As the saying goes, if you have your health, you have wealth. Good physical and mental health impacts all areas of your life, but it can feel daunting to make big changes. Spoiler alert: your entire life does not have to be overhauled to start a healthy lifestyle!
You can make daily progress towards big goals without changing every single thing about your current daily routine and activities. Remember that big changes happen as a series of smaller steps. We have outlined eight cornerstones of good mental and physical health and broken them down into smaller, doable habits. Start with the ones you are most likely to adhere to and keep incorporating more healthy changes as you go.
8 Cornerstones of A Healthy Lifestyle
Create a balanced meal plan, including proteins, carbs, fats, vitamins, and minerals. They are all essential for your body’s health needs. Focus on whole and fresh foods and increase your daily intake of greens, colorful vegetables, and fruits.
Make cooking at home a priority to be in charge of what exactly goes into your food. Plan your meals in advance and hit the grocery store on weekends to be fully armed with healthy fare during the week.
Split entrees and choose healthier side dishes when eating out.
Be mindful of your hunger cues to recognize if your desire to eat is actual hunger or if it is boredom, cravings, or even thirst. Be fully present when eating, chew slowly, and try to really notice how your food smells and tastes.
Stick with a regular meal schedule and try not to eat later than two-three hours before bedtime.
Snack wisely, avoiding sugary or fatty treats. Greek yogurt, a handful of raw nuts, or dried fruit are healthy and easy on-the-go options.
Swap refined sugars for natural ones, coming from fruit or green stevia. Spice up your food to replace salt and sugar without sacrificing flavor.
Maintain the balance of fluids in your body by drinking six to eight glasses of water a day (other drinks don’t count). You don’t need to get obsessive, as drinking to thirst supports most people in meeting this benchmark, but do pay attention to your water intake.
Start your morning with a glass of water, preferably warm, to soothe your digestive system and hydrate your lymphatic system. Wait fifteen minutes after drinking to enjoy coffee, tea, or other foods so your body has time to reap the purifying benefits.
Buy a nice water bottle and remember to carry it with you when on the go. You can even choose one with the ounces marked on the side, or other encouraging messages to help you meet your goal. If plain old water feels too boring, consider adding citrus or mint for a yummy flavor.
Swap sugary drinks for water, fresh vegetable juice, or green smoothies. Learn to enjoy warm beverages without added sugar. If you’re hooked on flavored coffee creamer, for example, start reducing the amount over time until you are using only a splash, or none at all.
Lastly, remember to rehydrate your body during a sweaty workout and in hot weather conditions. Pay attention to your sweat and urine output as markers of appropriate water consumption.
The average healthy adult needs eight hours of good-quality sleep each night, so make sleep a priority! It’s important to create a comfortable and relaxing sleep environment, focusing on maximizing comfort and minimizing distractions. (Yes, this means keeping your phone and other devices as far from the bedroom as possible.)
Craft a pre-bedtime routine to unwind: lower the lights, listen to soothing music, do gentle yoga or low-impact stretching.
Set up a sleep schedule – try to get up at the same time every day, even on weekends, and stick to a consistent bedtime. Make your bed a sleep-only zone. Your brain needs to develop a strong mental association that your bed is strictly for sleep.
Avoid prolonged or irregular napping, especially late in the day, as it confuses your internal clock. The best nap length is around 10-20 minutes.
Stop hitting the snooze button on your alarm clock! Every time you reset your alarm, your body no longer knows how to react to the brain’s signal to wake up after the alarm rings.
Expose yourself to sunlight to keep your circadian rhythm healthy. Getting outside before noon for exposure to natural light is ideal.
Commit to daily exercise. Physical activity initiates changes in energy use that help promote solid sleep. Avoid intense training late in the evening, though, as your body won’t have enough time to settle down before going to bed.
Try to eat dinner within a couple of hours before bedtime and minimize fats or spicy foods to avoid food-based sleep disruptions.
Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine later in the day. These are all nervous system stimulants and stay elevated in your blood for hours.
Make sure you’re getting in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times per week to reap the benefits associated with healthy living.
Find workouts and workout styles you actually enjoy doing. The less exercising feels like a chore, the more sustainable it becomes.
Focus on a mix of cardio, strength training, and stretching to maintain proper physical form.
Regularly shake up your workout routine with new moves to keep your muscles challenged.
Exercise outdoors as often as you can to soak up the sun and give your lungs access to fresh air.
Schedule your workouts in advance. Making them non-negotiable like any other important commitment means you’ll be more likely to accomplish them.
Walk or bike to work instead of driving if it’s safe to do so. If you take public transportation, get off one stop earlier. If you drive to work, park farther away from the entrance.
Take the stairs as often as possible or if you work on a very high level, get off the elevator a few floors below your own.
If time permits, take a walk during your lunch break. Take active breaks from work at least once an hour. Walk around your office, do stretches at your desk, or try alternate nostril breathing for a mental reset.
Find a workout partner. Working out in the company of people who share your lifestyle goals can help you stay committed and accountable. You don’t have to work out in person together, either – work out on Zoom, or promise to send each other a post-workout sweaty selfie.
Your skin is the largest organ in your body, so take good care of those outer layers. Shower or wipe off sweat after a workout, moisturize frequently, and don’t forget to apply sunscreen (remember that the duration of protection a newly-applied sunscreen provides is two hours).
Try a contrast shower! Alternate between hot and cold water while showering to improve circulation and blood flow and to tone your skin.
Practice good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss daily, and drink soda and juices through a straw to help prevent cavities.
Wash your hands regularly and properly, scrubbing vigorously with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Commit to a mindful morning routine, including yoga or other exercises to warm-up, an unrushed breakfast, and thoughtful setting of daily intentions.
Choose clothes made of natural fabrics. Make sure your workout clothes are comfortable to wear and allow your skin to breathe.
Incorporate small spa rituals into your daily routine. Take a warm bath with herbs or sea salt, do a hair mask, or give yourself a foot massage.
Create a healthier home by using items made of organic materials and swapping your chemical cleansers for less harmful products.
Open your windows regularly to let in some fresh air, and decorate your home with air-purifying plants, like the nearly impossible-to-kill snake plant (sansevieria).
Find time every day to do something you love, whether it’s enjoying a favorite hobby, playtime with your pet, or chatting with a dear friend – whatever makes you happy.
Meditate. This mindful practice brings you to a state of peaceful awareness that is rejuvenating for both your mind and body.
Take a regular digital detox. Set your phone on airplane mode after 9 pm, make your mealtime gadget-free, and implement unplugged weekends.
Practice gratitude. Focusing on positive things in your life you are thankful for is a powerful technique to help you feel happier and improve your overall health.
Start a daily habit of taking a 15-minute timeout alone with yourself. Remove all distractions, let go of any thoughts, and just allow your thoughts to wander. If you start spiraling, take deep breaths until the feeling passes.
Practice positive thinking. Our thoughts trigger neurochemical reactions in our bodies and shape our deepest beliefs about ourselves and the world.
Clean up your mental diet. Spend less time with media and people that suck up your energy and focus on those who inspire and motivate you instead.
Learn to get out of your head. Refresh your mind and get back in touch with your body by taking a walk or doing something with your hands.
Enjoy a burst of good laughter at least once a day. Watching a funny video can instantly lift your mood while improving your immunity.
Connection to nature
Set a goal to spend at least 120 minutes a week in nature (the amount of time needed to boost mental and physical health, according to studies).
Expose yourself to sunlight. Ten to 20 minutes in the sun per day is enough to obtain the recommended dose of vitamin D. Don’t forget the sunscreen!
Get close to the ocean, if you can, or another body of water. Water’s negative ions are vital for all body functions, and the sound of waves or lapping surf can make you forget about anything troubling you.
Take a hike! Getting into the mountains and a higher altitude gives your lungs the chance to breathe in oxygen that’s free of gasses and air pollution.
Walk in the forest. Phytoncides produced by plants are crucial for our immune system as they increase the number of our natural killer cells.
Spend time with animals. If you can’t keep a pet at home, volunteer at an animal shelter or visit a local farm that offers horseback rides or other animal care opportunities.
If you’re a city dweller, try to get out of the city each weekend. Besides all the benefits listed above, it will help you remember that life is more than just hustling and always being on the go.
Positive social circle
Develop meaningful connections. Surround yourself with positive, inspiring people and cut ties with those who bring negative energy or activity into your life.
Make time to hang out with your friends. If your circle of friends is on the smaller side, that’s ok! Quality over quantity is the name of the game. Consider getting involved in an activity that appeals to you in order to meet some like-minded people and make new friends.
Deepen relationships with your family. Their love and support can really do wonders both for your mental and physical health, and make an effort to spend time together for important dates, like birthdays.
Be fully present when spending time with your nearest and dearest. Put down your phone and really listen to your loved ones when you’re together.
Have the confidence to say “no.” Don’t feel guilty for turning down invites or opportunities if they don’t feel right for your life at that particular moment.
Focus on offline connections. Nothing replaces real-life meetups with deep conversations, hugs, and laughter.
Be kind to everyone you meet. A smile and genuinely friendly attitude can make a difference in a stranger’s day – and yours.
Pet a dog or a cat! Adorable animals can become your true friends and help you experience positive emotions. Plus, a dog requires you to get out and about in your neighborhood for walks – get ready to meet new people!
Maintaining a good-for-you lifestyle takes effort, but in return, it can unleash your full potential. Even some of these small tweaks can quickly bring big health rewards, making you feel more energized and motivated to keep making more positive changes.
Don’t get discouraged if you experience some setbacks as you work towards these new habits! Every day is an opportunity to begin anew, so let go of any less than ideal choices, and commit to at least one positive change tomorrow on this exciting road to a healthier, happier you.
Not a Daily Burn member? Sign up at dailyburn.com and start your free 30-day trial today.
All images via Shutterstock