20 health and performance tips that stand the test of time

Health and fitness tips are everywhere. So much information is shared through social media daily, it’s nearly impossible not to come across someone’s idea of a great core workout, or another’s love letter to celery juice. The endless flow of information pushing and also debunking health advice can be a lot to take in.

What works for others may not work for you, and what’s considered a miracle potion one day might be disproved the next. Research is constantly evolving, which is why it’s usually best to focus on the basics. New and funky health trends make good headlines, but the most straightforward advice often rings truest. These 20 tips have been working with our clients for the last 20 years, no celery juice required.

1. Journal. It’s not wimpy. It’s wise.

Carve out five minutes the morning after a workout to assess how you feel. “Reflection sets us up to make positive changes,” says Tiffany Grimm, solutions manager for performance innovation at EXOS. If you take the time to analyze how a decision has affected you, whether negatively or positively, you can make future decisions based on that knowledge. Journaling also creates a record of your success. “Remembering your greatness enables you to access your power when you might think it’s lost,” she says.

2. Stressed? Try the 6-4-10 breathing exercise.

Breathe in for six counts, hold for four counts, and exhale for 10 counts. Slowing down your breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system. As Grimm explains, your parasympathetic nervous system controls your ability to rest and digest, to relax and calm down. The more you can relax, the more it benefits blood pressure, heart health, and anxiety levels.

3. Eat meals with three colors.

Eat colorfully. You’ve probably heard this over and over again, but that’s because fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and enzymes. “All of these in their natural forms help support the performance of our bodies and deliver key nutrients that support us being at our best,” says Amanda Carlson-Phillips, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., vice president of strategic partnerships and insights at EXOS.

Eat colorfully. Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and enzymes.

4. Think of stress as a superpower.

Stress can only kill you if you let it. Instead of thinking of yourself as a victim, take the power back. Acknowledge your stress when you feel it, and then decide how you’re going to transform it. Move through breathing exercises or take a walk. “When you focus on yourself as a filter for stress instead of on the stress itself, you can build resilience,” says Grimm. That’s because you’re giving yourself space to choose your reaction and transform it into something positive.

5. The simpler the goal, the better.

Minimalism is trendy, and it applies to goal setting, too. Choose one goal and outline what it will take to get there. If you have too many goals, your intentions can become cluttered and divided. “Our lives are already busy, and to create positive change, we need to give ourselves the chance to perfect one change before moving on to the next,” says Grimm.

6. You’re never too fit for the basics.

No one is immune to bad movement habits. “We all have certain dysfunctions that creep into the equation,” says Stefan Underwood, director of continuous improvement at EXOS. “By periodically revisiting your foundational movement skills, you can address any problems and reduce your risk of injuries.” If you don’t make basic movement skills a priority, you never correct these habits, and you may be damaging your foundation. Then, injuries become more likely.

7. Match your recovery to your workout.

What you do to recover from a workout matters. “Choose a recovery strategy that accounts for the type of stress placed on your system,” says Underwood. He explains that when you exercise, you may strain your system in a variety of ways. You stress yourself metabolically as you use energy to meet training demands. You stress yourself mechanically as your body tolerates load and gravity. You stress yourself neurally as your nervous system coordinates your movement, and you can also stress yourself psychologically.

If your session had high metabolic demand, prioritize nutrition in recovery to replace used energy. Account for mechanical stress with self-massage and soft-tissue work. Address neural stress with breathing strategies to get out of fight-or-flight mode. Or introduce play and variety to your workouts to offset psychological stress.

8. Pinpoint your motivation.

“When you’re motivated by something significant to your life, you tend to stick to it,” says Grimm. In other words, exercising because you’re expected to isn’t motivating. But if you exercise because it means something to you — maybe it allows you to go on more adventures with friends or be more present with your grandkids — you’re more likely to stay consistent.

Establish a bedtime routine that works for you — read a book, take a bath, listen to a podcast.

9. Get vitamins and minerals from food first.

“There is power in food,” says Phillips. “Supplements can fill gaps, but they can’t make up for a poor diet.” In addition to fruits and vegetables, eat fatty fish and foods that provide a good source of fiber, enzymes, and probiotics. Phillips advocates for carbs that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and complementing that with lean proteins such as beans and legumes, fish, poultry, eggs, or low-fat dairy. Don’t forget healthy fats. “This combo promotes steady energy and heart health, improves brain function, and helps your body stay satisfied and optimize nutrient absorption,” she says.

10. Think better movement over bigger muscles.

For many, building bigger muscles is about creating an aesthetic. There’s nothing wrong with big muscles if that’s what you want. However, developing muscles without proper movement is a bad idea. “In time, asymmetry is likely, movement quality decreases, and overall coordination is also likely to decrease,” says Underwood. Prioritize proper movement, and then you can start to increase reps and load.

11. Create experiences around food.

Food doesn’t just fuel your workouts, it fuels your life, and it’s often the center of celebrations and warm memories. “Food brings us together, and whether it’s a casual collision or intentional meeting, our food experiences are an important part of our lives,” says Phillips. “It can help you relax, recharge, and smile. Sharing memorable meals with friends is good for your mental and emotional well-being.”

12. Put sleep before screen time.

Whether it’s because you’re staying up late to work or have a burning need to scroll through social media, it’s easy to push sleep to the bottom of your priority list. Sometimes you can’t avoid a lack of sleep because life happens, but there are some things you can control. Establish a bedtime routine that works for you. Maybe it’s ditching tech to read a book. Perhaps it’s a five-minute meditation, or maybe you’d fancy a bath and a podcast to wind down.

13. Eating healthy shouldn’t be about restriction.

Let’s not say diet anymore. Replace it with nourish or fuel. “People should have positive emotional and physical experiences with their food,” says Phillips, explaining that people should feel empowered and inspired. But the word diet tends to have the opposite effect, associated with restriction and often rooted in shame. “Imagine if people stopped associating with diets. Your conversations with friends and loved ones would shift from ‘I’m on the keto diet’ to ‘I’m eating in a way that helps me be my best physically and mentally.’”

14. Food is personal. Nutrition isn’t one size fits all.

We’re all different. Take inventory of what you want for the future and let that influence your approach to food. For instance, maybe you want to boost immunity for cold and flu season or improve your focus, energy, and productivity. “Eating is an experience designed by you. It’s not about following a set of rules; it’s about tailoring the rules to support your goals and tastes,” says Phillips.

And the science, diagnostics, and technology around personalized nutrition are starting to become more available. General guidelines will always be there as a starting point, but at-home tests that look at your genetics and measure food sensitivities, metabolism, vitamin and mineral levels, omega-3 levels, and traditional health markers like cholesterol can help you create a more personalized view of what healthy eating means relative to your physiology. It's best not to use the results in silos, but they can help you decide what's truly best for your body.

15. Work out smarter, not harder.

More isn’t always better,” says Underwood. He compares exercise to building calluses. If you were to go outside and run your hand on the pavement for four hours straight, it would be a bloody mess. But if you did it for 30 seconds every day, you might have tough, resistant calluses a month later. “This is a great metaphor for training. You adapt when you recover from exercise. The exercise itself is just the stimulus,” he explains.

16. Don’t forget to meditate.

Some people love to hate meditation, but it’s hard to deny the benefits. “The brain and body are one,” explains Grimm. That’s why meditating first thing in the morning can help you recharge for your next training session. “When the mind recovers, it helps you maintain a good mood, make sharp decisions, and stay focused.” These are all essential qualities when it comes to being the best version of yourself.

Meditating first thing in the morning can help you recharge.

17. Use your rest time between sets intelligently.

While there are times when your body needs to rest between sets, especially in max strength situations, you can often do complementary exercises between sets. “If you’re focusing on metabolic conditioning, you can add a similar movement to induce more fatigue. For example, pair pushups with a set of dumbbell bench press,” explains Underwood. If you’re training for power, try pairing something explosive like box jumps with squats. Or, maybe you’re focusing on foundational movement. In that case, a thoracic mobility exercise might follow half-kneeling landmine press during rest time.

18. Be proactive. Physical therapy isn’t just for the injured.

The most obvious sign you need physical therapy is when you feel pain and can’t move properly. Sometimes you can move just fine, but it hurts — also an excellent time to call on a physical therapist. But when you’re not in pain at all, your movement dysfunction may not be apparent. “Addressing non-painful dysfunction is a great way of maximizing training gains,” says Underwood. Plus, it helps reduce the risk of injury and more pain down the road.

19. What you eat after a workout matters.

“The simple act of eating before and after exercise can help boost energy levels during even the toughest workouts and help your body recover afterward,” says Phillips. She recommends a combination of carbohydrates and protein to build muscle, speed up recovery, and refocus your brain and body. Of course, don’t forget to replace fluids.

20. Slow down.

It’s easy to get caught up in the race of life, moving from one place to another without comprehending where you are, where you’ve been, or where you’re going. Instead, be intentional about your next steps. “Pause in transitionary moments,” says Grimm. "It's amazing the difference it can make." For example, take a moment of silence before you eat or take three deep breaths between pulling into the garage and walking into your house after work. Take time to praise yourself and others. Pause for your loved ones. Listen, speak with kindness, and appreciate these precious moments. You only get them once.

About the Author

Catherine Conelly

Catherine Conelly is a California-based health, fitness, and lifestyle writer and associate editor for EXOS.

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