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What My Russian Grandmother Can Teach You About Performance

My grandmother immigrated to New York in 1917 from a small farming village in the Ukraine. She died a few years ago at the age of 102 and was very healthy and functional until her late 90’s. While age and the eating habits of the modern United States caught up to her in her later years, we always knew that there was something about her upbringing in rural Ukraine that contributed to her health and vitality.

From the stories she told, I knew that her family was not wealthy but they were always well fed. They had enough money and were able to grow enough food to avoid going hungry. Food was a priority in her Jewish heritage. And for those who are familiar with the term “epigenetics,” this meant that her DNA stock was probably very strong,

Through the years, I have attributed her longevity to many of the common-sense health habits we all know are good to practice:   

She didn’t smoke, but regularly drank small amounts of red wine after an evening meal.  Every morning she drank hot apple cider vinegar and honey.  She preferred home-cooked meals to restaurant dining and she didn’t eat to excess.  She enjoyed taking long walks and stayed lean most of her adult life.  She was faithful about taking nutritional supplements and maintained strong, personal connections to her family and friends.

But I now realize that there were other habits that were a natural necessity among hard-working people living in a harsh environment.  These habits played an even greater role in her ability to stay active, strong and healthy well into her 90’s.  And these habits can dramatically improve your health and performance, too! ...

Be sure to download our free report, The Secret to Unlocking your Personal Performance Potential, to find out what my Russian grandmother knew about gaining a competitive edge.  

And make sure your daily routine includes these simple—yet powerful—strategies I am grateful to have learned from her: 

Always get a good night sleep.

She felt it was very important to go to bed early and wake up with the sun. “Without enough sleep,” she would tell me, “you won’t be at your best.”   While this is certainly not rocket science, I am always surprised to find out how many athletes don’t prioritize the importance of adequate sleep. Companies such as Fatigue Science now track professional athletes sleep cycles and have proven that even low levels of sleep deprivation reduce both reaction time and overall, physical performance.

Stay active.

My grandmother never exercised formally a day in her life. But living in Brooklyn, she walked every day to go to the market, take my mother to school, and manage daily errands.  Even when she was at home, I never remember her sitting down for an extended period of time—except during mealtimes or while watching an occasional TV program.  She was always on the go. And as we now know that the negative effects of extended periods of sitting can’t be reversed, even by the best training program.  While she could have certainly gained many benefits from a more structured exercise program, she achieved and maintained a very adequate level of functional fitness by simply moving regularly.

Go outside. 

As a child, my grandmother would always tell me to go play outside.  She told me that the men who worked the fields in the Ukraine would take their shirts off to get sun, even when it wasn’t that warm out.  These people instinctively knew that it was possible to work harder, feel better and got sick far less often with sun. 

Eat more (healthy) fat.

My grandmother ate a generous amount of fat from animal meats dairy products throughout her life. She also ate lox made from salmon, which provided her with a great source of omega 3 fats.  Only later in her life, when her doctors became concerned about her cholesterol, did she reduce her fat intake (to her detriment) and start eating more carbohydrates and grains.  While the field laborers she grew up with did eat oat grits, they ate them with lots of butter and sausage for steady, long-lasting energy.

Eat your reds and greens.

In the cold, Russian climate, it wasn’t possible to grow vegetables all year round.  But it was possible to grow a lot of beets and dark, leafy greens such as kale.  And they would eat a lot of these foods.  My grandmother would always tell me that Borscht and kale were great for energy.  While they were nutritious and the carbohydrates in beets provided some fuel, what my ancestors didn’t know was that these foods contained performance-enhancing nitrates—nutrients that the body requires to produce nitric oxide, a powerful molecule that scientist call the spark of life.  By eating these foods, they were naturally elevating their NO levels and dramatically improving their health and performance.

Chew your food well.

Yes, we have all heard this one.  Chewing food is good for digestion.  And while that is true, what my grandmother did not know was that the benefits of nitric-oxide-rich foods (such as beets, kale, chard spinach, arugula) begin in the mouth.  By chewing your food well, you are increasing the amount of time your healthy, oral bacteria have to create nitric oxide from foods you eat.

Eat fermented foods.

My grandmother intuitively knew that a healthy stomach makes for a healthy person.  And while she did not know it, all the sauerkraut, pickles, pickled herring and kefir she ate contributed to her exceptional level of intestinal health.  While fermenting foods to extend their storage life was a necessity in the Ukraine, their hidden benefits promoted strong GI health which, in turn, contributed to higher NO production, better digestion and improved immune function. 

If you’ve read this far, don’t forget to 
download our free report—The Secret to Unlocking your Personal Performance Potential—to learn what my Russian grandmother knew about gaining a competitive edge!