The term “healthy lifestyle” is used so often that it’s almost losing its meaning. To some, a healthy lifestyle means not eating fast food. To others, it means quitting smoking. To others still, it means taking a walk after dinner or riding a bike on the weekends.
These are all great choices. But while each is a healthy living component, it takes more than one or two good lifestyle choices to lead a healthy lifestyle. Living a healthy life means you’re usually making great choices when it comes to exercise, nutrition, water intake, sleep and stress management.
I write about nutrition and exercise frequently. If you follow this blog, you know I recommend following the Mediterranean diet and getting a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise a week, which figures out to 30 minutes, five days a week. But the last three healthy living components—water intake, sleep and stress management—are easily overlooked. Here’s why they’re important.
The human body is made up of about 60 percent water. It’s so important that humans can’t be without water for even a few days—it’s essential for life. Drinking plenty of water supports total health, including heart health, digestive health, weight maintenance and nearly every function in the human body.
Most medical institutions recommend drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. I suggest having a bottle of water with you everywhere you go—the grocery store, the car, your desk at work, your nightstand. If you struggle to drink enough water, consider adding fresh citrus or berries to your water or drinking naturally decaffeinated herbal tea.
Sleep is just as important as eating healthy and exercising. The benefits of sleep extend to memory, learning, metabolism, weight, mood, heart health and immune function, among other health benefits. Yet, even with all of the positive effects of a good night’s sleep, many people still don’t get enough.
Most sleep institutions recommend around eight hours of sleep per night. But that number varies, as a person’s baseline sleep need might be slightly less or substantially more. Athletes or people under high stress may need as much as 10 hours of sleep or more each night.
To determine the right amount of sleep for your body, start with eight hours and add 15 minutes a night until you wake feeling rested and refreshed. If you’ve been getting substantially less than eight, go to bed 15 minutes earlier each evening until you hit the eight-hour mark, and keep adding until you wake up feeling well-rested.
We can’t avoid stress in our lives, but we can manage it. Adequately managing stress supports total wellness, including the health of the heart, lungs, digestive system, teeth and liver. Plus, well-managed stress helps support mental health, healthy blood pressure levels and immunity.
To help manage stress, I recommend doing calming, centering activities like yoga or meditation. Practicing yoga just once a week can have an incredible impact on your well-being. But if you don’t have time for those activities, breathing deeply can help. Slowly breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, focusing on your breath. Ten minutes a day is optimal, but as little as 10 breaths can have positive effects.
If you’re making healthy choices every day, don’t discount the incredible impact they’re having on your body. But also look for other ways to work the components of a healthy lifestyle into your own life. A nutritious diet, regular exercise, plenty of water, enough sleep and rest, and stress management are all important components to living a long, vital life.
What healthy living strategies can you add?
 Myers, Andrew. 2007. Simple Health Value: Five Overlooked Lifestyle Choices You Can Make Now. (Boise, Idaho): Health Value Publications.