There are a million ways to live a healthy life, according to Luke Sniewski — but they all involve getting out of your seat, writes Rebecca Barry Hill.

Ask Luke Sniewski to name the biggest modern obstacle to wellbeing and he doesn't hesitate. "Sitting is the new smoking," says the 30-year-old trainer, lifestyle coach and author, over a plate of salmon, eggs and hash cakes.

"There are so many adverse health consequences when you sit all day: your hips get tight, your back starts hurting. Then there are the blood pressure issues, rising body fat percentage. It's not just physiological but biochemical."

The body adapts to everything we throw at it, sitting included, which is why getting out of that chair is so important, he says. Movement is one of the healthy-living principles Sniewski outlines in his new book, Million Ways To Live, which he wrote to inspire readers to discover healthy solutions for themselves.

"When people talk to professionals - nutritionists, doctors, personal trainers - they often give them the keys to their life. 'You tell me what to do and I'll just do it'. I don't think that's a sustainable approach. That's why diets don't work in the long term. You're following along and not learning."

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A health and fitness star from the United States who now lives in Auckland with his Kiwi partner, yoga teacher and Jack and Olive Retreats founder Claire Robbie, Sniewski has dedicated his life to doing just that. The former pro-American football player became a personal trainer but quickly realised his workouts weren't the magic bullet he'd hoped they'd be. So he set about educating himself on what, exactly, makes a person healthy, gaining qualifications in massage and nutrition, and a Masters of Science.

"Even food isn't going to solve everything. It's not the three hours someone spends with their trainer every week, it's the 160-plus on their own."

So how do we make ourselves healthier? Sniewski has spent years road-testing and identifying what he says are the six common strategies adopted by the world's healthiest people: eat real food (non-processed, organic if possible) move every day, get regular rest and relaxation, partake in life-long learning, engage with the community and love.

If the last three sound suspiciously bohemian, Sniewski insists that if just one of these is out of balance, our happiness levels are too.

"Your health is also about the way you laugh, how you think, smile and love, it's your friends and family, all the things that fill in the blanks."

Love, arguably the slipperiest of the principles, isn't just about the good feelings but about "accepting the present moment and loving yourself regardless of the emotion you may be experiencing at that moment", Sniewski explains.

"You might be having a bad day, you're stressed or you've had an argument. People often reach for the first thing they know is going to make them feel better in that moment, rather than being okay with that negative emotion. A lot of people reach for wine, chocolate, icecream, exercise, to avoid the feeling."

As for rest and relaxation, it could be the difference between burn-out and success. One of Sniewski's clients, American David Diaz, lost 45kg in six months as the result of following his advice. When Diaz's weight loss plateaued, Sniewski initially trained him harder and told him to eat less.

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When that didn't work, he made a radical breakthrough and realised his body had gone into stress-mode. Rather than push him to eat less and train harder, Sniewski told him to take two weeks off, go on nature hikes and get more sleep. The result? He lost another 10kg. Diaz has not only kept the weight off, he recently participated in the gruelling Tough Mudder event.

The six principles are also at the heart of Jack and Olive Retreats, Robbie and Sniewski's luxurious fitness, adventure and lifestyle experiences. The next one is in Fiji from November 1-8. Participants will do daily yoga, fitness, tissue care classes, foam rolling and stretching, and take workshops on emotional eating, pain management and quieting the mind.

Shortly after that, the couple will set off with their baby, Jack, on a round-the-world trip to film webisodes for the book's companion documentary series, in which they set out to discover some of the million ways healthy people live. Check out the latest episode, featuring Maori chef Anne Thorp on leaflifestyle.com.

If all this healthy living seems out of reach, think again. Before he met Robbie and took up regular yoga, Sniewski says he was nowhere near as flexible as he is now.

"It's amazing how quickly the human body can adapt to anything. People think it takes forever to gain flexibility, but if you just focus on it, you'll improve. Once you realise how quickly the body adapts, nothing is permanent. You have so much control, it's empowering."

The key to maintaining control, he says, is not only to set goals but to instil good habits, and only one at a time - getting up earlier, eating until you're 80 per cent full, taking the stairs - and completely focusing on it for a month. It's just as important to strive for progression, rather than perfection, he adds, pointing out that he never feels guilty about the few squares of dark chocolate he allows himself every day.

"When people talk about getting healthier they think about food and exercise. They don't think about everything else. You can't just pick and choose like, 'I'm going to eat beets or do a juice detox'. It's the whole lifestyle that counts."


Million Ways To Live: 6 Principles For Your Lifestyle Transformation by Luke Sniewski is out now from leaflifestyle.com, amazon.com and Timeout Bookstore in Mt Eden. For more information on Jack and Olive Retreats, go to jackandoliveretreats.com


- VIVA