Simple Healthy Habits That Can Lead to Big Life Changes from Simple Healthy Habits That Can Lead to Big Life Changes
Simple Healthy Habits That Can Lead to Big Life Changes
Building new healthy habits is by no means easy. Establishing a new routine practice in your life takes dedication, patience and probably even a few failed attempts.
“There’s no auto-pilot for life,” explains Jared Heathman, M.D., a Texas-based psychiatrist. “Despite the best of intentions, creating large daily healthy habits is incredibly difficult. Very few people can schedule a trip to the gym every day and maintain a perfect diet.”
For this reason, he — and nearly every other wellness expert we’ve consulted — emphasized the importance of making small, gradual changes that can be progressively implemented into your day-to-day life. This type of strategy is most effective because instead of trying to overhaul everything all at once, which for most is overwhelming and unsustainable — leading to frustration and ultimately failure, it allows you to adopt new habits at a an easy pace and that you’ll be more likely to maintain long-term.
This might not sound exciting, and maybe it even seems tedious, but the best part of embracing new healthy habits this way is that even the simplest practices —like those we’re about to share — can lead to big improvements in your overall well-being. Here’s a look at 16 essential healthy habits that a wide range of health experts recommend adding to your routine.
Define Your Why
“You've got to establish the ‘why’ before moving to the ‘what’ and ‘how,’” said Greg Justice, a veteran personal trainer with more than 30 years of fitness industry experience and owner of AYC Health & Fitness. At first, this might seem like a one-time step that only needs to be taken at the beginning of your journey, but it’s actually more like a habit — something you should revisit and reestablish often. “If your ‘why,’ or motivation behind the life changes, is strong enough, you'll find the ‘what’ and ‘how’ will be successful,” Justice said. He encourages people to really dig deep in order to find internal motivators (your ‘why,’ or reasons for improving your health) that will offer long-term inspiration.
Set a Precedent at the Start of Each Day
By immediately starting each day “on the right foot,” with a simple habit like drinking a glass of water, practicing five minutes of yoga or meditating on a positive mantra, you can easily set the pace for the remainder of the day. Darshi Shah, C.N.T, C.P.T., I.N.H.C. , a certified health coach, board-certified nutritional therapist and author of upcoming book, R.I.G.H.T. Diet for Autoimmunity, recommends writing your thoughts in a journal each morning just after waking up. “Those first morning thoughts are soon forgotten otherwise, but they can bring anxiety and hinder your normal progress,” Shah said. “Once written down —never to be forgotten — changes start to occur within you and your vital energy that enable you to plan, communicate, and focus easier. And each night you can review how your day started.”
Move Every Hour
Get to Bed Just a Little Bit Earlier
“Try to be in bed at 10 p.m.,” Sulack said. “That’s when melatonin levels peak. Because of this, every hour of sleep you get before midnight is actually worth three hours of sleep after midnight.” And not only should you aim to reap the benefits of getting to bed earlier, but getting an adequate amount of shuteye each night is also essential to your health. “Sleep deprivation can impact your immune system, your cognitive abilities and your endocrine system,” said Angela Martindale, a celebrity lifestyle coach, fitness trainer and nutritionist. “Lack of proper sleep can also cause weight gain or weight loss and can lead to depression. Try to put yourself on a regular bedtime schedule to ensure you get seven to nine hours of sleep at night.”
For some, squeezing in even just a few extra minutes for breakfast in the morning might not seem simple at all, but making the effort to include it as a part of your prep for the day can certainly lead to lots of positive changes. “Most science points to the fact that breakfast-eaters tend to have generally healthier eating habits overall,” said Josh Anderson, an AFAA certified personal fitness trainer and the CEO of Always Active Athletics. For example, one study found eating a high-protein breakfast led women to eat less throughout the rest of the morning, and there’s a large body of research that supports the same notion for both men and women. “So, if you often skip breakfast and are struggling to maintain a balanced diet, try making a habit of eating a nutritious meal every morning,” Anderson said.
Maintain Your Mental Health
In addition to practicing relaxation techniques to effectively manage your stress, something as simple as a mental health screening can help protect against depression and other mental health disorders. Screening for Mental Health, the nonprofit that founded National Depression Screening Day (which takes place annually on October 8) encourages everyone to be proactive about their mental health by making a habit of checking in on their mind.
Leave One Bite Behind
“The average American is gaining a pound a year,” said Dr. Jo Lichten (aka Dr. Jo®), author of Reboot - how to power up your energy, focus, and productivity. “That represents just an extra 10 calories more than your body needs per day.” For reference, there are about 3,500 calories in one pound of fat, so 365 days per year times 10 calories per day would equal about 3,650 extra calories, or just over one pound of fat, per year. For this reason, she recommends making a habit of leaving at least just one bite —about 10 calories — on your plate at each meal “When you're in the habit of just leaving one bite behind, it's easier to not finish everything on your plate at a restaurant or anyplace else where portions are huge.”
“According to research positive thinking has many health benefits including increased life span, lower rates of cardiovascular disease and even greater resistance to the common cold,” said Jennifer Owens, L.C.S.W., L.M.T., C.P.T., an integrative mental health and wellness expert specializing in stress and anxiety management who has been working in the holistic health field for over a decade. “Positive thinking does not mean you need to ignore unpleasant situations or feelings. Positive thinking helps us to approach life and problems in a more productive and healthy way.” Owens suggested practicing self-love by staring each say with a statement like, “I can do this, I got this,” or “I have many good qualities” —and then list those qualities.
Eat More Mindfully
Something as simple as paying more attention to and enjoying your meals can certainly lead to big improvements not only in your eating habits, but also in your overall relationship with food. “Mindful eating is being aware of your food experience, including the tastes, smells, textures and feelings you have while eating,” says Darya Rose, Ph.D., author of Foodist.com and creator of Summer Tomato, one of TIME's 50 best websites. “It's incredibly powerful, since paying more attention to the sensory attributes of your food makes people enjoy it more, and also eat less of it.” Plus, there’s some science to back-up the efficacy of the practice too. One literature review from 2014 that evaluated 21 papers regarding the topic of mindfulness-based interventions for obesity-related eating behaviors found that such strategies are likely effective when it comes to “changing obesity-related eating behaviors, specifically binge eating, emotional eating and external eating.”
“Taking a break and going outside either for a short walk or just sitting on a bench will make you more relaxed and less stressed,” said Lisa DeFazio, M.S., R.D., a healthy lifestyle expert and nutritionist. “The fresh air, sunlight, flowers and trees, will help you refocus and relax to help you put things in perspective and help you get through your day in a better mood.” Plus, as DeFazio also pointed out, exposure to sunlight decreases your risk for depression and elevates mood by producing vitamin D.
Keep Healthy Snacks and Meals on Hand
“When you're hungry, you will eat whatever it is that you have instant access to,” said Tehzeeb Lalani, a Mumbai-based clinical nutritionist and sole proprietor of Scale Beyond Scale. “So hello vending machines if you haven't pre-arranged for healthy snack options.” For this reason, she suggests making of a habit of packing healthy, on-the-go snacks — like nuts, fresh fruit or sugar-free Greek yogurt. Plus, you can go a step further by stocking your fridge and pantry with easy-to-make healthy meals. A recent study out of Cornell University found that one of the most effective healthy eating strategies may be as simple as making nutritious foods, “convenient, attractive and normal.” In other worlds, make sure they’re somewhat enticing and readily available.
Most of us can’t imagine spending more than a few minutes without our phones, but it turns out that disconnecting offers a few pretty impressive health benefits. Research on the subject is still relatively infantile, but several studies have shown that disconnecting, even for short periods of time on a day-to-day basis, may help to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and even increase your creativity.
Kathy Walsh, a certified yoga and meditation instructor and author of the award winning children’s books series Joyohboy, believes that gratitude is “the string that ties everything in a nice tight little bow.” “And it’s a habit anyone can adopt,” she said. “Get up, brush your teeth and feel grateful every day. Just like playing happy music every day, an attitude of gratitude becomes the voice that plays inside your head.” Walsh explained that by acknowledging the things you’re grateful for on a daily basis, you’ll not only feel happier, but create feel-good vibes that will bring more good things your way. “What I like about gratitude is that it’s easy,” Walsh added. “The more you do it the easier it is. Gratitude journals can help us all focus on the good, and going to bed with positive thoughts helps aid in a restful night’s sleep.”
Tune Into Your Digestive Health
Your digestive system actually plays a much greater role in your overall health than you probably think. “The health of your gut — or your stomach, large intestine and small intestine — is 70 to 80 percent of your immune system,” says Breanne Rice, a certified nutritional therapy practitioner. “If you do not have a healthy digestive track, it will affect other functions of your body,” she explained. Plus, a growing body of research is also finding that the health of the gut largely affects functions of the brain. In other words, taking steps to keep your digestive system in good shape is essential for good overall health.
Eat More Fat
There’s a common misunderstanding that eating fat leads the body to store fat. As a result, many people exclude it from their diets to a point that’s unnecessarily extreme. Of course, not all fats are good, but including the healthy, nutritious kinds — like from avocados, nuts and olive oil — as part of your diet is a simple way to boost the nutritional profile of your meals and make them more satisfying.
Cut Back on Sugar
We know, you’ve probably heard this one a million times already, but just in case you haven’t already made it a priority, we’ll encourage you to cut some of that added sugar from your diet. This can be accomplished through something as simple as swapping your daily soda for a water or unsweetened seltzer, or swapping a sweetened cereal for a brand with no added sugar and then topping it with fresh fruit instead.