You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t yearn for a healthier lifestyle. The benefits of living in a healthy way are numerous – if we exercise, eat right, and partake in other healthy activities, we find ourselves feeling and looking better, living longer, happier lives. Why, then, do so few of us prioritize maintaining healthy habits? It’s easy to come up with reasons, the most common of which include thinking we don’t have enough time, that it’s too expensive, and that the amount of work required is too great. But in the back of our heads, we recognize these excuses are just that — and in reality, the major obstacle preventing us from being our best selves is ourselves. How, then, do we start healthy habits that stick? This article serves as a guide not only on suggestions for healthy activities to incorporate into your lifestyle, but how to motivate yourself to continue these habits long enough for them to have an impact on your life.
Of course, one of the cornerstones of a healthy lifestyle is a good diet. When most of us think of dieting, we imagine a temporary break from our standard patterns of eating, adopted in order to reach a certain weight goal, to be thereafter forgotten about. However, conceptualizing diets in this way is a poor way of understanding your relationship with food, and while it may bring you some degree of success in the short term, you’ll find yourself quickly re-gaining all of the weight you lost as soon as you’ve “finished” your diet.
Rather, it’s best to think of a diet not as something you choose to go on, but as a necessary and lasting component of your lifestyle. The reality is, whether we realize it or not, all of us are “on a diet” — human beings, as we are creatures of habit, tend to eat similar things on a daily or weekly basis, and in similar amounts. The integral nature of diet in our lifestyle also explains why it can be so hard for us to change our diets — the longer we engage in a particular habit, the more ingrained it becomes in our routines.
Breaking our unhealthy dieting habits, then, requires a strong sense of lasting commitment and purpose. Different diets work for different people, and the best diet is the one that you’ll stick to — however, there are some tricks you can take advantage of to ease yourself into your transition towards eating healthier foods. One way to start is by logging all of your foods alongside their constituent macronutrient and calorie values. This process has never been easier, as smartphone apps including FitBit and MyFitnessPal allow you to search for the foods that you eat, which automatically lists the nutritional information for each food, and even let you scan the barcodes of the foods you eat to retrieve this information. You may be surprised by the nutritional value, or lack thereof, of the things you consume without even thinking about it.
Another tip, if your goal is to reduce calories, is to approach the process gradually, by first determining how many calories you tend to eat on a daily basis and then restricting this number slowly as time goes on. The aforementioned apps, as well as online resources, can give you an idea of how many calories you should consume each day based on your height, weight, gender, level of activity, and fitness goals. It’s worth doing some research about nutrition to learn about the different types of nutrients and how they affect the body; although the science of nutrition is full of hotly debated ideas and conflicting advice, there are a few universally-agreed upon principles that should be adhered to. A few good rules of thumb, albeit very simple, are that natural ingredients are better than processed ones, colorful foods tend to be more nutrient-rich, and foods that you cook yourself are healthier than ones you buy pre-made.
Being knowledgeable about nutrition is only half the battle, however, as the other half involves putting your knowledge into action. One good way to help yourself stick to your goals is to prepare your meals ahead of time. If you do all of your cooking for the week at once, putting your cooked meals into reusable containers to take with you instead of determining what you’re going to eat in the moment, you will be more likely to adhere to your diet. A good way to keep yourself accountable is to record your eating habits, either in a journal or with the help of an app. Doing so will not only give yourself the opportunity to look back to see the progress you’ve made over time, but it will also motivate you to maintain your healthy eating habits as you develop a sense of pride for how long you’ve stuck to your modified diet. A potential challenge arises when going out with friends to eat; in these situations, be sure to suggest healthy dining options, and be mindful of the temptation to eat the same sort of food as everybody seated around you.
Another essential component of a healthy lifestyle is physical activity. If it’s possible for you to do so, incorporating exercise into your routine is an excellent way to maintain health, as a mountain of scientific evidence suggests that getting your heart up several times a week, for extended periods of time, helps to prevent the onset of various diseases and improves your overall subjective sense of well-being. As with your diet, set goals for yourself to exercise for a certain amount of time every week, and hold yourself accountable by recording your progress. This is an area where fitness trackers, such as the various FitBit watches that are commercially available, are their most useful. While a fitness tracker won’t help you if you’re not intrinsically motivated to exercise to begin with, the ability to view detailed stats about your workouts may help push you to do even better in subsequent sessions. Find a sport or activity that you enjoy, whether that’s volleyball, basketball, swimming, or running, and focus on improving your abilities over time. The sense of pride that you’ll find in yourself from noticing your improvement will make up for the pain and effort of eschewing a sedentary lifestyle.
You should also take into account your psychological and mental health. This holds true even for people who do not have any diagnosed mental illnesses. The purpose of health is to maximize your capacity to get what you want out of life, and many of the barriers to success are mental rather than physical. You should set psychological goals for yourself in addition to your nutrition and exercise related goals – this includes making sure that you fulfill your social obligations, and seeking out new recreational experiences with friends, family, and loved ones. Volunteering, for instance, can give you a sense of purpose and connection with your local community, as well as making you feel good about your contributions to the world. Additionally, mindfulness meditation, alongside yoga and other spiritual practices, has recently been shown scientifically to have mental health benefits, by improving focus and emotional stability. While drugs and alcohol can be fun, recreational drugs are essentially uniformly detrimental to your health, and while occasional drinks are not a major health risk, no amount of alcohol is considered to be healthy. Finally, you should be honest with yourself and non-judgmental of your emotional well-being; if you feel that you need help relating to your mental health, there’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to asking a professional for help, just as there would be no shame in going to a doctor for a broken leg.
The best way to maximize your enjoyment of life, especially as you age, is to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and the best approach to doing so is taking a holistic view of health. The three areas of healthy living I’ve outlined in this article all interact with each other in complex ways, and by no means represent a complete view of what it means to be healthy. It’s good to have questions about how you can incorporate healthy behaviors into your life, and you should be proactive in finding answers to these questions, whether that be through the conversations you have or the research you conduct. Think of your healthy lifestyle not as an obligation, or even superficially as a way to improve your appearance, but as an investment in yourself, and an opportunity to get the most out of your experiences on planet Earth.