As a functional stress management specialist and integrative nutritional counselor I get asked often about how to take the first steps the getting "healthy". The reality is that a healthy life can come in many different expressions.
Living a healthy life is rooted in awareness and proactive action. When you are aware of what makes your body feel revitalized and what foods, exercises and activities make you feel sick or sluggish you can take action accordingly. When you take proactive action to support long-term health like limiting processed foods, excessive high-impact sports and toxic emotional spaces you set your body up to thrive and it becomes less of a challenge to feel healthy and radiant on the daily.
Although everyone's health journey looks different and succeeding at reaching health goals can take radically different paths for different people, there are four health actions that I think everyone should take. While things like improving communication, eliminating toxic relationships, incorporating whole food vitamins and minerals in your diet and decluttering your home are all great add-ons, the I'll cover the essentials in this blog post.
I consider the four most essential steps to becoming a holistically healthy person to be getting enough sleep, meditating or reflecting daily, moving your body daily and eating more vegetables. In this blog, we'll cover why these are great steps for cultivating flourishing mental health and physical wellness and how to go about doing them so you don't burn out and you avoid past mistakes.
Get Enough Sleep
If you've ever had a thought for your health you've likely considered your sleep. Any health professional worth their salt will advise that you get seven to eight hours on average of sleep each night.
However, living in the modern world has made it challenging to get the proper amount of sleep for many people. Shift work, late social events and Netflix and other electronic forms of entertainment radically upset our circadian rhythms. Once we fall asleep chemicals in our homes, foods and beauty products along with blue light exposure affect our sleep quality. Kids, emergencies, pets and our health can keep us up late or wake us up late; all ultimately resulting in poor sleep or very little sleep.
While it might feel challenging getting enough sleep is essential. Getting enough sleep helps to reduce stress, improve concentration, and boost your immune system. Getting enough sleep also reduces the risk of numerous diseases whereas sleep deprivation is connected with the risk of developing Alzheimer's, numerous types of cancer and other serious health risks. Sleep deprivation can also cause fatigue, mental health challenges and motivational hurdles for everything from everyday tasks to exciting life changes.
Meditate or Reflect Daily
Meditating or creating space for reflection daily is important for many reasons but it doesn't have to look the same for everyone. Some people thrive with mindfulness meditation sessions while others feel they gain more from breath-based meditation or even journaling!
Meditation (especially mindfulness-based meditation or breathwork) is a highly effective way to reduce stress. Chronic stress is a major contributor to developing heart disease, diabetes and auto-immune diseases. To learn more about how stress can affect your health check out this article on the 5 major ways that stress affects your body. Beyond stress management, taking time to reflect daily makes space for personal growth, helps with processing complex emotions and cultivates self-awareness.
Move Your Body
Aside from getting enough sleep there is no more universally applied and needed health tip than advising to move more. Integrating movement into your life doesn't have to mean joining the local Crossfit gym or picking up an extreme sport. For some bodies, long walks or gentle yoga feels best as a daily movement option. For others, running or lifting heavy weights falls within their comfort zone and feels empowering.
Moving your body doesn't have to be goal-oriented or achievement based, it really just comes down to moving in a way that brings you joy, is safe for your body and provides a healthy challenge for your muscles. If you don't live in an environment where running is an option year-round or if you have knee pain, cycling or swimming are excellent cardiovascular challenges. If you love music and working out at the gym isn't sustainable, consider dancing. There are many ways to move; it's just essential that you pick one or two at least and partake in movement of some kind on a daily basis.
Eat More Vegetables
Many adults seem to think eating more vegetables is a cute joke to be directed at kids who only want to eat chicken nuggets. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Many adults' diets are devoid of vegetables and filled instead with excessive animal protein, processed sugars, or refined carbohydrates. Even those who eat vegetables often eat the same ones over and over and thus lose out on the diversity of nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins that can be found in a diet rich in vegetables.
If eating more vegetables feels like a big reach, try adding in simple and easy-to-cook vegetables first like broccoli or cauliflower, spinach or peppers. A great way to add vegetables consistently if you are a meat eater is to start doing a Meatless Monday where you eat a dish that is primarily vegetables (like a salad or veggie-rich grain bowl). If you're a vegetarian or pescatarian like myself, try branching out into new veggies like celeriac, fennel, eggplant or mushroom varieties to get the full benefit of a vegetable-rich diet.
Believe in Yourself
The tips shared above are simple, convenient and actionable ways you can improve your health. The common theme throughout is that healthy habits are customizable and accessible if you just believe in yourself and keep an open mind. If you feel overwhelmed, start with just one of the tips I shared and work on creative solutions to that particular area of growth for your health. Surround yourself with supportive people who are taking similar steps to get healthy and you'll be surprised how easy some of these habit changes become!