“Look to your health; and if you have it, praise God, and value it next to a good conscience; for health is the second blessing that we mortals are capable of; a blessing that money cannot buy.” – Izaak Walton (The Compleat Angler, 1653)

Staying healthy should be a priority in your life, even if it isn’t your uppermost concern. To accomplish your other goals, you need a working body and an energetic mind. You have to be able to get up early — the earlier the better — and work with vigor and intelligence throughout the day. You have to be able to enjoy yourself and have fun, spread some cheer in dreary places, build a life, and cultivate a business. You need a very well-running machine of a body to do all that.

If you have any doubts about the importance of health, you’ll change your mind the first time you get seriously ill.

Since it first occurred to me that health is a sine qua non in life, I’ve made it one of my four top priorities. Last January, I urged you to do the same. I asked you to come up with a list of specific objectives that would allow you to meet a New Year’s resolution to get healthy.

My big health goal was to “become younger” last year. I intended to do that by achieving “younger” capabilities in each physical attribute that I associate with health:

* strength

* flexibility

* stamina

* appearance

I set specific objectives in each of these areas. I committed, for example, to lift weights five times a week, to do something cardiovascular at least three times a week, to stretch every day, and so on.

And I did pretty well. Notwithstanding numerous interruptions, emergencies, and my never-ending travel schedule, I worked most days on these objectives. The end-of-the-year result is that I do believe I am stronger and more flexible than before and that my endurance is a tad better too. Appearance? Happily, I’ve been programmed to get better looking every year.

<How Did You Do in 2001?>

How did you do last year? Are you thinner? Stronger? More flexible? Can you admire yourself endlessly in front of the mirror?

In thinking about (and reading about and talking about) health last year, I gradually came to several Big New Revelations:

* You don’t need nearly as much strength as most health magazines would have you believe. You need only enough to do what you do efficiently. Most people can achieve all their strength goals with an hour of training per week.

* Flexibility becomes more important as you age. It makes it easier for you to do “young” things and less likely for you to be injured. Anyone over 30 should make stretching an important part of his or her health regimen.

* You don’t need to run a six-minute mile to be healthy. As with weight training, there is little to no scientific evidence supporting the idea that you have to be trained like an athlete. To build stamina, walking is as good as running.

* There’s more to health than strength, flexibility, stamina, and appearance. Mental and emotional energy are critical. And the most important thing is immunity — freedom from illness.

This year, my goals are going to incorporate this new thinking. I’m going to run and weight train less often and less hard, continue with a good diet for energy (stressing smaller low-starch meals heavy in fish and fresh vegetables), take plenty of good nutritional supplements, and get regular medical checkups. I’m also going to take care of myself when at risk: ice sore muscles, rest when tired, stay home when sick, and see a doctor when I need to..

You can do the same. And you can do it without spending a crazy amount of time. My best guess is that you can achieve better health by devoting about four hours a week to it. Here’s how to get healthy efficiently:

* Reduce your weight training to an hour a week. You can train only once a week (covering the full body) or every day (one body part per day). For maximum efficiency, I recommend doing only ONE SET per muscle group (back, chest, thighs, calves, biceps, triceps, shoulders). The trick to making one set work is to work until exhaustion … and then do a few more reps. It’s hard to do, but it really reduces your commitment of time.

* Stretch twice a day for five minutes each time. Stretch gently, but make sure you make progress as the days go by. I’m not exactly sure how you can measure your progress — I’ve had some trouble figuring this out myself — but if you keep at it, you’ll notice changes.

* If you are running like crazy, slow down. If you aren’t running at all, start. (When I say “running,” I’m speaking of doing any sort of cardiovascular workout.) The big new ETR idea about running is that you should train yourself only to the point of being able to accomplish your normal life’s needs — such as climbing a flight of stairs without getting winded. You don’t have to get yourself ready for competition. (If you haven’t been drafted by now, you won’t be.)

* Do a little sprinting. Unlike running, this is to get those fast-twitch muscles, nerves, and fibers working again. Five minutes twice a week is plenty.

* If you are over 40 and haven’t been to the doctor in a while, get a good checkup. Get your blood work done. Have your doctor check your insulin levels, your hormone levels, your cholesterol levels, and so on.

* Eat well. *

Spend at least a half-hour a day (on the average) playing. For me, play is Jiu Jitsu. For you, it may be taking a walk, meditating, or maybe golf or tennis.

<Today’s Tasks>

Make a very serious commitment to getting healthier this year. Identify the key areas of health you want to focus on and set yearly goals. To achieve those goals, establish a weekly exercise routine — something that incorporates the big new ideas above, a sensible diet, and a commitment to treat your health as the fragile blessing it is.