Yes, I know we are almost one-third of the way through 2017. (Insert the requisite “my, how time flies!” quip here). But it’s not too late to start acting on those New Year resolutions, and it’s never to late to kick off a healthy lifestyle.
Now, before you lose all interest and get back to that Netflix marathon you have paused, let me explain. A healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to mean a boring existence spent running on a treadmill like a hamster on a wheel, or eating leaves of raw kale and pretending it’s every bit as delicious as the pancakes you were craving. It doesn’t have to mean a lifestyle you don’t thoroughly enjoy. In fact, the best part about adopting new habits is that it’s all about you. You can tailor a healthy lifestyle to fit your needs and preferences.
The best way to begin a healthy lifestyle is gradually. You’ve probably heard it a thousand times: new habits “stick” better if you ease yourself into them like a hot bath on an icy day. Well, it’s true! Here are 7 ways you can transition to a healthier lifestyle and start feeling fantastic.
Ok, you probably weren’t expecting this to be the first tip for a healthy lifestyle. You probably weren’t expecting it to be on this list at all. But hear me out! Healthy living isn’t just about exercise and eating right – that’s a great way to look after your body, but don’t forget that a healthy mind is just as important. Meditation is a great way to begin the journey to a healthier you, in part because it sets you up with an ideal foundation. Begin with a healthy mindset, and everything that follows becomes easier.
What is meditation, exactly? For a beginner, it can be as simple as taking ten minutes every morning or evening to sit in a comfortable spot with no distractions, close your eyes, and follow the rhythm of your breathing. It will be natural for thoughts to enter your mind during this process. Don’t indulge them, but don’t stress yourself out about chasing them away, either. Just let them be, and go back to focusing on your breathing. You can also try the same technique for a shorter one to two minutes when confronted with stressful situations throughout the day. It may be a little challenging at first, but you’ll get the hang of it – before you know it, you’ll be reaping the benefits of a calmer psyche.
2. Focus on the food you’re eating.
No, I’m not going to tell you to lay off the potato chips or give up dessert. Instead, try thinking about what you eat and how it makes you feel. Yes, really! You’ll find that the more consideration you give to what you put in your mouth, the more mindful you’ll be about the foods you eat in the long run.
Don’t believe me? Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re headed out for lunch with a couple of friends, and you’re perusing the menu at a chain restaurant. Perhaps you’re dying to try their mac and cheese, or you’re really jonesing for a juicy burger. That’s ok. Now – before you order, imagine yourself digging in to your chosen dish. How will you feel while you’re eating it? What about afterwards? How do you think your body will react to the fuel you are providing?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not saying your cravings will magically disappear. Maybe you’ll still want the burger, but you’ll choose to order a side salad instead of french fries for a more balanced meal. Maybe you’ll order the mac and cheese, but have the foresight to ask for a to-go box alongside it because you know the portion is larger than what you need right now. Or maybe, you’ll remember that the last time you ate a burger and french fries, you didn’t feel so great for the rest of the day. Maybe that memory will be enough to make you want to try something new. I hear the lettuce wraps are dynamite.
3. Try exercise.
No, seriously – just try it. I’ve heard plenty of people tell me how they “don’t like to exercise”. Why? They “just don’t like it”. Really? Well, maybe you’re doing it wrong.
First, what exactly are you doing? Are you forcing yourself to work out to one of those fitness DVDs you know you hate? Can’t stand running? Would you rather die than set foot on the Stairmaster? (I might have to agree with you there.) The answer is simple – don’t! Being active is great, but you’re always going to dread it if it’s something you don’t enjoy doing. And if you’re hating every moment of your workout, how healthy can it really be?
Instead, try picking something you know you’ll enjoy. If you can’t think of anything that will really get you going fitness-wise, pick something you’ve never done before that sounds interesting. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try Zumba but are afraid to take the leap, or you loved riding your bike as a kid but can’t justify purchasing a grown-up bicycle as an adult. (If that’s the case, try renting a bike at a local park!)
Maybe you already know which fitness activity you enjoy, but you just can’t bring yourself to get outside for an hour-long trail run after a long day at work. Perhaps a ninety-minute hot yoga class at 5 AM sounds…exhausting. If you’re new to exercise, or you haven’t made it a routine in a long time, it’s going to be tough to get started – and keep going. Well, the other side of this two-pronged tip is to keep it short – at least in the beginning. Make sure your workouts are beginner level and as short as ten to fifteen minutes in length. That way, when you really don’t feel like doing anything besides taking refuge on the couch under your quilt, you can say to yourself, “It’s just fifteen minutes. It’ll be over in the blink of an eye.” You’ll find it really will be, too – and you can gradually increase the duration (and intensity) of your workouts over time. In fact, you’ll actually want to.
4. Sleep better.
Not more (or less), necessarily. Just better. Better quality sleep will not only add benefits to your work and personal life (think more productivity and energy), it will leave you with a better state of mind, too (much like meditation in tip #1). Many people don’t realize how much some good quality sleep could affect their lives until they try switching up their routine – or lack thereof. How to get started? Try going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day (yes, even weekends) for three weeks straight and see how you feel. Aim to be in bed with the lights out 7-9 hours before you plan to wake up in the morning. Also, have a nightly routine so your brain can get into the rhythm of bedtime: turn the lights down low, try to keep digital screens to a minimum, and sip on a cup of herbal tea while reading a book, flipping through a magazine or just reflecting on the day.
5. Indulge yourself.
Part of being healthy, as we discovered previously, is having a healthy mindset and maintaining a positive attitude. You’re not going to be able to do that if you’re constantly forcing yourself to do tasks you don’t enjoy – make the bed, clean the bathroom, cook your lunches for the week, meet a tough deadline at work. It’s important to balance tasks like these that you feel obligated to do with activities and experiences you enjoy to keep your attitude upbeat and give you something to look forward to each day. Go for a picnic every Saturday when the weather’s nice, have a standing date to meet your best friend for coffee every week to catch up, bake cookies if you’ve skipped dessert all week and just want to treat yourself (there are plenty of healthy recipes for cookies on the internet!), or just turn on some nice music and relax in the bath with a glass of wine and a good book. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you make time for it regularly – once or twice a week is good – and make sure it’s something you really enjoy, and not something that involves anything that remotely feels like work.
6. Spend time in nature.
These days, most of us spend a lot of time indoors – we exercise in gyms or fitness studios, we work in air-conditioned offices under fluorescent lights, we eschew the patio to sit inside at our favorite eateries, and to top it all off, we drive to get to all these places. If you think about it, that doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to get fresh air in your lungs. Studies show that time spent out of doors can improve vitality, boost energy, and even have a positive effect on mental health – connecting with nature can work wonders on reducing stress levels. You can (obviously) coordinate this tip with your exercise routine – take a walk outside on your lunch break, go for a morning run or a sunset bike ride – or you can simply sit on a park bench and read. Picnics are a fun idea to get the whole family outside, or you can even try a new hobby like bird-watching. There’s just something about nature, whether it’s the feeling of the warm sun on your face, getting caught in the drizzle of a fresh spring rainfall, or hearing the wind rustle the leaves, that seems to instantly calm the spirit.
7. Stay hydrated.
Yes, hydration has plenty to do with your health, as you’re probably already aware. Regular H2O guzzlers enjoy benefits such as clearer skin, keeping their hunger in check, efficient kidney function, and much more. If you’re already drinking water, good job – keep it up! If you’re not, or you know you’re not drinking as much as you should, consider the reason why. Do you favor other drinks, such as soda or coffee? Do you dislike the ‘plain’ taste? Do you simply forget during the day? Once you’ve discovered the problem, it’s time to figure out a solution. If you have a hard time remembering, try purchasing a brightly colored, inexpensive reusable water cup with a straw and keep it on your desk. Set a timer on your phone for every couple of hours. When the timer goes off, it’s your chance to get up, stretch, and refill your cup. If you only drank a little, refill it anyway and try to “beat” your previous “record” next time. If you dislike the taste of water, try adding a squeeze of lemon or lime, or even adding fruits or vegetables such as strawberry or cucumber to give your water a more pleasing flavor. If you’re a coffee or soda addict, keep a water cup on your desk next to your drink of choice. Make a deal with yourself that before refilling your soda or coffee, you’ll make sure to empty your water cup – twice.
Healthy lifestyles don’t happen overnight – and that’s ok. The journey is actually more rewarding with gradual changes and progress you can measure by how you feel. Try incorporating one of these tips every week or even every month into your daily schedule. When you feel ready, add another – and so on. Make sure to check in with yourself each week and see how your new healthy habit is making you feel. Now that you’re going to bed at 10 PM every night, do you feel more rested? Does your 15 minute walk around the block during your lunch break energize you? If something isn’t working, tweak it until it feels right. Maybe getting up to exercise early isn’t your thing, but a bike ride in the park after work really melts away your stress. Whatever ends up working for you, I hope these tips make you feel happier, healthier, and more energized. You deserve it!