Exercise and eating right — no doubt, these habits are two staples of living a healthy life.
But establishing true health and wellness in all areas of your life extends far beyond regularly hitting the gym and consistently filling your plate up with lots of fruits and veggies.
In fact, because so many different aspects play a role in maintaining good health, it’s pretty easy to overlook quite a few. After all, for most of us even squeezing in a workout a few times a week is quite a challenge.
Not to mention, we’re constantly reminded about the importance of diet and exercise — often references to these other factors fall by the wayside.
That’s OK, though, because you’re here right now to learn some of the most commonly overlooked healthy habits and how to implement them into your day-to-day life.
“I often tell patients that it's the small things that add up over time,” says Dr. Michael J. Glickert, director of Clinic Operations at The Vanguard Clinic in in St. Louis, Mo.
To start, he recommends practicing daily habits that are easy to implement.
“Start with meditation for three to four minutes after waking up. Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. Eat a healthy breakfast within 30 minutes of waking up. Turn off the cell phone, TV, iPad and tablets at least 30-minutes before bedtime,” Glickert says. “Implement at least one affirmation and start visualizing the person that you want to become — a healthy, energetic, joyous person. Health is not one or two things, it's the culmination of easy, daily decisions that add up to a powerful life.”
Here are a few more expert-recommended healthy habits that you r current health routine might be missing, but that when practiced regularly, will help you achieve total health and wellness.
“Most people forget to take time to unwind and de-stress,” explains Tom Postema, a certified strength and conditioning specialist at Postema Performance. “More isn't always better. It’s important for your body to rest and recover and have time away from training for your mental and physical health.”
“Stressed and anxious people do not breathe regularly,” says Dr. Claire Nicogossian, a clinical psychologist with a focus on well-being and self-care, and creator of Mom’s Well Being. “Shorter, shallow breathing is the norm for the aforementioned. Taking the time to focus on regulating breathing, meditating or pausing several times a day to regulate breathing can be a great way to reset during stress and anxiety.”
Related: WTF Is Mindfulness, Really?
3. Sun Safety
“Most people mistakenly reserve sunscreen use for beach days,” says Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D., a Beverley Hills-based board-certified dermatologist and pediatrician. “It needs to be applied to exposed skin areas every day to prevent UV damage to skin, including burns, aging and skin cancer. Melanoma incidence is rising in both adults and children. Sun safety must become routine from an early age. Avoid sitting out during peak sun hours — 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — wear hats, longer sleeved shirts, sunglasses and sunscreen.”
4. Doing Activities You Enjoy
“It’s critical to balance work and productivity with fun activities,” Nicogossian explains. “So many people I work with focus on caring for their families on top of work and other obligations that they forget the importance of fun.”
Related: Find the Fun in Fitness
“In an over-productive culture, many people value getting things done versus taking time for rest,” says Nicogossian. "Consequently, there is a constant push to sleep less and do more.” However, staying up late and skimping on sleep certainly does more harm than good. In addition to leaving you tired and sluggish, the long-term effects of missing out on sleep are entirely detrimental. Poor sleep habits have been associated with an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, impaired immunity, depression and anxiety.
“More and more people are adopting a healthy diet and exercise routines, however many people overlook mental health and stress management,” says Aunna Pourang, M.D., a Los Angeles-based doctor practicing integrative medicine. “I can’t tell you about how many people I know who are very fit and eat a healthy diet, yet don’t deal with their stress effectively and need to take medication or drink alcohol to fall asleep at night, and struggle with anxiety and depression.”
Pourang says that in addition to eating well and exercising, truly healthy and happy people have a positive attitude.
“These days people lead stressful lives and are constantly over-stimulated by technology and social media. Depression and anxiety are on the rise,” she explains. “Hidden depression may also interfere with the ability to be active or take care of oneself. Many health problems also have their roots in poor stress-management. The most common diseases in America — heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, COPD — are the most costly and the most preventable, all which have roots in an unhealthy diet, alcohol and tobacco use, which is what people use to self-medicate stress and anxiety.”
To avoid these habits and better manage your stress, like Nicogossian, Pourang suggests practicing mindfulness.
“[It] helps people stay present and out of their minds, which are caught up dwelling in the past or worried about the future,” she says. “Yoga, meditation, breath work, a walk in nature and journaling are all ways to practice being present.”
She adds, “Long-standing anxiety and poor stress-management may require the help of a counselor, healthcare provider or wellness coach. Mental well-being is also benefitted by adequate sleep and having a positive attitude.”
More and more health practitioners are acknowledging the role the digestive system plays in nearly every aspect of our overall health.
“Reports mention that as much as 60 to 70 percent of the immune system is based in the gut,” said Dr. Helene M. Savignac Ph.D., an expert in neuropsychology, cognitive and behavioral science and the brain research manager for Clasado Research Services Ltd.
What’s more, your digestive health likely plays a pretty significant role in how your brain functions, too.
“The bacteria that reside in the gut appear to play an important role and are able to communicate with the central nervous system notably through neural, endocrine and immune pathways,” Savignac said. “By influencing the balance and types of bacteria present, studies show that it may be possible to lower stress, affect cognition/brain processes and mood.”
To learn how you can improve the health of your gut see: 6 Simple Steps to Better Digestive Health