The Magic of the Minimum Effective Dose For Wellness

After more than a decade of researching wellness, I’ve realized there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to health. Instead, each person has unique needs. This means we need to investigate what works for our bodies, and what doesn’t.

For example, I reversed my Hashimoto’s and lost weight by finding adaptations that worked for me. But those same solutions might not work for others. This is why I don’t give specifics on which supplements I take each day or what my day looks like. My routine is largely irrelevant to what will work best for you because we’re all so different.

Each of us has the responsibility to investigate our own optimal health solutions. Using a minimum effective dose (MED) approach to health and wellness is a great way to get started. This involves applying the smallest dose to maximize the desired outcome.

What’s the Minimum Effective Dose Approach?

Taking a minimum effective dose (MED) approach to wellness can help make the adjustment less overwhelming so that you don’t give up simply because you don’t have enough time. It’s a great starting point for effecting change.

The basic concept here is finding the lowest dose needed to accomplish the greatest change. This applies in both nutrition, fitness, and wellness. In many cases, more isn’t better!

In his book The 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss provides a great analogy for this concept. Here’s an easy way to look at it: Water boils at 212 degrees F. This is the MED. Raising the temperature won’t make the water “more boiled,” so it’s a waste of energy.

As Ferris explains, two important MEDs when it comes to fitness and health are:

  1. To remove stored fat, do the least necessary to trigger a fat-loss cascade of specific hormones.
  2. To add muscle, do the least necessary to trigger local and systemic growth mechanisms.

Although there’s no magic solution that works for everyone, some health strategies are universally beneficial to all bodies. Building health by first mastering the basics allows us to create forward momentum. Then, we can tweak our individual needs to find the top needle movers for us.

Seven Common Health Strategies to Use Minimum Effective Doses

1. Clean Eating

When it comes to food, I like to keep it simple by focusing on clean eating. Michael Pollan’s words ring true here: “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

There are so many options for diets today that it’s overwhelming. The right diet varies for each person and is based on many factors. And there are more reasons to follow a specific diet than just losing weight. Diets help us balance our hormones and keep blood sugar under control, giving us more energy and better sleep. It’s also important to eliminate things we’re sensitive or allergic to so our bodies can heal.

For example, green beans are considered pretty healthy, but I have an IgE response to them, so I avoid them. Other people might find that nightshades bother them so they eliminate those.

Often, the best approach to clean eating is a balanced plan that you can stick to. We know the statistics that those who over-diet tend to be less healthy and abandon their eating plan in the long run. A less-than-perfect plan you’ll stick to will win out over an extreme one you’ll despise in a week.

Nutrition Minimum Effective Dose

  • Get rid of all processed foods, and remove sugar from your diet.
  • Avoid drinking your calories (soda, diet soda, juice, etc.).
  • Get enough protein, (especially in the morning) around 1-2 grams of protein per pound of ideal body weight
  • Consume a wide variety of veggies at every meal, organic whenever possible.
  • Fast or intermittent fast once a week.
  • Optimize vitamin D levels.
  • Take a spore-based probiotic daily.
  • Batch cook to make meal time easy.

2. Sleep

The importance of sleep is one of the few things all health experts seem to agree on. I’ve never heard anyone claim we can be more healthy by sleeping less or having poor sleep habits. Many experts claim sleep is much more important than diet or exercise. We can’t out-diet or out-exercise poor sleep.

Just like with nutrition, optimal sleep amounts and approaches can vary, but we all need good sleep.

I’ve found it helpful to track my sleep using an Oura ring, so I can see the impact different changes have on my sleep. This data helped me understand that getting to bed by 10:30 has a noticeable effect on my deep sleep and REM. I also noticed that drinking any kind of alcohol reduced both of these.

Sleep Minimum Effective Dose

  • Sleep in complete darkness (this post explains how to optimize your sleep environment).
  • Optimize nighttime temperature. Sleeping in the range of 60-67 degrees appears to be best optimal.
  • Use the 4-7-8 breathing method as recommended by podcast guest Dr. Andrew Weil. Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, and exhale for an 8 count.
  • Avoid caffeine after noon.
  • Try magnesium for better sleep. You can either use a magnesium spray, take an Epsom salt bath, or take an oral supplement.
  • Avoid artificial light after dark. After the sun goes down, I avoid screens and use orange light bulbs in our home. If we watch a movie or I look at my phone, I use the f.lux app or wear blue blocker glasses.
  • Put your feet or legs up before bed. I find it most effective to lay on the ground with my feet up at a 90-degree angle on a chair or my legs straight up against a wall for 10-15 minutes.
  • Consider a weighted blanket if you have a hard time falling or staying asleep.
  • Strive to get 5-10 minutes of direct sunlight first thing in the morning. This helps set your circadian rhythm so your body knows when it’s time to sleep at night.

3. Hydrate

Did you know that our bodies are made up of about 60% water? Hydration is one of the most important things we can do for our bodies. It will help increase energy, make your skin glow, keep you feeling full longer, and filter out the bad things in your body.

The water in our bodies isn’t regular water but salt water. We don’t want to overhydrate and mess up the delicate balance of minerals. It’s important to increase salt and other minerals as we increase our water intake. Doing this will allow us to absorb more water.

Since I’ve started drinking 32 ounces of water with a teaspoon of salt in it just once a day, my skin is so soft, even in the winter.

Hydration Minimum Effective Dose

4. Movement

We don’t need only an hour of the same workout every day as much as we need normal and consistent movement. An hour of exercise won’t undo the damage of being sedentary the rest of the day.

One study showed that, in some tests, smokers are actually healthier than non-smokers in a work environment because they get up and move multiple times per day. I’m definitely not advocating smoking. But what if we all pretended like we had to go outside every hour or two and walk around for ten minutes…

Working out is important, especially when it comes to things like strength training and high-intensity exercise, which have long-lasting benefits for the heart, bones, and brain. This post shares some great workouts to try out at home.

Throughout the day, make sure to get down on the floor, play with your kids, chase them at the playground, or do any other functional movements you can sneak in. And if you do work at a desk, take frequent breaks.

Fitness Minimum Effective Dose

  • Get low-level movement as much as possible throughout the day (walking, hiking, or even just changing positions).
  • If you have a job that requires sitting, consider alternative chairs that allow movement or sitting on a medicine ball. Or, take the advice of podcast guest Aaron Alexander and adopt “floor culture.” Sitting on the floor naturally leads to more movement and better posture.
  • Do some high-intensity work once or twice a week. This could be 75 consecutive kettlebell swings with max weight done 3 times a week. Work up to 150 continuous reps.
  • Try sprinting twice a week! This post gives you a great plan to get started.
  • Do strength training at least two times a week. This strengthens our bones, which is important as we age. Just start slow to avoid overtraining and injury.
  • Jump every day. This could be light jumping on a trampoline or rebounder or jumping jacks. This also helps our bones.

5. Connection

This pillar is one of the closest I’ve found to being universally applicable. Close relationships and a strong community are absolutely vital to our health. Human connection is more statistically important than quitting smoking and twice as important as exercise. It improves longevity by up to 50%. The lack of social connection is a greater detriment to our health than obesity, smoking, poor diet, or lack of exercise.

In other words, it probably should be the first and most important factor on this list. If you don’t have this part optimized, it’s worth being your top priority. Yet, in a more socially connected world, we’re reeling from a lack of true human connection because of digital distractions.

  • Nurture your most important relationships. Have a regular date night with your spouse. Or plan a family game night once a week. Eat dinner together as a family as often as possible.
  • Cultivate and strengthen friendships through regular get-togethers. Plan a moms’ night or a dinner party rotation with some friends.
  • Make plans for regular check-ins with friends who live far away. Text, video chats, or phone calls are great ways to do this. Or try an app like Marco Polo to send each other video messages.
  • Meet your neighbors. If there are any you enjoy spending time with, make it a regular thing.
  • Volunteer at a local nonprofit. This helps you feel more vested in your community and meet new people.
  • Search for a group (or start one) related to a hobby you enjoy. Do you love to sew, paint, or knit? Are you an avid reader? Want to hike more? Find meet-up groups in your area and meet new friends.

6. Breathe

Stress is another huge problem in our world. Like sleep and community, it can have a bigger impact on health than food or exercise. Yet most of us aren’t managing it well.

Managing stress is a daily practice and looks different for everyone. This includes reducing bad stress and finding (and increasing) sources of good stress. These small good stressors are hormetic, meaning low-level stresses that have a beneficial effect on the body in the long term. Think of it as the biological equivalent of “that which does not kill me makes me stronger.”

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a helpful metric for learning about your body’s response to stress. It’s essentially the measure of the variability between your heartbeats. It’s considered a good predictor of health and longevity and is connected to the autonomic nervous system. 

A higher HRV is typically correlated with a lower risk of death and a longer life expectancy. I track HRV using my Oura Ring. I’ve found that regular breathing exercises, meditation, sauna/cold plunge use, and movement all improve my heart rate variability and decrease my stress.

Stress Minimum Effective Dose

  • Find the practice that calms and centers you. It might be meditation, prayer, time outside, or something else, but find it and be consistent.
  • Consider other stress reducers like sauna, cold plunge, or high-intensity exercise.
  • If working with a doctor or practitioner, consider supplements that help the body deal with stress. These may include adaptogens like Ashwagandha, healthy fats like Omega-3s, antioxidants like green tea, or herbs like lemon balm.
  • Journal. I personally like The Daily Stoic and the corresponding journal.
  • Spend time with those you love. As mentioned above, human connection and strong relationships are the antidote for many sources of stress.
  • Track your HRV and see what makes a difference for you. If you can’t track your HRV, just focus on doing more of the things that make you feel better.
  • Try tapping to reduce stress (learn more about it in this post or in this podcast episode).

7. Intention

You can’t get somewhere unless you know where you’re going. Many of us have vague health goals, like “lose weight” or “get healthier,” but we haven’t clearly defined them or made a roadmap for getting there.

Wellness is a long-term journey, not a short-term goal. Having a clear and defined focus can help the process. These also help us move past more vanity-based metrics like the number on a scale and toward overall health and balance. This post gives you a plan to determine your intentions and help with motivation.

I find I’m most motivated and consistent when I’m moving toward a specific goal. For instance, lifting a certain amount of weight, improving a blood marker or HRV measurement, or improving my sleep. I track most of this using apps (like Oura, My Fitness Pal, or other health apps) and am able to see patterns.

Intention Minimum Effective Dose

  • Make a list of all the things you want to accomplish and pick one to focus on at a time.
  • Break your goal down into small tasks. This will help you figure out how to reach it. An even better step is to put those tasks on your calendar.
  • Find your favorite app or tracking device to watch your progress. You can also keep a health journal.
  • Try habit stacking.

It’s no secret we deal with many stressors daily, including less-than-optimal food, a sedentary lifestyle, high levels of stress, and a lack of true human connection. The last thing we need is to add more stress by feeling like we aren’t doing enough or we’re getting these things wrong.

Stress and guilt over these things can be as problematic as the actual problems we’re trying to fix, so finding a good mindset and balance is important.

What are your health goals? Have you found any MEDs related to health or fitness? Share below!

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