What it Means to Live a Healthy Lifestyle: Tips on Healthy Living and Healthy Lifestyle Choices
What is a healthy lifestyle to you? For many, healthy living is not necessarily a list of things to do or not to do, but incorporating a way of life that allows you the most opportunities possible for enjoying the life you have. When ‘How to have a Healthy Lifestyle’ is posed to Google, here’s the top result:
Let’s break the healthy lifestyle choices listed above by Google into categories we can further analyze:
- Eat healthy
- Be physically active
- Participate (and engage) in activities you love
- Eat foods you enjoy
- Match your choices with your values
- Live life to the fullest
These are pretty basic touchstones of living a healthy lifestyle, but let’s get even more basic than that.
The Mayo Clinic recently released a study to estimate the prevalence of healthy lifestyle characteristics to see if there was any link between lifestyle choices and cardiovascular disease biomarkers. This is important (as noted in our previous article about Healthy Eating), because cardiovascular disease (heart disease) is now the #1 cause of death in America (smoking used to be #1).
This study has astounded researchers, as their findings note that more than 97% of American adults do not meet four basic characteristics of what they determined to be a healthy lifestyle, therefore putting themselves in a high-risk category for being more susceptible to heart disease.
The four healthy lifestyle metrics they chose to grade people on were:
- A good diet (being in the top 40% of people who follow USDA food recommendations)
- Moderate exercise (moving a minimum of 150 minutes per week – just under 22 minutes a day)
- A healthy Body Mass Index (a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal)
- Not smoking (self-explanatory)
Only 2.7% of the research participants fell within the metrics of living a healthy lifestyle. “This is sort of mind boggling. There’s clearly a lot of room for improvement,” said associate professor Ellen Smit, at Oregon State University. “We weren’t looking for marathon runners. The behavior standards we were measuring for were pretty reasonable — not super high.”
How to Have a Healthy Lifestyle – What to Avoid
Despite the bar being set so low, why are there so many Americans living an unhealthy lifestyle? The National Safety Council (NSC) may be able to shed some light on that. In their Safety+Health magazine, they share information about a study published in The Scientific World Journal that shows there’s a link between stress (mainly derived from working conditions) and people who are sedentary, smoke, and are overweight, leading to an unhealthy BMI. This hits all four metrics listed in the most basic qualifications of a healthy lifestyle that many people are not able to meet.
Stress is one of the biggest reasons people give for not being able to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The emotional symptoms of stress, as listed by WebMD, are in fact the opposite of living a healthy lifestyle. Those symptoms include:
- Feelings of frustration and being easily agitated (moody)
- Feeling out of control and overwhelmed
- Feeling unable to relax or quiet the mind
- Having low self-esteem and feeling worthless
- Withdrawing from others, and feeling lonely
- Feeling depressed
What Causes Stress?
There are many factors in life that cause stress, and although we cannot eliminate stress, we can find better ways to manage our stress. Knowing your stress triggers and having a plan to deal with them in a healthy way is the first step towards a healthier lifestyle and making better lifestyle choices.
Aside from life-altering changes like losing a job, moving, the loss of a loved one, and a divorce, here are a few of the other top stress triggers we uncovered:
- Physical demands – exhausting habits at work and home without proper rest and sleep
- Psychosocial stressors – negative thinking and behaviors from others, low social support
- Lack of time – skipping meals and then eating too much and too quickly when finally given time
- Food environment – no healthy meal planning, eating a regular diet of fast food, making unhealthy food choices
- Personal issues – financial problems are at the top of the list of personal stressors. Other stressors include the lack of good emotional and physical health, relational problems, and arguing with others about politics, religion and other personal beliefs.
- Lack of motivation and no sense drive, value or purpose – the day-to-day stress of not feeling valued, not being able to master a talent or strength, and not being given the ability to work autonomously towards a meaningful goal
How to Live a Healthy Lifestyle and Avoid Stress: Healthy Living Tips
In knowing the common triggers for stress, you can put a plan in place to deal with stress in a healthy way, instead of plunging further into the destructive and unhealthy cycle of stress-filled living.
Let’s take the healthy lifestyle choices we first mention and combine the ones that are similar. We will now add some depth to how you can better incorporate a healthy lifestyle into your everyday life.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips: #1 – Eat Healthy & Eat Foods You Enjoy
When our systems are not properly nourished, we put ourselves at risk of further problems. Have a plan in place, literally. Check out our previous article about creating a healthy meal plan for you and your family. Eating healthy is about making wise choices and taking time to enjoy the foods you love while also being mindful about the health benefits (or detriments) of what you put into your body. Here are a few tips to help:
- If you see it, you will eat it. Don’t put your fresh vegetables in the drawer to die. Put them in a clear container up on a shelf that you will see every time you open your refrigerator. The opposite is true as well – don’t leave your snacking food out in plain sight for you to grab every time you walk through the kitchen. Put away and hide (or don’t bring them into the house) the chips, crackers, cookies, and other tempting snacks. Keep the healthy foods visible to remind you of your long-term goal of living a healthier life.
- Get rid of your ‘clean plate club’ membership. Many of us were programmed as children to clean our plates. However, as we’ve aged, the portion sizes have grown as well. It’s no longer healthy to justify cleaning your plate. Instead, you could get two, maybe even three meals out of what you are typically served while dining out. Ask for a to-go box along with your meal, and take care of managing your portion size before you even begin eating.
- Don’t put food in your mouth while there’s still food in your mouth. So many times we’re eating so fast, we never put down our utensils. This means we eat almost twice as much as we should because we don’t give our system the 20 minutes it takes for our stomach to tell our mind (and mouths) that we’ve had enough to eat. After each bite, put down your utensils. Give yourself time to taste and savor your food.
- Take a picture – it will last longer. When you take a picture of your food, you become more aware of what you are eating and make better choices. Is it colorful? If so, that means you are hopefully incorporating more fruits and vegetables. Is the place setting appealing? That means you are taking time to make the meal an event instead of something to shove down before running off. Eating slower also eases potential digestion and indigestion problems.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Water aids in digestion, and in helping your brain acknowledge more quickly when you are full. Drink a glass of water before your meal, and then take sips between bites. Being properly hydrated also helps treat headaches, keeps your skin looking younger, and can greatly improve your energy levels and brain function.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips: #2 –Be Physically Active and Participate in Activities You Love
In the study we talked about earlier published by the Mayo Clinic, they considered a minimum of 150 minutes of activity a week to be a crucial part of living a healthy lifestyle. When you make activity a priority and plan for it you will have much better results. The benefits of adding activity to your day are well worth the effort it takes you to pick up some weights. You can also go on a 30-minute walk or six 5-minute walks a day. Don’t just simply rely on your BMI to tell you the whole picture.
The stress-busting benefits of including activity into your healthy lifestyle include the following:
- Healthy living through activity will bump up the production of endorphins – your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters.
- Daily tensions build up in your muscles and purposeful activity will naturally release this tension in a way that aligns with healthy living.
- As a natural stress reliever, regular exercise will increase your self-confidence as well as relax the mind and calm anxious thoughts by giving you a sense of control over your mind. Just remember to stay well hydrated during physical activities.
There are a number of ways to easily include activity into your healthy lifestyle:
- Plan for It – make a list of things you enjoy doing and put it on your calendar. Feed the ducks at your local park, go for a bike ride or hike a trail at a nearby lake. Take up a hobby like painting, pottery, horseback riding, kick-boxing, Brazilian dance, or something else fun you’ve always wanted to try. There’s no one stopping you except you.
- Take a Walk – it’s easy and free. Park further away at retail stores or at work. Take the stairs whenever possible. When checking the mail, go for a walk around the block. If it’s too hot (or too cold) outside, find your closest mall and take a quick walk before finishing errands or on your way home from work. Walking while talking on the phone can get you more active as well. Even with a desk job, you can take a walk and help with staying fit.
- Buddy Up – find a friend, neighbor, or family member willing to go on the journey with you. You can either meet up in person, or join a virtual group where you can be held accountable.
- Track It – there are many fitness trackers out there that will help keep you in step with your healthy living goals. Further motivation can be found by syncing those trackers with online fitness apps like WeightWatchers, Couch to 5k, MyFitnessPal, Daily Yoga and more.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips: #3 – Match your Choices to Your Values
What you value could be one of your biggest obstacles in the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. Many people think they should value ‘being busy’ and they wear the phrase like a badge of honor. Sadly, we’ve developed the misconception that being busy somehow shows other people we have worth and are needed and valued by others. However, keeping yourself too busy has just the opposite effect as it wastes our energy on things that typically don’t matter in the long run. Busyness for busyness’ sake is not on the list of good lifestyle choices.
Saying “I’m just so busy I don’t even have time to think,” is the equivalent of saying, “I’m so unhealthy, I don’t have time to make wise choices!”
Valuing busyness over purposeful and intentional acts only adds to your stress and can produce physical symptoms like:
- Low energy
- Upset stomach and irregularity
- Frequent common illnesses like the cold or flu
- Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
- Nervous shakes and a ringing in the hear
Just because there may be a lot of things on the calendar, or a lot of busyness going on – it doesn’t mean there is a lot of purposeful productivity being accomplished. While it may make you feel important for the moment to talk about how much you have on your “To Do” list, it is crucial to your overall well-being that you eliminate tasks and say no more often so you can be more purposeful and intentional about where you invest your time.
John Maxwell is a #1 New York Times best-selling author, coach, and speaker who has sold more than 25 million books in 50 different languages, who has also received the Mother Teresa Prize for Global Peace and Leadership from the Luminary Leadership Network. His focus on leadership and influence is all about being intentional and making it a way of life.
In his newest best-selling book, Intentional Living, he discusses how to incorporate more intentionality into your life, thereby creating a life that matters through your healthy lifestyle choices. We all have good intentions, but good intentions or hoping for a better, healthier life are not enough to actually accomplishing a life that matters. What it takes is intentional living. It is intention that creates a life that matters, a life of value and worth, and a life that will be remembered.
Take a look at the list below and see which words and traits are most common in your current lifestyle:
If you have a lot of “Good Intention” words in your vocabulary, be more aware of when those words pop up. Write it down and then be intentional as you look for ways to shift into the associated “Intentional Living” column. This will help create a healthy lifestyle that promotes an internal joy based on who you are instead trying to achieve a false sense of happiness based on how busy you are.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips: #4 – Live life to the fullest
For this healthy lifestyle choice, it’s easiest if we work backwards. The late Stephen Covey is noted for his best-selling books world-wide, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit #2 says that to be successful at any endeavor, begin with the end in mind.
The end is not something we like to think about, as it makes us face our mortality. However, if we want to have a healthy lifestyle that impacts others, it won’t happen by accident. When we leave things to chance, that’s when we look back on it all and have regrets, wishing we had made the choice to do things differently.
Bronnie Ware is a palliative care nurse who is now famous for her book about her discoveries as she cared for patients who were in their final days. Her book is appropriately titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Her findings help us reveal the best way we can avoid the regrets of so many:
The top five regrets people shared with her are:
#1 – I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
#2 – I wish I didn’t work so hard.
#3 – I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
#4 – I wish I stayed in touch with my friends.
#5 – I wish I allowed myself to be happier
Living a healthy lifestyle means you lived life to the fullest and that you have no regrets. With that end in mind, here are some final tips for you to incorporate on
your journey of living a healthy lifestyle that matters.
How to avoid regret #1: Be Authentic – stop being who you think you should be, and simply be who you are. Having courage, in its original definition, means simply being true to who you are, no matter what.
How to avoid regret #2: Be Passionate – find your purpose, your passion, what lights your fire, what makes you laugh, what makes you cry, and what makes you feel alive. Don’t tie your passion to the wrong vehicle, like money, status, or material things – that will only get you to the wrong place faster. Your passion should be tied to something of intangible value, like a mission, a cause, an action you can take to heal, support, encourage, fix, minister, or lift people up and help make their life better in some way.
How to avoid regret #3. Be Vulnerable – what makes you vulnerable is what makes you beautiful and authentically you. When you are vulnerable, you give other people the permission to open up and connect with you in a unique way that will not soon be forgotten.
How to avoid regret #4. Be Relational – Reach out and connect with others with no strings attached. Life is not about a to-do list, a title, or a bank account – it’s about relationships and connections. It’s why we exist.
How to avoid regret #5. Be Permissive – Give yourself permission to believe you are worthy of being authentically you, worthy of success, and worthy of personal time and space. You are worthy of finding your purpose and passion. Be vulnerable, live it out, and give yourself permission to genuinely connect with others.
Knowing how to live a healthy lifestyle isn’t about the latest fad or checking boxes off on a to-do list. Having a healthy lifestyle matters because you matter, your life matters, and your choices matter. The healthy choices you make today will impact your family line generations from now. Let’s raise the bar on healthy living and make a choice now to live with no regrets. Incorporate your healthy lifestyle tailored to your lifestyle choices that make you uniquely and wonderfully you!