Living a healthy lifestyle isn't just about avoiding disease, although that certainly is a positive effect. Instead, a healthy lifestyle is about promoting a high quality of life that includes physical and mental health, strong relationships, vibrant energy, happiness, longevity, and more.
There are many factors that contribute to a healthy lifestyle, and it's essential to consider and incorporate as many as you can. A healthy diet is important, but it doesn't mean as much if you're super stressed. Peace of mind is great, but it won't last if you don't have the energy to make it through your workday.
There are countless healthy lifestyle habits, and everyone will interpret and incorporate them a bit differently in their lives. If you're looking to add more healthy habits to your life, start here:
The Right Diet
The word "diet" got hijacked. It tends to have a negative connotation; we think of a diet as a restrictive process to help us lose weight. Sometimes it is, but it doesn't have to be. Our diet is simply what we eat in a day. You might have a healthy diet or an unhealthy diet. Over the last few years, there's been enormous attention on a variety of specific diets and lifestyles, including gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo, keto, vegan, eating for your blood type, and more. Though there are many people swearing by each one, that doesn't necessarily mean it's right for you.
The right diet is one that gives you the fuel you need to power through your day and supplies your body with the right nutrients. Your diet needs to be enjoyable and sustainable and, most importantly, it needs to support your body. Do your research, experiment to see how you feel and how you're able to manage meal prepping and cooking, consider how it might impact your finances or your social life, and get clear about why you're choosing to eat a certain way.
No matter which foods you choose to eat, your diet can be improved by incorporating the following healthy habits:
- Eat a lot of vegetables. "Eat the rainbow," as they say.
- Drink a lot of water. Try replacing sugary juices and energy or sports drinks with plain water.
- Limit processed foods and sugar. There are many bloggers who make a career of creating whole-food recipes to satisfy your cravings while nourishing your body. Try those recipes.
- Eat mindfully: Pay attention to what you're eating, the process of chewing, and how it makes your body feel.
- Plan ahead. Don't get caught having to resort to fast food day after day because you're in a rush with no other options. Plan and prep your meals in advance. This helps you feel more in control and gives you healthy food to consume.
- Supplement. Although it's ideal to get your nutrients from food, this may be hard to do in some cases, particularly if you are on a specific diet or have a low daily caloric need. Taking high-quality supplements can help you round out your nutritional needs and support your body.
Exercise and Mindful Movement
Our bodies are made to move. Exercise improves mood, increases energy, strengthens bones, decreases your risk of certain serious diseases, improves sleep, and may help you live longer. (And to think, so many people do it with nothing more than weight control in mind!)
You don't have to spend hours in the gym to reap some of the benefits of exercise. It's important to challenge your muscles and your cardiovascular system, and there are a lot of ways you can do that. Here are a few places to start.
- Spend less time sitting. Sitting for long periods of time (day after day) increases your risk of obesity and a slew of diseases. It can also strain your neck, damage your spine, and slow your brain function. And it's an easy fix: get a standing desk and/or a high-quality, supportive chair. Set a timer to take regular walking breaks. Have meetings while walking in the park rather than sitting at a conference table. Schedule regular exercise into your life.
- Try new things. Keep it interesting by attending a variety of fitness classes, joining a sports team, or trying new activities like hiking, aerial yoga, or boxing.
- Look for opportunity. Don't drive around looking for a parking space: just park, then walk to the entrance. Take the stairs. Run your own errands rather than asking someone else to grab something for you.
- Stretch. Do it right now: reach your arms overhead and lean to one side, then the other. Simple, right? Do that throughout the day, and schedule a few minutes in the morning or night for a dedicated stretch routine or simple yoga practice.
There's a strange pride some people find in surviving on little sleep. Unfortunately, though it may make them feel like exceptionally tired superheroes, they're doing themselves a huge disservice by not getting adequate sleep. Sleep deficiency can make us susceptible to illness and chronic health issues, increase our likelihood of making mistakes (including driving mistakes that lead to accidents), cause difficulty with learning and memory, and hinder our productivity, decision-making, and ability to control our emotions.
A healthy lifestyle includes plenty of high-quality sleep. Improve your sleep habits:
- Set a schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Optimize your sleeping conditions. Make sure your bedroom is quiet and dark.
- Put down the phone. Avoid screen time via smartphone, television, or computer for an hour before bed.
- Avoid stimulants. Keep your coffee drinking to the morning hours. (If you start getting enough sleep, you probably won't feel a need for caffeine in the afternoon!)
Gratitude and Forgiveness
These two powerful practices will impact your whole life. Being grateful for what you have and what you experience has been shown to improve mental and physical health, decrease feelings of anger, reduce stress and improve fortitude, and improve self-esteem. Meanwhile, holding a grudge doesn't hurt the person who makes you angry—it only hurts you:
"...when you forgive, you do not gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses....it doesn't obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or release them from legal accountability.
"Instead, forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger....it empowers you to recognize the pain you suffered without letting that pain define you, enabling you to heal and move on with your life."
By practicing forgiveness, you'll likely experience healthier relationships, less anxiety and depression, a stronger immune system, and higher self-esteem.
Bring them both to life with these habits:
- Start small. Practice forgiving—which is largely the practice of letting go—when someone cuts in line, nearly hits you in traffic, or steps on your toes to take an opportunity. Forgiving those people doesn't mean they were doing the right thing; it just means you're not going to let it ruin your day.
- Recognize the ongoing process. Forgiveness isn't always a one-time thing. You may find old hurts resurfacing, inviting you to forgive and let go all over again.
- Keep a gratitude log. This helps you focus on the good parts of your day, no matter what else may have happened. Download this printable gratitude log to get started.
The Key to Your Healthy Habits: Journaling
Keeping a journal is, in itself, a healthy lifestyle habit. It's a place for you to organize your thoughts as well as practice the simple discipline of performing an action (writing in the journal) every day. Journaling also assists you in the pursuit of your other healthy habits.
For starters, it allows you to assess and record what you're actually doing with your day—not what you think you're doing. Did you really exercise every day this week—or did you forget about that one day where you went to the gym and then spent the time answering urgent texts in the locker room, and that one day where you decided to nix it in favor of dinner with a friend? Are you really sleeping well at night, or are you waking up groggy and grumpy most days? How was your energy and mood after a particular meal or drink?
Your journal is a place to record these observations on a daily basis. When you go back at the end of a month, you'll notice trends: you always wake up tired on Tuesday, for example—what could be causing that? You can also set goals for any healthy habits you want to develop, outline action steps to put them into your life and track your progress. You can write down what you're grateful for and celebrate your daily achievements. Journaling is a healthy habit that helps you keep your other healthy habits on track.
Download our Quick Start Guide to learn more about journaling and how it can be a valuable part of your healthy lifestyle.