Making the changes for a healthier lifestyle is a gradual process, contrary to popular belief. New Year’s resolutions rarely result in completely new healthy you. Instead, the move toward a better health is often a gradual transformation that starts with a decision and moves forward with education and effort. Some healthy habits are common sense. Others are counter-intuitive because of the dissonant nature of our modern world. It takes time to get the hang of it, especially if you have not been living a wholesome life before. And there are so many different things that we can do for better health and wellbeing that advice can become confusing or just plain overwhelming. Beyond this, some lifestyle changes are simply more practical than others. These healthy living tips are ranked by practicality and expense, with number ten requiring more effort and number one being the absolute easiest change to make. Some of these healthy tips are simple, free and easy. Others may be very difficult depending on your circumstances, but worth their effort in gold for the payback you will receive in health, longevity and quality of life.
Some healthy living choices don’t involve preventing possible harm as much as improving the quality of your life. How do you feel when you are at work? Are you happy? Do you have a sense of accomplishment or fulfillment? Or do you dread the moment your foot crosses the threshold and the hours of your life that belong to others? Most Americans spend the largest portion of their waking hours working at their jobs, preparing for work, or driving to and from work. All these hours are spent just to pay for the place where they rest their heads for the 8 hours and start again. Many go from a hectic work life to a hectic home-life with literally no time for themselves. When put in this perspective, is it not important to ensure that the largest part of your waking day, your working hours, involve doing something that you love?
How to start: If you are not happy on your current career path, consider what you would rather be doing. Does it involve gaining more education? Then go back to school. It’s never to late to learn. Learning is also healthy for the brain at any age. Recent research shows that learning can greatly improve brain function, even in the elderly. If you like what you are doing, but just not who you are doing it for, consider finding a different employer or even going into business for yourself. A study by the Pew Research Center shows that for the most part, job satisfaction is higher among the self-employed, even when they work more hours and make less money.
Practicality: Making a change of this magnitude is definitely complicated. It takes a lot of work to change jobs and an almost herculean effort to gain a higher education while working full time. This falls into the category of wanting it more than you mind the inconvenience.
Expense: This can be one of the most expensive, or most profitable changes that you can make in your life depending on the circumstances. Yet financial gain is not the point of this tip. The point is that money can’t buy you happiness, but doing what you love every day is a way to guarantee it.
This tip will not only benefit you, it will benefit others around you as well. Infectious diseases are just that-infectious. When you go to work or school sick, you not only risk worsening your own condition, but also spreading it to others. Influenza and pneumonia are among the ten leading causes of death in America. Every year, the flu virus spreads like wildfire through schools and offices. This has the sad result of multiplying lost workdays or schooldays exponentially, rather than simply allowing the time for one valuable employee or student to recover properly.
How to start: Develop a great relationship with your employer and don’t skip school when you aren’t sick. Save those days for when you are. Those with good work/school attendance records are less likely to find themselves in the bad position of making an appearance when contagious. If you are an employer, respect your employees’ sick days. Some will naturally have more than others, but punishing an employee for absenteeism isn’t worth catching what they have or spreading it to the rest of your workforce.
Practicality: This is a tradeoff. It’s more practical for employers to lose a little bit of labor that risk their entire workforce. As far as losing money without sick leave, you will recover faster if you rest while you are ill, resulting in less work lost overall.
Expense: There is no denying that it is expensive to lose days of work to illness. Negotiate with your employer for sick leave, and if this cannot be accommodated with your current job, save up for the unexpected. You are virtually guaranteed to face sickness at one time or another, whether contagious or not. This should be a part of your budget just like groceries or gas.
A little stress is good. It gives your life excitement. Too much of the wrong stress however can be downright deadly.
Here’s how excess stress can harm your health:
- decrease in immune system function – Stress lowers the production of natural killer cells and seriously depletes T-cells, both of which kill infections and cancer
- damage to blood vessels and heart – Stress constricts blood vessels and causes faster heartbeat, thus increasing blood pressure
- weight gain – Stress causes the release of cortisol which triggers overeating and storage of fat
How to start: Foster healthy connections with other people. If a situation is causing you stress and you can’t solve it alone, don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help. Do not ignore your problems. Confront them in a positive way. Meditate. Meditation does not involve sitting cross-legged and humming unless you want it to. There are many great ways to meditate. Sitting quietly by a lake or reading poetry can be just as beneficial as doing power yoga.
Practicality: Implementing these changes can be very difficult. The problem with making these changes is that it involves addressing life relationships, problems at work and personal habits. It takes bravery to confront the things that cause us stress in a productive way. It can help to seek professional help if stress is severe or life problems cannot be handled individually.
Expense: This can go either way. If handling stress involves changing jobs, it can be very expensive. If counseling is needed, insurance may absorb the costs, but perhaps not all of them. Some life changes, such as meditating and spending more time on things you enjoy are easy and free. Soak up the good moments. Life is for living well.
This is not to say that you should spend time with relationships that cause you stress just because they are friends or family. But do take time to focus on the beneficial relationships in your life. These relationships tend to wither when we do not water them. Having a strong social support network decreases the risk of depression, is a strong predictor of job satisfaction and success and has been shown to reduce the chance of death in older adults with chronic illness.
How to start: Take time to develop these relationships when you are not under stress, so that they can be there for you when you are. And be sure to return the favor.
Practicality: This is a give and take relationship that involves effort on your part as well. The best relationships provide mutual support. Give when you can and take when you need to. Don’t feel guilty when letting friends and family help you. Think of the warm and fuzzy feeling that you get when helping others. Would you deny that same warm fuzzy feeling to your loved ones?
Expense: Know where to draw the line. Just as you wouldn’t suck anyone dry, don’t let friends or family members do this to you. Make sure that those in your social network have a well-developed social network as well, so that if you don’t have time, they have others that can help. Don’t rely too much on just one person in your time of need either. This helps to keep the benefits of a strong social network in line with the costs.
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in America. Nearly 60 million Americans will face it at one time or another.
Studies have shown a correlation between getting less than six hours of sleep a day and:
- increased risk of heart disease
- increased risk of cancer
- increased risk of diabetes
- increased risk of obesity
- increased production of stress hormones
How to start: Modern life is full of distractions. Do something relaxing before bed. Catch the news at 5PM, not the late night session. Try to handle your emails, phone calls and other internet tasks a few hours before bed and then turn off your phone if possible. Avoid caffeine before bed and lay off the late night snacks. If the problem persists, do consult a physician, as insomnia can lead to serious consequences.
Practicality: It may not be practical or easy to turn off the phone at night or avoid stressful communications. If not, then try to compensate in other ways. Take the TV out of your bedroom, enjoy a nice relaxing book and a cup of camomile tea.
Expense: All of these steps, other than seeing a doctor, are free, which should lead to an even more relaxing night of sleep.
Aristotle said “moderation in all things.” Too much of anything can be bad. Even too much water can be a bad thing if it causes a fatal imbalance of electrolytes. Too many calories, too much alcohol, and too much caffeine are all bad things. Some things we need, like exercise, food and water, others we can do completely without. This is where it gets dicey.
How to start: Find balance. People tend to fill holes in their lives with excess. It’s just basic human nature. Those with no social lives can become workaholics. This may lead to success, but can also damage work relationships or even cause an early death from stress. Exercise is essential, but too much can cause pain, injury and amenorrhea in women. Leading a balanced life will prevent these problems.
Practicality: This is the most practical of all healthy living solutions. Living a moderate and balanced lifestyle helps every aspect of your health.
Expense: Moderation is completely free.
If you are not already eating healthy foods and a balanced, varied diet, this is a very good place to start. Your body doesn’t just need calories to function properly. It needs basic nutrients, micro-nutrients and plenty of fiber and all of this in moderation.
In addition to making sure you get basic nutrients, these tips are universally beneficial to everyone, no matter their specific diet.
- avoid empty calories
- avoid excess sugar
- avoid trans-fats
- avoid excess sodium intake
- eat organic when possible
How to start: If it is possible, consult a qualified nutritionist that is familiar with your special needs. If not, then learn as much as you can about nutrition from reputable sources and implement new changes into your life as they are practical. For instance, if your lunch usually consists of a fast food burger, pack a lunch instead. It only takes a small amount of extra time and planning to pack snacks such as apples, nuts or vegetables to keep your hand out of the cookie jar.
Practicality: This seems like a common sense solution to implement, but it can be more difficult for some that it seems. Time and expense are not the only factors to consider. Breaking unhealthy eating habits takes foresight and practice, from shopping to making sure you aren’t in a situation where you may be hungry and have no healthy options.
Expense: It can be very expensive to adhere to specialized diets should they prove necessary. On the other hand, if someone tends to lean toward fast food or over eating, making these changes can lead to significant savings. The truth for most people is usually somewhere in between. Eating out less saves money, but buying healthy and organic food can be more expensive than cheaper processed foods. A bag of chips is usually less expensive and more satiating and more convenient than a bag of mixed vegetables. In the long run, one must weigh the consequences of eating poorly, such as diabetes, against the expense it takes to eat right. That puts the cost of healthier food in perspective.
No matter your age, daily exercise benefits absolutely everyone. Exercise is so essential that even those who are paralyzed from the neck down are exercised by caretakers on a regular basis to prevent muscle atrophy, increase circulation and improve lung function.
According to the CDC, exercise also has many other benefits that even help to prevent the leading causes of death in America.
- lower risk of heart disease
- strengthen bones and muscles
- reduce risk of diabetes
- control your weight
- reduce the risk of some cancers
- improve mental health
How to start: Start an exercise program slowly. It is rare to suffer heart problems during physical activity, but it is still better to be safe than sorry. People are more likely to injure their muscles when beginning a new problem. Starting gradually and working to improve your endurance is much safer than pushing yourself past your limit. If you have any health conditions, consult a physician before you start. The risks of not exercising outweigh the risks of injury, so there is really no reason to avoid daily activity.
Practicality: Time is the biggest hurdle to overcome when trying to work an exercise routine into your life. This is a matter of priorities and long term vs. short term gain. The amount of time you have to dedicate to this depends on work obligations and family needs. Still, even the busiest people can work in a little time to work out if they get creative. Short walks during a lunch breaks can reduce stress at the office and get your heart going. Bike rides with the family at night can help set a great example for the children as well.
Expense: Gym memberships are expensive, but a new exercise program doesn’t have to cost a thing. Simply starting with a daily walk is a fantastic and free way to improve your health.
This is by far the easiest health tip to give, and also the hardest for many to follow if they are already smoking. There is no longer any doubt that tobacco is a dangerous addiction. Smoking causes 480,000 deaths a year in the United States alone. It also reduces quality of life for users long before it kills them. End stage lung disease makes it difficult to be active. Patients struggle each waking moment for breath. Anxiety, depression and pain are all consequences of this drug long before addicts take their last breath.
- increases the chances of heart disease
- increases the chance of stroke
- increases the chance of lung cancer by 25 times
- increases the risk of osteoporosis
- can cause tooth decay and loss
- increases the risk of diabetes by 30%
How to start: This part is easy. If you aren’t smoking, don’t start. If you are smoking, stop. Don’t just cut down, stop altogether. Even those who smoke just a little, less than five cigarettes a day, still show early signs of cardiovascular disease.
Practicality: This is the hard part. Quitting smoking is one of the most difficult habits to break. Nicotine is highly addictive and you may need help to quit. Start by seeing a doctor or addiction counselor and enlisting help from friends.
Expense: If medical help is required to quit, insurance may pay for it. Other than expenses involved in cessation counseling, quitting smoking is one of the biggest money savers of all time. One simply has to be willing to live through the initial pain in order to enjoy the benefit.
Motor vehicle crashes are the primary cause of fatality in Americans under 30 years of age. Over 30,000 people died in vehicular accidents in 2012 alone. Still, the number of deaths per-capita due to motor vehicle crashes has decreased significantly since seat belt laws were implemented. But the efficacy of seat belts depends entirely upon people’s willingness to use them. More than half of the people killed in vehicular accidents in 2012 were not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash.
How to start: Buckle up. It’s that simple. Also make sure that children are properly restrained. Car seats are often installed wrong or in the wrong part of the car. In fact, 7 out of 10 children are not properly buckled into their safety seats. If you are not sure how to properly install a child safety seat, this site will help you find a nearby location where certified inspectors can check the installation of your seat and give you tips to make sure your child is always buckled safely.
Practicality: It only takes a few seconds to buckle up, and it just might save your life.
Expense: Buckling up is free. Seat belt tickets, on the other hand, are not.