At New Year, birthdays, and at multiple other times throughout the year, many of us pledge to ‘get healthy,’ as if we can simply achieve good health, then tick it off our list. Of course, health is an ongoing process, and that means every decision we make can be a gift to ourselves.
What are the Benefits of a Healthy Lifestyle?
Making choices that improve or maintain good health benefits us in many ways, from experiencing positive physical changes to increasing our mental resilience. There are no downsides to choosing a healthier lifestyle, and there is so much to gain:
- We can sleep better and feel more alert during the day
- We could have more energy and feel more positive
- Chronic diseases could be prevented
- We may live significantly longer and break patterns of disease in our own families
- We might develop clearer skin and eyes, and a healthy glow
- We can get a real sense of achievement, which may just make us happier
- We could save money
- What’s good for us is also good for the planet, so our personal choices have a far greater impact than we may realize
How Do I Start Living a Healthy Lifestyle?
Being as healthy as we personally can be is a lifelong journey, and the path is made up of all the decisions we make along the way. This is great news for two reasons: first, because it means we can start straight away, but also because it means that, even if we take a wrong turn, there is always an opportunity to get back on track with our next decision!
So, whatever you are doing, stop and think about your next choice. It could be: What shall I have for lunch? Or What should I do this evening? It could relate to the next book you read, who to follow on social media, the next holiday you take, or when and how you see friends. Whatever your next decision is, think about the options before you and their implications, then choose whatever will bring you closer to your goal.
10 Tips For a Healthy Lifestyle
Our health is unique to each of us, and what works for one person may not work for the next, but there are a few things that are good for all of us, no matter who we are, or where we live. These may seem like common-sense suggestions – and they are! – but, if we are honest, we probably don’t always choose the common-sense route, and it never hurts to be reminded what that is.
1. Eat a Balanced Diet
This includes plenty of complex carbohydrates and fiber, plant-based proteins such as beans, tofu, and seitan, and healthy fats like avocados and nuts. It means avoiding overly processed foods as much as possible, keeping refined sugar, trans fats, and saturated fats to a minimum, and choosing healthy drinks over sodas. With herbs, spices, sauces, and dressings, we can create a whole world of plant-rich, delicious flavors that taste good and do us good.
2. Stay Well Hydrated
If you’re feeling tired or dizzy, have a headache or mental fog, or are experiencing a poorer mood than usual, it could be that you have not drunk sufficient water. While water is essential to life, it can be all too easy to get our hydration wrong. This may be due to warmer temperatures, because we have been drinking alcohol, or perhaps just because we have been so busy we forgot to drink. It happens! But if it happens too often, it’s a good idea to find a way to prompt yourself to drink, such as filling a bottle or jug at the start of each day and making sure it is empty by the end of it. We should aim to drink around 2 liters a day, and tea, herbal tea, and coffee all count.
3. Exercise Regularly
Exercise should not feel like a punishment or an ordeal. It should be something we look forward to because it makes us feel AMAZING! For many of us, starting to exercise can feel daunting but we’d urge you to try out a few different sports or activities to get a feel for what you enjoy. It could be a team sport such as hockey or wheelchair basketball. It could be something creative such as dancing, or something more meditative such as walking or yoga. It could be swimming, mountain biking, running, kayaking, or anything else that keeps you moving. You don’t have to be the best at it; you don’t even have to be ‘good’ at it. You just have to find something that’s fun and that feels good to you.
4. Get Enough Good Sleep
This is easier said than done for lots of people, but there are choices we can make that could help us achieve nourishing, energizing sleep. Switching off screens two hours before bedtime, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon, taking a warm bath, or stretching, reading, meditating, or doing yoga before bedtime can all help prepare our minds and bodies to let go of the day and slide into sleep. Experiment with your routine and see what your optimal bedtime routine looks like.
5. Limit Your Alcohol Intake
Alcohol can interfere with our sleep and hydration. It can give us headaches and make us feel queasy so that we make poorer food and exercise choices. Over a longer period it can have an affect on our disease susceptibility and on our mental health. For all these reasons, limiting alcohol is a good idea. However, the people who live in ‘Blue Zones’ – places in the world where the population tends to live longer than the average – often drink a little alcohol, so a glass of your favorite tipple could do more good than harm.
6. Do not Smoke
There is no safe minimum for smoking. The CDC tells us: “Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Smoking also increases risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases, and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis.” If you smoke already, perhaps one of the health-related choices you might prioritize is seeking whatever support you need to help you stop.
7. Protect Yourself from the Sun
The sun is energizing and it helps us create all the vitamin D we need, which in turn helps us absorb calcium and boost our mood. But exposure to the sun can also cause damage to the skin, eyes, and immune system, and can also cause cancer. Some exposure is clearly positive but the advice is to limit it, especially during the hottest parts of the day. We can also wear a hat and sunglasses, and use sunscreen to avoid the negative effects.
8. Wash Your Hands
There is nothing like living in the time of a global pandemic to become acutely aware of the importance of hand-washing. We touch door handles, shopping carts, ATMs, and cash all the time without thinking of all the other people who have touched them before us. It just makes sense to wash our hands with soap after we have been out in the world and before we eat.
9. Manage Your Stress
Almost every one of us experiences stress. Short bouts of it are natural and do us little harm but when stress becomes chronic it can have a lasting detrimental impact on our physical and mental health. Like finding the right sleep routine, we recommend finding tools that help you manage stress. Being around friends who you can really talk to can be invaluable. Exercise can lift our mood and reset our brain chemistry. Eating healthily, sleeping well, taking breaks from work, spending time in nature, meditating, and doing yoga are all proven activities for managing stress. Experiment, and find the things that work for you, then practice them regularly to manage your stress levels.
10. Ten Servings of Fruits and Vegetables a Day
Yes, ten! Fruits and vegetables are full of health-giving properties, and there really is no upper limit to the amount we should eat. It’s the variety that brings us the benefits, as different types and colors contain different compounds, and each has a different positive impact. If your meal looks like a riot of color you are on the right track.
Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle
There is no perfect health and every single one of us has challenges, but every decision we make gives us an opportunity to choose the most positive outcome for our own personal health and well-being. That gives us power!
We should acknowledge, however, that we are up against a world that is pushing ill-health at us through adverts, the types of shop, restaurant, and produce available in our neighborhoods, and through fad diets that do little to benefit us but make someone somewhere very rich. When up against this barrage, we will not always choose wisely, but the last thing we need is to stress so much about making the ‘right’ healthy choices that we make ourselves ill!
Our journey to improved health starts with one decision, and that means it can start right now. So, why not choose a plant-based lunch, opt for a walk after dinner instead of watching television, call up a friend and arrange to try out a new exercise class together, or switch off your phone and get an early night? When we start making health-improving decisions, new habits and routines soon form, which makes it even easier to make good choices. We’ve just got to get that ball rolling!