Healthy living. Living a healthy lifestyle is a high priority for many of us modern beings. But with all the information out there, it can feel overwhelming and it’s hard to know where to start. We often go into it with an all-or-nothing mentality, but the truth is that you can see major positive benefits without overhauling your entire lifestyle. In fact, some of these things are as simple as doing more of what you love. There are multiple studies which back this up (and many of them are linked below).
Small adjustments lead to life-changing results over time. Even consciously choosing to live a healthier life, we’re already one step ahead of where where we were yesterday. So go ahead and pat yourself on the back if that’s why you’re here. High five, friend.
Below are 10 simple steps for healthy living backed by research. I chose these 10 steps because they are all simple shifts that have personally had enormous impacts on my life. Many of them are little to no cost and require minimal amount of time or effort. I know incorporating just one will have a positive impact on your life as well. Science thinks so too.
Healthy Living: 10 Simple Steps
This list isn’t in any specific order except this one. Gratitude is number 1 for a reason. It quite literally rewires your brain and has been scientifically proven to significantly improve both physical and mental health. Because of its wide-ranging benefits and ease of access, I believe it’s one of the most overlooked tools in healthy living. It’s no cost and takes so little time that it’s easy to incorporate into your life. Every night before I go to bed, I think of 5 things I was grateful for that day. Bonus: I often fall asleep during the exercise (and finish when I wake up). It’s a great way to end (or start) your day. Share with a friend or loved one if you prefer, but it helps even if you keep it to yourself.
2. Automate Decisions
Healthy living is all about choices. Simplify your life by making decisions automatic. It turns out we have a fixed amount of willpower and the quality of our decisions begins to degrade throughout the course of the day. The more we can automate our day, the greater mental capacity we have for critical decisions. Healthy living means first choosing to do so and then having the willpower to make those healthy decisions.
Highly successful people automate their lives from their wardrobes, to their morning routines, and even what they eat every day. Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein were famous for wearing their own personalized uniforms each day. It was one less decision they had to make, so they could focus their energies elsewhere.
Not ready to wear the same thing every day? I get it. For me personally, my wardrobe is an expression of my personal aesthetic/creativity. However, I keep my workout clothes all the same color scheme so that all pieces go together without much thought, meaning less decisions when it comes to exercising. But you can automate your day in many ways like eating the same (healthy) breakfast or working out at the same time. In fact, my attempt at a morning routine includes a number of the things on this list.
3. Get Out Stay Out
Or mastering the art of my favorite new-agey term: forest bathing✌🏼. Spending time in nature can lead to significant health benefits like improved blood pressure, enhanced mental health, reduced inflammation, and decreased cancer risk. Trees secrete chemicals, known as phytoncides, that improve our immune function and reduce anxiety. So go ahead, hug that tree! Live in an area with frigid temperatures? Think of it as your own free DIY cryotherapy. Plus, there’s evidence that your brain may actually work better during winter.
Or if that term is too wooey for you: brain-hacking, reflection, quiet time. Whatever you want to call it, so it won’t make you feel all funny inside. Give your brain a break from all the constant, mindless chatter.
Meditation is massively powerful and the benefits are undeniable. It easily could have been at #1 with gratitude, but I find people have so many preconceived notions about this mind-body practice. And I was one of them. My dear friend and lifestylist/meditation expert, Vanessa Feils (website; @vanessafeils) opened up my eyes to the concept that you don’t need to be on some rock overlooking the ocean for hours on end to meditate and reap the benefits. In fact, you can start with just a few minutes a day and do it anywhere (I’ve even done it in the bathroom).
Meditation is so poweful because it allows us to play an active role in changing our brains through nueroplasticity. Researchers were astonished after a study led by a Harvard team found that meditation leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Magnetic resonance (MR) images were taken of the brain structure of 17 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in an eight-week meditation program. After analysis of the MR images, reasearches found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus. This area of the brain is important for learning, memory, self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.
What’s fascinating about this study is that it demonstrates that people aren’t simply feeling better because they are relaxing. Practicing meditation quite literally changes and improves the brain leading to a higher quality of life.
5. Taste the Rainbow
If you’re new to healthy eating or are still unsure what works best for you, keep it simple. Stick to foods that are found in nature (i.e., mostly plants and some animals if you choose). And opt for those that are grown or raised with care. Finally, fill up your plate with all the colors while you’re at it. It’s important to get a variety of colors from vegetables and fruits because they provide an array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that have immense healing powers.
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6. Move Yo Body, Errybody
There’s no arguing the fact that physical activity is imperative to overall health and wellbeing. However, we make such a big to-do of it that sometimes we forget how simple it can be. Don’t stress about how much time you have or which exercise is the most efficient. Just move whenever you can however you can. There is reasonable evidence for a likely causal relationship between sedentary behaviour and all-cause mortality. Quite simply, just don’t sit as much. If you haven’t found an exercise routine yet or can’t make it happen today, just make it a point to get up every 30 minutes or so. Move outside and you’ve just crushed #3 and #6!
7. Release Anything That No Longer Serves You
This might be the most difficult task on the list, especially if it’s a habit. Start small and know that it’s worth every bit of effort. Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, was a game changer for me. He uses scientific discoveries to explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. Change a keystone habit, and you transform your life.
8. Support Local and/or Handcrafted
Whether it’s a small business owner, farmer, artisan, maker, creator, or crafty friend. In a world of mass-produced monotony, add a piece of authenticity to your being. Handmade items have a higher perceived value than machine-made products. Not only will it add value to your life, it will also improve the life of another by supporting their craft.
9. Give a Hug
Even if you think you don’t need it. The person (or animal) you’re hugging might. Either way, research has shown that hugging is extremely effective at healing feelings of loneliness, elevating mood, and strengthening the immune system. Hugging does so by boosting oxytocin and serotonin levels and stimulating the thymus gland.
10. Get Lit
Do whatever it is that lights you up. Makes you feel alive. Fills your soul. Fuels your heart. Read about it. Talk about it. Be about it. In fact, a recent study suggests having a purpose promotes longevity and may be as important to healthy living as diet and exercise. In fact, another study has shown that a purpose in life is associated with a 50% reduction in stroke, heart attack, and all-cause mortality. And while it’s important to point out that these studies show an association (versus cause), it’s a good enough excuse to make more time for finding and living your purpose. Whatever it is, big or small, spend more time doing THAT.