Life can be unpredictable, hectic and messy. We don’t always have the time to do the things we really want to do or the things we know we should. But prioritizing the things that truly matter will help you lead a life you love in every decade.
Aging is a part of life, but that doesn’t mean you have to let your health fade away with time. Taking care of your body and mind can help you continue to enjoy the opportunities that life can bring.
Read on to learn the importance of a healthy lifestyle and the steps you can take to make your own healthy lifestyle a reality.
What is a healthy lifestyle?
A healthy lifestyle is a way of living your life that helps you feel good physically, mentally and emotionally. This can mean a lot of different things and look a lot of different ways for each unique person. You get to decide what a healthy lifestyle looks like for you, but there are a few things that should be a part of every lifestyle to make it healthy.
Because healthy looks different for everyone, you can’t always tell if someone is healthy or not based solely on their physical appearance.
Why is a healthy lifestyle important?
When we take care of our mind and body, we can feel our best and seize the possibilities of life. Sometimes it helps to identify your own unique “why.” Whether you want to run a marathon or around the block, keep up with your kids or stay independent into your later years, a healthy lifestyle is built on your answer to that “why” question and the goals you set from it.
As you think about all the things you can do to create a healthy lifestyle, consider your reasons behind it. Eventually, this can help you identify your intrinsic motivation, or the drive to do, see and accomplish things that comes from within yourself. Intrinsic motivation leads to more long-term dedication and can help you keep going when the going gets tough.
The benefits of a healthy lifestyle
A healthy lifestyle, while it may seem restrictive, can actually help you live your life to its fullest, whether you’re 16 or 60. Age is truly just a number, and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle keep increasing as we age. Healthy living can help you:
- Preserve your energy levels
- Avoid disease and pain
- Maintain a good mood
- Keep life fun
9 tips on how to live a healthy lifestyle
Below, you’ll find nine healthy lifestyle tips in areas of life that contribute to holistic health – health that includes social and mental as well as physical factors:
1. Make healthy food choices
Health starts in the kitchen with the choices we make on what to eat. The foundation of a good diet is fruits and vegetables. Like any foundation, it takes time and patience to build it right, but diet has the power to support mental well-being and a long, healthy life. From there, you can add more and more healthy food choices.
- Eat fruits and vegetables. Try to aim for about five servings every day. At each meal, fruits and vegetables should fill half your plate. This does not mean you have to be eating them raw. There are so many delicious ways to cook and consume your daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Steamed, boiled, sauteed, tossed with olive oil and spices and roasted – you can experiment to discover how you find them tastiest.
- Stick to whole grains. Eat carbohydrates with whole grains as the first ingredient, like whole grain bread, pasta and tortillas, and brown rice. Whole grains are nutrient-rich and will help you feel full for longer.
- Vary your protein intake. The protein in your diet can come from plants as well as animal products. Beans, lentils, tofu and nuts are packed with protein and often contain significantly less harmful fats than most red meat. Eating more plant-based protein rather than animal-based protein helps to avoid cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke.
- Avoid sugary drinks like sodas. Diet sodas, while they may seem like a good alternative, are usually full of chemicals that can be just as harmful as sugar. Opt for drinking mostly water, followed by unsweetened coffee and tea.
You can work with a dietitian if you need help getting started.
2. Find movement that you enjoy
The physical and mental benefits of exercise are numerous. Not everyone likes running – and that’s okay! Don’t force yourself to pursue exercise that you don’t enjoy, because that’s a sure way to make it into a chore. There are so many other ways to move your body, whether cycling, swimming, dancing, weightlifting, doing yoga, playing tennis or basketball, skiing or hiking. Try out different exercises until you find one that you love. Because if you love it, you’ll want to stick with it.
Here are other ways to lead an active lifestyle:
- Choose a workout buddy. If someone is counting on you to meet them at the gym for a workout or at the park for a run, you’re more likely to commit instead of letting them down.
- Make the most of your gym membership. Attend fitness classes at your local gym or see if it has a personal training program. The company that other people provide can make working out more enjoyable.
- Take small steps at first. Set goals that are reasonable and make sense for your life. If you’ve never run before, maybe sign up for a 5k race before you sign up for a marathon. Celebrate those small wins and achievements to keep you motivated.
3. Get enough (good) sleep
It can be frustrating to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep and still feel tired. If you’ve ever wondered about improving the quality of your sleep, you may have heard the term “sleep hygiene.” Sleep hygiene refers to healthy habits that make your sleep the most restful it can be. Good sleep can have a direct, positive impact on your physical and mental well-being, but it’s often overlooked in our fast-paced world. Here are a few things you can do to get the best rest:
- Set a sleep schedule and stick to it. When you go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning, your body can fall into a routine. You may start feeling tired at your scheduled bedtime naturally and even wake up in the morning without the help of an alarm.
- Exercise during the day, and you’ll be tired at night, especially if you’re active outside. In fact, a growing body of evidence around the idea of nature deficit disorder suggests that regular, direct exposure to nature can offer a range of health benefits. Plus, getting plenty of sunshine during daylight hours helps keep your body attuned to its natural circadian rhythm, or the 24-hour cycle of our waking and sleeping time.
- Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and cool. If there is a streetlamp shining through your window, close your blinds, shades or curtains to block out any light, or buy an eye mask to wear while you sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the ideal temperature for sleep is 60-71 degrees Fahrenheit. And a white noise machine can help drown out disruptive sounds.
- Ban blue light from the bedroom. Remove electronic devices from your bedroom and resist scrolling through your phone before bedtime. The blue light from electronic screens can keep your mind alert and make falling asleep more difficult. Try to engage in calming activities that don’t rely on screens, like reading, journaling or meditating, at least one hour before going to bed. While it might be tempting to use blue-light-blocking glasses to extend your screen time, research hasn’t yet proven that they’re effective enough to make falling asleep easier
4. Try to keep stress low
Life is stressful, and sometimes there’s no avoiding it. However, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to manage stress. Manage stress in positive ways with these tips:
- Keep yourself physically healthy. Exercise, a healthy diet and plenty of restful sleep can put you in the best position to meet whatever challenges life throws your way.
- Take a break from the news. Our modern, 24-hour news cycle exposes us to a constant stream of distressing information. Give yourself time to process the stories you’ve already seen and read by unplugging for a while.
- Don’t compensate with food, drugs or alcohol. These substances can become unhealthy quickly when used as coping mechanisms. Instead, try meditation, breathing exercises or physical activity when you’re feeling stressed.
- Talk with someone you trust. Whether it’s a family member, a close friend or a mental health professional, sometimes just speaking your stress aloud can help you feel better and remind you that you’re not alone.
5. Maintain healthy relationships
Many of us are familiar with advice on romantic relationships, but strong friendships are just as important as the bond with our intimate partners. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), loneliness is a contributing factor in several serious health conditions for adults 50 years of age and older, including heart disease, stroke, depression and dementia. Maintaining a big community throughout our lives can help us combat loneliness and keep us healthy. But like most things, it can take some practice.
- Reach out to friends and family. When we stop taking an active role in our social life, we can feel more alone than we actually are. Try to schedule at least one social get-together each week, whether meeting for coffee, going to dinner, taking a walk or just chatting on the phone.
- Volunteer, take a class or join a club based on your hobbies. These are great ways to learn new skills and make new connections with people who share your interests. They also create scheduled time that gets you out of the house, or if online, time that puts you in contact with others.
- Adopt a pet. Animals offer great companionship at home, and dogs – because they require regular walks and exercise – will get you out and about in your neighborhood. They can create great opportunities to meet other dog owners and animal lovers.
6. Limit screen time, especially social media
Technology is an incredible tool for work, education and play. However, all the ways in which we use technology can result in us staring at screens for most of the day. This can be physically and mentally harmful – the screen itself strains our eyes, and using a computer can affect our posture, while what we consume online can make us feel sad, lonely and angry.
- Set clear, consistent boundaries around your children’s screen time. Children can learn a lot through technology, but it’s equally important to their development that they learn by interacting with the world around them. As a parent, you make the rules around your child’s screen time. If you’re not sure where to start, a good rule that everyone can follow is no screens during mealtimes.
- Realize when you’re scrolling. It isn’t healthy to constantly scroll through social media, yet social media apps and websites were designed to keep you doing just that. You can download apps and browser extensions that place time limits on your social media use or designate time throughout your day that is free of social media. Then you can think of it like a reward when you get back on.
- Give your eyes a break. If screens are part of your job, follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen at something that is at least 20 feet away, and focus on it for 20 seconds.
7. Visit the doctor and dentist for regular checkups and screenings
While it can sometimes be challenging to keep up with medical appointments, your annual physicals, immunizations and teeth cleanings are essential to healthy living. They are part of preventive care, which helps prevent diseases and chronic health conditions through testing, vaccination and education.
- Schedule dental appointments at least once a year. Oral health is connected to the health of your whole body, especially your heart. So your dentist doesn’t just clean your teeth, they also look for signs of inflammation, gum disease, tooth decay, oral cancer and more.
- Follow up with your doctor. Keeping up with preventive care, like regular physicals and exams, is essential for your present and future health. Seeing your doctor regularly keeps your health on track and makes it more likely that they will catch any potential diseases early on.
8. Don’t smoke, and drink alcohol in moderation
Living a healthy life means being mindful of what you put into your body. This includes alcohol and tobacco, both of which can be relaxing and fun, but also wreak havoc on your health.
- Avoid tobacco and nicotine. When it comes to tobacco, the only healthy option is quitting. Quitting tobacco and nicotine can be very challenging, but there are plenty of resources to help you do it. You can join a support group, find ways to distract yourself from cravings and remind yourself of the health benefits when resisting that cigarette gets tough.
- Drink in moderation. Alcohol can be enjoyed on occasion. The health community defines this as “moderate” alcohol consumption, which is one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
If you feel that alcohol dependency or drug use is holding you back from a healthy lifestyle, help is available.
9. Be kind to yourself and have patience
You should always speak kindly to yourself, but especially when you’re making a lot of major changes in your life. Whether healthy living for you means a big transition or staying the course, be kind to yourself as you strive for health. There is trial and error involved in figuring out what works best for you.
Remember, changing your lifestyle doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to form habits that last.
Live your healthiest life
It’s never too late to start living healthy. And while it can seem overwhelming at times, reminding yourself of all the reasons why you decided to make a healthy lifestyle a priority can help you stay focused.
There’s no shame in needing help. The HealthPartners Blog can be a great resource for information, health guidelines and tips for living your best life.
Your primary care doctor or clinician can be super helpful, too. They can listen to your health concerns or challenges and connect you with information, programs or specialists that may fit your needs.