Healthy habits are those that support physical, emotional and mental wellness. A healthy lifestyle is unique to each person and includes many different domains of health and well-being.
Often, it’s the small changes that add up over time to become long-term healthy habits. According to one study, women who lived healthy lifestyles experienced 14 more years of life than those without.
1. Get Enough Sleep
While the amount of sleep needed varies from person to person, most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. The best way to ensure you’re getting the recommended amount of sleep is to establish a consistent sleep schedule and stick with it. This means avoiding large meals, caffeine and alcohol in the hours leading up to bedtime, and making sure your bedroom is dark, comfortable, and free of distractions.
A good night’s sleep is as important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle as eating a nutritious diet and getting regular exercise. In fact, studies show that those who regularly get enough sleep experience fewer illnesses and have a lower risk for heart disease than those who don’t.
Aside from improving mood and increasing energy, getting enough sleep also helps you make better decisions. This can be especially important if you work in a safety-sensitive profession or regularly drive on the road, where poor decision-making may put you at greater risk for accidents.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, try incorporating some relaxing activities into your bedtime routine like reading or listening to soothing music. It’s also a good idea to avoid using electronic devices before and during sleep, as the light and sound from these devices can interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythms and can lead to insomnia.
Often, people who struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle believe that adopting new habits takes up too much time or is too difficult. But the truth is that it’s not as hard as they think. Achieving your health goals doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and with a little time and effort, you can develop the healthy habits that will make your life more fulfilling.
2. Eat a Healthy Diet
If you want to live a healthy lifestyle, you need to eat a well-balanced diet. This includes eating a variety of fruits and vegetables (3 or more servings a day), whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean meats and fish. It also includes limiting sugar, sodium (salt), and unhealthy fats.
While a healthy diet can seem complex, it’s important to remember that the biggest factor is making small changes over time. It’s hard to switch from a fast-food meal to a salad every night, but over time you can change your habits. Identify the healthiest options and start with those first, such as choosing salad over a burger or having oatmeal instead of rice. Eventually, those small changes will add up to big benefits.
Eating a healthy diet also involves avoiding foods that are high in trans fats, which can raise your cholesterol levels and cause other heart problems. This type of fat is found mainly in processed foods, such as cakes, cookies, and fried foods.
It’s also a good idea to limit your intake of sodium, which can increase your blood pressure. This means reading labels and reducing the amount of salt you eat. Finally, it’s important to choose healthier fats, such as olive oil, canola oil, and avocados. These can lower your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
In addition, try to reduce your stress level. Stress can contribute to heart diseases, stroke, and high blood pressure. You can do this by practicing relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises. It’s also helpful to talk with a counselor or other mental health professional. Getting help when you need it is the key to living a healthy life.
3. Move Your Body
Many health problems can be caused or worsened by inactivity. Regular physical activity helps manage weight, lower blood pressure, improves heart health, strengthens muscles and bones, and boosts mood.
Most adults need at least 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity on most days of the week, along with muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week. However, it’s important to realize that you don’t have to dedicate all of your daily activity to structured exercise. In fact, sitting too much is linked to a number of health problems, including high blood pressure and diabetes.
Getting enough physical activity can be challenging, especially when life gets in the way. It’s also important to choose activities that you enjoy. This can make it easier to turn healthy habits into lifelong routines that will last despite changing circumstances.
For example, if you find that running is no longer enjoyable, try cycling or swimming instead. Or, try taking a dance class or a yoga class with a friend. This can be a fun way to get your body moving while reaping the socialization and cognitive benefits of group classes.
Sneaking in small amounts of activity can add up to significant weekly totals. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to work or school rather than driving, jog around the soccer field during your child’s practice, or use your lunch break for a brisk walk. You can even find opportunities to be active with your family by playing tag or skating, going for a bike ride, or walking the dog at the park.
4. Take Time for Yourself
A healthy lifestyle is about more than just your physical health; it’s about mental and emotional well-being as well. Taking time to recharge your batteries can help reduce stress, improve mood and boost energy.
The good news is that it’s easier than you think to make healthy habits part of your routine. It’s just a matter of setting the right environment and encouraging your friends and family to do the same.
For example, if you want to start running regularly but your partner wants to continue to eat chicken fried steak and burgers every day, it can be hard to stick to your new running plan. To make your new habit a part of your life, you’ll need to set up a trigger – such as a specific time of day or a certain event, like getting out the door for work – and make sure it’s integrated into your regular schedule.
If you’re trying to adopt a healthier diet, planning trips to the grocery store and cooking meals at home can help you stick with your goals. Setting up a diary (hard copy or online) and setting reminders can also help you keep on track.
Another great way to make your self-care a habit is to find a hobby that you enjoy. Learning a new skill helps expand your mental muscles, gets you out of your comfort zone and can bring you a sense of accomplishment.
It’s also important to remember that your health isn’t just about what you do – it’s about who you do it with. When you create the right environment, incorporating healthy habits and establishing long-term goals can help you achieve your full potential.
5. Have Fun
The most important habits to maintain for a healthy lifestyle are often ones that have to do with eating, sleeping and exercise. But there are also habits that promote health in other domains, like emotional wellness and social interaction. Having fun is one such habit.
Fun and play are often considered childish, but researchers are finding that adults need to find time for these types of activities as well. In fact, recent research suggests that having fun can help us to deal with stress and improve our mental health.
Unfortunately, many people have difficulty prioritizing fun over more serious activities like work or family obligations. But it’s important to make time for hobbies and activities that bring joy in order to have a balanced life. This can be as simple as playing with your dog or going for a walk without any destination in mind. It could also be playing a game of catch with friends or acting out a silly skit at work.
Having fun may be different for everyone, and it’s hard to measure using standardized scientific methods. But NPR readers shared a wide variety of pursuits they enjoy, from hula hooping to home brewing beer to raising reptiles. These side interests give them a chance to escape from the demands of everyday life and have some good old-fashioned fun.
While creating new healthy habits can take time, it’s essential to stick with them for the long haul. Studies show that it takes about 21 days to build a new habit, and longer for it to become a part of your daily routine. So don’t give up if you can’t create all the habits at once – just focus on the ones that are most important to you. For example, if you’re trying to increase your level of physical activity, start with just 15 minutes of walking each day, and gradually add more over time.