by Doris Donnerman
(last updated August 23, 2013)
Good health doesn't come from nowhere—it's based on establishing and maintaining healthy habits. Healthy habits are developed like any other habit, through commitment and persistence. Forming a habit begins with setting a goal, and is supported by behavior that supports that goal. Reminding yourself regularly of your goal keeps it at the front of your mind and can counter old habits that may try to creep back in. For example, if you're trying to have a more healthy diet, write down what you eat for each meal. You'll remember your goal every time you eat, and you'll be able to track your diet. You might also keep healthy snacks where you can see them, on your desk or on the kitchen counter. When you go for a bite, you'll be reminded of your goal and have the healthy option right in front of you. On a simpler level, small notes placed all around where you'll see them can be helpful as well.
But knowing how to develop a habit isn't the only step. You have to know what habit you want to develop, and when it comes to health you can break it down into three general categories: nutrition, exercise, and emotional wellness.
Nutrition may be the simplest but also most difficult change you can make. On a basic level, it's a matter of evaluating what you eat, making note of unhealthy foods, and replacing them with healthier ones. In practice, you may not find it so easy. It may be best to start slow, one item at a time. You'll want to follow the common advice of eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, avoiding excessive and unhealthy fats (think: deep-fried snack cakes), eating sugar in moderation, and drinking plenty of water. When you eat meat, try to eat lean cuts and consider adding more fish to your diet. Fish provides an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, which are an important element of a heart-healthy diet. You should also ensure that you are eating breakfast each morning. Breakfast is one of the easiest meals to skip; when you're in a hurry to get to work or school, often the last thought on your mind is a nutritious start to your day. But breakfast can provide nutrients necessary to keep going strong throughout the day, rather than feeling your energy drop just before lunch and stay there. There's a reason it's called the most important meal of the day.
Healthy diet isn't the only habit to form, however. Exercise is essential to a healthy lifestyle, and adults should get 30 minutes of strenuous exercise each day. This may include any number of activities, although you should keep in mind that aerobic exercise is the best kind of activity for keeping your heart in shape. Exercising at the same time every day is a good way to make it a routine part of your schedule. You may find it easier to form an exercise routine when you have a hobby that involves exercise. The more enjoyment you find in something, the more likely you are to keep doing it.
Once you've got a good diet and a solid exercise routine, you're set, right? Wrong. Emotional wellness is the third key element in a healthy lifestyle. When your emotional self is off, the rest of your health can go too. This is a well-established fact with a number of different health conditions. Take time to do something relaxing, and be sure you're getting enough sleep. High stress and sleep deprivation often contribute to each other, and can have a huge impact on mental function and cardiovascular health. Also, make and maintain social connections. Studies show that people with supportive, close relationships enjoy better physical and mental health. If a serious health condition arises, a supportive network of friends is an important part of recovery.
Remember that the best approach to making a healthier lifestyle is a global approach. Diet, exercise, or emotional wellness alone is not sufficient; they all play an important role in your health. Establishing healthy habits may sound daunting, but integrating them one at a time can make the transition much easier, and help you in your quest for better health.
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