In a world that constantly changes, what’s considered a healthy lifestyle seems to differ from time to time and from culture to culture.
Over the past decades, we’ve seen countless of diet and exercise trends, from high-tech fitness and low-fat diets, to bootcamp-style workouts, Zumba and juice cleanses. People are not just keen to try out cool new workouts and meal plans, but these trends also reflect the medical knowledge and technology of any given period.
It makes you wonder: Is there any health advice that passes the test of time?
Today we’re going back to the basics with 12 timeless tips for a healthy lifestyle.
1. Eat more veggies
It’s the one dietary guideline that everybody seems to agree on: we should eat at least 200g of vegetables a day. But the statistics show that most of us find it challenging to eat those 5 servings each day.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can add more greens to your diet. It’s easier to eat small portions of vegetables throughout the day than a large amount in one sitting. For example, you could get a head start by drinking fresh veggie juice or a green smoothie for breakfast. Next, have a salad for lunch or green up your sandwich. And at night, pick a colourful mix of vegetables to be the stars of your dinner, garnished with small amounts of protein and carbs – instead of the other way around.
2. Go outside!
Did you know that a short walk in the park has numerous benefits for your health? Not only will the gentle activity and fresh air make you feel more energetic, but being outdoors and exposing your skin to sunlight is also necessary to produce vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, immune function and mental wellbeing.
What’s more, a scientific study recently proved that a simple walk in green environments eases brain fatigue. Spending time in nature also buffers the negative effects of stress on your health and can reduce mild depressive symptoms. Just looking at a natural scene stimulates the parts of your brain that are associated with happiness. So take 15 minutes out of your day to go for a stroll in green surroundings.
3. Build your resilience
Resilience refers to your capacity to deal with life’s challenges and to bounce back from tough times. Being resilient reduces the emotional and physical effects of stress and adversity on your health. So what can you do to build your resilience?
- Accept change as a part of life and learn how to be more adaptable.
- Develop a strong network of supportive people around you.
- Cultivate positive emotions on a daily basis
- Take decisive steps to solve your problems
- Have a sense of purpose in your life or find meaning in adversity.
4. Move your body
Our bodies are designed for a physically active lifestyle – to move regularly at a slow pace, to lift heavy objects and to sprint occasionally. Moderate exercise plays an important role in maintaining a healthy weight and a happy mood. And the good news is, you don’t need to spend hours sweating in the gym to reap the benefits from exercising. Even gentle aerobic activities like walking, gardening or swimming can lower your risk of serious diseases by reducing the inflammation in your body. So if you have trouble getting into the habit of exercising, focus on creating a more active lifestyle instead. Have fun while moving naturally: explore a new city on foot, go for a romantic bike ride or dance to your favourite tunes.
5. Enjoy a wide variety of foods
Eating lots of different foods is crucial to obtain all the nutrients you need for a healthy body and mind. A balanced diet ensures you get the entire range of vitamins and minerals, without consuming too much of one particular nutrient. So many of us, however, choose the same meals day after day. Not to mention that many food products are made from the same handful of ingredients, such as wheat and soy. You might think you eat a variety of foods when you have cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner, but all these meals probably contain wheat.
Fortunately, it’s not that hard to vary your food intake to cover your nutritional bases. For example, do you enjoy having granola every morning? Then rotate the staple ingredients regularly and choose different grains (spelt, oats, quinoa), different ‘milk’ (dairy, soy milk, almond milk) and seasonal fruits each time. Also, broaden your culinary repertoire and challenge yourself to try one new ingredient every week.
6. Find healthy ways to manage stress
An alarming fact: How you react to stress today can predict how healthy you’ll be in 10 years time. Research has found that people who become upset by everyday hassles and continue to dwell upon them afterwards are more likely to suffer from chronic health problems in the future. Stress doesn’t just have a negative impact on your health, but in an attempt to deal with everyday hassles we often also turn to unhealthy habits – like digging into a bowl of ice cream of pouring yet another glass of wine.
Unfortunately we can’t always control what happens to us. That’s why it’s important to find healthy ways to cope with difficult or overwhelming situations. Experiment with different strategies to both relax your body and stop your mind from worrying until you find a few that work best for you. To get you started, breathing exercises and yoga are well-known techniques to relieve stress. Create rituals that help you unwind after a frustrating day, like changing into your comfy clothes after work, going for a short walk or taking a warm bath. It’s also wise to build your coping skills over time to overcome life’s inevitable challenges. For example, practice with proactive problem solving, more positive self-talk and handling negative emotions in a better way.
7. Think positively
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that having a optimistic outlook on life benefits your overall wellbeing. Positive thinking is linked to a stronger immune response, less stress and a reduced risk of depression. Negative self-talk on the other hand – always expecting the worst or blaming yourself when bad things happen – drains you of your energy and happiness.
How can you train yourself to create a more positive thinking pattern? I highly recommend reading Buffer’s insightful article on rewiring your brain for positivity. Additionally, you can test the accuracy of your negative thoughts with challenging questions:
- “Is there any evidence that my thoughts are true, or is it just my interpretation of events?”
- “Is there another explanation for this situation?”
- “How likely is it that the worst will happen?”
Be kind to yourself, nobody’s perfect. Focus on what you can change and search for ways to make the best of unpleasant situations.
8. Take a deep breath
” If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be to learn to breathe correctly.”
- Dr. Andrew Weil.
Oxygen is our most critical source of energy. And yet, how often do you pay attention to your breathing and how it affects your body and mind? Breathing has direct connections to your emotions, and knowing how to perform simple breathing techniques can help with health problems ranging from high blood pressure to digestive disorders.
To breathe deeply, start by placing your hand just below your navel. Inhale gently through your nose and watch how your hand moves out as your belly expands, like a balloon. As you exhale slowly through your mouth or nose, feel your belly return to its normal position.
9. Home cooking
Cooking with fresh and healthy ingredients is a powerful way to care for yourself. When you prepare your own food, you have control over what goes into your meals – and that’s probably less salt, less sugar and less unhealthy fats than found in take-out and ready-made dinners. That’s why it’s important to learn the basics of cooking. Dig up your cookbooks and make a little effort to master at least 7 quick and healthy recipes. No more excuses not to prepare a homemade dinner, even on busy days!
10. Get plenty of sleep
You probably know all too well how much (not) getting enough sleep influences your overall health and energy levels. But still it’s not always easy to get to sleep – it’s not as if you can flip a switch!
If you have trouble falling asleep, avoid caffeine, heavy meals and exercising late at night. Don’t read email or have difficult conversations before bedtime, but do something you find relaxing instead. Take a warm bath with lavender oil and have a cup of chamomile tea to calm your body down. When you’re lying in bed, try to stay out of your head. Instead, focus on the sensations in your body, by practicing deep belly breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.
11. Avoid smoking, drugs and excessive drinking
I don’t need to tell you that smoking, excessive drinking and taking recreational drugs severely increase your risk of cancer, heart disease, liver failure and/or brain damage. One of the best choices you can make to improve your health is to break these addictive habits for good. Don’t be ashamed to ask your doctor for help if you want to make changes. Leo Babauta from Zen Habits has also written many helpful articles on replacing bad habits with healthier ones and sticking to new habits - definitely worth a read.
Laughter really is the best medicine: it stimulates your immune system, protects your heart and boosts the production of endorphins. Having a good laugh – especially shared with others – also is a powerful antidote against pain, stress and anxiety. But when you’re wrapped up in work and responsibilities, life can sometime become a little too serious. Bring the humour back into your life by looking at things from a lighter perspective and creating more opportunities for laughter – watch a comedy, tell a joke or spend more time with your funniest friends.
What timeless tips for a healthy lifestyle would you add to this list?
” The best six doctors anywhere, and no one can deny it,
Are sunshine, water, rest and air; exercise and diet.
These six will gladly you attend, if only you are willing,
Your mind they’ll ease, your will they’ll mend,
And charge you not a shilling.“
- Nursery rhyme quote by Wayne Fields, What The River Knows.