My 80-20 Rule of Health

Saturday Aug 10 | BY |
| Comments (18)


Are you familiar with the 80-20 Rule? If you’ve read a lot of personal development books, you probably are. This principle is often used over and over again because it applies to so many situations.

Here’s a recap:

The 80-20 rule was discovered by an Italian economist from the early 1900s named Vilfredo Pareto. Hence the principle is also known as the Pareto Principle. In 1906, Pareto discovered that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. He looked at his garden and noticed that 20% of the pea pods from his crop contained 80% of the peas.

These observations lead to what we know as the 80-20 Rule, or “the law of the vital few.”

If you’ve been in sales, you’ve probably heard the expression, “80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients.” Or if you’re in business, you might know that 80% of complaints come from 20% of your customers. And people who manage a staff of salespeople know that about 80% of their sales come from 20% of their staff—the top sellers.

In software development, Microsoft realized that fixing the top 20% of bugs would avoid 80% of the most common errors and crashes.

More Examples

  • The richest 20% people on the planet control about 80% of the world’s income.
  • In health care, 20% of the patients consume 80% of the national resources.
  • 80% of crimes are committed by 20% of criminals — the worst offenders.
  • If you work for yourself, you know that 80% of your income comes from just 20% of your labour.

Essentially we see that in a very skewed and disproportionate way, most of our results (80% or more) derive from just 20% of our actions.

It doesn’t end there. In personal development, it can be observed that,

1. Most of what we do every day doesn’t lead to the most positive results. Only the smallest percentage of our actions actually matter in the end.

2. If you want results, focus on the 20% of things that truly matter; start neglecting the 80% of things that most people spend their time on.

Given the evidence that 20% of our effort leads to 80% of our results, we should identify what falls into each category. Is it a 20 or is it an 80?

Most people who are not getting the results they desire spend too much time on the 80%. They might spend 95% of their time on things that have much less impact on the result they are seeking. More successful people only spend 20% of their time on those same things. Successful people outsource the 80% and focus on the 20% themselves.

In Health and Fitness

The principle of 80-20 has guided me since I first learned it, years ago. And in some ways, I would say it defines my health philosophy. I see too many people spending too much time on things that don’t matter as much, obsessing over details while neglecting the bigger picture.

Although this is debatable, I would say that most of the concerns of health-conscious people fall under the category of “less significant” when it comes to achieving real results. In other words, they spend too much time on the 80% and not enough time getting the 20% right.

I see this ALL the time.

People ask me questions like,

  • What do you think is better, reverse osmosis or distilled water?
  • Should I invest in a Kangen water system?
  • I heard that papayas from Hawaii are GMOs. Should I worry?
  • What do you think of infrared saunas?

I’m not saying these questions aren’t valid, or that we shouldn’t care about things that can potentially harm our health. But in the grand scheme of it all, it just isn’t possible to control everything. And in the end, only a few things that you do for your health will truly matter, save you from degenerative diseases, and give you the body and mind that you desire.

Focus your energy on the things that matter the most and don’t worry so much about the rest.

How do you know if something is an 80 or a 20?

Generally, things that are in the “20” category will have a noticeable and dramatic impact on your health in a relatively short time. Or they have been scientifically proven to increase health, prevent disease, and heighten longevity in most people.

Here’s my personal list of priorities in health and fitness. This list is entirely subjective, and you’re totally free to disagree. But in my opinion, this is what works. Also, once you’ve mastered the first column, you can start changing things in the second column. But not before.

The 20% of Health Actions That Lead to 80% of Results


  • Eat a diet that keeps your blood sugar stable.
  • Avoid refined foods and cooked oils.
  • Consume mostly plant-based foods, rich in fresh or frozen produce.
  • Ensure nutrient needs are met to avoid long-term deficiencies.
  • Drink enough water to stay hydrated.
  • Detox through intermittent fasting, periods of only raw food eating, simpler meals, etc.
  • Don’t smoke (this should go without saying).
  • Avoid excess: alcohol, caffeine, rich foods, unnecessary drugs, or stimulants, etc.


  • Do at least 20 minutes of exercise a day (or walk about 10,000 steps).
  • Weight train so you have above-average muscle mass for your age. Muscle keeps your metabolism high and prevents weight gain as you get older.


  • Get adequate sleep (for me that’s at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep).
  • Have meaningful relationships and an active social life.
  • Eliminate stress.
  • Avoid toxic chemicals that have been proven to cause cancer.
  • Express your creativity and talents doing something you love.

The Rest — Actions That Account for Just 20% of Your Results, at Most


– Eating organic vs. conventionally grown produce

– Drinking water other than clean tap water

– Massages

– Food combining

– Antioxidant supplements

– Exercise beyond one hour a day

– Avoiding GMOs religiously

– Avoiding wireless Internet and cell phone radiation

– Using organic ingredients when making junk food recipes (organic sugar vs. regular sugar in a pie, for example)

– Wearing organic clothing

– Saunas

– Hot and Cold Therapy

– Paying attention to conspiracy theories

– Relocating to another country with a more pleasant climate

– Walking barefoot on the grass at dawn

– Eating clay

– Drinking wheatgrass juice, without changing the rest of your diet

– Removing mercury fillings

– Ear candling

– Powdered vegetable mixtures

– Supplemental enzymes

– Colonics and enemas

– Being 100% vegan (including the odd animal ingredient that sneak into a particular sauce)

– Eating 100% raw

– Worrying about “chem trails”

– Avoiding fluorinated water

– Worrying too much about EMF pollution

Final Thoughts

First, I want to clarify that this is not a scientific article, but a personal observation. I realize I’ve listed far too many things in the 20% category to be considered a small list. If I had to choose the top five most impactful actions, I would say the following:

  • Clean diet (whole foods)
  • Detox
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Minimal stress

As for the remainder, this is my personal list, and everyone will have a different perspective. Of course I’m not saying that these actions can’t lead to ANY positive results. For example, exercising more than an hour a day won’t result in much better health, according to most studies, but it will lead to increased overall fitness! Fitness and health are sometimes two different topics. As far as longevity is concerned, we need about 20-45 minutes of fairly vigorous activity a day, plus some weight training thrown in the mix. But many people get results just by walking 10,000 steps a day, or about 5 miles.

I’m also not saying that eating organic food doesn’t have benefits. However, those benefits, as far as health is concerned, are more limited and theoretical than the actions listed in the 20%.

Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. Removing mercury fillings can lead to toxic material being leaked out. That’s why I’ve personally chosen to keep the few mercury fillings I have; I don’t find any health problems related to this.

A lot of people worry excessively about certain things, like removing fluoride from water, if the water has been treated in their area. But when you look a little closer, there isn’t much solid science to support the claims of the anti-fluoride activists linking fluoride in water to a host of diseases, like cancer. I’m not saying I approve this practice, but that the benefits of avoiding all fluorinated water are limited, at best. Maybe you’ll want to find a purification method that removes fluoride from your water, but don’t have to worry about drinking a glass when you go somewhere.

It’s all a matter of perspective. I have found that overall, most people worry about little details without grasping the big picture.

I would even dare to say that it’s not worth it to pay attention to those smaller things until you’ve handled the “Big Five,” especially diet, sleep, and exercise. Stress will kill you faster than eating cooked food will, and no amount of massage or sauna therapy will fix the problems caused by excessive caloric intake or lack of exercise.

As we get older, we may want to shift our priorities. At this point in my life, at 37 years old, my focus is on exercise, sleep, and stress reduction. Perhaps in the future I will concentrate on cleaner eating with less emphasis on exercise, for example.

Question of the day: What do you think of the 80-20 Rule of Health and what are your personal 20s and 80s?

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.


Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Deane Alban says:

    Excellent!!! I’m a big believer in the 80-20% law. It pains me to see people get so bogged down in minutia about their health when they would be better off taking that energy used to worry and having some fun! I’ll be shouting out this post with my readers.

    I love that you realize that you may shift your priorities as you age. Very wise, young grasshopper. 🙂 I like to point out to people that the diet they follow now is almost certainly not the diet they will be following decades from now. I was a vegetarian in my 20s, taught macrobiotic cooking classes in my 30s, then gradually added back animal foods in my 50s. So one shouldn’t get too dogmatic or preachy about their diet because someday they may find they need to change their diet then will have to eat their words!

  2. Thank you Frederick. that is a truly useful article. I am going to read it several times. Being sensible is not easy (for me) and ridiculous concerns rob us of the energy we need to be sensible, and to then have the personal resource base to contribute to others, which probably belongs in the 20% contributing to our own healthiness, but isn’t seen as specifically a health concern. It isn’t hard to see its importance for u, thoughs. Thank you for this most valuable contribution that you have given me.

  3. William C says:

    I’m close to 100% agreement. (Commenting further would just add to my 80%) 🙂

  4. Batdad says:

    Excellent article. The only point I would disagree with is in the top 5 I would replace detox with staying properly hydrated. If you’re not properly hydrated nothing works right. That plus the fact that proper hydration combined with the other 4 will lead to detox anyway as the body heals itself. I think we all have a tendency to major on the minors and then get frustrated with the details we can’t apply or master, for whatever reason. That leads to us to giving up or getting frustrated (more stress). Personally I have adopted the philosophy of “Good, Better, Best. Do what you can!” i.e. Can’t get or afford organic fruits & veggies is not a reason to choose Twinkies over commercial fruits & veggies.

    Again good article, keep up the good work.

  5. Oleander says:

    Yes, I totally agree. In fact my vet said a few years ago that 20% of horses carried 80% of the worm burden. That helped me to irradicate a problem with pasture, when I identified the culprit and dosed more frequently!
    I try to outsource tedious tasks, but as a free lance professional, cannot do this on a suficiently regular basis during the recession in the UK

    But I make the most of personal health care, vegan, exercise etc, but my house suffers and my garden – as work and healthy living take priority!

  6. I like this, I have done the pendulum swing from being too concerned about my environment and what I eat, to not thinking about it much at all. But, I don’t ever eat junk food, just am not being so concerned about what I eat, where it comes from and will it hurt me. Balance is the thing, and 20/80 doesn’t seem to balance, unless you look at the whole picture. I am healthy, and praise God for that. I want to stay that way, but I am old and know I will at some point wither away or die an unnatural death. Being prepared to die, is also very important, because we all must face it. Knowing what is our eternal destiny, can remove lots of stress in our lives. I am happy in Jesus, and for all the blessings of the good things He gives us. May you all have this confidence and joy, along with your good health in the here and now.

    • LOVELIFE says:

      Wow, I feel sorry for you. You state that you will soon “wither away” and “die an unnatural death”. What an erroneous belief system! One does not need to slowly wither away and die an unnatural/unhealthy/painful death. My friend, you need to do some serious soul-searching because obviously your current “spiritual beliefs” are inaccurate and not helping you. Also, they certainly are not providing you with the true happiness and peace of mind that we are entitled to enjoying in this lifetime. WHEN YOU LOVE LIFE, AND NOT DOGMA, THEN YOU WILL EXPERIENCE TRUE HAPPINESS!

  7. Nina Rao says:

    Wow! I love this article! Very thought provoking. Just by practicing the 80/20 rule takes off a lot of stress!
    I love your common sense approach, it’s so refreshing when other health advocates seem to be putting out a fear campaign. Being worried about every little thing we eat and come into contact with, will diminish our joy for life and will diminish our health. I know that used to be my case. It seems to me that we give our power away to so many things, thinking this is good or that is bad. That if I eat this, it will cause good health, or if I avoid that, I won’t get some disease.
    My 20% actions that lead to 80% results are:
    Lots of water
    Drinking warm lemon water every morning
    Going to bed by 10:00 p.m. and sleeping 8 hrs.
    Eating whole foods
    Supplementing D3 and B12
    Walking or rebounding for at least 20 minutes/day
    Going within to commune with the Divine
    And most importantly is to know and experience that I’m a powerful creator and I can choose my reality

  8. Paul Fassa says:

    I don’t worry about taking a sip from a water fountain now and then. But I do consider fluoride ACCUMULATION, not only in drinking water but also part of irrigation water and the mists that are sprayed onto produce in produce sections of food markets a toxic concern that comprises 20 percent of 80 percent of our poor health.

    Yes – it’s been discovered that in addition to potential skeletal and dental fluorosis, fluorides accumulate in soft tissues – like the pituitary and thyroid glands causing calcification and blocking supportive biochemicals, such as iodine for thyroid function.

    I suggest you disclose that you really haven’t covered a lot of literature on this aspect instead of proclaiming there isn’t sufficient scientific data.

  9. Yehuda says:

    I absolutely agree with the concept and also with the choices for the 20%. However I do not agree that eating organic food belongs to the inconsequential 80%, simply because buying (and eating) organic is not only a health action, it is also a political action. As the demand for organics products raises (and it is rising!) the prices will go down and the variety of organic foods in every store will go up. Today, even the 99% Stores carry organic produce. They do it not because they are health conscious. They do it because we – the consumers – are health conscious. They do it because the demand is there and the wholesale prices went down through our (the consumers) actions. In other words, beside the health factors, we can vote with our checkbooks.

  10. Carol says:

    Very encouraging. Thanks so much!

  11. Kathleen says:

    Sufficient exercise will make up for a lot of other things, at least for a while. During the 80s I practiced “You can eat whatever you want as long as you walk 8 miles to get it.”

  12. Cheryl says:

    Simply want to say Thank you for the article it is just what I needed today!!! I have been trying to be 100% it is very overwhelming and end up getting no where!!!

  13. Love you Kevin. Was surprised at the minimizing of the seriousness of toxic Fluoride in our water. Please relook at the in depth research and results .. clean water is essential to health and should be up there with clean air. Please rethink this. It bothered me that you would underestimate the results of Fluoride in our water, given all the evidence to the contrary. Love, Sharon

  14. Ted says:

    You can get away with a lot when you’re young. When you hit 70 or 80, that 20% means a lot.

  15. Jan says:

    Hi, I think that what you say is true, however, some people have particular health issues which means dabbling in the 80% can make all the difference. For example, people with musculoskeletal issues would benefit from getting massage regularly. Diet, exercise, sleep, and decreased stress can help but not necessarily resolve these things. That being said, great article, very true. Very, very true.

  16. Fred says:

    “…it’s not worth it to pay attention to those smaller things until you’ve handled the “Big Five,”

    That quote from your article is the key.

  17. Cadie says:

    Thank you so much for your balanced viewpoint! It is so needed these days in this world of extremes!! Sometimes we all get so wrapped up in the details we loose sight of the big picture. Be healthy but not to the expense of your sanity! We cannot control everything. There is no sense in trying. Enjoy life!

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