A lot of us shy away from healthy habits because we falsely assume they’ll be more complicated than they are. We often set lofty goals that we cannot keep, and this discourages us from living our best lives. Many people don’t realize that the key to a long, healthy life is a series of small, simple changes.
Engaging in simple, health-conscious steps may help you more in the long run than making massive "quick-fix" lifestyle overhauls. When we focus too much on significant health improvements (excessive gym time, rigid and restrictive diets, etc.), it becomes difficult to maintain these efforts, and we end up slipping back into bad habits. Focus instead on the simple things you can do to boost your mental and physical health. Small manageable habit changes in your daily life are more sustainable and often just as effective.
There are two basic tenets of health. Physical fitness is the more obvious of the two areas. When we are physically well, we see it. Clear skin, strong hair, and a healthy weight are all signs of physical health (though they are tied to mental health, as well). Focus on the following steps to see permanent, positive changes in your physical health.
Move around. Sedentary lifestyles can lower life expectancy1. You don’t have to spend hours at the gym each week to be physically healthy. Even as we age, there are simple ways to stay active that can improve health and life expectancy.
Find hobbies that encourage movement. Walking, dancing, gardening, or anything that gets you up and moving can be a great start. Many people think the only way to get adequate activity is to commit to hours of gym time, but this isn’t true. Working activity into your daily routine may be more manageable for some people to maintain and thus is more effective.
Sleep is vital to our health. When we don’t sleep well or don’t sleep enough, both our mental and physical health suffers. A lot of things can contribute to poor sleep quality: inferior mattresses and pillows, cold or hot rooms, too much screen time before bed, and even the foods that we eat.
If you don’t sleep well, try making small changes to your nighttime routine like lowering the temperature, replacing your pillow or shutting off your electronics a few hours before bed.
Keep it simple. Instead of putting yourself on a strict diet that you’re likely to give up on, try making smaller, more permanent changes. Identify where your weak points are (Are you eating enough vegetables? Do you have a bad soda habit?) and then try to address them. Consider replacing one sugary drink a day with water or look up ways to sneak more vegetables into meals you already enjoy.
The key is to make small, simple changes that you’ll be able to maintain. Don’t try to go from eating McDonald’s every day to making every meal organic, vegan, and home-cooked. You’ll probably run out of steam pretty quickly if you try this. Instead, give yourself reasonable goals like cooking dinner three nights a week, and then go from there.
When tweaking your diet, keep in mind these two basic principles popularized by Michael Pollan: more plants and smaller portions. If you make changes gradually, you’ll find eating well is not as hard as it seems2.
Mental and physical health are closely linked. They need to both be operating at peak performance for a balanced and healthy life. If your brain health suffers, your physical condition alone cannot make up for it.
A lot of us think of mental health only in terms of known diseases like dementia, epilepsy, or schizophrenia. Just like a person can be out of shape without having diabetes, so too can your mental health be subpar without any specific clinical mental illnesses. Watch out for your mental wellbeing the same way you do your physical health.
Humans are social creatures, and isolation takes a toll on us. Loneliness can lead to health problems, and most importantly, it keeps you from feeling fulfilled and happy3.
Loneliness is a subjective measurement. Someone with a hundred friends may feel incredibly lonely while another person with only one close acquaintance may be perfectly content. Loneliness comes from not receiving the amount of social interaction that you need.
Loneliness can creep up on you,, or it might come on suddenly. For a healthier overall mindset, seek out social activities to keep you engaged with your community, friends, and family.
The benefit of positive thinking can’t be understated. Taking some time each day to reflect on what you are grateful for can work wonders on your mindset. Set aside a few moments every day or two to think about happy memories, current relationships, and future goals. Ground yourself to your past, present, and future in a positive way. Doing so will help you stay connected to yourself and your environment.
(1) Katzmarzyk P, Lee I (2012 April) Sedentary behaviour and life expectancy
(2) Pollan M (2007 January) Unhappy Meals
(3) National Institute on Aging (2019 April) Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks