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The 4 Most Important Health Habits (For Most People)

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

Health can be mind-splittingly complex. First there’s the body and its dozen or so systems and trillions of cells with complex physiological processes. And then there’s all the various areas that can impact health, from inherited genetics to past trauma to diet, supplements, exercise, physical activity, sleep, environment, hygiene, stress, sex and drugs (and that’s not to mention psychological, social and financial factors).

And while there’s a danger in reductionism or trying to make health more simple than it actually is, there’s also danger in “majoring in the minors” or over-emphasizing things that are of minor importance while neglecting things that really move the needle.

This is one of the reasons why PRIORITIZATION is such a crucial principle when it comes to health (or any important area for that matter). Prioritization allows us to focus on what’s most important first, and after those areas are taken care of, we can pivot our attention to others (if time allows).

And that’s what today’s short article is all about. What follows are my 4 most important habits for taking control of your health. These are the 4 areas I generally want my coaching clients to prioritize above all others in order to see the most dramatic health change.



There are literally thousands of health and medical tests you can run. I think 2 are especially important for my clients.

The first is comprehensive lab testing. These are lab test panels that, ideally, should be run yearly. The basic set of panels I encourage my clients to run includes…

*CMP (glucose, liver markers, kidney markers, a few electrolytes and blood proteins)

*CBC (white and red blood cell markers with platelets)

*A1c (3-month blood sugar)

*Homocysteine (an inflammatory marker)

*Lipid panel (cholesterol, LDL, HDL, triglycerides)

*Vitamin D (a common deficiency)

*Ferritin (the best indicator of iron status)

*Free T3 (the most functional thyroid marker) and

*Estradiol & testosterone (especially important for those over 40).

I also recommend men run PSA and women run progesterone.

My clients have the option of directly ordering their own lab work through Ulta Labs. The advantages here are that we can order the exact panels we want, and the lab test results are back within a few days.

The fact that 60-80% of medical decisions are based, at least in part, on lab testing speaks some to its importance. [1]

Lab tests influence 70 percent of medical spending

For those trying to improve sub optimal levels with a lifestyle program, I often recommend re-testing every 1-3 months until levels hit optimal ranges.

Speaking of optimal ranges- the lab ranges I use for many biomarkers (based on studies of the healthiest and longest-lived populations) are often notably different than the standard reference ranges that accompany test results. [2]

The second important test is a body composition scan. The two most important numbers on this scan are body fat percentage and skeletal muscle mass. For body fat percentage, with men we’re generally shooting for a number between 6-20% (the specific number depends on the client) and for women we’re generally shooting for 14-30%.

While you can purchase a scale online for <$100 that may provide you with body fat and skeletal mass numbers, those scales don’t tend to be nearly as accurate as an InBody scan (InBody is the leader in body comp scanning using bioelectrical impedance analysis). If you live in or near a metro area you can likely find an InBody scan within 30 minutes of where you live (click here to find one near you). The cost per scan is usually $30-50. I recommend my active clients do a scan once every 1-2 months. For others, it’s a good idea to do a scan once every 6 months or so to monitor those important body comp metrics. [3-7]



“You can’t manage what you don’t measure” goes the popular quote by business guru Peter Drucker. And dozens of studies show that those who track important health habits and indicators get better results (including weight loss) than those who don’t. [8-13]

There are 3 things I want my clients to prioritize when tracking.

The first is macronutrient intake via a solid app (most of my clients use MyFitnessPal).

The second is exercise sessions (I use the industry leading Trainerize app with my clients).

And the third is a trio of body composition indicators that include weight (at least twice a week), waist circumference measurement at the belly button (once a week) and progress pictures (once every 1-2 weeks).

The value of self tracking health indicators and habits



There are several dietary habits that I think really move the needle on health, including smart intermittent fasting/nutrient timing strategies (ex. 16/8 I.F., eating >25g protein at breakfast, etc.) as well as clean eating (i.e., removing or limiting problem foods like gluten, lactose, refined sugars and artificial ingredients from your diet). However, if I had to pick just 1 habit for health transformation (including healthy weight loss), it would likely be setting and consistently hitting appropriate daily macronutrient targets.

The 6 macronutrients I believe everyone needs to be aware of are water, fiber, protein, fats, carbohydrates and alcohol (I sometimes contend that carbs should be split into 2 separate functional macronutrient categories -- simple and complex carbs – as each have some distinct effects on the body).

7 functional macronutrients

For many of my clients (including clients with weight loss as a primary goal), a diet that’s higher in water, fiber and protein, with moderate fats (which includes saturated fats and cholesterol) and lower carbohydrate intake (with a max of 1-2 alcoholic drinks/day) is often most therapeutic, and an increasing number of clinical studies support that particular balance of macronutrients for many people. [14-31]

And even though salt (sodium + chloride) and caffeine aren’t macronutrients, because of their prevalence in most people’s diets they usually need to be mentioned here too. Unless a client has moderate to severe kidney issues, hypertension or edema/swelling, I generally recommend a higher salt diet (8-15g/day), which is the amount with the lowest all-cause mortality risk. And with caffeine, most of the data suggests health benefits are present with intakes up to 200-400mg/day. [32-37]

Salt Sodium and All Cause Mortality Graph




We all know that smart exercise carries with it several health benefits. But as with diet, getting the most out of exercise requires a deeper level of understanding and specific programming.

Before I program for exercise frequency, intensity, time/duration or time of day, I first consider exercise type. More specifically, this means considering the various components of fitness, which includes mobility, strength, cardio, balance, agility/coordination and speed/fast twitch training. Regardless of a person’s health goals, I’m going to emphasize a habit of mobility exercise and strength training.

Why mobility? Because even if you don’t suffer from any chronic joint pain or immobility now, a lack of functional mobility (often more than a lack of strength) is what eventually leads to injury and disability. If a person is suffering from chronic joint pain or stiffness, I’m going to emphasize mobility training even more. But what do I mean by “mobility training?” A detailed explanation is outside the scope of this article but suffice to say that two core components of my mobility training are 1) self-massage (sometimes using your hands but also self-myofascial release tools like lacrosse balls and foam rollers) and 2) controlled range of motion training (ex. CARs or controlled articular rotations).

Evidence based benefits of mobility training

An exercise program that includes daily low-risk mobility work for 10 minutes or more is ideal, but if a daily habit proves too challenging to consistently execute, then a 20+ minute mobility session 3-4 times a week is recommended. [38-47]

After mobility, I’m going to recommend strength training. Why? For several science-backed reasons, which includes smart strength training’s ability to…

*Increase lean muscle mass

*Increase resting metabolic rate (leading to better body fat loss results)

*Increase bone density

*Increase functional strength

*Improve sex hormone levels

*Improve posture

12 favorite strength training exercises

As a starting point, I generally recommend at least 3 strength-based exercise sessions per week, usually lasting anywhere from 45-75 minutes.


Again, there are so many other habits in several areas that can have significant effects on our health. The 4 habits above are the ones I tend to prioritize with my coaching clients, as I’ve found that the clients who do the best job at executing in these 4 areas tend to get the best results!



1 (2017; 60-80% of medical decision making is based on lab testing)

2 (2018; limitations of normal reference ranges on lab tests).


3 (2022; “Older adults identified with low MFR (muscle to fat ratio) had unfavorable body composition, poor functional performance, high cardiometabolic risk and a high risk for the clinical outcome.”)

4 (2021; “Individuals with a high body fat percentage are at a greater risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, several types of cancer, and early mortality. Significant decreases in bone mineral density signify osteopenia and osteoporosis, while reductions in skeletal muscle mass increase the risk of developing sarcopenia. Moreover, undernutrition exacerbates the effects of many medical conditions and is important to address. Though weight tracking and calculation of BMI are used commonly by clinicians and dietitians, these measures do not provide insight on the relative contributions of fat mass and fat-free mass or the changes in these compartments that may reflect disease risk. Therefore, it is important that healthcare professionals have a critical understanding of body composition assessment and the strengths and limitations of the methods available.”)

5 (2019; value of body fat percentage metric in sarcopenia risk)

6 (2017; “Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) is a valid method for the assessment of body composition. BIA is an alternative to more invasive and expensive methods... BIA is an easy-to-use and low-cost method for the estimation of fat-free mass in physiological and pathological conditions.”)

7 (2016; “High successful agers had better rates in ASM (appendicular skeletal muscle mass) and BF% compared with the medium and low successful ones. Changes in SMI (skeletal muscle index) were positively associated with successful ageing, while changes in BF% were inversely associated with successful ageing.”)


8 (2021; Meta analysis of 39 studies “Self-monitoring via digital health is consistently associated with weight loss in behavioral obesity treatment.”)

9 (2021 meta analysis of 12 studies; “Digital self-monitoring of both diet and physical activity had a statistically significant effect at supporting weight loss”)

10 (2021 study of 225 overweight & obese participants; “Self-monitoring of weight was most consistently linked to weight loss, while exceptional food logging characterized the group with the greatest weight loss. Weight loss interventions should promote self-monitoring of weight and consider encouraging food logging to individuals who have demonstrated consistent use of self-monitoring technologies.”)

11 (2020; 12 week trial (n=100; 21-65 years); categorized as Consistent Trackers if they tracked ≥ 6 of 7 days for at least 75% of the targeted weeks. “Self-monitoring is the strongest predictor of success in lifestyle interventions for obesity… One-fourth of participants were Consistent Trackers. Consistent tracking was associated with greater weight change than inconsistent tracking at 1, 3 and 6 months. Over 3 times as many Consistent Trackers as Inconsistent Trackers achieved ≥ 5% weight loss at 3 months (48 vs. 13%) and at 6 months (54 vs. 15%)… Tracking weight and/or diet nearly every day per week for 12 weeks in a commercial app may serve as an effective strategy for weight loss.”)

12 (2020; 276 overweight/obese adults; “Better self-monitoring was consistently associated with better weight loss across intervention and tracking modalities.”)

13 (2019; 24 wk study of 142 adults; ‘The frequency of self-monitoring is significantly related to weight loss, with the time needed to be successful diminishing during the intervention.”)


14 (2019 study of 6 RCTS >12 weeks showing increased water consumption increases weight loss)

15 (2019; water, hydration and health benefits for skin and neurological health (including cognition and mood), as well as reduction of kidney stones, constipation and body weight)

16 (2020 meta analysis of 62 trials looking at fiber and body comp; “reduced mean body weight, BMI and waist circumference (and that) greater reductions in body weight were observed in overweight individuals and those with diabetes and metabolic syndrome.”)

17 (2017 meta-analysis of 12 randomized controlled trials that spanned 2-17 weeks and included 609 participants found that soluble fiber supplementation reduced body weight by 5.5lbs more than the placebo treatment.)

18 (2020; review of positive weight loss and body comp effects of high protein diets; “High protein diet is an effective and safe tool for weight reduction that can prevent obesity and obesity-related diseases… Several clinical trials have found that consuming more protein than the recommended dietary allowance not only reduces body weight, but also enhances body composition by decreasing fat mass while preserving fat-free mass…HPD provides weight-loss effects and can prevent weight regain after weight loss… HPD has not been reported to have adverse effects on health in terms of bone density or renal function in healthy adults.” HPD increases satiety (feelings of fullness) and diet induced thermogenesis. “In conclusion, HPD is an effective and safe tool for weight reduction that can prevent obesity and obesity-related diseases.”)

19 (2016; “This systematic review and meta-analysis (of 20 trials) assessed the effects of protein intake (<25% vs ≥25% of energy intake or 1.0 g/kg/d) on energy restriction–induced changes in body mass, lean mass and fat mass in adults older than 50 years. Older adults retained more lean mass and lost more fat mass during weight loss when consuming higher protein diets.”)

20 (2015; “Several meta-analyses of shorter-term, tightly controlled feeding studies showed greater weight loss, fat mass loss, and preservation of lean mass after higher-protein energy-restriction diets than after lower-protein energy-restriction diets. Reductions in triglycerides, blood pressure, and waist circumference were also reported. In addition, a review of the acute feeding trials confirms a modest satiety effect, including greater perceived fullness and elevated satiety hormones after higher-protein meals… Collectively, these data suggest that higher-protein diets (1.2 - 1.6 g protein per kg body weight per day) and potentially include meal-specific protein quantities of at least 25-30 g protein/meal provide improvements in appetite, body weight management, cardiometabolic risk factors or all of these health outcomes.”)

21 (2021; “In conclusion, weight loss through increases in energy expenditure (ex. exercise, physical activity) may be best achieved by increasing fat free mass (ex. skeletal muscle mass) rather than selection of fatty acid type.”)

22 (2021; 59 systematic reviews on dietary fat intake and health outcomes in human adults; “The findings from systematic reviews of prospective cohort studies, which frequently compare the highest versus lowest intake categories, found mainly no association of total fat, monounsaturated fatty acid, polyunsaturated fatty acid and saturated fatty acid with risk of chronic diseases… A higher intake of total trans-fatty acid, but not ruminant TFA, was probably associated with an increased risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease based on existing SRs.”)

23 (2002; in RCTs in randomized trials lasting 1 year or more, “fat consumption within the range of 18% to 40% of energy appears to have little if any effect on body fatness… Within the United States, a substantial decline in the percentage of energy from fat during the last 2 decades has corresponded with a massive increase in the prevalence of obesity. Diets high in fat do not appear to be the primary cause of the high prevalence of excess body fat in our society, and reductions in fat will not be a solution.”)

24 (2023 study of 609 participants with overweight or obesity (aged 18-50y) were assigned to a 12-mo LCD (N = 304) or LFD (N = 305). Measures related to carbohydrate intake (total amount, glycemic index, added sugar) showed strong associations with weight loss at 3, 6 and 12 month time points… whereas those related to total fat intake showed weak to no associations. Glycemic load explained most of the observed effect of total calorie intake on weight change. As predicted by the carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity, weight loss in both diet groups seems to have been driven by the reduction of glycemic load more so than dietary fat or calories.”)

25 (2022; “One diet regimen that has proven to be very effective for rapid weight loss is a very-low-carbohydrate and high-fat ketogenic diet.” Keto diet 5-10% cals from carbs and net carbs are 20-50g/day. “Russel Wilder first used the ketogenic diet to treat epilepsy in 1921. The resurgence of the ketogenic diet as a rapid weight loss formula is a relatively new concept that has shown to be quite effective, at least in the short run.”)

26 (2020; 34 men & women aged 60–75 years with obesity were assigned to either very low carb diet (<10% carbs) or low fat diet (<20% fat) for 8 weeks. Low carb diet participants lost 9.7% of total body fat while low fat low just 2.0%. Low carb group also experiences 3x greater visceral adipose tissue loss vs low fat group.)

27 (2020; “Ketogenic diets appear to be more effective than low-fat diets for treatment of obesity and diabetes. In addition to the reductions in blood glucose and insulin achievable through carbohydrate restriction, chronic ketosis might confer unique metabolic benefits of relevance to cancer, neurodegenerative conditions, and other diseases associated with insulin resistance. Based on available evidence, a well-formulated ketogenic diet does not appear to have major safety concerns for the general public and can be considered a first-line approach for obesity and diabetes.”)

28 (2018; “studies tend to show metabolic advantages for low-glycemic load vs low-fat diets…the principles of a low-glycemic load diet offer a practical alternative to the conventional focus on dietary fat and calorie restriction.”)

29 (2018 review on health effects of red wine consumption; “After studying the recent available clinical trials, it is evident that not only healthy food, but also moderate consumption of wine, has a link to cancer prevention. Biological mechanisms for oncological prevention are associated with the consumption of antioxidants and polyphenols that are contained in fruits, their products, such as wine, and vegetables. A moderate consumption of wine is recommended daily, mainly with food. Epidemiological studies have shown that five to seven portions of fresh fruit and vegetables and two glasses of wine a day can lead to a longer and healthier life. The beneficial effect of wine is attributed mainly to its antioxidant properties of the large number and amount of polyphenolic compounds present in red wine. It is recommended that a moderate, optional, daily alcohol consumption is about 15 and 30g of alcohol for women and men, respectively (1-2 drinks). The highest tolerated dose ranges up to 36g per day for healthy women (2 drinks) and up to 60g per day for healthy men (4 drinks).”)

30 (2015; “recent prospective studies show that light-to-moderate alcohol intake is not associated with adiposity gain while heavy drinking is more consistently related to weight gain. Experimental evidence is also mixed and suggests that moderate intake of alcohol does not lead to weight gain over short follow-up periods.”)

31 (2011; Analysis of 31 studies from 1984-2010; “The overall results do not conclusively confirm a positive association between alcohol consumption and weight gain”)


32 (2018; “Salt (NaCl) is an essential nutrient required for various physiological processes, including electrolyte homeostasis, neuronal activity, nutrient absorption, and muscle contraction.”)

33 (2017; health benefits of salt, including analysis of the 2014 PURE study findings)

34 (2014 salt and mortality study of >100,000 participants from 17 countries; lowest risk associated with 3-6g sodium intake/day, which equates to 8-15g salt)

35 (2017; benefits of coffee and caffeine; caffeine shows benefits at up to 400mg a day for adults and up to 200mg a day for pregnant women)

36 (2017; comprehensive review of caffeine; >85% of adults in the U.S. regularly consume caffeine, average intake of 180 mg/day; the threshold of caffeine toxicity appears to be around 400 mg/day in healthy adults; for healthy adults, moderate chronic intakes of caffeine up to 400 mg/day are not associated with adverse effects on CV health, calcium balance and bone status, behavior, cancer risk or male fertility)

37 (2016; coffee, caffeine and positive effects on neurodevelopmental diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s)


38 (2021; study of 40 college students; “Hamstring myofascial self-release using a roller for 30s or 2m produced an increase in ROM in healthy individuals.”)

39 (2021; study of 25 active men & women; “Although the effectiveness of static self-stretching exercises (SSSEs) and foam roller self-massaging (FRSM) in joint range of motion and muscle strength of the lower limbs has been extensively investigated, little is known about their effectiveness on the posterior trunk muscles… The ROMs of trunk flexion, side flexion and rotation were significantly increased following both SSSEs and FRSM… While both interventions were effective in increasing the range of motion of the trunk, a single 7-min session of FRSM presented more advantages over a similar duration SSSEs protocol due to the increase in the strength of the trunk extensors it induced.”)

40 (2020 study of 18 young adults; “SMR improves joint flexibility and dynamic balance ability.”)

41 (2017 study of 10 men found foam rolling and roller massage of hamstrings improved hip mobility and that increased time (120s vs 60s) led to improved ROM).

42 (2015; “A total of 14 articles met the inclusion criteria. SMR with a foam roll or roller massager appears to have short‐term effects on increasing joint ROM without negatively affecting muscle performance and may help attenuate decrements in muscle performance and DOMS after intense exercise. Short bouts of SMR prior to exercise do not appear to effect muscle performance.”)


43 (2023; 80 participants doing lower leg mobility; 4 groups including 10m, 30m and 60m group “the range of motion measurement… showed significantly higher improvements in flexibility depending on stretching duration with the highest increase in both tests with 60 minutes of stretch per day.”)

44 (2021; 142 inactive older women; “14 weeks of multicomponent and flexibility training in a group intervention can improve flexibility and posture levels in physically inactive older women.”)

45 (2020; 67 symptomatic patients with subacromial impingement syndrome (SIS) treated with posterior mobility; “All treatments improved pain, shoulder mobility, function, and disability in patients with SIS. However, modified posterior shoulder stretching exercises (PSSEs) in addition to a treatment program was superior to the treatment program alone (without PSSEs) in improving pain with activity, internal rotation ROM, and dysfunction. Moreover, stretching provided clinically significant improvements.”)

46 (2019 study of 24 healthy adults; “We conclude that dynamic stretching increases ROM and decreases passive stiffness in a sustained manner... Overall, our results indicate that when performed prior to exercise, DS is beneficial for the hamstring muscles in terms of increasing flexibility and reducing stiffness.”)

47 (2012 study;To increase ROM, all types of stretching are effective, although PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) type stretching may be more effective for immediate gains.”)


48 (2022; “Resistance training (RT) is the only non-pharmacological intervention known to consistently improve, and therefore offset, age-related declines in skeletal muscle mass, strength and power. RT is also associated with various health benefits that are underappreciated compared with the perceived benefits of aerobic-based exercise. For example, RT participation is associated with reduced all-cause and cancer-related mortality and reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and symptoms of both anxiety and depression.”)

49 (2021; “In older populations, maintaining muscle size may require up to 2 sessions per week and 2-3 sets per exercise, while maintaining exercise intensity.”)

50 (2019 “Current research has demonstrated that countering muscle disuse through resistance training is a powerful intervention to combat the loss of muscle strength and muscle mass, physiological vulnerability, and their debilitating consequences on physical functioning, mobility, independence, chronic disease management, psychological well-being, quality of life, and healthy life expectancy.”)

51 (2018; meta analysis of 22 studies; “The results of the present systematic review and meta-analysis suggest a significant effect of resistance training (RT) frequency as higher training frequencies are translated into greater muscular strength gains. However, these effects seem to be primarily driven by training volume because when the volume is equated, there was no significant effect of RT frequency on muscular strength gains. Thus, from a practical standpoint, greater training frequencies can be used for additional RT volume, which is then likely to result in greater muscular strength gains. However, it remains unclear whether RT frequency on its own has significant effects on strength gain… in contrast to older adults, young individuals seem to respond more positively to greater RT frequencies.”)

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