What’s the 3% solution?

Practice + Time, that’s the solution.

Wait, let me back up and clarify what I’m talking about.

I’m into reading health and wellness studies…

I’m a geek like that. It’s relevant to the industry I’m in but I also just have a fascination with health and human behavior.

There was a study in 2016 published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings that showed that only 3% of Americans (2.7%, actually) live a healthy lifestyle.

Holy shit.

I would have guessed it to be low, maybe in the 20% to 30% range, but 3%?????

How formidable were the criteria used to determine “healthy lifestyle” in this study?

The 4 Qualifications

There were 4 qualifications used to determine a “healthy lifestyle:”

  • Moderate or vigorous exercise for at least 150 minutes a week
  • A diet score in the top 40% of the Healthy Eating Index
  • A body fat percentage under 20% for men or 30% for women
  • Not smoking

Okay. Well.

150 minutes of exercise isn’t unreasonable. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular exercise per week PLUS 2 strength training workouts per week, so this is within reason.

But what the hell is the Healthy Eating Index? The Healthy Eating Index (HEI) is a measure of diet quality that assesses conformance to the USDA/HHS Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Basically, these are the U.S. Government’s nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public. Makes me a bit uneasy when a government that considers pizza sauce a vegetable in public school cafeterias is dictating nutrition doctrine.

They have this snappy infographic advertising the Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

healthy lifestyle

It sums up all of the (mostly financial) benefits that arise from healthy eating. Great advice.

(Of course, the other thing the U.S. Government could do is stop subsidizing the crops which keep unhealthy, processed foods cheap and redirect that money toward funding organic produce to lower the prices and make it more affordable! Never happen.)


The Healthy Eating Index is pretty sensible. You can test yourself here. Be honest. No one’s looking.

If you’re falling short on the first two guidelines, chances are you’re not going to hit the third guideline of staying below 20% body fat (males) or 30% body fat (females). This is a tough one for people. It’s a health issue; not a “how you look in a bathing suit issue.”

The higher your body fat percentage goes over 20% (males) or 30% (females, which seems high to me) the greater your risk of some very serious diseases.

The fourth qualification is to be a non-smoker. I find it incredible that we would still be talking about this.

I’m an arrogant jerk

Yes, I am. Because when I scanned those qualifications I snorted with disdain. Why?

Because I meet all of those qualifications easily and without even making a conscious effort. I’m super cool.

Except that when I took a moment to replay the movie of my life I realized something; for the overwhelming majority of my lifetime I DID NOT meet those guidelines.

In fact, it took me about 20 years to learn the habit of living healthy.

When you live on automatic now it’s easy to forget the roads you had to take to get there.

I was raised by pseudo-hippie, health-food junkies

And they’re awesome people to this day. But, yeah, I was raised on homegrown veggies, wheat germ and sports. No sugar in the house. Lots of Ry-Krisp crackers. If you don’t know what those are, consider yourself fortunate. No friends EVER wanted to eat over.

It was a great foundational upbringing in a healthy environment.

But I rebelled against it, full-force, in my teen years.

Started smoking and drinking at 15…..and kept going through the end of my 20’s.

I ate like crap; processed foods, restaurants, fast food. Lots of booze.

I started to get my act together when I turned 30, but I didn’t really dial in my exercise until my late 30’s and my nutrition at 40.

I’m 47 now.

It was an evolution. It happened slowly over time. I tinkered and stalled, trialed and error’d, started and stopped, improved incrementally and finally, after YEARS of practice, developed the habit of healthy living.

But it took time. Lots of time. And effort. Not a ton of effort, but a little effort over a long span of time.

I had to practice being healthy. I had to develop the skill, same as you would have to learning to play the piano or learn a new language.

Developing a healthy lifetime takes time.

And that’s the formula. Practice + time.

We are born knowing nothing…

We can’t walk. We can’t speak. We can’t even feed ourselves.

We have to learn everything.

We are not born into healthy habits. In fact, our current environment is not friendly to healthy living. We are not naturally inclined toward exercise, we do not naturally want to choose an apple over Apple Jacks.

We have to develop the SKILL of healthy living by leveraging PRACTICE + TIME.

Here’s the good news…

Anyone can do it. It doesn’t take talent or ability. It takes persistence, patience, and tiny, incremental improvement compounded over time.

Heck, even when we run our 28 Day KICK START three times per year we make it clear to the participants that it’s a START, not a finish. It’s a formula for success, but the great results it produces really begin to compound on day 29.

It took me years. 20 or so. I had a deep hole to dig out of. But I did it. I stopped smoking. I quit drinking. I dialed in my exercise. I refined my approach to nutrition.

If I can do it, you can. I’m not especially gifted in any way. I just stayed the course until it happened.

Now, I live automatically when it comes to my lifestyle. I don’t have to spend any cognitive horsepower to contemplate exercise, I just do it. I don’t waste brainpower considering what I’m going to eat, I just eat healthy food. My body fat is always under 20% because of this. It all fell in place….after a mere two decades.

You can change, too. You just have to allow that it will take time and persistence. But, if you stay the course, you’ll end up in a good place. I faithfully believe you to be a more competent learner than I am.

And then you can smash those four guidelines without even trying, too.

So, what should you do with all of this?

Well, that depends on what you want to know and what, if anything, you want to improve.

I would suggest, at the very least, assessing how you stack up against those four guidelines. Find out where you are on the map. By knowing where you are you can determine where you want to go.

Then, pick the low-hanging fruit. Figure out which guideline you’re closest to accomplishing. Give yourself TIME; a few years or so, if necessary, and start applying pressure until you develop automaticity of behavior.

When it becomes as unconscious as brushing your teeth you will have arrived. Just make sure you remember that it took time to remember to brush your teeth.

Practice + Time is the solution.

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Jonathan Aluzas is co-owner of Arena Fitness, a fitness center that offers group training in Northridge as well as personal training in Encino.