12 Steps to a Better Life…

Why 8.5% is a Great, Gutsy, and Gaudy Goal.

Most people think a BIG goal is to improve XYZ in their life by 20% or even 50%. Today, you will read how your 8.5% goal can change everything else in your life for the better this year.

Getting Started

In short, the 8.5% times 12 months will multiply into something better than you ever imagined (+100%).

We are going to focus this year on just one thing.

Here it is: health.

I have enjoyed pretty good health for the last 10-20 years. In fact, I have been “sick” only twice (two colds for less than 3 days each) and had two relatively minor injuries. Only one of these “mishaps” caused me to miss a day of work (I hate it when that happens).

When I look back on my life, both of the two injuries could have been avoided. Think about that for a second; potentially, I could have had 100% work attendance with just a bit better daily health practices. I’d surely like to keep the good health moving forward, and maybe you would, too.

Now you might say that I do not have a classroom of first graders to catch colds from every day. You would be right about that; I don’t.

And, I might say, you likely don’t get on and off 80-90 flights a year, that are packed with total strangers who cough, sneeze, and put hands all over the seats inside a plane. I’d say you likely don’t rent cars 35-50 times a year that are full of germs, or that you don’t sleep in germ-ridden hotel rooms 75-95 times a year that are never cleaned well. So, how can I keep from getting sick?

Thought you would never ask.

You actually know the answer: it’s a robust immune system. Whether you get sick (or not) is often about which force is “winning” in your body: your immune system or the intruding pathogens (germs, virus, infections, toxins, or microbes, etc.).

Here is what you and I will do differently in 2016 to become miraculously healthy.

We will, together, make one single change, not each day or each week, but one change a MONTH for the entire year. We gain 8.5% of the benefit each month, and we get 100% or more by December 31, 2016. Can you make just one change a month?

I am going to do that. That is my 8.5% “Get better” promise to myself.

I am going to pick from the list of 12 changes to make. I will pick the one that I think is easiest to make.


Getting this started immediately, with a success, will build momentum for the next month. And by the time I get to the hardest one for me, my health will be so robust, I will KNOW that I can do the 12th month.

First, here is a bit of background. I will tell you in advance, that the changes are all about: 1) reducing your body’s inflammation, 2) balancing the blood pH to a more alkaline one, 3) regulating the blood glucose levels and 4) maximizing the core nutrients that fuel youth, energy, and reduce belly fat, and finally, 5) nutrients for health for longevity, fewer wrinkles, and better health.

If you do not regulate those core systems, you are unlikely to stay healthy. That said, here is the list of 12 changes to make to ensure an amazing immune system this year and the resulting great health.

List of the 2016 Big 12 Options

Note: Be sure to first read the end of the 12-month program before beginning.

First, scroll down this list quickly and select the one that you predict will be the easiest for you to do. THAT is the one to start with, not necessarily the first one.

Physical activity produces numerous changes in the brain and the body in many ways that promote stress robustness. Regular exercise promotes stress response efficiency and promotes the proliferation of new brain cells. However, recent research suggests, unless you are training for a marathon or pro sports, you can get your daily workout in 12 minutes.

Here are two ways to get better. Your goal is to develop a 12-minute workout routine by the end of the month. Avoid starting off with a high-intensity workout. Instead, start easy.

Do this: If you are relatively new to exercise, start with 2 minutes a day for the first week. Run in place, jog, do a treadmill. After 2 minutes, catch your breath for 30 seconds. Keep your workouts focused on shorter periods, but keep adding 2 more minutes weekly. The next week, go for 4 minutes, then rest for 1 minute. As you go from 4 minutes to 8 minutes, you have incrementally increased the challenge to your body. By the last week, you’ll get to 12 minutes a day (then rest for 3 minutes) and you will get healthier. Can you do this? You bet you can!

Do this: Alternatively, enjoy a VERY brisk walk, at least 10-12 minutes 5-6 days a week. If you dislike walking, then swim, bike or run. Add walk time to your day, not smartphone time. If you have to park further from your favorite store, workplace, or restaurant, do it. Many spend an extra 2-5 minutes looking for a closer space. Stop doing that. If you are disabled, get a blue parking permit. If you can walk, walk more, not less. Walk up 1- 4 floors instead of taking the elevator.

REMEMBER: Now that you have this habit built, keep it up while you take on the next monthly challenge. Moving your body is easily a top-five path to looking and feeling younger.

We hear so much about fat and some of it is confusing. Let me make it VERY simple with just three things for you to know about fat.

First, the right fats are VERY good for your body. When you eat too few of the good fats, your body screams that it is hungry. Some people are eating all day long because they never eat the fats that satisfy your body.

Second, pay attention to the type of fat you are eating.

Bad fats are polyunsaturated (pro-inflammatory) as are synthetic fats (Trans fatty acids) which are also pro-inflammatory and made in a science lab.

Monounsaturated Fats are anti-inflammatory (found in olives, olive oil, sunflower and sesame oils, nuts and nut oils, as well as seeds or in a plant fat from avocadoes or coconut oil,).

Saturated fats are good too, IF and only if they are raised healthy. If you grew up on a farm and raised your own animals, chances are you ate well.

EXCEPT: Please stop using any and all corn, sunflower, soybean, canola, peanut, safflower, and cottonseed oils. Today, these have a poor shelf life, most are genetically modified, and toxins are used in their production to extract the oil out of the plant. Those are all bad for you.

Avoid, if possible: Pork, beef and chicken UNLESS it is farm raised and range fed without growth hormones or other steroids. If you have fish, get it from a stream or ocean (avoid farm raised fish).

Please start using good plant fats (palm oil, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, MCT oil) and eat the two great plant fat sources. They are avocadoes and fatty nuts such as macadamia, walnut, and Brazil.

The reason you want to get more good fats in your system is simple: you will always eat too much unless your brain says, “I’ve had enough.” I have, when they are in season, at least half of an avocado a day.

Your brain processes fatty foods (good or bad) and says, “I am full.” The problem is that most people eat the bad fats. You can be different. Eat the good fats.

REMEMBER: Now that you have this habit built, keep it up while you take on the next monthly challenge. Eating more of the good fats will keep your system healthy and you’ll be less hungry between meals.

Your daily stress is a function of only two things. Seriously? YES!

First, when an event occurs, your brain wants to know whether it should invest resources (or not) to deal with it. So, your brain quickly tries to assess whether the unpleasant event, person, or situation is relevant to you and your goals at the moment.

If it is relevant, the event DOES have your brain’s attention. If not, your brain says that it is not worth your time. Zero relevancy equals zero stress. But people respond differently to relevant items you might say.

You are right.

If something is bad and relevant, now your brain says, “Do I have any capacity or agency to take action to mitigate this stressor that is now happening in my life?”

If the answer is “Yes,” then you feel excited and challenged. If you feel like there is little you can do, you may feel stressed, hopeless, and maybe a bit overwhelmed.

Let’s say you are driving to visit family over the holidays. You hear on the radio that there is bad flooding up ahead. So, you ask yourself, “Can I take evasive action and find other routes?” If yes, you start feeling less stressed. Why? Because now you are taking control and taking action steps.

But what if there is no alternative route? What if the proposed route will get you to your destination TOO LATE for the holidays? That is stressful. Holidays seem likely to be ruined and the trip feels like a disaster. Remember the formula: stress + relevance + in control = excited stress. But stress + relevance + low/no control = toxic stress.

Do one of the following: At school, every time you feel stressed, take action, even if that means setting an appointment with a child for after class. Do something to show your brain that you can cope: do yoga, change routines, meditate, ask a colleague, or feel more grateful. Use mindfulness and do a 3-step breathing routine: inhale to the count of 1, hold it, and then exhale. Then inhale to the count of 2, hold it and exhale to the count of 2, then relax. Then inhale to the count of 3, hold it to the count of 3, then let it out to the count of 3, and relax.

REMEMBER: Now that you have this habit built, keep it up while you take on the next monthly challenge. Allowing yourself to cope better will bring you years of better health.

Check out this list and start with getting one thing from this list to use for a month. All of these support the growth of telomeres, which are DNA indicators of robust health or aging. They also support vitality, energy, and mental health.

Buy and take one of the following: Drink the extract of green tea, EGCG (or drink the tea). Use N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) at 2 grams/day. Try vitamin E, alpha tocopherol. Take carnosine as a supplement if you can not get enough by grass-fed red meat; I recommend taking 500 milligrams (mg) twice a day instead of all at once.

Buy and take each of the following: Take one CoQ10 daily (60-100 mg.) If you are over 50, take lithium orotate (120 mg), vitamin C (1 gram) and Bioastin (astaxathin, 12 mg), Krill Oil 1 gram), and a multivitamin twice weekly. Add L-Arginine 500 – 1000 mg/day.

Aspirin is good in the right quantity. Take one tablet (325 mg) once a week. Aspirin is known to reduce inflammation and the benefits of it last about seven to 10 days.

REMEMBER: You may think this “supplement” habit is either expensive or not worth it. Many would agree with you. Only do what you can afford. Stick with one item for 3 months to get a sense of the efficacy. Keep it up while you take on the next monthly challenge. There is little chance that you can eat enough of the right foods every day for every health challenges you will face in your life.

Sugar consumption is toxic and highly inflammatory for your body (that is not good)! Sugar intake has been linked to increased risks of obesity, sickness, inflammation, and chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Please stop eating sugar. Sugar disrupts hormone function, makes you tired and induces more hunger so that you eat more and gain weight. With new sugars in your system, the pancreas produces insulin that causes the blood sugar levels to drop fast.

How? It moves the glucose into fat cells and they are stored as saturated fat! That sugar level drop creates the “sugar crash” that often invites “brain fog,” sluggishness, and more hunger.

A note about sugar. Your body does not care about the label on the product. All sugar is inflammatory for your body. Some types, quantities, and frequencies will be more tolerable and others will be toxic triggers for your body.

Here are the bad sugars to look for when you READ THE LABELS!

Agave Nectar, Barley Malt Syrup, Beet Sugar, Brown Rice Syrup, Brown Sugar, Cane Crystals (or, even better, “Cane Juice Crystals”), Cane Sugar, Coconut Sugar, Coconut Palm Sugar, Corn Sweetener, Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup Solids, Dehydrated Cane Juice, Dextrin, Dextrose, Evaporated Cane Juice, Fructose, Fruit Juice Concentrate, Glucose, High-fructose Corn Syrup, Honey, Invert Sugar, Lactose, Maltodextrin, Malt Syrup, Maltose, Maple Syrup, Molasses, Palm Sugar, Raw sugar, Rice Syrup, Saccharose, Sorghum, Sorghum Syrup, Sucrose, Syrup, Treacle, Turbinado Sugar, and Xylose.

Take following action: You have two choices: remove one sweet product every three days from your life until you have none left in your life. I like this choice more than going “cold turkey.” Why?

Sugar is addictive and it’s hard to stop all sugar instantly.

Second, you likely have WAY too many items in your house with sugar, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, and sucralose. Since you may be hesitant to throw out all those products, just use them up this month. When I stopped eating sugar, I noticed that over time, I did not miss it anymore and I became hypersensitive to the taste of sugar–it was TOOO SWEET for me!

Full disclosure for me: I occasionally do eat 60-70% dark chocolate. We all have our flaws and secrets. That is mine.

REMEMBER: Now that you have started to go more sugar free, you’ll notice that your highly sugared items will taste terrible. Sugar, in moderate to high quantities, is highly inflammatory for your health. This is easily a top-five path to looking and feeling younger. Now that you have this habit built, keep it up while you take on the next monthly challenge.

Milk is also a common allergen that can trigger inflammatory responses, such as stomach distress, constipation, diarrhea, skin rashes, acne, hives, and breathing difficulties in susceptible people. Almost 60% of the world’s population cannot digest milk. Many researchers think that being able to digest milk beyond infancy is abnormal. NO other animal on the planet will drink milk from its mother after it reaches puberty.

Take following action: Your solutions are to choose real butter, ghee, grass-fed raw milk, and some quality yogurts, which contain probiotics (“live and active cultures”). Consider buying FAGE, Chobani and Stonyfield. Avoid the more popular commercial yogurts like Yoplait, Dannon, and Mountain High. They do not give you the effects you want and are not “probiotic.”

REMEMBER: This habit is very personal. Some do just fine with dairy and some do not. You may find that stopping dairy made you feel much better. Give this a one-month trial. If it works, keep it up while you take on the next monthly challenge. Now that you have this habit built, keep it up while you take on the next monthly challenge.

First, your main foods will have to change this month. You may have put this month’s change off until last. But that’s okay; you can do these changes.

What types of food can you eat?

Do this: The only meats to eat are hormone free, grass-fed beef, open ocean fish (not fish-farmed) and free-range chicken or pork. Stay away from the rest. This is not easy to do, but it is doable.

Do this: Ensure that you eat half to ¾ pound of the “good” veggies (dark and colorful) every day. Add spinach, cabbage, kale, broccoli and collard greens to your store trips and daily meal schedule. Clean them, cut them and add to your other foods. Iceberg lettuce must go (sorry).

Stir-fry veggies in coconut oil. They are delicious with scrambled eggs, tofu, plus add red, green, or yellow bell peppers, onions, and sliced avocado on top. If you do not like the taste of veggies, either start with a small amount (1 ounce and add more each day) or spice them a bit with salt and garlic.

Do this: Drinking one or two glasses of red wine daily (and no more) is one way to get the longevity benefits. To get the maximum amount of antioxidants choose Burgundy and get the best quality you can afford.

As more and more research comes out on certain fruits, we are finding that some are better and better for you – fighting cancers, lowering blood pressure, getting rid of joint pain: all these things that seem to become more worrisome as you get older.

Unfortunately, fruits have fructose, which is inflammatory. So, the secret with fruits is: 1) selection and 2) moderation. Lean in and read closely. Here are the fruits that have benefits that far outweigh any negatives from the fructose, pesticides, or starches.

Take following action: Eat blackberries, raspberries, lemons, strawberries, limes, cranberries, and avocadoes (yes, they are a fruit). By the way, apples are rated the single most contaminated fruit in the world. It’s not worth the toxins. Bananas are too high in carbs and sugars and the potassium you get is better found elsewhere.

DISCLAIMER: I eat guavas and mangoes because I grow them and eat them in moderation. Plus they are high in antioxidants.

Do this: If you take any antibiotics take it with a good quality yogurt or a “probiotic” supplement to support your digestive and immune system after the attack of the antibiotic.

WHEN YOU EAT IS AS IMPORTANT and how much and what type of food you eat.

Biologist Dr. Satchin Panda, and his colleagues at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California discovered something shocking about eating. Putting more hours between dinner and breakfast may stave off obesity.

His team studied two groups with a high-fat menu. One group was allowed to eat freely at all times and became obese and unhealthy. But another group, which ate the same number of daily calories as the first group eating within a strict eight-hour window, fared better.

Both groups were eating the same number of calories, but ONE GROUP ate only for eight hours (8am to 4pm) and did not become as obese as the first group. Less than 12 percent of their body weight was fat, as opposed to 40 percent for the “snacking group.”

This was confirmed in another study at the NIH, where Dr. van Praag found that rats given intermittent energy restriction (alternate day fasting) showed a 30% increase in lifespan. In human studies, fasting for 12-16 hours appears to be optimal. That means no snacking after a 7pm dinner. Then eat nothing until lunch the next day. The fasting for 16 hours may have very positive effects on brain function. In the morning, you can have coffee, with a bit of MCT oil in it (medium chain triglycerides), which helps you feel full.

The science on this gets pretty heavy, so read this in chunks. With fasting, your body uses the glucose that has been stored as glycogen in the liver. When the glycogen in the liver is depleted (typically within 12-16 hours of the last meal), fatty acids are mobilized from fat cells. These fat cell are then metabolized by liver cells to produce ketones, which are released into the blood and used as an energy source by cells throughout the body and brain.

In short, the intermittent fasting is needed to tell the body “START BURNING FAT!” If you snack all day and eat 3-6 meals a day, your body thinks it never needs to burn any fat. Why? You keep feeding it. Make your fat cells get burned up by a brain that is throwing every available “log on the fire” to feed your body’s locomotion and brain functions.

So, eat your snacks between lunch and dinner, not dinner and breakfast. Best snacks are celery with almond butter on it and half cup of mixed nuts. Both give your fiber, nutrients and fats.

REMEMBER: You may think this month’s habit is a bit over the top. It is. It’s actually multiple habits. Relax. Just start something and do it all month. Then enjoy the benefits.

Do what you can afford. Stick with one item from above to get a sense of the efficacy. Keep it up while you take on the next monthly challenge. You can do this.

Good sleep (6-8 hours/night) has been shown in peer-reviewed studies in scientific journals to be associated with the following as compared with poor sleep (2-6 hours/night): better overall health, less obesity, better memory, greater longevity, more optimistic mood, reduced inflammation, increased creativity, and sharper attention span. Here’s how to get a better sleep.

Take following action: Wind down slowly. After dinner, do a yoga session (use a DVD or streaming show). Watch only one or two TV shows (if any at all). Do not check Facebook, Twitter, or email after 8pm. After dinner write out your goals or a to-do list for the next day to get them off your mind.

Make your phone calls between 8 and 9pm to a loved one, student, or colleague. Make sure you have the lightweight blackout goggles to wear over your eyes. Get yourself a great pillow to support your head and neck. Ensure your bedroom has a sleep temperature between 60-66 degrees. If you do yoga in the evening, you will be more relaxed and ready for sleep. I usually workout around 5pm, so I am pretty tired by 10pm.

REMEMBER: Your body literally heals and restores itself every night (or it doesn’t) based on your sleep habits. Sleeping well is a set of tasks, mindsets, and skills that enable you to get your life back. If you keep up with the same bad habits each night, you’ll compromise your sleep. Start getting savvy about how you sleep and your life will change. Now that you have this habit started, keep it up for a month while you continue to build on each monthly challenge.

Your favorite drink is now water. Your allotment is one alcoholic drink a day; either beer or wine.

PLEASE STOP: Drink no more Gatorade or PowerAde. You will stop this month 100% all fruit drinks (orange, apple, etc.), sugared ice teas (“sweet tea”), and any soft drinks. Here’s the reason.

A large sample survey showed that carbonated sugary beverage consumption is a clear marker for excess sugar consumption and is associated with weight gain. The average gain is about 7-10 pounds a year. Imagine doing this for five years. You’ve just put on 35 pounds! Stop the soft drinks, period.

PLEASE START: Here are your three healthy alternatives. First, drinking pure water is number one. Your other alternative is herbal tea with no sugar or coconut water (not juice, only pure coconut water with no additives).

REMEMBER: You may think the habit this month is overdone. Easy for me to say, “Just drink water.” The problem is people get bored. So you now have alternatives to water (herbal tea or coconut water). Now that you have this habit built, keep it up while you take on the next monthly challenge.

This i s about all I can think of at the moment. Stop the poisons and start feeding your body and mind what it needs. Trust me; soon you will be swearing off the toxic drinks you used to have daily.

Vitamin D is also produced endogenously when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis. Your body makes the vitamin D from sun exposure, and vitamin D is critical in a whole bunch of processes such as fighting cancer, regulating your mood, allowing you to sleep easily at night, and helping with absorption of calcium. Did you catch that? “No vitamin D = poor calcium absorption = low bone density!” Astronauts all took calcium supplements, but still suffered bone density loss. They now have to exercise daily in space!

PLEASE START: You have got to get sun on your body. You need an average of 10-15 minutes a day. That means year-round, especially in the wintertime. Get some sun.

REMEMBER: You may say, “What if I can not get sun where I live?” Okay, I understand. You can take vitamin D3 supplements. But get sun twice a week, if you can. That is better than nothing (and free).

Grains may cause inflammation and contribute to autoimmune diseases. Some people have the specific gene, which makes gluten inflammatory, but not all of us. Gluten can reduce brain blood flow and disrupt thyroid function. While some are extremely sensitive to glutten (diagnosed with Celiac Disease) and others far less sensitive, all of us are on a continuum, from most to least affected. Toxins are most common in grains, beans, seeds, and corn and they are troubling for your health.

Gluten-containing grains are addictive. They break down in your stomach and intestines. Gluten contains gluteomorphins, also known as gliadorphins. These are peptides that are actually opioids (yes, as in “opium”). During digestion (or the attempt by the body to actually digest gluten protein), gluteomorphin is formed.

This makes your whole-wheat bread sandwich, croissant, bagel, or cookie a problem. Your body/brain becomes addicted to the glutens and you will keep wanting a bread-like food, over and over. You will never lose the weight as long as you are gluten-addicted.

One of the first things I did was to cut 80-90% of ALL breads out of my life. I missed them for a few days and now I don’t miss them. I can turn down (and have many times) a fresh cinnamon roll. I could never have done that before.

DISCLOSURE: Maybe once a year, in an airport, I have a Cinnabon. 🙂

Take following action: This month, cut all grains by 50-80%. Use up any breads you have and refuse to buy more. When you make sandwiches for your kids, just put the substitutions on your plate (like tomato, lettuce, pickle, meat, avocado) and eat them with a fork. You’ll start loving life with less breads.

REMEMBER: You may think this gluten or celiac issue is overblown. Trust me, for many the symptoms are ruining their lives. For many, getting off grains was the single most powerful and healthy thing they have done in their lives. Now, are you one of those who is “gluten sensitive” or even Celiac? You will only find out when you ditch the gluten for a month and check out how you feel.

12. BEGIN SLOW BODY WORKOUTS (yoga class OR video)
Earlier, I said to do fast body (aerobics) workouts (I do them 5-6 days a week). But it is good to also develop flexibility and mobility through stretching. Anyone over 30 should make stretching an important part of his or her health and lifestyle. You can achieve all your daily flexibility, destressing, and strength goals with a 25-minute home or studio session.

Take following action: Find a free yoga session on YouTube and get started. Here are some examples of good DVDs to borrow, purchase, or rent: “Yoga for stress relief” by Body Wisdom; “Yoga conditioning for Weight Loss” with Susan Deason by Giam; and “Strong Bones Yoga” by Christine Dormer.

REMEMBER: This month’s habit may fall into the box called “Not enough time.” STOP that thinking. It will ruin your health. If you lose your health, what do you have left? Hint: not much.

This month, find a free yoga session on YouTube and get started. That’s my mantra for these 12 monthly habits.

How to Get Started

Time to start up. All you are asking of yourself is this: “Can I do just one thing, for a month, for myself, for this year?” I hope you choose yourself and say “Yes!” In fact, you’d be nearly insane NOT to do this 8.5% option for twelve months this coming year.

Now, here’s the most important thing. Select the goal for the first month. Set up a daily trigger or reminder to nudge you to do your “monthly goal.” I might suggest that you do this.

CREATE A TRIGGER TO DO YOUR MONTHLY GOAL: Put a picture on the fridge of you when you were younger and skinny. Or give yourself electronic reminders in your smart phone. Or form a “Circle of Strength” and get your friends to join in.

Once you decide on a goal that you would like to achieve for your health, write it down and tell your friends. Maybe your secondary goal is to implement at least one thing from each of the 12-month parts. Choose a simple trigger action that will get you going toward your goal.

Plan when and where you will do your chosen action. Be consistent: choose a time and place that you encounter every day of the week. Every time you encounter that time and place, do the action. It will get easier with time, and within 3-4 weeks, you should find you are doing it automatically without even having to think about it. Then, Tweet daily that you did your monthly goal.

One last thing. Do not make up an excuse as to why you are unable to “do” a certain item or process on any given day. Guilt is a terribly unproductive emotion. Forgive yourself and recommit to the next day. Do not expect perfection of yourself; expect constant effort. Every day, do something. Every day, put one foot forward.

Tennis legend Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Do what you can. Use what you have.”

You can’t get any more profound (or useful) than that. So… you are about done reading. Go ahead and select the one-month process to start NOW!

Congratulations! You’re on the way to the best year of your life!

Eric Jensen
CEO, Jensen Learning
Brain-Based Education

1 reply
  1. Joanne Gislason
    Joanne Gislason says:

    It has been several years since I attended Teaching with Poverty in Mind. I was shocked at what was served for drinks/snacks. Participants were drinking soda pop early in the morning. Ice cream bars were served as the snack. I hope more consideration has been put into food choiceshave over the past few years. We all need to assist one another in making healthy choices. Thanks for your suggestions for a healthy 2016.

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