Climber reaching mountain summit
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Being the best you can be. More than just an Army slogan, it's something that most of us strive for. The idea itself, performing at your personal best, is simple in nature, but actually achieving it is another matter entirely.
Wouldn't it be great if we could just change one little thing, or take this pill, and suddenly we're performing at a superstar level? Unfortunately, most of us know that isn't how it happens. True, there may be some quick diet change that can help shed 10 pounds fast, but it's usually at the expense of something beneficial for the body. And these short-term results often don't translate into lasting changes. The reality is we have to work hard to accomplish our dreams and goals. The great news is that if achieving your personal goal comes at the price of good, old-fashioned determination and a healthy dose of sweat, the reward of sitting at the top of your mountain is even more satisfying because you'll appreciate the effort it took to reach your summit.

In our years of private practice, and more recently in our years spent working at Canyon Ranch Health Resort, we have learned quite a lot about helping people reach their personal goals in regard to their health and their personal and/or professional lives. After discussing our experiences, working with others and taking into account our personal ambitions and tactics for achieving our personal best, we began to formulate a plan that combines the best of our health practices. We felt it was time for a new paradigm of wellness, something that went beyond illness prevention to a place of excellent health or an accomplishment called "peak performance." While this term has often been affiliated with high-level athletes, we feel everyone has the potential to reach peak performance. The idea of peak performance can be applied to all aspects of life, whether it is running your first marathon, being a top pilot, becoming the best mom or coping with an underlying illness in the best way possible.

So how can one attain peak performance? We feel it needs to be an integrative and multidiscipline approach. We have named this path the Everest Principle (as a metaphor to climbing your summit). There are many books and articles written about improving your life, and many of these individual approaches provide excellent plans, which sometimes even produce results. But they are all missing something: If what you're looking for is peak performance, then you have to address multiple areas at the same time.

The four pillars to healthy living
Here are the four pillars of healthy living to consider:


With a medical assessment, you ensure that you are physically capable of accomplishing your set goals. You also allow any physical or biochemical maladies to be identified and corrected. We suggest a thorough historical evaluation, physical assessment and extensive blood work be done to obtain baseline information. We feel it is important to go beyond just saying that you are not ill, but to look for hidden risks for future ailments, such as signs of prediabetes. This would include a low HDL cholesterol (less than 50 for women and less than 40 for men), elevated triglycerides (more than 150) and an elevated fasting blood sugar (between 100 and 130). We would also look for borderline endocrine disorders like low thyroid disease that would keep us from reaching our peak if not corrected.


It's common knowledge that looking closely at your diet is imperative to making physical changes. Portion sizes, eating at certain times of the day, getting the appropriate servings of fruits and vegetables, etc.—this is information that's not new. But if peak performance is your goal, some of these standby rules need to be altered. For example, it is important to eat in a leveled eating pattern throughout the day to maintain energy level. And supplements, such as B vitamins, can also have a big impact on energy level, which in turn will have an effect on how much physical or mental activity you can manage. Remember, food is fuel for your mind and body, and if you want to push your abilities to their limits, you need to be making conscious decisions about what you're putting in your body.


More than just a means to controlling weight, exercise has also been shown to decrease the risk for future disease. And it gives us endurance and strength to accomplish our goals. With peak performance, you're not exercising simply to prevent diseases, you're exercising to improve your overall fitness, to be "well" in every sense of the word.


Haven't you heard the saying, whatever you do is 10 percent physical, 90 percent mental? Well, it's true—how we mentally approach our goals, motivation and attitudes toward our goals (and ourselves) gives us the confidence and clarity to reach our summit. Make sure the goal you set is a personal aspiration that you want to achieve, not something that you are doing for someone else. Check your motivation and see if it is driven by fear or desire. (The latter tends to be better and longer lasting.) Solicit the support you need to reach your goal. Like-minded people making similar changes are a great place to start. Be realistic about your goals and reward incremental changes. Use mental techniques to reinforce your newer healthier behaviors. Working on just one or two of these areas and leaving out the others is like trying to drive a car with one or two flat tires. It can be done, but it is much harder on the car, and eventually other parts will start to decline as well.

So, what are you waiting for? Decide what it is you want to enhance or improve and start the ascent to your Everest today!

Stephen C. Brewer, M.D., is the Medical Director and Peggy Wagner is a Licensed Professional Counselor (L.P.C.) of the world-renowned Canyon Ranch Health Resort in Tucson, Arizona. Through writing The Everest Principle: How to Achieve the Summit of Your Life, Dr. Brewer and his coauthor, Peggy Wagner, have developed a Peak Performance program whose purpose is to help individuals excel in their health and their goals, both personally and professionally.

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