to form new habits.

It’s not just about forming the habit.

Post-prandial walks just refer to walking after eating.

Walking after meals:

  • Improves blood sugar regulation and digestion

  • Lowers stress levels

  • Enhances blood flow

  • And improves sleep quality

But, we have three aspects of this habit.

  1. Walking 30-40 minutes in total per day

  2. Taking 10-min walks after meals

  3. Taking a 10-min walk close to waking

Sleep loss will leak down into every nook and cranny of your physiology, sleep, unfortunately, is not an optional lifestyle luxury. Sleep is a nonnegotiable biological necessity. It is your life support system.

Dr Mathew Walker author of Why We Sleep

We evolved with day and night being the most consistent environmental rhythm. Because of this almost every bodily function is linked to the time of day.

The most important function linked to the time of day is sleep.

Our brain uses many different inputs to understand what time of day it is to regulate all its internal processes correctly.

The most important time-setter, zeitgeber, is light. Especially light early in the day.

The time is set in the circadian clock. This is an internal clock controlled by a tiny part of the brain that has full-body effects.

If the clock isn’t set right it will negatively affect wakefulness, energy, motivation, sleep, and much more.

Early daylight exposure helps set the clock correctly. It gives the body the information it needs to know what time of day it is.

By doing this it affects literally everything, but the largest effect is on sleep.

So, on your AM walks try to look in the direction of the sun.

I will often repeat this because I really want you to remember it – a confused body is a sick body.

The habit of walking like this helps the body regulate all its internal processes according to the time of day.

It reverses the stress of a sedentary life.

It lowers the stress of eating by aiding in digestion and blood sugar regulation.

It improves sleep quality by setting the circadian clock.

All this lowers stress and increases the capacity to handle stress.

The first implementation hits all three levers to maximize energy production and minimize demand:

  1. Moving sufficiently throughout the day

  2. Eating digestible, nutritious, and calorie-dense foods

  3. Sleeping enough with high sleep quality


Habit 2 – Reversing lack & loss of muscle tissue

While walking is great, the one thing we do not get is the stimuli to induce muscle synthesis.

Muscle mass is the most underrated tissue when it comes to health.

Increasing muscle mass is not a vain project that should only be done by bodybuilders. It is highly correlated with health, longevity and lack of disease.

World-leading expert on muscle synthesis, Dr Brad Schoenfeld has written many brilliant studies and books on the subject. In his book Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy, he gives some gems for everyday people.

Muscle is expensive tissue. For the body to prioritise building it there needs to be a strong enough stimulus.

But, there also needs to be sufficient energy production and nutrients.

Maybe you think you need to go to the gym three times per week for two hours otherwise it’s just a waste of time. For most people today this is not workable and so most don’t do anything.

It’s either all in or nothing. It’s black and white. Either you’re a gym rat or not.

Let me tell you that you can build and maintain an amazing body with less than 3-minutes of active exercise per day.

If that sounds too good to be true let’s look at the science.

Dr Schoenfeld has written some excellent metanalyses.

In them, he concludes that the volume required to stimulate muscle synthesis is between 5-20 sets per week per muscle group. He adds the caveat that the intensity of each set needs to be close to failure.

How this looks practically will surprise you.

Everyone should do at least one set of push-ups and pull-ups close to failure every single day.

I want you to do this if you are someone who has never trained in your life and even if you are an Iron Man competitor with 15 hours of training each week.

You should build up to this slowly and have it as your baseline.

If any of the exercises are too hard or too easy, scale them up or down.

Aim for 8-25 reps per set. If you can’t do 8, scale down, if you can do more than 25, scale up.

1 set to failure per day adds up to 7 sets to failure per week (and takes less than 3-minutes per day to do.)

Gaining muscle mass makes you more resilient to handle the daily demands put on your body.

It does a lot more than I am able to go through here but rest assured, 3 minutes of exercise per day will do wonders for your health.

The idea here is to build a baseline which becomes a part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth.

Slowly it becomes so ingrained you feel bad when you don’t do it.

At this level, you can add more if you want, like adding a set for your legs or doing some mobility work in combination.

Let’s move on to the last two.


Habits 3 & 4 – Nutrients, bodily confusion & recovery

Now we have gone over the first two in quite some depth. For the next two, I will not spend a lot of time explaining.

Sleep is probably the highest leverage activity when it comes to health. It costs nothing and is not hard to change because all you need to do is go to bed earlier or wake up later.

Changing your diet is hard. It is often tied to both identity and addiction which are very hard to break.

Sleep is so important that everyone should take their sleep obnoxiously seriously.

Habit – Spend 8-10 hours in bed and aim to wake up at a similar time every day.

As with most things, doing it too much is probably not good either so try to find your sweet spot.

Also, increase your sleep time along with increased demand.

The previous Progress Letter was entirely on the final habit – Eat real food (& focus on Protein.)

We evolved to eat only real food. We ate what could be found in our environment, animals or plants.

We have evolved to utilise the molecules that make up these foods to maintain health.

Eating foods that we would never have found in our evolutionary past creates internal confusion.

And again – a confused body is a sick body.

What makes protein so good?

  1. Protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients

  2. Protein-rich foods are nutrient-dense

  3. Protein increases muscle synthesis

  4. We undereat protein

The biggest problems with the standard diet are a lack of protein, a lack of nutrients and a surplus of calories.

Eating more protein fixes these issues. This then positively affects energy production and lowers imposed demand.

There you have it, the Minimal Effective Dose for Health

  1. Three to four 10-minute walks per day, one close to waking and the rest after meals.

  2. One hard set per day of pull-ups & push-ups (or variations of them).

  3. Spend 8-10h in bed each night and aim to wake up at a similar time each day.

  4. Eat real food (& focus on protein).

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