Good health is as much about good habits as being born with a good constitution. It can be tough going and takes a lot of determination both to achieve and keep up with those good habits. Good health impacts your life in so many ways, even your destiny; from finances, to how you perform at work, to your relationships with family and friends.
Most of us know we should eat more fruits and vegetables, stay away from processed foods, drink plenty of water, exercise, and get a restful sleep.
But there are also less-talked-about things you can do that can be just as important, which you might not have related to good health at first glance.
Following the recommendations of eating healthy, exercising, and drinking plenty of water all require self-discipline. Knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things. Self-discipline can make the difference between making progress with your goals, or staying in the rut of your same old routine.
To put those goals into action, I find that planning ahead and sticking to a scheduled routine can keep my patients on track with healthy habits.
For example, going to the store twice a week and preparing healthy meals in advance can help ensure you’re not eating things you’ll later regret. Of course, this takes structure and disciple, but as with anything, it becomes easier the more you do it.
Studies show that the amount of time it takes for a new habit to become automatic varies widely from one individual to the next, but on average, it takes about 66 days. So within two or three months, most people will have created a rhythm with their new routine.
Of course, life will throw us curve-balls. Don’t let it throw you off track or feel too guilty when you do mess up. The very next chance you get, just do what you should do.
Mind your thoughts: You are what you think
Your thoughts matter more than we may realize. If we’re not careful, they can lead us down a path to poor health.
“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
It is easy to go along with your random thoughts, even if they’re not good for you. But you should not believe every thought that comes to mind. If your thoughts don’t align with what you want to do and who you want to be, you should replace them with positive, beneficial thoughts.
It is well-known in the medical community that your thoughts impact your health. Negative thoughts weaken your immune system and cause increased levels of pain, elevated blood pressure, poor sleep, and more.
So the next time you notice thoughts that interfere with your desired path, ask yourself if these thoughts are harming or helping you. If they are harmful, make a conscious effort to change them.
Be kind: There is no cost
Studies show those who are kind and think of others before themselves are both healthier and happier than those with more selfish inclinations.
Random acts of kindness have been shown to increase hormone levels like oxytocin and serotonin and improve everything from blood pressure to depression and heart health. Few things can make you happier than making someone else feel better.
Kindness is both teachable and contagious. Random acts of kindness, like letting someone in front of you in line at the store go ahead, can really brighten someone else’s day, and perhaps even inspire that person to pass it along.
Stay active in body and mind
Staying physically active is important, but we often forget that that includes mental fitness.
Brain fitness is really pretty simple. Reading a good book, doing crossword puzzles, or memorizing phone numbers rather than relying on technology can all strengthen your brain and keep it sharp into advanced age. Learning how to play a new instrument or language has been shown to increase neuronal connections in the brain and improve brain health.
Physical exercise doesn’t have to be done at the gym. Something as simple as taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood, yoga, or doing things around the house can provide the daily activity your body needs.
A project like planting and tending a small garden will not only get you off the sofa, but will also provide you with some low-cost, nutritious food that you can feel good about. Learning a new skill such as woodworking or tennis can provide both a mental and physical workout.
My healthiest elderly patients all have one thing in common — they socialize regularly with friends and family. I once would not have related this to good health. But after years of observation, I understand how important it is.
The American Psychological Association (APA) notes that quality relationships affect many aspects of physical and mental health, including better immune function, improved cardiovascular health, less depression, and ever lowered incidents of cancer.
Unplug the tv and laptop now and again
Technology certainly has its perks. It can keep us connected while putting endless information at our fingertips. But too much tech time may not be a good thing.
We now seem to be in need of constant mental stimulation. We don’t know the long-term health effects of our tech obsession, but many experts have serious concerns, especially with regard to a child’s developing brain. The inordinate amounts of time we spend on screens has spurred technology addiction treatment centers to crop up across the country.
While technology has its benefits, it must be used in moderation and with discretion, lest it comes to dominate and control your life, all while having a negative impact on your health.
Get a good night’s rest
Sleep is vital to your well-being. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the average adult needs 7–9 hours of sleep per night, noting that 1 in 3 adults do not actually get the amount of sleep they need.
Lack of sleep impacts your health in a variety of ways, leading to things such as depression and irritability, hormonal imbalances, weight gain, impaired immune function, diabetes, and heart disease, to name just a few.
It’s important to develop a good sleep routine. This means doing things like going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, not using technology for at least 30 minutes prior to bed, doing something relaxing like taking a warm bath or having a cup of chamomile tea, and putting your worries aside.
When you rest well, it gives your body and mind a chance to balance and heal. You wake up feeling refreshed, with the mental and physical energy needed to take on the new day and give it your best.