On Essentials (Part 11ty Billion)

I write regularly about essentials as they pertain to health and wellness. Essentially (huck, yuck), they are the most important components that are also the least appreciated or worked upon. The purpose of this post is to attempt to suss out the essentials for so many components of health and fitness so as to help you make a complete system as a result.

Why essentials? Because we’re so very complicated! Humans are AMAZING, our physiology is brilliant, and if we can just give it the right input it takes care of everything else. After that you’re twiddling knobs for less and less returns. I always like to show this to illustrate the point:



If you’re coming from a very specific discipline, you have your hammer and everything is a nail. The essentials dictate that you need every part and specific tools to build the house, but only enough of both. More screwdrivers don’t build the house faster. More tools without more workers doesn’t build the house faster. More workers without enough tools doesn’t build the house faster. It’s enough of every component that makes the house complete. 

Many Essentials = Complete Health

Given the complexity above, we fail to appreciate how making a small change in one area results in the improvement of a previous small change. Essentials create leverage, which bootstraps you up to vitality. The list below is my humble opinion about the essentials for each component. Get them in check and you’ll find improvements OR find places to throttle back because you blew past the steep part of the curve ages ago:

  • Movement: walking, running, rolling, crawling, playing, dancing…living your one wild life with as much vigor as possible. Don’t quantify this stuff, or try to load it for “optimization” (whatever the fuck that means).
  • Strength: loading patterns congruent with muscle and joint function. Once or twice per week. Eventually unquantified.
  • Diet: species-appropriate diet most of the time. Veggies, legumes, and bread are all modestly hormetic (unless you’re celiac or have some recovering gut issue). YMMV, but I can tell you we didn’t evolve on go-gurt and Halo Top. Meat isn’t the issue.
  • Fasting: At least 13 hours if daily. Ignore the myopic bench scientists and mouse doctors who don’t do this stuff on humans. Consider periodic longer fasts. A useful tool.
  • Rest: Sleep, siesta, and doing fuck-all is a requirement. Our physiology needs stress to optimize but those optimizations only manifest during recovery.
  • Mobility: explore the full range of motion without external load. Consider a 5-minute morning or evening routine. Unquantified.
  • Environment: stop the blue light at dusk. Get some sun in the morning. Get out in nature for at LEAST an hour per week and away from the city for a few days every year. Lose your phone once in a while.
  • Stress reduction: breathing, sleeping, OODA-looping, foam rolling, meditating, massage; it’s all good.
  • Socializing: WHAT IS THE POINT OF BEING HEALTHY IF NOT TO SHARE YOUR LIFE EXPERIENCES WITH OTHERS?! Use “social” media to actually set up social interactions. Use Dallas Hartwig’s program if needed. Put your phone away when interacting with real humans.

Initially you may need some meta-cognitition around this stuff. Don’t go buffet-style: choose one part where you’re deficient and work on adding that in. Eventually it becomes habit and then you move onto the next deficiency. Self-efficacy builds over time.

EDIT: I was reminded that I missed social interaction. Duh! I added that above.

12 thoughts on “On Essentials (Part 11ty Billion)

  1. That is a useful set of ideas. While it might be included in the stress reduction element I wonder if there is some thing about being “social” about the general benefits of being part of a small group. The mental side of health. It reminds me a little of things Dan John has written and about the need for balance in the work/rest/play/pray of life. If you get any element out of proportion then the whole thing can come spiralling out of control.

    With respect to your comment on the 13 hour daily fast – that breast cancer study is one of the things I had thought about in response to your writings expressing scepticism about the “circadian rhythm fasting” . That was in humans and it seemed to be specifically about an overnight fast rather than a general daily 13 hour fast. In Rhonda Patrick’s interview with Patterson she says explicitly that she would promote the fast starting early in the evening to get that 13 hour stretch in overnight.

    1. Derp, that’s what I wanted to add when I started writing ages ago. Will update!

      As far as the 13 hour thing, that study was retrospective, so it was really data analysis. It suggests that 13 hours is sufficient to start to manifest health benefits, nothing more IMO.

      Given that they didn’t do a trial or a study on humans controlling fasting duration, they can’t say for sure that 13 hours starting early in the evening is “better” than 13 hours starting later in the evening. And better how? As I noted in the “lean gains” study, insulin, IGF-1, and other metabolic makers of health came way down. Or as I noted in my previous blog post, if food can’t screw with the circadian rhythms of a TOTALLY BLIND person, what are you worried about? 😉

  2. Skyler,
    You really seem to have a grasp on keeping exercise, health, life….all in good perspective.
    Now that I “buttered you up”…I was wondering about getting some advice. By all means, do not feel obligated to give any. I realize your advice and health/fitness knowledge is your livelihood.
    Anyway, I’ve been doing HIT for quite a while now and started adding Schwinn Airdyne workouts Gibala style (if that’s even a term) of 0:20 sprint intervals with 2:00 rest for 3 cycles. I actually emailed you a few weeks ago with another question. I’ve been training “minimum effective dose” toward a new goal. On June 16, I’ll be competing in an event called Firefighter Combat Challenge. It’s a series of 5 events that look mainly anaerobic. The world record is approximately 1 minutes 20 seconds. I’m not looking at a record but was wondering about what to increase my sprint intervals to get the biggest increase in work capacity. My goal is finishing under 2 minutes which is pretty respectable for the over 40 year old age group. Beyond the technical aspects of the event, I’m primarily concerned with the work load. I’m thinking of increasing my sprint sessions to 45 secs, 60 secs, and possibly max out at 90 secs. Still, I want to adhere to the least amount necessary approach for maximum gains, yet I’m willing to do a little more for the short-term future.
    If you have any suggestions for what my sprint intervals should/could be, they would be appreciated. If not, I realize you have clients that pay you for this answer, and I’m asking you to take time and answer me for free. No hard feelings if not!

    Take care,

    Sent from my iPhone

    1. This seems pedantic, but do sprint repeats at the time that the event requires. IF that’s too hard, cut that time in half and add a shorter (read: 10 to 30 second) rest interval in between. Do 5 to 8 “sets”.

      Practice no more than 2x per week.

  3. Hey Skyler!
    I’ve been reading your stuff for a long time and would really like to hear if you have seen the following talk, and if so, your thoughts? (there’s also a part 2): https://youtu.be/6qUSvzUj6jo
    Before watching it I was doing 16:8 style IF for 4 years to easily maintain low body fat. But the video got me scared, especially the part about feeling great fasting and then a few years down the line getting diabetes. What worries me is there are no long term studies on IF, and Dr. Schwarzbein claims to have both the science and clinical experience supporting her view.
    Thanks again for all your writing!

    1. Jim,

      I should probably make this into a blog post as a follow up, but the simple response is always:

      “Show me.”

      I love basic science, but there’s a long way from the mechanistic biology to human application. There’s an entire branch of science (Translational Science) that works tirelessly to figure out how to take what works in a lab and bring it to population applicability.

      Put another way, a Neurosurgeon client of mine says “I can cure cancer in a petri dish; that doesn’t mean a damn thing for a human.”

      The similarly: physicians have a founder effect of sorts. They always have sick people, so contextually maybe fasting isn’t so good for a deep diabetic. It’s a tool.

      This is why I like natural experiments, as I previously discussed with fasting and circadian rhythms. In this case, ALL of the Blue Zones do some form of fasting. They’ll likely live longer than Dr. Schwarzbein. So if it’s bad, so bad as to override all of the good that you should be doing otherwise as part of having robust health, then it’s really doing a bad job. 😉

      Great question!

  4. Jim,
    If you’ve been doing 16:8 IF for 4 years and don’t have any problems by now, I doubt whether you will in the future. Have your blood sugar levels risen? Feeling worse than before? Getting fatter (you’re not!)? Developing health problems? If not, why stop?

    I’ve done extreme macrobiotics AND Paleo Low-Carb. Both stopped ‘working” after about 6 months. For me, that seems to the length of time needed to show up deficiencies.

    Schwarzbein specializes in working with severely damaged diabetics (mainly female) and she concentrates on getting them slowly back to health. She criticizes extreme diets as bad for these patients.

    I find her take on things very very interesting and I’ve watched her videos several times. But 16:8 IF is NOT extreme. It’s closer to the way most humans have lived and eaten for tens of thousands of years.

    1. Hi garymar,

      My bloodwork was fine and everything, the negative symptoms included cold hands/feet and body temperature (35.2c) toward the end of a fast, and a low pulse (around 50 bpm). This led me to the whole “screwed up metabolism / hypothyroid” thing spearheaded by Matt Stone, Ray Peat, Danny Roddy etc and then the Schwarzbein talk. This led me to eat more, which led to higher body temp and slightly higher pulse but also higher body fat.

      Since I feel good with intermittent fasting I prefer it to a “regular” eating schedule because it allows me to have lower bodyfat with zero effort and is generally more convenient. If it’s also healthier, then there’s really no good argument against IF in my case, except the cold hands and feet maybe..

  5. A typical day carbs was around 50g for lunch and 100g for dinner = total 150g. Probably varied between 100-200g/day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s