This is my 200th post here on Simply Enough. That calls for a celebration! (I’m celebrating with Belgian chocolate – Dr. Green just returned from a trip to Europe.)
For my 100th post, I created a list of Top 10 Simple Living Tips. To date, this is the most popular post on Simply Enough. Now I’m going to attempt to write something even better. Because I’ve had 18 months to improve my writing. (And I’m kind of competitive.)
The last couple of years, I’ve become increasingly interested in holistic health and wellness. I’ve read a lot. I’ve experimented a lot. And I love to write about what I learn.
So here is my list of the top 20 healthy living tips that will give you all the wellness you ever wanted:
1. Manage Stress
In our culture (the Western culture), stress management is one of the most important keys to good health. Numerous studies have linked stress to chronic disease. This ScienceDaily article explains why chronic psychological stress influences disease.
But beyond disease, living with constant stress is not a pleasant way to live. It restricts our freedom to be the best we can be and can have a negative impact on our relationships.
There are many ways to manage stress. One is to determine the source of your stress and attempt to reduce stressful situations. Another is to engage in activities that counteract/prevent stress:
- Breathe – deep belly breaths
- Go for a walk or jog
- Play music
- Practice yoga
- Meditate/pray/clear your mind
- Learn Tai Chi
2. Eat Real Food
We are what we eat. Real food is whole, fresh food that hasn’t been altered in a factory. By eating a varied, real food diet, you get all the nutrients that nature provides in appropriate amounts. You will feel full faster and won’t overeat as easily.
When buying packaged food (yes, we all do it from time to time), look for a short list of ingredients that you keep in your pantry. If you wouldn’t cook with it, it’s probably not good for you.
Favor organic, local food for the cleanest and freshest eating experience possible.
(And don’t forget to drink enough water!)
More: In Defense of Food
3. Eat a Plant-Based Diet
One of the nine traits of people from areas that have a high number of centenarians (according to the book Blue Zones), is eating a plant-based diet. For the most part, it’s not a completely vegetarian diet. Rather, meat is a special occasion food.
A great way to cut out meat is to have a meat-free day each week. Then you can increase it to two days, and so on. Vegetarian protein sources include beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, dairy, and avocado.
Beyond the health benefits of a plant-based diet, it’s good for the environment too. And your wallet!
More: Blue Zones
4. Spend Time in Nature
I don’t need a scientific study to tell me that spending time in nature is good for wellbeing. I experience it every time I go for a walk through the woods, hit the bike trails, or even just sit on the patio behind my house. I feel more alive and joyful.
We were born in nature and if you think about it, houses and buildings are pretty unnatural structures (unless you live in a sod house or something…). Yes, we need shelter and protection from predators, but we don’t need to stay in these structures all day!
Find nature close to your home and/or work and make a point of stopping by several times per week. Even if it’s just to sit on a park bench and read for a few minutes. You’ll feel so great!
More: Sharing Nature
5. Surround Yourself with Kind, Happy Friends
Friends are good to have. You don’t need many, but you need a few. One thing that I’ve thought about a lot lately is how my friends make me feel. Do they make me feel good or bad? Happy or sad?
As I near my 40s, keeping friends around that constantly drag you down doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. You’re responsible for your health and happiness, and if you allow others to destroy that, you’re not doing anybody a favor.
Kind, happy friends don’t make mean jokes, don’t talk down to you, and don’t make you feel bad about yourself. They fill you with confidence, joy and security. And they support you in making healthy decisions.
More: Friend Choosing
6. Build Exercise into Your Daily Routine
This may be a tip that makes you shudder. Of course, you know you should exercise, but you can’t stand the thought of it or can’t even begin to figure out where you’ll work it into your schedule.
I was not into sports growing up. I only exercised during PE and when my dad periodically dragged me into the woods for painful runs. However, after I had my child, I realized that I needed to stay in shape for her – and for me. So I started to make exercise part of my daily routine.
You need to determine a time of day when you are most likely to follow through. For me, it’s first thing in the morning. In the middle of the day there’s the inconvenience of having to shower again. And at the end of the day, I’m too tired to think about exercise (aside from a leisurely walk after dinner).
Once you decide when you’re most likely to exercise, add it to your daily routine. Schedule around it. Shift commitments around to accommodate it.
7. Follow Your Passion
What is your passion? Is it gardening? Or creating websites? Or ending world hunger? Whatever it is, your wellness will be greatly improved if you are able to follow your passion. Ideally, make a career of it. If not, make sure you have ample time to spend on your passion.
For me, it’s helping people be well. Ideally before they have a heart attach/get diagnosed with diabetes/have to take antidepressants. (Read more about what I’m doing to follow my passion here.) It’s also writing. By writing this blog post, I’m finding a way to combine these passions.
This ties in with the concept of having a purpose. Waking up each morning with excitement about the day. Feeling a sense of accomplishment as you fall asleep. So important for a long, happy life.
More: How to Find Your Passion
8. Give Back
Doing things for others is one of the best ways to feel good. Just this morning, my stylist and I were discussing this very topic. She told me that she often makes donation to local causes. She also told me about how Paul Mitchell gives makeovers to homeless women who are pursuing a new life. I said that would be a great thing for her to do as well.
Combining your skill and passion with giving is one of the best ways to make a difference. There are always ways to use your gifts for good. For example, grow a garden and donate some of the produce to a local homeless shelter. Or donate your time to build a website for a small non-profit.
9. Buy (Only) What You Need
What does buying less have to do with wellness? Here’s how I see it: If you decide to go with a simple, non-consumerist lifestyle, you will have more money and time to pursue activities that lead to better health.
For example, if switching to a voluntary simplicity lifestyle allows you to work parttime, you won’t have any problem fitting exercise into your daily schedule. Or the money you save from not buying stuff can help you follow your passion and make a career move.
Buying stuff can also add a significant amount of stress. Especially if you have to maintain the stuff you buy (or buy a bigger house to find room for everything!). So buy only what you need.
More: Stuff Adds Stress
10. Laugh out Loud
Laughter can add minutes and hours and days to your life. As children, we laugh many times every day. As adults, not so much.
Laughter yoga is a great way to get your laughter in. According to the main laughter yoga website:
Laughter lowers the level of stress hormones (epinephrine, cortisol, etc) in the blood. It fosters a positive and hopeful attitude. It is less likely for a person to succumb to stress and feelings of depression and helplessness, if one is able to laugh away the troubles.
Check to see if there is a laughter club in your area.
More: Laughing Laura (friend of mine)
11. Keep Your Brain Sharp
Research shows that keeping your brain sharp can help prevent, or delay, dementia. Having watched my grandmother die from Alzheimers, this is definitely one healthy living tip that is up there on my list.
Plus, I love to learn new things, and that is one of the best ways to keep your brain sharp. And if you’re into Nintendo, you can get the Brain Age game. Our whole family was addicted to that for several months.
12. Develop a Healthy Relationship with Alcohol
We all know somebody who has struggled, or still struggles, with alcoholism. Alcohol is a drug and it should be treated with respect.
At the same time, news headlines tell us that drinking red or white wine (depending on the month) is good for our health.
Going back to the Blue Zones findings, alcohol definitely has health benefits and may contribute to longevity. However, it requires a healthy relationship with alcohol. If you can handle drinking only one serving (or two for men), then by all means, enjoy. However, if you know yourself well enough that you can’t just have one, just say no. There are plenty of other ways to stay well.
13. Belong to a Community
One of my biggest goals in life has been to find a community where I belong. Most of my life, I’ve moved too frequently to make that happen. Now, finally, I live in a place where we are able to put down roots and find our community.
A community can be anything from a gang of guys that meet up for coffee once a week to a knitting club to a faith community. The important part is to surround yourself with non-judging, like-minded people who care about you. You want to feel confident that your community will take care of you if you get sick or lose your job.
Having that sense of security will allow you to slow down and not have to worry about making loads of money. Which reduces stress and allows you to find time for wellness-related activities (see how it all goes together!).
More: Community Sharing
14. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is important. We can’t live without sleep. And, sadly, most of us don’t get enough sleep.
This affects everything from our mood to our ability to concentrate to our driving.
If you have trouble getting enough sleep, consider trying some of these sleep strategies:
- Keep a consistent bedtime and wakeup time – even on the weekends
- Avoid electronics for at least one hour before sleeping
- Don’t eat or drink alcohol right before you go to sleep
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine
- Practice relaxation techniques if you have trouble turning off your mind at night
15. Slow Down
We live in a fast-paced world. Our days are packed with activities and we have information thrown at us everywhere we turn. We scramble to get our email inbox cleared out, “multitask,” and rush in our cars from one place to the next.
It’s not good.
Slowing down can be applied to a lot of different parts of your life. Slow Food encourages people to eat real food and enjoy it with friends and family in a leisurely manner. Slow Money dreams of a slower economy that focuses on long-term health of the planet versus short-term monetary gains.
Take a look at how you spend your time. Find ways to clear your calendar of commitments that don’t align with your values and interests. Limit your children’s extracurricular activities. Take a day of rest.
16. Spend Time Away from the Computer
Lately, I’ve noticed that my energy level and mood drops when I spend too much time in front of the computer.
It makes sense. Sitting in front of a computer is one of the most unnatural activities in the world. We were designed to be outside, work with our bodies, and interact with our clan – not stare at a screen for hours on end.
Besides the social/emotional aspect, sitting down for too many hours per day is not good for our physical health. In fact, it shaves years off our lives.
For these reasons, I am switching careers so I can do work that involves less time sitting in front of a screen and more time interacting with people and being physically active. You should consider doing the same.
However, if you love you seated job, make sure to take lots of breaks and spend time away from the computer. Walk over to your colleague’s desk instead of communicating through the computer. Drink lots of water and visit the bathroom farthest from your office to get some additional time away. Take stretch breaks. And don’t work too much!
17. Prioritize Family
This is another of the nine traits identified by the Blue Zones book as contributing to a long, happy life.
If you are fortunate enough to have family close by, take advantage of that. Share meals. Celebrate holidays and other special events together. Support each other through tough times.
If you have children, focus on them while they live at home. Those years fly by and you are one of the most important influencers in your child’s life. Family meals are key. This is where the family can connect and discuss current events. It’s where social learning takes place.
And when you get to the age that you no longer can live on your own, move in with your kids rather than into a nursing home. I’ve already informed my 15-year-old that I’m moving in with her when I turn 90. She was not thrilled about this news at first, but then realized that she’ll be 67, so it’ll probably be OK.
18. Add Physical Activity to Your Life
Wait a minute! Didn’t we already talk about exercise?
Yes indeed, we sure did. And now we’re going to talk about physical activity. Physical activity is any movement that you perform throughout the day like getting out of bed, walking the dog, walking from the car to your office building, and walking up the stairs.
One great way to increase your lifespan and improve general wellbeing is to add more physical activity to your life. And there are lots of great ways to do it!
- Walk or bike for transportation
- Take the stairs
- Plant a garden
- Use an old-fashioned mower (love mine!)
- Shovel snow
- Play a game of tag with the kids
- Park as far away as you can
- Go for a walk after dinner (great for digestion!)
19. Regulate Your Emotions
Emotions can be a wonderful thing. Feeling excited before a trip. Feeling happy with a loved one. Feeling surprised over a great gift. Even feeling sad when appropriate is part of life.
However, when emotions get out of control, they can rule (and ruin) our lives.
If you have trouble regulating your emotions, consider seeking help from a professional. There are some great therapies, such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), available to give you the skills you need to regulate your emotions.
20. Live in the Moment
It’s so cliché, but so important. Living in the moment is truly living.
When you focus too much on the past or the future, you let your life slip by without living.
And the unfortunate thing is that mindful living is hard! I know I haven’t mastered it yet. It requires ongoing practice.
Here are some ways to practice mindfulness throughout the day:
- Be mindful as you wake up and get out of bed. I try to remember to smile every morning to set the tone for the day.
- Be mindful when you exercise. It’s tempting to multitask on the treadmill (I do it!). However, exercise is a great time to really be in the moment. Focus on your breath and your surroundings. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the present.
- Be mindful when you shower. It’s a great time to give your body some love. Just the other day, I got out of the shower and couldn’t remember if I had washed my hair. If I had been mindful, I would’ve known.
- Be mindful when you eat. Eating slowly, chewing carefully, and setting down the fork between each bite has great health benefits. Focus on the smells and textures and colors. Enjoy each bite.
- Be mindful when you drive. I see so many distracted people behind the wheel (again, I’m guilty of this as well). Defensive driving is mindful driving. Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t do anything else while you drive (that’s why we have voicemail!).
- Be mindful when you interact with others. Whether you’re in a business meeting, on a date, or talking to your child, be fully present. Don’t look at your phone every two minutes. Look at the person you’re talking to and really listen to what they are saying. Kids can tell when you’re not paying attention and will call you on it. Take their advice.
- Be mindful when you work. Perform every task with intention. Avoid distractions by turning off email and IM. You’ll be amazed how much faster you can get things done.
Over to You!
What are your top healthy living tips?