In a world awash in aspirational goals, in which life is a never-ending improvement project, healthy habits are everywhere. From intermittent fasting to frequent grazing, to eating this not that, to cardio workouts versus strength training, it can be hard to discern what habits to keep and which to forego. Deciding on which habits to cultivate is in some way the hardest part. We’ve paid attention to the habits that work the best and separated the must-dos from the duds. Here’s your guide for the best healthy habits to turn your life around, starting now.
1. Slow down
Although it sounds counter intuitive, slowing down to appreciate whatever good is in your life right now, to fully take it in, is one of the most important habits you can cultivate. Get off the whirligig of time and instead make time for rest and appreciation. Listen to the birds, take a dusk or dawn walk in a park, journal, take a nap, lie in a hammock. If you are always optimizing your day, you may be propelling yourself toward a lack of connection. Being in a constant hurry may sound super-efficient, but time-urgency (the sense we don’t have enough time) translate into anxiety, rush, and impatience. According to a 2013 study, rushing can block meaningful communication, cause stress and breed resentment.
2. Cultivate novelty
Although habits and novelty may seem mutually exclusive, getting comfortable with being curious brings novelty into your routine. Say for example, you have a daily walking habit. Instead of always taking the same route, search up routes you are unfamiliar with. This keeps habits fresh and easier to adhere to. Novelty leads to increased dopamine levels; it keeps our brains happy and helps foster personal growth. It doesn’t mean you can’t go back to a familiar haunt or restaurant but try to make it a practice to order something new, explore a beloved spot at a different time of year, or anything that gives the familiar a twist.
3. Find your belonging
Living as part of a community has enormous ramifications for health. Multiple studies show living in an active community gives people a sense of belonging, which reduces the risk of mental health issues, lowers heart disease mortality and contributes to better overall health. Feeling we are part of something bigger can help give our lives meaning. The benefits of social connections are numerous, such as lower rates of depression, higher self-worth and greater empathy. Strong, healthy relationships can also help to strengthen your immune system, help you recover from disease, and may even lengthen your life.
4. Dose yourself with nature
Amazing to think that a few hours of nature can provide long-lasting relief for what ails us. Across the United States, physicians are prescribing patients nature. These “Nature Rx” programs promote outdoor activity as a measure to combat health epidemics stemming from sedentary lifestyles. These types of prescriptions, a throwback to fresh air cures of old, are part of a growing trend of so-called “park prescriptions,” which have increased in popularity over the last decade along with research into the health effects of spending time in nature. In these programs, physicians strongly encourage patients young and old to spend more time outside to improve their mental and physical health. Nature, even if we are alone in it, helps us feel less isolated. One study showed that when people were able to see trees or the sky, or hear birds, feelings of loneliness fell by 28 percent.
5. Opt for a sustainable diet
Eat unprocessed whole foods, mostly plant-based, in moderate amounts. Drink plenty of water. Limit sugar, alcohol, caffeine and flour-based foods. Again and again, the model for this type of eating has been exemplified by the Mediterranean diet, a way of eating that’s based on the traditional cuisines of Greece, Italy and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. This diet emphasizes plant-based foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. Olive oil is the main source of added fat. Fish, seafood, dairy and poultry are included but as side show rather than main attraction. Red meat and sweets are to be eaten only occasionally. Wine is not eschewed, but not overindulged in either.
6. Keep on moving
Make time for exercise every day, or you’ll probably end up making time for illness. Daily exercise is a foundation for focus, easy, and enthusiasm. The benefits of getting your blood pumping every day include greater self-confidence, better mood, stronger heart and sharper mental clarity. You don’t have to be a marathon runner either. Studies show that a brisk, 30-minute walk five times a week is all it takes to start seeing the benefits of exercise. If this still sounds like too much, try doing something physically active every day, even if it’s just cleaning the house and slowly work your way up to more physical activity.
7. Have sex
From easing a migraine, reducing stress and anxiety to boosting your mood and even immunity, getting busy under the sheets pays off. Thank the surge of hormones and endorphins that your body releases during intercourse for the health boons (it evens counts as exercise). The benefits are social as well as physical. Sex can help you connect to your partner, thanks to oxytocin, which plays a role in strengthening relationships. You may find that consistent, mutual sexual pleasure helps with bonding within a relationship. A healthy, secure, mutual partnership is another hallmark of healthy people.
8. Get the right amount of sleep
No article about healthy habits would be complete without a nod to the huge impact of sleep on health. Sleep is when most of our anabolic or growth hormones are produced and regeneration occurs on almost every level. It is absolutely imperative to vital daily function. A good night’s sleep helps regulates mood, sharpens memory and focus, increases your capacity to learn new things and boosts energy. In the long term, it lowers your risk of heart disease, improves immunity and helps you maintain a healthy weight.
Don’t get caught up in the number of hours of sleep. Some people function great on six hours a night while others do better on eight. Make it a point to know your body and plan accordingly. Getting rid of bedroom distractions such as smartphones, tablets, televisions and other bright light sources that can disrupt your brain’s sleep signals does wonders for promoting better sleep.