6 habits for healthier living
The idea of healthy living may sound relatively simple, but maybe you’re struggling with how to form healthy habits. A few nudges in the right direction, along with practical advice might help you take control of your health and your lifestyle habits. After all, it’s easy to tell someone to eat more fruits and veggies or get regular exercise, but how do you put those things into action every single day?
There are so many habits — big and small — that you can do to keep your health in check and help you live a longer, happier life. Let’s go over 6 healthy living habits that can help you on your way.
Did you know Americans sit an average of almost 10 hours every day?1 That’s just over two full days of sitting during a 5-day work week. All that sitting increases your risk for conditions like heart disease, diabetes, depression, dementia and more. The fact is, humans weren’t designed to sit. Our bodies are strong moving machines. That’s why regular exercise is important. Even a simple break every 90 minutes to stand up and move around is beneficial to your health.
A good fitness goal each week is anywhere between 2.5 and 5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity — split up however you like. Plus, at least two days of full-body strength training are recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.2 Exercise is not one-size-fits-all. There are lots of ways you can move your body and incorporate regular exercise into your daily routine. Here are 3 things to keep in mind:
- Warm up and cool down: Before you start moving, give your body time to warm up. This gets the blood flowing to your muscles, which may reduce the risk of injury and help with recovery. At the end of your workout, build in time to cool down after your exercise by taking deep breaths to regulate blood flow and take time to stretch.
- Find your flexibility: Stretching and yoga are two great ways to work on improving your flexibility. It helps improve range of motion in your bones, ligaments and joints. Plus, working on flexibility could also improve your overall physical performance.
- Variety is key: Mixing up your workouts will not only keep you mentally motivated, but it will test your body in new ways and perhaps work your muscles differently.
Not sure where to start? There are lots of resources out there to help you get started – everything from fitness magazines, workout DVDs, fitness apps and group fitness classes. Try a few different things to see what you like most. Working out should be fun, so give your body time to find its groove.
Between work, family, self-care, house chores and trying to fit in a social life, eating healthy can fall to the bottom of the list. But, how we fuel our bodies has a pretty big impact on overall health, so it’s important to be mindful of our daily eating habits. After all, healthy lifestyles start in the kitchen. Here are some tips on how to eat healthy and form good eating habits:
- Prioritize phytochemicals. While it's probably not a word most of us have heard before, it's a good one to learn. Put simply, phytochemicals are chemicals that give plants their color, taste and smell (think fruits, veggies, grains, beans, etc.) These help protect cells from damage that could lead to cancer.3 So, when you’re cooking or plating foods, start with plants, and add meat, cheese and condiments last. By building the foundation of your meals with the healthiest parts, you’ll get more of the good stuff on your plate.
- Make smoothies. Still not getting enough fruits and veggies? Get your blender ready for some nutrition-packed smoothies. All you need is your favorite milk (or water), frozen or fresh produce, and maybe even some nuts and seeds. (Hint: sneak in a few greens between handfuls of berries.)
- Try a Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet can help with conditions like diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and even neurological disease. It focuses on plant foods, olive oil, fish, poultry, beans and grains.
- Commit to meatless Mondays. A meatless Monday is a great way to explore healthy plant-based proteins, like tofu, tempeh and legumes (think kidney beans, soy beans and chickpeas).
- Meal prep. Deciding what to eat and making time to cook may be half the challenge. Choose one day each week to get your shopping and meal prep done. You can make lots of things ahead of time, like roasted veggies, pasta noodles and chopped produce. That way, when it’s time to eat, you’ve got your ingredients cooked, cut and ready to dish up.
- Get the whole family cooking. Make time to cook as a family as much as possible. The kitchen is such a great place to bond with loved ones, share traditions and get creative with your cooking. Plus, showing your kids what healthy eating habits look like (and how easy they are) will help set them up for success as they grow up and cook for themselves.
You may be reading all this great advice, but only seeing dollar signs. Here’s advice on how to eat healthy on a budget too. A healthy diet doesn’t have to break the bank.
Life has many guilty pleasures, like chocolate cake or even a night cap with your finest wine. But, too much of those things may impact your health. Here are some habits to be aware of and consider cutting back on (or stopping completely):4
- Smoking cigarettes: According to the National Cancer Institute, tobacco use is a leading cause of cancer and related deaths. Consider putting down tobacco products for good.
- Drinking too much alcohol: This can lead to kidney disease, liver disease, bone damage and more. Try to limit yourself to one drink per day for women and two for men.1
- Blasting your music or headphones: This could damage your hearing and you may be more likely to lose hearing as you age, if you’re around loud noise a lot.
- Watching screens before bed: Electronic devices may reduce the production of melatonin, a natural hormone that helps you feel tired and ready to sleep. Put your electronics away at least an hour before bed to help you sleep longer and better.2
- Sitting for long periods of time: Try to stand up and move every 90 minutes.
- Eating too much or too fast: Overeating puts your digestive system into overdrive and may lead to weight gain. Portion out your meals and practice mindful eating.
- Not flossing: This may lead to plaque buildup on your teeth and may lead to gum disease.
- A bad sleep routine: Long-term implications of poor quality sleep may include an increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and even depression.3 Choose a relaxing bedtime routine (and stick to it) for better sleep.
Speaking of sleep, did you know your body and mind need restorative sleep to function properly? When we sleep, our body replenishes its energy, and repairs cells, tissues and muscles.8 You can think of sleep as our body’s charger. Our bodies need a recharge to operate smoothly. Use these tips for getting quality sleep every night:
- Cool it down: Research suggests a room temp of 65 degrees for better sleep.9
- Find your rhythm: Circadian rhythm, that is. When we’re in sync with our internal clock, we reap the most benefits from sleep. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day can help get your body used to this rhythm.
- Disconnect and destress: Light from screens can suppress your natural production of melatonin and an overactive mind can cause restless sleep or even insomnia. Step away from your smart phone and try some nighttime meditation before bedtime.
- Dim the lights: Avoiding bright lights or even light from your neighborhood streets can help you transition into sleep. When it’s dark, your internal clock tells your body it’s time for rest and triggers the production of melatonin.
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It’s how we think, act and feel. And even if you’re in shape on the outside, you may need to give your inner self some care. When we’re clear-headed and strong in our mind-body connection, life may get a little easier. Think about the days when you’re feeling motivated, energized and happy. You may notice that you're more productive. Maybe you handle stress better those days and feel an overall sense of relaxation and contentment. There are so many ways to help improve our mental health. Here are just a few: 10
Regular checkups with your doctor help foster a healthy life. By taking a preventive approach to your health, you’ll stay up to date on vaccines and screenings that can help protect against potential health risks. It’s also important to work with your doctor to manage any chronic conditions, like asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure.
If you feel like you need a little more support in establishing some of these healthy habits, visit your primary care provider (the doctor or provider you might see for your yearly physical). You’ll talk about areas you may be struggling in and explore ways you can form habits that move the health needle in your favor.