Health is one of those things most of care about but seldom feel. Sure, we do a few things we consider “healthy” but how do you know if we’re truly healthy? Simple processes like our annual check ups with a doctor are a good place to start. Unfortunately, that’s just a snapshot of your overall health and it can take a long time for our daily habits to catch up with us and wreak havoc on our bodies and minds. The sad truth is there is no perfect state of health for anyone. We shouldn’t strive for perfection. We should strive for progress. Here are my 9 “non negotiable” habits if you want to continual progress with your health.
This is not to be confused with the quantity of sleep (7-9 hr every night) but the quality of sleep. Have you ever slept all night but still felt groggy in the morning? You probably had a restless night of sleep. Some people are in a state of mild but perpetual sleep deprivation. Mental and physical faculties fall apart. Don’t believe me? Try staying awake for a full 24 hours and go for a run the next day. Let me know how you feel (seriously, don’t try that…it’s horrible!).
Focus on getting plenty of good, quality sleep. The rules are the same for everyone: turn off the tv/phone, read a book or do a puzzle, take magnesium if need be, meditate, spend quality time with your family or significant other. The point is you need to give yourself time to unwind and relax at least 30 min. before you go to sleep.
Second to sleep this will be the most important thing you do every day. You don’t have to be in a state of dehydration to drink clean water but enough to help your body rejuvenate, aid in digestion, helps with brain function, maintains blood pressure, regulates body temperature, improves skin health, lubricates joints, helps remove waste from the body, and improves sports performance. Oh yeah, you can also die if you don’t drink enough.
How much should you drink? This varies greatly from person to person but a rule is to take half of your body weight and drink that many ounces of water. Example, if you weigh 200lbs you should drink 100 ounces of water every day ( a little more if you’re active and a little less if you’re not).
- DAILY MOVEMENT
Our bodies are designed to move and move often. I’ve studied the human anatomy for some time and it astonishes me every time I learn how the body can tolerate so much abuse from movement and keep going. We can jump, flip, roll, twist, push, pull, bend, and more. Now, you don’t have to do all of these things like a gymnast but it pays dividends as we get older if we continue to move around in all planes of motion for even a few minutes a day. This keeps our joints happy, muscles happy, ligaments happy, and our minds happy. Studies have repeatedly shown students who participate in recreational or team sports tend to perform better on tests than students who don’t do anything physically active.
Want to stay healthy and not look/move like an old crone when you get older? Move often.
This is where we take “daily movement” and turn it up a notch. Daily movement is not meant to be strenuous; exercising is. Making our bodies adapt to things it otherwise wouldn’t do on a day-to-day basis improves various areas of life. Everything from moving furniture, playing with our kids, helping someone in danger are just a few things that strenuous exercise can help us do better than if we just relied on day-to-day movement.
There’s no perfect workout or exercise program but more and more research is showing us the number 1 priority that should be on everyone’s list is becoming stronger. Yes, being mobile and having the ability to control your movements is important but strength tops the list. Elderly people who are physically stronger than their counterparts are less likely to fall and break a hip, less likely to need help with daily routines, have stronger bones and less joint pain, and are better able to deal with stress. So, focus on strength several days a week and you will be good to go.
- STRESS MANAGEMENT
Here’s the tough one. We’re all stressed. Some studies have shown that we are 100x (not an exaggeration) more stressed than we were 100 years ago. There are numerous reasons for this; everything from constant contact with work/society and the hustle and bustle of daily life. We are expected to be everywhere at once and perform more tasks every hour than we did a century ago despite the “luxury” we feel compared to how life was in the early 1900s.
So, how do we maintain low levels of stress most of the time? Again, this varies but you can be certain a few “de-stressing” activities do not help improve health: cigarettes, heavy drinking, abusing legal or illegal substances, or using unwanted violence against someone (participating in a contact sport can actually be healthy for stress management but the emphasis is on “participating”). Other, more amiable options, include yoga, meditation, journaling, singing, dancing, listening to music, playing games with friends, safe, consenting intercourse with another adult, and, if need be, doctor prescribed medications. The last one is a last resort if everything else doesn’t work. Find an activity that makes you happy and calms you down. You already know what makes you happy. If not, try a few things to see what works. Trial and error.
- POSITIVE PEOPLE
You can do everything correctly to live a healthy life but if you surround yourself with negative people it will make all other endeavors far more difficult. It’s understandable to not want to distance yourself from a friend or group of friends. Friends are a great part of life and the right friends can help you live a healthy life. However, we all know a “negative Nancy” or “sorry Sam” if our groups who brings us down. It’s one thing to want to help that person be happy and live a good life but if you’ve tried over and over again to help them and it’s still not working then you it’s time to consider cutting ties. The only thing that’s going to happen if they stay in your life is making your life more difficult. Believe me, I’m the last person to say, “get rid of that friend.” Good, solid friendships are hard to find but your health and happiness is more important. Call it selfish. Call it inconsiderate. But, ask yourself, “Is my friend the one being selfish? Inconsiderate?” Yes, yes they are.
- SMILES/LAUGHTER/SELF LOVE
They say if you’re in a bad mood and feel depressed then just smile for 10 seconds. After ten seconds, whether you like it or not, your mood improves. They’ve shown brain scans of depressed individuals before and after smiling and that is what happened. Ideally, you shouldn’t force yourself to smile but it does improve mood, brain function, and overall happiness. One of the best ways to smile often is to laugh (preferably not at someone else’s expense). Have you ever laughed so hard your belly hurt? That’s because every time we laugh it create an abdominal contraction (abs anyone?) and in order to deal with the “pain” our bodies release endorphins. Endorphins make us happy and happy people don’t kill their husbands (ok, I stole that from “Legally Blonde” but that doesn’t negate it’s purpose lol).
Self love ties into both because people who love themselves (not to a narcissistic level) tend to have a positive outlook on life in general. Thoughts breed words; words breed action, actions breed habits. Be good to yourself, build self-confidence, and take pride in the person you are in this life. Care about others but care for yourself first. The better you are in life the more you can help everyone else around you.
- WHOLE FOODS
All this physcal activity, good sleep, positive attitude, and more need to have some source of fuel. All the happy thoughts in the world won’t replace good ol’ fashion nutrition. I’m not about to tell you which diet wagon to jump on. That’s up to you. I’m simply going to layout a few ground rules I personally believe (and most of it supported by decades of research by individual’s smarting and I) are ideal for a healthy diet.
- Eat a variety of fibrous, nutrient dense fruits and vegetables at every day
- Consume lean sources of protein at every meal
- Include healthy sources of whole grains sporadically in your meals (unless you have celiac’s disease or an intolerance)
- Allow various sources of dairy if your body (assuming you’re not lactose intolerant)
How much and what kind of these foods you should eat will vary based on age, sex, genetics, physical activity, etc. One rule I can definitely state with almost complete certainty is if you follow these rules and eat in a calorif deficit you will decrease body fat. Most of us could stand to lose a few pounds and if you have higher than healthy levels of body fat for your age/sex then it will have numerous negative impacts on your health, as you get older. I don’t care how “healthy” you are in all other areas of life. If your body fat is higher than what the medical community deems appropriate then to chance of you suffering from nearly every disease imaginable jumps considerably.
- THINGS YOU ENJOY
This might seem redundant considering many of the things you’ll do for enjoyment will trace right back to stress management, self love, and surrounding yourself with positive people. Finding time to do these things seems to be the most difficult with our incredibly busy lives. That’s all the more reason to make the time to enjoy life.
Going to concerts, the movies, trying a new restaurant, backpacking through Europe, visiting the local museum, joining a bocce league, poker night, reading a good book, drawing, learning an instrument, practicing your Mandarin, going to an obstacle race, or baking food. The options are nearly endless. Do something that 1) makes you happy and 2) improves the quality of your life. I love binge watching a show on Netflix as much as the next person but let’s be honest. That activity is not improving our lives short of escaping from reality. At the minimum watch the show while walking on a treadmill. Remember, daily movement J
STAY FIT MY FRIENDS!