How to Apply the 80/20 Rule to Improve Your Health
There’s a lot going on in the world, and generally people tend to have a lot going on in their lives too. The secret to dealing with what can feel like an overwhelming existence in our modern world is to shift your focus to the things that matter, and start cutting the things that don’t. To help you along the way, lets look at how you can apply the 80/20 rule to different areas of your health.
What is the 80/20 Rule?
Also called the “Pareto Principle”, the 80/20 rule simply states that in many cases 80% of results are caused by 20% of actions. This was initially modeled after wealth distribution, where Pareto saw that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. When he followed up this study by looking at other countries he saw the same thing. In 1992, the United Nations Development Program Report showed that this applied to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) world-wide, with 20% of the world population owning 82.7% of the world’s total wealth.
Typically you see this principle applied to business settings in different ways. For example:
- 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers
- 80% of a company’s complaints come from 20% of its customers
- 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of staff working time
- 80% of a company’s sales come from 20% of its products
- 80% of a company’s sales are made by 20% of its sales staff
This is all well and good, but how do you apply this outside business and into your personal life? I’m glad you asked! Below we’re going to talk about how you can apply this to a few key areas, and in some cases the principle will change slightly to accommodate our needs.
How many times have you heard the words, “you need to eat healthy?” (How many times from me?) Now, follow that up with how many different ways you’ve been told to eat, how complicated some of the methods/strategies are, and how much time they all seem to take to actually make a reality, and it can feel like you’re being told to spend 80% of your time focused on your diet!
Here’s the simplified 80/20 rule for what to eat:
- 80% of the time, eat whole foods (fruit, veggies, meats) without exception.
- 20% of the time, you can (but don’t have to) relax your standards to include whatever foods you want at the time.
Since most people eat about 3-4 meals per day, that means that 2-3 meals should be only good foods, and the last meal can be a little more lax in your choices. Keep in mind, you still can’t pig out every single meal and expect to be healthy at the end of the day. Eat reasonable quantities at every meal, but give yourself some leeway 20% of the time.
Here’s another way to look at nutrition through the 80/20 lens:
- 20% of the foods you eat are causing 80% of your unhealthy results
Chances are, you’re not eating chocolate cake for every meal, but in the one meal where you do indulge, that cake probably accounts for 20% or more of your calories for the whole day. If you cut that cake in half – or simply didn’t eat it at all – your health would improve by it’s simple reduction or omission. Now, think about what you eat day to day, and find the ONE thing that accounts for the most unhealthy calories. Now replace that thing with something healthier.
Large protein sources that don’t have a lot of fat are exempt from this, but feel free to replace a fatty meat with a lean meat. More than likely you’re looking for a carbohydrate-heavy food that can be replaced with something less so. Examples would be replacing bread in your sandwich with a lettuce wrap. Bam! You probably just cut 200-250 calories in one choice, and that’s probably 10-15% of your caloric load that day.
I don’t know about you, but if I had a nickle for every time I’ve heard that long term cardio is the key to weight loss and good fitness, I’d be retired in the Bahamas sipping a mai tai right now. For years, the trend was for longer and longer workout sessions, more and more time spent working out because the belief was that “more is better and style doesn’t matter”. The surge of fitness-related research – both in the lab and anecdotal results in the fitness community at large – have shown us that this doesn’t hold true. Like so many things in life, it’s about Quality, not Quantity.
To apply the 80/20 rule:
- 80% of the results you see from working out will come from 20% of the activities you perform
What are those 20% movements? For most people who have general fitness as their goal, you want to focus on compound movements that target multiple muscle groups. For example, instead of using isolation weight machines to individually work on Leg Press, Calf Raise, and Back Extension, get into the squat rack and work on developing a strong Back Squat. BAM! Now instead of needing to do 3 sets of 10 reps on three different movements (plus all the time spent moving around, getting set-up, and fighting for machine space), you can do 3 sets of 10 reps on ONE movement and develop all three areas at the same time. This can easily save 80% of your time. See how that works out?
If we apply this rule even further out into your weekly life…
- Assume you workout one hour per day, and go to the gym six days per week
- Out of the 168 total hours you have in the week (24 hours X 7 days), those 6 gym hours are only 3.57% of your total time!
Lets go a step further and apply this only to waking hours…
- Assume that the workout hours stay the same, and you sleep 8 hours every night
- Out of the 112 hours you’re awake (168 total hours – 56 sleeping hours), 6 hours of exercise time is still only 5.36% of your total time
The total time spent exercising, even at what we usually consider a high frequency (>4 times per week), is incredibly low compared to every other activity you normally spend your time on. Now we have an even more impressive updated rule…
- 96% of your life time activities are made better through the 4% of your activities centered around actively improving your fitness
What was your excuse for not working out, again?
And that’s it!
The 80/20 rule can be applied in different ways to different facets of your life. The trick is to find the way the rule applies best to your situation, and then find the 20% positive changes you can make that will make that 80% difference.