True health is about more than just eating plenty of fruits and veggies and getting regular exercise. Yes, these are two important pillars to your physical health, but nourishing your body, mind and spirit requires additional habits, that when done on a regular basis, become the foundation upon which true health is built.
1. Balance work and play.
You know the saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” If you spend most of your time burning the candle at both ends, it can take a real toll on your physical, mental and emotional health. Constant stress leads to high cortisol levels, which will impact your sleep, increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease, and lead to weight gain. Like anything in life, striving for balance will help alleviate stress, improve your happiness and allow you to see your greatest potential. Find time to do something that makes you happy and truly fulfills you. Do you love being in nature, taking pictures or painting? Carve out time each day to do something you love.
2. Prioritize sleep.
In a busy world that is dominated by electronic devices, it’s no wonder that sleep gets the short end of the stick. But inadequate sleep, as well as poor sleep quality, can cause weight gain, depression, heart disease and diabetes. Most sleep experts recommend getting between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, which can be difficult if you find yourself binge-watching Netflix until late in the evening. Plus, the blue light that’s emitted from cell phones, laptops and tablets suppress melatonin production in the pineal gland in your brain, making it much more difficult to feel sleepy. The answer: Power down all devices at least an hour before you want to fall asleep and replace your nightly web surfing with an Epsom salt bath and some light reading. You’ll be snoozing in no time.
3. Laughter is the best medicine.
If you’re feeling stressed (and who isn’t?), worried and a bit anxious, pull up a funny clip from I Love Lucy (the Vitameatavegimin bit gets us every time) or your favorite comedian and let the laughter get the better of you. Having a good laugh will invariably take your worries away, at least for a little while. While the effect may be temporary, the lesson here is to seek out more things that bring you joy. This will not only bring down your blood pressure, it will also improve your overall outlook on life.
4. Talk it out.
Keeping your thoughts and feelings all bottled up inside is kind of like a volcano that’s getting ready to erupt. The pressure keeps building and building until one day, you explode! Instead, having someone—a friend, sibling, parent, spouse or therapist—that you feel comfortable talking to can act like a release valve, allowing you to vent and spill out everything that’s in your head, so that you can achieve a sense of calm. Even If you’re naturally guarded and this seems like a big step, try first talking to your pet or even a stuffed animal for practice, as they will definitely not judge you! Of course, finding someone with whom you feel safe to confide in will make it easier to open up.
5. Move more.
Exercising regularly is a universal recommendation for improving your physical as well as mental and emotional health. A blend of aerobic, strength and balance training will help to increase metabolism, reduce blood pressure, blood sugar and weight, and decrease risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain forms of cancer. However, your one-hour-a-day workout isn’t enough, especially when you spend eight hours a day working at a desk and another hour or two commuting to and from work. Studies have shown that all the benefits from your workout can be undone by being sedentary the rest of the day. The solution: Get up at least once every hour and take a short walk, even if just for three or four minutes. The short spurts of activity sprinkled throughout the day will improve blood flow, reduce stress and boost your metabolism. Try walking when you’re on a phone call or encourage walking meetings at work.
6. Relax and breathe.
We all lead hectic lives, wearing many hats and juggling a number of balls at one time. While excelling at multitasking may be seen as an enviable skill, it can actually increase stress, anxiety and depression. Just like taking a short walk every hour, carving out a few minutes a day to just stop and breathe and be present in the moment will actually make you more productive. It would be great if we could channel our inner Buddhist monk and carve out some serious Zen-time every day. But until that happens, finding two minutes, two or three times a day, to close your eyes and just breathe, can do wonders for your mental health. Stress levels go down and your ability to cope increases significantly. We like to start and end the day with a few minutes of deep breathing, as well as once in the middle of the day.
7. Drink up!
If you find that your energy level is sagging even after a good night of sleep, consider looking at your hydration as the culprit. Even if you drink a liter of water with your morning workout, followed by a large coffee to power you through your morning, if you’re not drinking enough water (or other decaffeinated, sugar-free beverages) throughout the day, you’re not adequately hydrated. The old advice for drinking eight (8 oz.) cups of water is actually a good starting place, as this equates to about two liters of water. If you are active, or it is very hot or dry where you live, your body will require more fluid to stay hydrated. Many foods, like fruit, vegetables and dairy products, are mostly water and can also count toward your daily fluid needs. Some days are so busy that we forget to drink enough water, but keeping a water bottle where you can see it will remind you to drink up.
8. Eat mindfully.
Consuming a well-balanced, low-sugar die that is full of antioxidant-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, lean protein and healthy fats, including anti-inflammatory omega-3s, is regarded as the best way to eat to reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as manage your weight. However, many of us consume these foods while we're not paying attention, such as when driving, answering emails, or watching television, tuning out the actual process of eating, which can lead to unwanted weight gain and poor satiety. When we are present and focus on our meal (the taste, texture and temperature of the food), as well as how our food makes us feel (content, satisfied, full), we are more likely to get the most benefit from our food. It not only nourishes us physically but emotionally as well. The next time you are hungry, sit down to eat and silence your cell phone. And see if you feel more satisfied when you’re done.
9. Be kind to others.
Whether or not you are religious, increasing your spirituality (however you define it) by improving your connection to others can lead to a greater sense of self-worth and positivity. Ask yourself: How can I affect change in someone else’s life for the better? What can I do to make this world a better place? The answer is not by giving away your personal fortune to end hunger or finding the cure for some debilitating disease, though those are both worthy efforts. For most of us, small acts of kindness, such as opening the door for someone, saying “thank you” to the cashier at the market, or just offering a smile can make the difference in someone’s day.
10. Learn to say no.
So often we find ourselves saying “yes” to everything that comes our way that it stresses us out and we no longer are enjoying what we do. Bake two dozen cupcakes for school? Sure. Make a dinner for a neighbor that just had a baby? Happy to do so. Tackle an extra project at work even though you’re maxed out? Yep, you’ll make it work somehow. But taking on too much leaves no time for you. Remember the word “balance?” It’s okay to say “no” every once and a while. No one will get mad at you; they’ll just find someone else to do it or it won’t get done. The world will not come to a crashing halt. And when you say “no,” mean it and then let it go. You have enough on your plate.