Robert Urich said, “A healthy outside starts from the inside.” And Mark Halperin said, “Sufficient sleep, exercise, healthy food, friendship, and peace of mind are necessities, not luxuries.”
In today’s fast-paced world, many people take their health and well-being for granted. Some even deprive themselves of sufficient sleep due to a hectic lifestyle. It is important to remember that you are only as healthy as the weakest area of your life. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will help you feel better about yourself and have the energy needed to tackle life’s challenges.
My guest today is a good friend of mine, Shawn Stevenson. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri St. Louis, where he studied Business, Biology, and Nutritional Science. He’s also the founder of Advanced Integrative Health Alliance, a company that provides wellness services for individuals and organizations worldwide.
In this episode, we talked about how our mental health is affected when we aren’t taking care of our bodies, why more than 60% of people have chronic inflammation, how sleep affects your brain when you have enough or have too little, the link between inflammation in the body and neuroinflammation, and so much more!
Our conversation was so powerful and there were so many interesting topics we talked about that we had to break this up into two parts. So make sure to check out part two coming out right after this one.
Shawn Stevenson is the creator and host of The Model Health Show, which was featured as the #1 Fitness & Nutrition podcast in the United States, with millions of downloads each year. For the past few years, every week he’s been releasing a new “masterclass” episode on a broad range of health-related topics. He’s also an author of the international bestselling book, Sleep Smarter, which has been so powerful for me and so with many people around the world. His other book, Eat Smarter, talks about the connection between food and overall mental, cognitive, and physical health.
At the age of 20, Shawn was diagnosed with life-threatening degenerative disc disease, a condition considered by some medical experts as incurable. His spine was deteriorating rapidly, and his physician told him that he had the spine of an 80-year old man. Shawn had a hard time walking, and he was suffering from chronic pain, leading to hopelessness and depression.
He was fitted with a back brace, and his doctors advised him to get plenty of bed rest. However, none of them advised a lifestyle change — they considered his condition incurable. As a result, he gained over 40 pounds after two years, and things changed for the worse for him.
But a life-changing moment happened to Shawn one night while he was about to take his over-the-counter medications to help him sleep through the pain. A burst of happy memory flashbacks led him to decide to stop placing the responsibility of his health on his doctors, who didn’t believe that he could get any better anyway. Instead, he took charge of his health, put a plan together, and started making a lifestyle change that made a positive difference.
In the months after this decision, he was transformed. He lost about 20 pounds, and a scan on his spine showed significant improvements, while his herniated discs had retracted on their own. Since then, Shawn has become an advocate for others with health problems. His mission is to serve as many people as he can. So, after he graduated from college, he pursued a private practice as a coach and nutritionist, which eventually led him to various speaking engagements and teaching classes.
He also wrote books and launched podcasts about health to widen his impact on others. He inspires people through his life story, telling the world that the difference between hoping for something and actually deciding to achieve comes down to belief. He wants to tell as many people as he can that there’s hope. Even if doctors tell you that your health condition is incurable, and in the midst of chronic inflammation, a lifestyle change complemented with belief could lead to self-healing.
We are all born with a natural tendency to heal ourselves. When we have an injury or illness, our bodies produce inflammation in the affected area as a way of protecting us and fighting off infection. But when this process is overactive and prolonged, it can lead to chronic inflammation.
A study showed that nearly 60% of Americans had at least one chronic condition, and 42% had more than one. Likewise, 12% of adults had five or more chronic conditions. I’m curious about why more than 60% of people have chronic inflammation and what the root cause of this is.
“Inflammation is an underlying component of a myriad of different diseases. … If you look at the root word coming from Greek and Latin, [it] means, ‘to set on fire.’ And so, … it’s just like pain, swelling, bruising, burning, aching, those types of things. But … the majority of the inflammation that folks are experiencing, oftentimes, goes unnoticed.” – Shawn Stevenson
There are two major types of inflammation — acute and chronic. Acute inflammation occurs when there is an infection or a cut, and it typically lasts for about 3-5 days. Chronic inflammation can be caused by autoimmune disorders, prolonged exposure to toxins in the environment, or other causes, and can last for years.
“Inflammation is sending out a distress signal to different tissues to recruit and call in the immune system for support in defending against infections and repair. … Inflammation is actually not a bad thing. … We would never heal without inflammation. If we have an infection that would be deadly without inflammation. It’s an important part of our evolution in our health.” – Shawn Stevenson
Inflammation is a response mechanism in our body, and it shows up when there’s a trigger. So, every time you experience inflammation, there is an underlying condition in the body that causes the flare-up.
“We’ve got to look at what are the underlying components? What is creating the fire? What is throwing gasoline on the fire, as well? And so if we take one of the conditions, … right now, here in the United States, … about 242 million of our citizens are overweight or obese.” – Shawn Stevenson
The accessibility to unhealthy foods coupled with a sedentary lifestyle as a result of digital advancements like the internet, movie subscriptions, and mobile games have led many people in the United States into obesity. But what’s the correlation between obesity and inflammation?
There are studies linking obesity and inadequate sleep to inflammation. Although, not necessarily directly correlated.
“Our genes and … our DNA expects certain things to have healthy outcomes or healthy cell replication and healthy expression, and so we’ve got to look at what are the things our genes expect of us. Our genes expect us to move. For example, we’re the most sedentary culture in the history of humanity.” – Shawn Stevenson
If you’re having problems with obesity, then it’s more likely that there’s no balance in your diet and there is too much sugar in your daily consumption. Sugar causes inflammation in the body, which can lead to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and other health issues. So, obesity can be a probable underlying condition leading to inflammation.
“Also, our genes expect us to get adequate sleep. And … the thing is, so many wonderful, absolutely amazing things take place during sleep, … — even the reduction of inflammation. … We have microglial cells in our brain, which are kind of the brain’s immune system, and it’s primarily active when we’re sleeping to reduce inflammation, to clean out metabolic wastes, and things of the like.” – Shawn Stevenson
Sleep deprivation is a major problem in the United States, with one-third of American adults not getting enough sleep regularly. One study showed that adults with less than 7 hours of sleep were more likely to report ten chronic health conditions compared to those who got enough sleep. It’s important to have sufficient sleep regularly!
Studies show that we spend about one-third of our life either sleeping or trying to sleep, and yet most of us don’t appreciate just how important sleep is to our health. In order for us to realize the importance of adequate sleep, I asked Shawn for his insights on the five main benefits of having sufficient sleep consistently.
Would you believe that by just getting enough sleep, you can lose body fat and eventually experience weight loss? It may seem impossible, but there have been multiple studies that show having adequate sleep can actually make you lose some excess fat in your body.
“Researchers at the University of Chicago did a very simple study. They brought folks … and put them on a calorie-restricted diet. They wanted to see what would happen with weight loss when they were well-rested versus when they’re sleep-deprived. … And so, they allowed folks to get eight and a half hours of sleep in one phase of the study. And … [the same group were] getting five and a half hours and tracked all their metrics. … When they were getting enough sleep, they lost 55% more body fat just by sleeping more.” – Shawn Stevenson
Wow! This may sound crazy, but the results of the study proved these facts. In another part of the study, they conducted biopsies on the fat cells under various conditions, and they found out that even the fat cells need sleep, too.
“When the fat cells were not adequately rested, they actually became more insulin-resistant, which … [is] a red flag because insulin-resistance is one of the classic signs of carrying more belly fat.” – Shawn Stevenson
So, if you want to get rid of the excess fat in your body, get plenty of sleep regularly, and you’ll start losing some weight. Plus, there are other health benefits.
When we lack enough sleep, our performance is greatly affected. There are also studies to prove this.
“They took physicians and had them complete a task and tracked all their numbers. And they were sleep-deprived for 24 hours, which is not abnormal in the field of medicine, and [had] them complete the same task. … [The results showed] they made 20% more mistakes doing the exact same thing, and it took them 14% longer …” – Shawn Stevenson
Have you ever stayed up all night to study? This further proves that cramming before an exam is never a good idea. The brain needs time to process information and retain new knowledge, which can happen during your sleep at night or in between classes. Cramming causes stress and anxiety and hinders your ability to recall the information you just learned.
If you have some important decisions to make, you have to ensure you’ll get plenty of sleep the night before the big day when you have to make a choice. Inadequate sleep will cause the brain to simply shut down, causing you to make unwise decisions.
“Number three … is the health of our brain. And so researchers at UC Berkeley did brain imaging scans. … They actually looked at the sleep-deprived brain in 24 hours of sleep deprivation. The part of the brain that’s associated with executive function, decision-making, distinguishing between right and wrong, and social control is the prefrontal cortex, … that part of the brain went cold. The activity of that part of the brain, just literally, became more and more tired and just shut down … with the lack of sleep.” – Shawn Stevenson
Have you experienced a mental breakdown before? Perhaps, if you look back, you will realize that you had inadequate sleep at that time, causing the brain to shut down.
It’s a fact — more sleep leads to a healthier brain. Every time we sleep, our brain’s cleansing system works to get rid of the metabolic waste in our central nervous system.
“Number four is [cleansing.] … During sleep, your glymphatic system, which is the brain’s waste management system, is 10 times more active … than when you’re awake. So, your brain is doing literally trillions of activities every second. And there’s a lot of metabolic wastes that take place, and you need this cleansing system, or you’re going to have a buildup of things like amyloid-beta plaque, for example, which is strongly correlated with Alzheimer’s disease.” – Shawn Stevenson
If someone in your family suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, you are high-risk for this illness. One way to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease is to get adequate sleep regularly.
Are you active in sports? Would you believe that by just getting plenty of sleep, your game performance will improve, even without spending more practice time?
“And number five, … research was done on basketball players, … and they found out that simply by increasing the amount of sleep that they were getting, not training more, not doing anything else differently, … they significantly improved their free throw shootings and three-point shootings just by getting more sleep. … So [for] some of the greatest athletes in the world right now, sleep is a part of their training. LeBron James, it’s a part of his training. … Usain Bolt, the same thing, sleep is a part of his training.” – Shawn Stevenson
With this study, it was proven that sleep is an important part of the training routine, and you should include it in your training schedule, as well. After all, top-performing athletes in the world, the likes of LeBron James and Usain Bolt, have already integrated adequate sleep into their training routines. So should you.
Guys, this is a very fascinating episode with Shawn Stevenson, and I’m sure you’ll find value in our conversation. Listen to the full episode for more wisdom from him. Check out his website for more updates, and follow him on social media. He’s on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can also subscribe to his YouTube channel for access to his life-transforming videos.
This is the first episode of the two-part series. So, check out part two of our conversation where we discussed how fear affects your brain and body, the simple ways you can start strengthening your immune system, the biggest factors leading to chronic diseases, the 3 most important fats for brain health, and so much more.
If you enjoyed our discussion, make sure to tag Shawn, @shawnmodel, and me, @lewis howes, on Instagram with a screenshot of this episode and your greatest takeaways. And if this is your first time here, click the subscribe button right now over on Apple podcasts or Spotify, and stay up-to-date on the latest updates from The School of Greatness podcast.
I want to leave you all with this quote from Edward Stanley who said, “Those who think they have no time for healthy eating will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”
Make sure to observe a healthy diet, and don’t forget that you are loved, you are worthy, and you matter! I’m so grateful for you — now do you know what time it is? It’s time to go out there and do something great.