The biggest secret about healthy living is that there’s really no secret at all. Good health is not something you need to arduously work toward; rather it’s something to just stop hindering yourself from.
Think of it this way: Your body wants to be healthy. That’s its natural go-to state. You don’t have to be an ultra-marathoner or eat special super berries imported from the Amazon to feel your best. Healthy living is simple, and can be achieved where you are with what you have. Just (re-)learn how to treat your body with as minimal disruption to its basic functioning as you can, and you’ll be well on your way to feeling the best you ever have.
Here are seven simple adjustments that can make a marked improvement in your health both right away and long term:
People kind of hate to hear this one because it’s hard–we live lives with schedules and pressures that don’t support healthful sleeping habits. But it’s still mega-important.
Healthy sleep patterns are essential for optimum energy, immunity, cognitive ability, and physical strength and resilience. Good sleep helps to slow the aging process and reduce risk of illness and disease (everything from the common cold to heart disease).
Humans have four distinct stages of sleep regulated by circadian rhythms. Part of healthful sleeping is getting enough of each phase of the cycle. Your body is hardwired to do this, but due to modern lifestyle factors (lightbulbs, staying up late, night shifts), you may need to do a little tweaking to your environment or habits to get into the natural groove.
Check out this article on healthful sleeping for more background info on sleep cycles, as well as tips and tricks on sleeping well and waking up well rested.
Have a headache? Feeling sluggish? How much water have you had today?
Humans need much more water than you’re probably used to drinking. (And that number increases if you’re a coffee drinker–caffeine is a diuretic, flushing your body of water and dehydrating you.) Of course you’ll also need to drink more water to make up for any time you spend sweating, such as when you’re exercising, driving in a hot car, etc.
Despite the common “8 glasses per day” rule, water needs vary by person. A general rule of thumb is to multiply your weight by 0.67–so, if you weigh 120 pounds, you should drink 80 ounces of water per day. Add 12 ounces for every 30 minutes you spend sweating.
Staying hydrated is such a simple part of staying healthy that it’s often overlooked. But we’re made up of 60% water, and every system in our bodies depends on it. Water flushes toxins out of vital organs, transports nutrients to cells and aids digestion.
Hydration is one of the first things you should look to if you’re not feeling well. The sensation of thirst is the first sign of dehydration. Another clue is in your pee–if it’s not colorless or light yellow, you need more water. Even mild dehydration can make you feel tired and cause your body to function less optimally.
To stay hydrated, carry a water bottle with you in your bag/backpack. Place it prominently on your desk while you’re working to remember to drink it. If you want to spruce things up a bit, try making your own infused waters with these recipes.
Eat real food
Your cells are quite literally made up of what you feed them, so eat wisely. In general, eat fresh, whole foods. Emphasize veggies and high quality protein. Also be sure to get enough high quality fats (grass-fed organic if they’re animal fats). But avoid too much sugar, even from fruit. Sugar is inflammatory and weakens your body’s immune system, so doesn’t aid in feeling well.
Definitely avoid foods that are processed or refined (refined flours, sugars, oils)–that typically rules out most packaged foods. These foods aren’t a natural part of the human diet. Even though they’re digestible, they don’t have nutrient profiles that contribute to optimum health. (And, in many ways, they actively contribute to poor health.)
Eating well doesn’t have to be complicated. Dietitians and fitness gurus will prescribe specific ratios of macronutrients, or special lists of do/don’t eat foods–but that’s not necessary for most people. For a simple approach to eating well, check out this post on 10 rules for choosing real food.
If you’re worried about your cooking skills, check out these (mostly) easy healthy recipes, or just eat your carrots raw. :)
Move your body
Move every day, in any and every way you like. Go for a walk, a run, a hike, do yoga, lift weights, whatever. Any type of movement will help you feel good right away, but for a longer-term overall-health-improving plan, aim to incorporate both movement (like walking, jogging, climbing stairs/hills) and strengthening (yoga, weight lifting, bodyweight exercises).
If you struggle with fitness or don’t like the traditional forms of exercise you know of, don’t worry. The most important type of movement for healthy living is NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis)–just gently moving around in natural human activities at a comfortable and easy pace. Walking, bending, reaching, sitting down and standing up. This article goes into more depth on the importance of NEAT, as well as ways to get more of it in your daily life.
So, focus first and foremost on staying active in simple everyday ways. But for some added oomf, additional strengthening and movement activities will build and tone muscle and help you feel even better.
Sitting is not great for you. In fact, it’s pretty bad for you actually. But if you have to do it, do it right. Proper posture and ergonomics at your desk job and a proper set up if you’re working on your laptop in bed are essential for saving your spine and controlling any back/neck pain that can wreak havoc on your entire body.
If you do tend to spend most of the day sitting, balance out its effects on your body with these yoga poses for desk jobs.
Practice positive thought patterns
Optimistic thinking contributes to greater health and longevity. It’s true.
That’s because feelings of stress, depression, and overwhelm are harmful to the body and hinder optimum health. Unfortunately, these feelings are increasingly common in our fast-paced, competitive culture. Anxiety and depression affect millions of Americans. While these conditions can be caused (or worsened) by physiological issues such as hormonal imbalances or poor diet, they’re often simply the result of perspective–the way we choose to see and respond to our environment.
In cultivating a healthy lifestyle, it’s essential to recognize and redirect unhealthy thought patterns. Negative self-talk (like perfectionistic thinking, magnifying the negative, self-blaming) are all ways we allow our minds to enter a cycle of thinking that has a negative impact on our mental and physical well-being.
To feel your best, train yourself to think your best. Learn to see challenges as opportunities. Practice understanding instead of anger. Find gratitude instead of insufficiency. After all, we become what we think.
How much water/sleep/exercise/protein is enough? How much sugar is too much? When does stress become unhealthy? While there are some general guidelines, these things definitely vary from person to person. Pay attention to what your body is asking for and listen to how it responds and you’ll get a sense of what works best for you.
You don’t have a body, you are a body.
Try each of these tips and see how you feel after a few days, a week, several months. If it seems overwhelming, break down the list and focus on one item per week. But it will get easier. And together, over time, these strategies will bring you closer and closer to your best version of healthy living.