“Healthy living” may look different from one person to the next, but simply put, healthy living is doing and eating things that make you feel good mentally, emotionally, and physically. It’s also a way of living that lowers your risk of getting seriously ill or dying early. How you get there will depend on your current lifestyle, (mental and physical) health, interests, and goals.
For one person, healthy living could be walking for 30 minutes every morning, avoiding fast food, and meditating for ten minutes every night before bed. Someone else’s healthy lifestyle could be riding their bike 20 miles a day, journaling in the mornings, eating a vegan diet, and talking to a close friend or family member at night.
And while everyone differs, there are some things we can all agree on that promotes healthy living: eating more foods that make us feel better, moving our bodies in a way that makes us feel strong, exercising our minds to become more resilient, and developing a community that gives us purpose.
Eat Food That Makes You Feel Good
The one thing that’ll be the biggest difference between healthy living and unhealthy living is what you eat. In fact, according to Heart & Stroke, “up to 80% of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented through your life choices and habits, such as eating a healthy diet and being physically active.” It’s not just avoiding heart disease and stroke when eating for a healthy lifestyle, but it’s how you feel after eating certain foods.
How often have you returned home after binging on processed foods, like white bread and pasta, fried foods, baked goods, and alcohol, and felt awful? Your stomach hurts. You’re uncomfortable. You’re searching through your cabinets for some Pepto Bismol or Tums to alleviate some of the pain.
Alternatively, when you eat a plate full of vegetables, quinoa, and tofu, you usually feel lighter and a bit more energized. In the moment, eating chips covered in cheese, salsa, and beans while downing it with a refreshing and icy alcoholic beverage sounds like a lot of fun, but it’s doing more damage to your health than you realize.
Eating healthily improves your cholesterol levels, reduces your blood pressure, helps manage healthy body weight, and controls blood sugar.
What does a healthy diet include?
Eating for a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean taking the fun out of food. It’s all about moderation.
Vegetables: they’re packed with nutrients and antioxidants and help keep you full longer because of their fiber content.
Fill half your plate with vegetables (and some fruit) at every meal and snack. Try to eat different fruits and vegetables at every meal. We can’t get all our nutrition from one type of vegetable, so it’s important to change it up. Think about eating every color of the rainbow every day to get more nutrients in your diet.
Whole grains: They’re usually made with the entire grain which means they still contain their nutritional content like fiber, protein, and vitamins.
Fill one-quarter of your plate with whole grains like whole-grain bread, brown or wild rice, quinoa, or oatmeal.
Protein: Protein helps build and maintain bones and muscles. It also provides energy and keeps you feeling full for longer.
Fill one-quarter of your plate with protein-rich foods like legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu, fish, shellfish, eggs, poultry, milk, yogurt, eggs, etc.
Drink water: Water supports healthy living and helps with hydration without adding calories or sugar. Aim for your body weight in ounces of water per day.How to start doing it:
Instead of thinking of what you can’t eat, start incorporating more healthy foods. For example, if you love having ice cream after dinner, start adding fruit on top. Or, start adding more high-fiber vegetables to your dinner. You may end up being too full to have ice cream afterward.
Move Your Body For Strength, Flexibility, And Enjoyment
Technology is amazing, but it’s also made us more sedentary than before. We now have cars, public transportation, washing machines, tv, and desk jobs. This means more sitting time and less moving time. And it takes a toll on our bodies.
The Benefits of physical activity
You don’t need to be an athlete to enjoy the benefits of exercising and you don’t have to spend hours at the gym. Physical activity is important for every person at any age because outside of losing or maintaining weight, it helps reduce high blood pressure, reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, heart attack, stroke, osteoporosis, and cancers, reduces arthritis pain, and helps reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. It also improves your brain health, strengthens your bones and muscles, and increases your ability to do everyday things and avoid injuries.
The CDC recommends starting with 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week. This could be walking for 30 minutes 5 days a week and lifting weights 2-4 times per week.Do what you enjoy.
Physical activity looks different for everyone, so do what you enjoy. Endurance activities like walking, running, bicycling, dancing, and swimming increase your breathing, get your blood pumping, and help improve your mood while activities like yoga, stretching, and Tai Chi are more calming and help increase range of motion and balance.How to start doing it:
If you’re not already incorporating physical activity into your everyday life, one way to start a healthy living practice of movement is to walk more.During the day
A typical workday could look something like parking in the furthest spot from the door and taking the stairs to your office. Throughout the day, stand up and stretch. Take a walk outside during your lunch break or take walking meetings instead of being cooped up in an office room.At night
Later at night, during commercial breaks or between Netflix episodes, stand up and walk around the house. These seemingly insignificant steps will start to make a difference. You’ll likely notice you have more energy throughout the day and you may start to see your mood improve.
As you get more comfortable moving around, get curious about different activities and sports. If you’re interested in dancing, find a dance class to take. If you’d rather box, there’s a class for that too. To get more excited about enrolling in classes, find cute new activewear that’ll help you feel your best when breaking a sweat.
Exercise Your Mind To Become Resilient
Being alive means you’ll deal with stress in your life. Some stress is actually good for you because it can help sharpen your cognitive skills. When stress goes from acute to chronic is when you start to have bigger issues. Long-term, chronic stress puts our body in a constant fight-or-flight mode. This leads to bad sleep, heart disease, digestive problems, depression, anxiety, and more.
When you incorporate activities that calm your nerves, you reduce help manage anxiety, reduce stress, and cope with depression.
Just like physical activity, reducing stress and exercising your mind to become more resilient will look different for everyone.
If you do find joy in movement, physical activity reduced stress, improved your mood and self-confidence, helps you relax, and lowers symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Meditation is accessible to everyone and it doesn’t take much to start practicing. And yes, it’s a practice and not something you master because we’re always learning.
Mindful describes meditation as, “learning how to pay attention to the breath as it goes in and out, and notice when the mind wanders from this task. This practice of returning to the breath builds the muscles of attention and mindfulness.” It sounds simple and it is, in theory. In practice, it takes a lot of discipline but the benefits are limitless.
Most of us don’t breathe effectively. We’re all pretty much shallow breathers, which can lead to anxiety, fatigue, and dry mouth. Learning how to slow down our breathing can help relax our minds and our bodies.
If you’ve ever started a sentence with “Dear Diary,” then you’ve journaled before. It was a place to write confessions, struggles, and fears without others knowing. It was where you could lay it all out as grammatically incorrect as it was. You can still do this as an adult and it’s incredibly therapeutic.How to start doing it:
Take a few minutes (or days), and think about what calms you. It could be running for ten miles that really clears your head, writing a stream of consciousness for 30 minutes in the morning, or even sitting cross-legged in the backyard focusing on your breath.
Whatever it is that gives your thinking mind a break, start doing it a couple of minutes a day. Gradually, increase your time spent doing it until you get to the point where you’re noticing the benefits.
Develop A Community For Purpose
We probably don’t need to tell you, but having close friends and family members and spending quality time with them makes you happy and increases your healthy living. In fact, studies show lacking strong relationships and community increases your risk of depression and can affect your health.
If you want a healthy lifestyle, you can’t neglect your relationships. Your social network may look different than someone else’s and that’s okay. It’s important to have relationships with anyone who provides positive social support be it a partner, friend, coworker, family member, teacher, or neighbor.
Benefits of a supportive network
Having quality friendships not only gives you support, but they help you have a sense of belonging. Feeling like you belong supports a major emotional health need and at the same time, decreases depression and hopelessness.
A support network will also help you through difficult periods of your life and help you unload some of the stressors instead of keeping them bottled up. Additionally, having positive influences in your life can help you achieve some of your own goals and encourage healthy behavior. People who care about you will care about your well-being and if you told them healthy living is important to you, they’ll support and encourage you, and keep you accountable to yourself.How to start doing it:
Making friends as an adult doesn’t need to be challenging, even with the demands of being a grownup. If you already have some friends, focus on developing stronger relationships with them first before making new ones. Start by texting or calling people already in your support network. Take time to see how they’re doing. Meet them for coffee, dinner, or an activity you both like (then you can cross off physical activity too!).
If you’re lacking friends, start by following your interests. It’s easier to make friends when you share a common interest. Think about joining a hiking or cycling club, taking an art class, or picking a new hobby and meeting people doing that.
Being the first person to make a move can feel a little daunting, so don’t put any unnecessary pressure on yourself. If you have an acquaintance you’d like to become closer with, simply ask them if they’d like to hang out sometime. Keep your invitation simple and casual.
To Wrap Up, Stay Consistent For Healthy Living
A healthy lifestyle isn’t a one-and-done thing. You have to put in the effort every day. Start small by incorporating a piece of each of the four aspects we listed above. Begin by adding more vegetables and water to your diet. Challenge yourself to eat a new piece of vegetable or fruit for every meal.
Next, start getting more steps into your day. Park further away. Stand up throughout the day to stretch and move.
Find a 5-minute guided meditation on YouTube or Spotify and start your day off listening to it.
Finally, reach out to one person and ask them how they’re doing. Then invite them to hang out with you. Just starting with these four things will impact you in ways you’d never thought. You just have to begin.