Andrea Metcalf by Andrea Metcalf

It seems that some people effortlessly move through life making the right choices. They know exactly what to eat, wake up at the crack of dawn to enjoy a 10-mile morning jog and get to bed early each night for a solid, dreamy eight hours of sleep. If this doesn’t sound like you, it may be worthwhile to look at some healthy habits that could make a huge difference in your overall health and wellbeing.

Making any change can seem daunting, but if you make things a habit with a six-week plan, any new discipline can become a healthy lifestyle habit. Pick one or several of these seven highly effective habits that healthy people practice every day for a new, healthy way of life.

1. Early to Bed, Early to Rise.

As the saying goes, this “makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” To say that sleep is an important habit of living healthier is an understatement. Research shows us that sound sleep is worth striving for. Sleeping six to seven hours each night can actually help you live longer, maintain a healthy weight, and help you function better throughout the day. Make sure you’re trying to get to bed early and avoid late-night work sessions. Just as you start the day with a positive mantra, try to adopt a calming routine for evening. A warm bath, reading or journaling and a dark, cool room are key for young and old alike. Also, new research shows that keeping one leg outside the sheets can help regulate body temperature more effectively. Lastly, if you’re suffering from lack of sleep, skipping your early-morning workout and sleeping in may help (as long as it doesn’t become a regular habit).

2. Don’t Worry, Be Happy.

Stress has been linked to strokes and heart attacks, so it’s important to have strategies that help you manage your stress. The practice of counting to 10 can help keep blood pressure and heart rate from skyrocketing, and practices like yoga, meditation and Pilates may be useful in keeping stressful hormones from damaging our bodies. It’s also a great idea to simply take time to breathe consciously for as little as two to three minutes, journal throughout the day or listen to calming music. The more you are conscious of how you react to stressful events, the easier it will be for you to stay calm and make a mind-body connection.

3. The Early Bird Gets the Worm.

People who work out first thing in the morning are more likely to continue with a regular exercise program than those who work out at any other time of the day. Making exercise a daily ritual is key, but you don’t have to go to a gym to get a workout. A morning walk, jog or yoga practice for at least 30 minutes can help reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and even type 2 diabetes. Strength training has considerable benefits, especially after the age of 40, including keeping bones strong and boosting metabolism for a leaner body. However, whether you work out in the morning or any other time of day, the key is to do at least 30 minutes at moderate intensity. If you work out at a lower intensity, you’ll need to increase the length of your workouts to achieve the same benefits.

4. Floss More.

Your gums are a good indication of how much inflammation you may have in the rest of your body. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease (also called heart disease). In fact, one study found that the presence of common problems in the mouth, including gum disease (gingivitis), cavities and missing teeth, were as good at predicting heart disease as cholesterol levels. Bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream through the gums and has been found clumped in artery plaques, which some believe directly contribute to blockages. Bottom line? Don’t forget to floss, for both your heart and your teeth.

5. Be a Free Spirit.

Studies show that people who practice some form of spirituality live longer. It may be that praying or acknowledging a higher power gives time for reflection and reduces stress on the body.

6. Where’s the Beef?

The power of protein is known to rebuild cells in the body and, of course, muscles. But those who eat a minimum of 80 to 100 grams of meat daily manage their weight better than those who consume than that.  Protein helps stabilize blood sugar levels that may cause increased appetite. Also, look for “fast food” sources of lean protein—animals that move a lot while they are alive are typically lower in cholesterol and fat. For example, chickens move more than cows, while shrimp move more than scallops. Both chicken and shrimp are examples of lean sources of protein. However, even a daily diet of lean beef protein can have cholesterol-lowering effects if combined with other healthy foods.

7. Veg Out.

The average American eats only two to three servings of fruits and vegetables per day, even though research suggests that eating seven to nine servings of these anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-packed foods can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease by 50 percent, according to a recent study.

Vegetables typically have more fiber than most fruits, but both are an important part of your diet. Consume a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables using the 4-3-2-1 method:

  • Four servings at breakfast: Two-egg, spinach and tomato omelet, a banana and glass of orange juice (four servings)
  • Three servings at lunch: Two cups mixed greens, sliced tomato, shaved carrots, cabbage and cucumber for a three-serving salad (don’t forget to add the protein)
  • Two servings at dinner: Baked potato and side of broccoli with a lean four-ounce filet
  • One more fruit or veggie as a dessert or snack (apples with peanut butter are a great treat)

If you implement just one habit each month, you will be amazed at how much more happiness, energy and life you’ll achieve.