If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my plant-based journey, it’s that lifestyle plays a huge role in overall health. Don’t let this overwhelm you though, look at it in a positive way. You have way more control over your future health than you think. This means that you have the ability to put some healthy habits in place that will support you in the long run. To that end, I’ve got some healthy habits you can start using today to improve your overall health and wellness.
Healthy Habit #1: Get Adequate Sleep
When life gets busy, one of the first things we tend to neglect is our sleep. Not only do we extend our waking hours, but stress can significantly erode the quality of the sleep we do get. This is problematic, because sleep is crucial to our overall health, both mentally and physically.
We need to stop viewing sleep as unproductive time. When we sleep, our bodies are hard at work repairing damage, consolidating memories and releasing hormones that will regulate growth and appetite.
Lack of quality sleep leads to lots of health issues. It affects mood, memory and ability to focus. Poor sleep also depresses immune function and, over time, puts you at increased risk of disease and shortens your life expectancy.
The take away here: sleep is vital! So, make sure you are getting enough. Adults need an average of 7-9 hours of sleep to feel good and refreshed. Aim for consistent sleep and wake times to improve the quality of your sleep, following your body’s natural rhythms as much as possible. Incorporate this healthy habit today and you’ll soon start feeling the difference.
Healthy Habit #2: Drink Lots
I’m not talking alcohol here. Your body needs water, lots of it! Our brains are about 75% water, so when we are dehydrated, they actually shrink. Dehydration impairs brain function, which has a negative impact on mood, focus, alertness and cognitive function.
So, do your brain a favour and drink up! How much? Well, there are lots of recommendations out there. The old 8 glasses a day is actually based on an old study from the 1920’s that was pretty flimsy to begin with.
As good rule of thumb, aim to drink half of your body weight (measured in pounds) in fluid ounces throughout the day. For example, if you weigh 100 pounds, you should be aiming for about 50 ounces of fluid in a day.
Now, this includes what you eat too. You’ll get some water from fresh fruits and vegetables, so if you’re eating lots of those in a day (as you should) you won’t need to drink quite as much.
The opposite is true for dehydrating substances. If you drink a lot of caffeine or alcohol, you’ll want to compensate with more water.
Healthy Habit #3: Move Your Body
As a society, we sit too much and move too little. This is a shame, because physical activity has been shown to have a number of health benefits. It can boost your mood and make you less susceptible to feelings of depression and anxiety. Exercise releases mood-boosting endorphins, which can help reduce your perception of pain. Not only that, it also makes your brain more sensitive to serotonin, which is a natural mood stabilizer.
Exercise is important to muscle and bone formation. As mentioned in my post about calcium, weight-bearing exercise helps to promote the growth and maintenance of healthy bones. It can also help you maintain your mobility as you age.
There are a number of other health benefits to exercise, but there are too many to cover in detail here. Everything from weight loss and reduced risk of disease to better memory, better sleep and a healthier sex life. The point is, physical activity is something you need to make time for.
How much physical activity is enough? Aim for 30-40 minutes of heart-rate increasing activity a day. If you can’t fit that all in at once, take 10 minutes 3-4 times a day to get your heart pumping. Your overall physical and mental health will improve.
Healthy Habit #4: Don’t Avoid the Experts
When I urge people to take control of their health, I don’t mean that you don’t have to go to the doctor anymore. That would be foolish. While you can take the reins of preventative medicine at home, it’s important to continue seeing your doctor for regular check-ups as well.
This allows them to take a blood panel to look for any deficiencies, or markers of declining health. They’ll also help you schedule important screenings based on your age and family history. This is important, because when it comes to illness, catching it early can make a huge difference in the outcome. That being said, I know many complain that their doctors tend to push medications. It’s ideal to find a doctor that you trust and who will discuss options with you rather than pushing pills.
While you’re responsibly scheduling your regular check up with your family doctor, be sure to visit your optometrist to take care of your eyes and your dentist to take care of your teeth. Seeing an optometrist on a regular basis is a good way to watch for any decline in eye health. And poor oral health can contribute to a number of diseases. Take care of those chompers.
Healthy Habit #5: Eat Healthy
This one seems like a no-brainer, but often we need a reminder. What you put in your mouth has a HUGE impact on your overall health and well-being.
There are many schools of thought when it comes to what a healthy diet entails. For any of you who have been to my blog before, you know that I advocate for a whole food, plant-based diet for optimum health. This is the only diet that has been shown to reverse and prevent some of the biggest chronic diseases facing society today, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It can also significantly reduce your risk for other diseases, including certain forms of cancer.
However, I also understand that not everyone is ready to take that plunge yet. In that case, there are some overall guidelines that all schools of thought can generally agree on.
These include shifting the focus to more fruits and vegetables in the diet as well as whole, natural foods over highly processed convenience foods. So, even if you aren’t ready to jump into a WFPB vegan diet, do yourself a favour: eat more plants, and less junk. Your body will thank you.
Healthy Habit #6: Practice Self Care
Stress is one of those things we all face at times. It’s become a normal part of daily life today. Unfortunately, stress can take a huge toll on our overall health. It has this ability to creep in and do damage in a number of different ways. It reduces immune function, has a negative effect on mental health, and can lead to a number of health issues. Plainly put, stress is not something you want to ignore.
Self-care is the act of taking care of oneself. When we are stressed or busy, it’s often the first thing we cut off the to-do list, but it’s the most important item on that list. We are only able to perform our best when we are well taken care of. While that includes a lot of other habits in this post, a big component is stress-relief.
It’s about stopping to listen to your body and mind, and respecting what it needs from you in that moment. Self-care encompasses all of the things we can do to relax, recharge and nourish ourselves. This can include things like taking time off work (vacation time is meant to be used, folks), practising meditation or yoga, deep breathing, self-reflection, journaling, and any other activities that reduce your feelings of stress and bring you joy instead.
It’s important to remember that self-care is not selfish. You can’t fill from an empty cup. So, take the time to take care of yourself first. This will have you performing at your best so you can be there to help care for your loved ones and those who need you.
Healthy Habit # 7: Plan Your Meals
No matter what dietary plan you follow, it’s incredibly difficult to eat optimally without a little planning and preparation. It’s important to pay attention to your food choices so you can be sure to get all the nutrients your body needs to perform at its best. When we decide to ‘wing it’ we are far more likely to make poor nutritional choices fuelled by current moods. Poor nutritional choices can lead to the kind of mood swings that lead to further poor choices. Hello vicious cycle!
The best way to ensure you’re meeting your nutritional needs is to take some time to plan your meals. So, sit down once a week and plan it out. Even if it’s just a rough idea of what you plan to eat. This will allow you to get a bird’s eye view and ensure you’re eating the right things to support your health. Perhaps you’ll look at your meal plan and realize you’re not eating enough leafy greens. You can then adjust and find ways to add more of them over the course of the week.
Meal planning helps to keep you on track with your health goals. It will reduce dinner time stress because you already know what you plan to make when you get home. If you’ve done some batch cooking, you can now can just heat up the delicious food waiting in your fridge. Planning meals also helps you save money and reduce food waste. No matter how you slice it, meal planning is a huge win.
Healthy Habit # 8: Get Outside
When the cold weather comes it’s common to get cooped up inside waiting for the warm weather to return. Taking some time to get outside has a number of health benefits, even in the winter.
Fresh air is incredibly restorative to both body and mind. When you take time to get outside, you’re flooding your lungs with fresh air, and also getting some vitamin D to boot.
Time spent outdoors has been linked to increased creativity, lower levels of stress, improved mood, and increased alertness and concentration.
Not all outdoor areas are created equal though. Urban areas can actually increase stress and anxiety. Look for green spaces like parks or nature trails to get the most benefit from your time outdoors.
The Bottom Line
Science continues to show us that lifestyle has a large impact on our overall health. It’s time we began taking that information seriously so we can take care of ourselves properly. We just need to take the time to implement some healthy habits to support our bodies and minds. As a result, we can enjoy happier and healthier lives. Who doesn’t want that?
What are your favourite healthy habits? Let me know down in the comments below.
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