When it comes to health, many of us are planners. We like to plan for things like major dietary changes, new fitness routines or a major lifestyle switch. Planning and anticipating these types of changes can be a major morale boost and helps us feel optimistic about the future. The only problem is that sometimes, all that planning never makes it to the execution stage.
It turns out that we’re our own worst enemies when it comes to increasing wellness. That new diet you were excited about has a meal plan that’s too complicated or working in the time to prepare for that 5k just isn’t in the cards. The issue here is that in planning to be healthier, we’ve bitten off more than can chew – and we watch all those lofty goals swirl around the drain before slipping away for good.
But what would happen if increasing your health and wellness was an easier process? What if, instead of a major undertaking, you committed to a few small changes that could easily be incorporated into your life?
In wellness, as in life in general, it’s the little things that really matter. With that in mind, we’ve decided to push aside the big health goals for a minute, and press the mid-year reset button on our health. Now is the perfect time to recharge and refocus, so here are 10 simple ways that you can increase your wellness today.
Stay Active Throughout the Day
It’s advice that you’ve heard at least a million times before – move, move, move. While many of us set out with great intentions of getting in a quick run after work or getting up early enough to hit the gym in the morning, when life gets busy fitness is often one of the first things to go.
The answer isn’t to beat yourself up or give up entirely. If you’re having trouble fitting regular exercise into your daily routine switch your focus to becoming more mobile throughout the day instead.
For example, there’s all the old golden advice like park further away, take the stairs, or walk or bike when appropriate. But why not level it up a little? Try standing at your desk for a while instead of sitting, or every time you need to use the bathroom, take the long way by walking around the perimeter. You might also enjoy your lunch picnic style at nearby park or turn on some music while you’re cleaning and dance your way through your dusting routine.
The goal is to look for small opportunities to get in a few more steps, get a little fresh air and elevate that heart rate.
Use a Basket Instead of a Cart at the Grocery Store
The next time you go to the grocery store, sidestep the pileup of carts and reach for a basket instead. Granted, this might not work for those times when you’re doing a big weekly shop, but for the person who goes to the store more frequently and finds their cart filled with not-so-healthy impulse buys, a basket can be a life saver – literally.
The smaller space of a basket – and the fact that you must carry it no matter how heavy it gets – will make you more conscious of what you’re putting into it. We’ve all had those moments where we stopped by the store to get the ingredients for a quick, healthy stir fry only to look into our cart and have it appear that Willy Wonka was our own personal shopper.
It’s easier to avoid processed food, that’s often in bulky packaging, when you’re limited on space. Plus, once you have your basket in hand, focus first on the non-processed foods that you need. Bags of chips take up a lot of room, and if your basket is packed with fresh produce there just won’t be room for that noisy, crinkly bag on top.
Sunscreen in Sneaky Spots
Hopefully by now you don’t need a nagging reminder to use sunscreen, even on not so sunny days. That’s because regular sunscreen use is the single most important think you can do to protect the long-term health of your skin.
The next time you’re applying a facial sunscreen, or slathering the good stuff all over your arms, take a minute and be sure to add touch to some of the sneaky spots that don’t always get attention.
Spots that are victim to sun exposure but frequently get forgotten about when applying sunscreen include the ears, back of the neck, tops of the feet and behind the knees. Skin damage can occur just as easily on these areas of your body as anywhere else. Plus, keep an eye out for any changes in your skin on these areas, especially the ears which are prime spot for skin cancer to appear.
Sugar adds extra calories to your daily diet, which can be disastrous for your waistline, but the truth is the real danger in sugar comes from something else – inflammation.
Sugar is one of the most inflammatory substances we consume. You know how you may have heard that what you eat doesn’t have an effect on your skin? Well, that candy bar might not be the direct culprit of a breakout, but for people who are sensitive to the inflammatory effects of sugar, just one sugary snack could produce an inflammatory response in the form of acne.
Still, the effects of sugar are more than skin deep. Chronic inflammation is the cause of many of the diseases we suffer from today. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, cancer… they’re all inflammatory conditions. While other lifestyle or genetic factors certainly play a part, you can do your part for avoiding inflammatory diseases by kicking processed sugar to the curb.
Commit to Skin Care
While you’re taking these extra steps to take care of your body, don’t forget to pay a little attention to your skin. Your skin can function as a mirror for what’s going on inside your body, but this only works if you’re taking steps to take care of it on a regular basis.
Skin that’s inflamed, shallow looking or dry can indicate nutritional deficiencies or underlying health issues that are worth talking to your regular doctor or dermatologist about. However, if your skin is in less than great shape due to lack of proper care, it not only fails to tell a true story but is also less capable of functioning properly.
Take a look at your skin care routine and decide if it’s still suited to your skin type. Make changes if necessary and commit to a regular routine. Also, remember that what you apply to your skin can be absorbed into your body, so choose skin care products that are made with gentle, natural ingredients that don’t pose a toxic threat to your system.
Mind Your Posture
Sit up straight! Being mindful of your posture does more than make you look a little taller and thinner, it’s actually a smart move for your overall health.
First, good posture helps to keep your spine and supportive muscles in good shape as you age. The older a person gets, the harder it is to break the habit of bad posture, so the time to make changes is right now.
Secondly, good posture helps to keep unnecessary pressure off of your internal organs and core muscles. For example, hunching over while you eat can put additional pressure on the stomach and cause unpleasant heartburn. You’ll also find that it’s easier to breathe when you’re sitting up straight and getting more air into your lungs can help energize and banish fatigue.
There’s quite a bit of research on the science of smiling. Smiling has been shown to instantly improve your mood and provide a nice boost to the immune system. It’s thought that smiling, and a good dose of laughter, release signaling molecules that work to fight off illness and stress. One study done in 2015 noted that laughter therapy had a positive immune response in women who had recently given birth.
There’s also some strong evidence that smiling and laughter releases the body’s natural pain killers and increases a person’s pain threshold, even in people with chronic conditions that require pain management. So, this fall and winter when you’re shoveling vitamins to avoid succumbing to cold and flu season, don’t forget to add smiling to your list of healthy daily habits.
It feels like a fair assumption to say that most of us have a great appreciation for a good, solid night of sleep – the kind that leaves you feeling completely restored and ready to take on the day, no matter what yesterday hit you with. The problem is that while most of us like sleep, we also tend to not make it a priority.
Sometimes, sleeping is hard. If you’ve been going non-stop from the moment your feet hit the floor, it can be difficult to quiet your mind and body to the point that it’s ready for rest. Or, maybe you’re someone who doesn’t get a moment to themselves during the day, so once everyone else is in bed, you “treat” yourself to a little late night me time. Then there’s stress, anxiety, depression and health issues that can also interfere with healthy sleep patterns. Taking all of this into consideration, it’s become more difficult for the average person to get in the quality sleep they need.
If this sounds like you, the time to start making changes in your sleep patterns is now. Your body depends on the downtime it gets when you’re sleeping to recover from the day. While you’re in dreamland, your body is hard at work in the processes of cellular repair and renewal, not to mention doing battle against all the toxins, bacteria and other invaders you encountered during the day.
Plus, being sleep deprived leaves you more susceptible to minor illnesses, stress and mental fatigue. Thankfully, the solution is simple – aim for an average of 8 hours a night and develop a routine that supports healthy sleep habits. For example, eliminate caffeinated beverages after dinner and turn off technology at least an hour before bed.
There are plenty of fad diets out there with big claims of helping you live your best, healthiest life. Honestly, it isn’t fair to call some of them “fads” because they’ve now become common dietary lifestyles that people are successfully maintaining for years with great results – the keto and paleo diets are a couple of examples.
There are obvious health benefits to these plans, but it’s important for all of us – no matter what type of diet we eat – to remember to include plenty of natural sources of fiber.
Fiber comes in two forms – soluble and non-soluble. Both are found in fresh fruits and vegetables, along with whole, healthy grains. Guidelines suggest that you take in 27-35g of fiber a day, however many of us are falling disastrously short of that number.
Fiber is important for maintaining gut health, which is a crucial player in immune function. Adequate fiber helps feed and balance the good gut bacteria and keep everything in proper working order. Worried that getting that much fiber is going to sabotage your diet? The solution is to change your thinking about dietary sources of fiber. A piece of bread may have anywhere from 1-4g of fiber, but a cup of broccoli has 5g and a small handful of almonds has nearly 4g. There are plenty of low carb, gluten free, fiber rich food options, so make sure to load up your plate for ultimate health.
Last, but not least, is to share. By this we mean give a little more of yourself. Maybe you offer someone a hug or a listening ear, or show compassion toward someone who is usually a cause of frustration. You might also commit to spending some of your time or donating to a cause that speaks to you. When you give more of yourself in ways that truly benefit others, you feel better about your place in the world.
That isn’t to say that you should over extend yourself to the point of exhaustion. In fact, sometimes sharing means opening up, leaning on someone else and exposing your vulnerabilities. There’s enough going on in the world to separate us but making an effort to stay connected will have positive benefits for both your mental and physical health.
What are your top strategies for staying healthy? It really is the little things that matter the most, and even if you’re at a point where big changes feel impossible, starting with something small – such as one of the ten items on this list – is a sure way to start seeing noticeable improvements in your health. Five to ten minutes a day is all you need sometimes, so stop making excuses and go out there and live your best, healthiest life.