When we think about living a healthier life, we often think in terms of big changes. We might adopt a new, hardcore fitness routine or completely overhaul our diets in an attempt to restore health and vitality. While substantial changes are sometimes necessary, it’s the small changes to your daily habits that can actually have the most significant impact on your physical and emotional health. It is the little things, the seemingly small choices, that add up. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of healthy habits that you can adopt right now. Some of them are simple, while others might require some introspection and a little work. The thing that each of these healthy habits has in common is that they are all about self-care. These habits serve as a reminder that you are a priority.
Studies show that people who get up earlier are happier and feel a greater sense of contentment with their lives compared to those who are late risers. It turns out there are several reasons why this is the case. To begin with, early risers tend to be more productive. The extra time in the morning helps them to wake up and start the day without a hurried morning routine; this means less stress which eventually equates to greater productivity. People who wake up early also naturally adopt healthier sleep habits. Those early mornings help reset your natural circadian rhythm, which prompt you to hit the sheets a little earlier and enjoy a healthy, full night’s sleep. At first, try waking up just thirty minutes before your typical wake time and then gradually awaken a little earlier until you discover your perfect wake-up time.
We all know that staying active is important, but sometimes finding the time to fit it into your schedule can seem impossible. If this is a regular struggle for you, it might be time to consider getting your workout in during the morning hours. This works to your benefit on several levels. First, you make yourself a priority by waking a little earlier and committing to spending that time on yourself. Secondly, morning exercise gives you an energy and metabolism boost for the rest of the day. You will feel better, suffer from fewer junk food cravings, have improved mental clarity and less stress. If incorporating a morning workout into your routine is a big change for you, try starting with 15 minutes of stretching and yoga after you get out of bed.
Eat Breakfast Everyday
I think that most of us have been guilty of hitting the ground running and surviving the first part of the day on nothing more than an extra-large cup of coffee. These types of days happen, but they shouldn’t be the norm. Eating breakfast is an important habit to develop because it protects your health in several ways. If you think about it, you have been fasting since the last meal or snack you consumed the night before. During that time, your body has been hard at work repairing damage from daily stress. In fact, your body does the most work in terms of growth and repair during those hours when you are blissfully asleep. It only makes sense that by the time morning comes around, your body is ready for a good refueling. Eating a healthy breakfast every morning can:
- Help you lose extra pounds and maintain a healthy weight.
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Increase energy levels
- Reduce mental fatigue and improve focus, memory and the ability to make decisions
- Help you perform better at work or academically
Mornings are busy enough as it is, so it is a good thing that eating a healthy breakfast everyday doesn’t need to add much time to your morning routine. If you know your mornings are going to be rushed, prepare a quick breakfast the night before, or put smoothie ingredients in your blender canister and place it in the refrigerator. All you need to do in the morning is spend thirty seconds blending it and you are good to go. Choose foods that combine complex carbohydrates with good sources of protein for the perfect morning fuel that your body needs.
Take a Cold Shower
I love a nice hot shower, but unfortunately hot showers do not love me. As comforting as that steamy water might feel, hot water can strip necessary oils from your skin and hair. The result is skin that is dry, red and irritated and hair that looks dull and lifeless. You might also be interested in knowing that turning down the temperature on your shower stream has other health benefits. A study conducted in England showed that cooler showers boost your immune system by stimulating the production of disease fighting white blood cells. Additionally, a cold shower can improve circulation and fight off stress and feelings of depression. The next time you step in the shower, turn the water a little more toward the cool end of the spectrum. If you absolutely hate a cold shower, try alternating the water temperature between warm and cool, and then notice how refreshed and energetic you feel afterwards.
This is one of those things that is so common sense that we sometimes forget how important it really is. Part of your daily beauty routine might involve applying a moisturizer or cosmetics that contain sunscreen. This is great, but it isn’t enough. To be effective, sunscreen needs to be reapplied about every two hours. This is important to keep in mind if you spend much of time inside and then step out for a lunchtime walk or drive around to run errands. It is these simple, daily tasks that leave us exposed to ultraviolet rays more than a trip to the beach, simply because you are more likely to slather on the SPF when you head to the beach, but not so much if you are sitting on your porch or curled up next to that beautiful picture window. Make a habit out of applying sunscreen whenever you are going outdoors, driving in the car or sitting near a window with good sun exposure. Keep a tube of sunscreen near your door, in your car, at your desk, or in your purse so you always have quick access when you need it.
Keep Moving Throughout the Day
Did you know that those thirty to forty minutes you spent working out this morning might all be in vain if you don’t make an effort to keep moving throughout the day? Research shows that sitting for eight or more hours a day can negate the effects of regular exercise. Extended sitting can contribute to serious health problems, such as increased risk of:
- Depression and anxiety
- Cardiovascular disease
- Coronary heart disease
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Certain types of cancer
What are you to do if your career requires you to sit for long periods of time? The answer is simple; you get up and move every chance you get. Get up once an hour and walk around the office or your home, try standing at your desk rather than sitting, drink lots of water which will require you to get up and walk to the restroom more often, take the stairs, park further away and walk rather than drive whenever possible. Strive to find five to ten opportunities each day to add more movement into your daily routine.
Sit Up Straight
It seems that backaches are unavoidable, and as each calendar year passes by, you might notice the effects of a tired, sore back more and more. Your spine, and the muscles in the back, shoulder and abdominal area make up your support structure and it takes on an incredible amount of stress each day. You can help keep your support core healthy, and prevent chronic back pain by paying attention to your posture. While sitting up straight and not slouching is the important first step to a healthy back, other factors such as the height ratio of your desk and chair, the support built into your chair, the tension you carry in your neck, the shoes you wear and the bags you carry all contribute to poor posture and back health issues. The next time you go in for your annual physical, talk to your doctor about proper posture. He or she can access how you sit and offer suggestions and exercises for improving your posture and strengthening the muscles that support your core. This is one small daily effort that can save you from years of debilitating pain in the future.
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without the obligatory advice that you should be drinking more water. Even mild dehydration can cause headaches, fatigue, moodiness and weaken your immune system. Aim for at least eight to ten 8-ounce glasses of water a day. The best advice is to follow your body’s natural cues, and drink whenever you are thirsty. You should always keep a glass or bottle of water nearby so that you sip throughout the day. Notice the word “water”. Caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and soda work against your daily fluid intake due to their dehydrating effects. It is also important to mention that you should take it easy on fruit juices, dairy drinks, and full sugar sodas. When you replace water with these high caloric choices, you can easily drink a quarter to a half of your daily caloric requirements without even thinking about it. You can still enjoy caffeinated and calorically-dense drinks -- just do so in proper moderation and don’t drink them in place of pure water.
Cook at Home
Recent studies show that on average, young adults spend more money on eating out than they do on groceries to eat at home. The combination of good food, good company, atmosphere and a blossoming foodie culture make eating out an attractive option. By all means, continue to enjoy the occasional meal out, but start to make it more of a special occasion rather than the norm. When you eat out you are more likely to over consume calories and make less than desirable nutritional choices. Additionally, you don’t know exactly what you are getting when you eat out compared to when you prepare food at home. An innocent salad can easily pack 800 or more calories. People who cook at home eat healthier foods, know without question what their food contains and have more control over caloric content. If you love eating out and hate the idea of missing out on the culinary scene, turn your foodie passion into culinary passion. Invite your friends over for at home cooking explorations and enjoy discovering the pleasure of cooking and eating a meal prepared at home.
Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food
This is a difficult subject for many of us. In essence, food is simply a source of nutrition. It is the fuel our bodies need. To most of us, however, it is much more than that. Food is a source of comfort and a source of frustration. It is a centerpiece that holidays and memories are built around, it is a social activity and our emotions become tied up in every bite. There is no reason to deny yourself the pleasure of enjoying your food, but each one of us should work on developing a healthy relationship with it. A healthy relationship with food involves understanding the emotional cues that cause cravings or overindulgence. It also means learning to love wholesome foods that nourish your body rather than processed foods that lead to food addiction. How you approach this depends on your current relationship with food. You might need a complete overhaul and opt for one of the clean eating diet trends, or you might seek out a support network. For you, it might be as simple as keeping a food journal or making a goal to eat more wholesome, fresh foods. Each of us is different in this department, but it is worth it to honestly look at your relationship with food and work towards making it healthier.
Do What You Love
Life is too short to deny yourself the things that bring you joy and happiness. Happier people live longer, healthier lives. That alone is reason to call your best friend and spend an hour laughing about something silly. It is a reason to kiss your significant other or take in the beauty of your sleeping child. Don’t wait one more day or make one more excuse to not try something that you have always wanted to do. Make happiness a habit and seek out every opportunity to find it in even the most seemingly insignificant of moments. This is where real life and real happiness resides, and that is more important than any of the other healthy habits listed here. Daily choices, no matter how small, make up the whole of your life. Make the most out of each moment by choosing to be healthier and happier than ever before.