A healthy lifestyle is about more than just workouts and meals. It also has to do with everything that happens in between: sleep, work, stress, your home environment, your relationships, and everything that goes on inside your head.
It’s called a lifestyle for a reason.
Everyone feels that they’re not functioning at their personal best sometimes. Nobody’s perfect, and we all have room to improve. That’s why we’ve put together a list of 15 tips and lifestyle adjustments. By following these simple tips, you’ll feel better, have more energy, sleep better, and even be more productive.
Stay far away from electronics before bedtime.
The light emitted from screens puts your body’s natural circadian rhythm off-kilter by stifling melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and waking cycles. Naturally, the actual sensitivity to light differs from person to person, but as a rule, it’s a good idea to leave the technology alone for at least an hour before bed. An hour of freedom from apps, email, and social media goes a long way toward improving your sleep.
It’s easier said than done, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible or unimportant. Mental habits are built in the same way as physical habits — through practice and repetition. To ease your mind, replace worrying with another activity. If you sense anxiety on its way, go for a walk outside, do some yoga, or talk to a friend. Once you master your anxiety, there’s not much that can stand in your way.
Never, ever skip your workout. (Ever.)
After a long day, nothing is easier than skipping a workout. But like many easy things, skipping exercise is bad for your health.
It might seem counterintuitive, but exercise actually boosts energy despite fatigue. A study from the University of Georgia, for example, found that adults who exercised for 20 minutes three times a week reported feeling less fatigued and more energized after only six weeks. (Twenty minutes is not a long time.) Other studies have shown that getting regular exercise boosts the immune system and increases strength and endurance, too. Your cardiovascular system will run more efficiently, and because the blood pumps better, oxygen and nutrients are better delivered to your muscles.
Even if it’s walking the dog around the block, it all counts. Little by little, think of your movements as pennies and start saving them up in your health bank.
Do ONE kind thing every day.
If your goal is total health, then kindness is not optional. Not only does it help others, but it also helps you in several ways:
- It produces endorphins, making us happier on a basic, biochemical level.
- It improves relationships, which means less relationship-related stress.
- It inspires others to do the same. (One study found that a random kidney donation resulted in 10 more, simply through the power of the “pay-it-forward” effect.)
If there aren’t a lot of people around your neck of the woods, kindness toward yourself is also an option. It’s always possible to make your own day.
Take a good look at the food that you eat.
While you’re looking, ask yourself: does this food match up with my long-term goals? Is it giving me what I really need? Am I confused and eating this food to satisfy a drive other than hunger?
Mastering daily nutrition is very simple:
- Cut out foods with added sugar. (They don’t do you any good.)
- Cut out processed foods. (They are not nutritious.)
- Drink only water. (It’s all you need.)
- Maximize fresh foods, especially vegetables and leafy greens. (They are nutrient-dense.)
- Eat only when you’re hungry.
Within two weeks, you will feel better.
Clean your desk.
It’s easy to fall into the “I-know-where-everything-is” trap. Even if you actually do know exactly where everything lives in the mess, it doesn’t mean the mess is not affecting you. Messy desks inhibit focus and increase stress. Plus, the small discipline built through regular cleaning can carry over to other parts of life.
Set a cap on your coffee intake.
Coffee is not a bad thing, but as with most things, too much is a bad thing.
Caffeine can and will disrupt your sleep cycle if you’re drinking too much of it. Caffeine achieves its desired effect by blocking adenosine receptors in your brain. This keeps your brain from feeling the effects of fatigue. Specifically, drinking coffee less than six hours before bed adversely affects sleep quality. Finish your last cup by 11 a.m.
Up your water intake.
There’s no substance more important to the human body than water. Even as little as two percent of normal fluid loss can affect your performance throughout the day. Dehydration reduces blood volume, forces the heart to work harder, and makes it more difficult for your body to get the nutrients and oxygen it needs through the blood.
To calculate your daily water intake:
- Start with your weight in pounds.
- Divide by two.
- The result is the minimum number of ounces that you should drink every day.
If a machine needs oil to lubricate it and keep it working efficiently, consider your body the machine and water your oil.
Stop trying to be perfect.
Setting impossibly high standards is a foolproof way to feel like a failure despite doing good work. Instead of striving for perfection, strive for excellence. While perfection is unattainable, excellence is a matter of hard work, commitment, and practice. It is always possible to improve just a little bit every day.
Drop the bottle.
Alcohol depresses the central nervous system to produce a sedative effect in the short term, but in the long run, it can drastically affect sleep patterns and sleep maintenance. What it also does is create a “bounce back” effect as it is metabolized; this creates a surge in adrenaline. It’s for this reason that you’re likely to be woken easily during the night, have trouble getting back to sleep and ultimately have a lousy morning due to the lack of sleep. Avoid alcohol at least three hours before going to bed.
Learn how to say "No."
If you’re a Spartan, that means you have priorities. Having priorities means you can’t do everything. Even if it seems like others are constantly pressing you to do more and more, put your foot down out of respect for your time. If you respect your time, others will learn to follow suit.
Understand that a working vacation is not a vacation.
Think about biceps for a second. If you just worked out your biceps and your biceps are sore, what’s the last thing you should do? Answer: work your biceps. Your brain is no different. Humans experience cognitive fatigue in the same way that they experience physical fatigue. The best way to come back to work fresh is to spend time not working.
When you’re on vacation, that means no emails, no invoices, no phone calls, no meetings, no deadlines. Turn off the phone; leave the laptop behind. If you can commit to working, surely you can commit to not working.
Whatever you do, do not skip breakfast.
Your mother was right. Just as you wouldn’t set out for a long road trip without filling the tank, you shouldn’t go about your day without fueling up with good food? Long after you have finished eating your evening meal, the body is still using what you ate while you sleep, so waking up in the morning, your body will need to be replenished with more nourishment. If you don’t, you quickly end up feeling lethargic and hungry. Once the hunger pangs start, you will not be able to concentrate properly.
We recommend whole grains, lean protein, and fruit. Try oatmeal, wheat toast with almond butter, and perhaps a cup of coffee.
Get your iron.
Iron deficiency makes it hard for oxygen to travel to the muscles and cells. To get the iron you need, load up on foods like kidney beans, tofu, dark leafy greens like spinach and kale, nuts, and peanut butter. If you marry these foods together with some vitamin C, your body will absorb much more iron.
Use your weekends to rest. (What a concept!)
What’s the harm in staying out late and sleeping in on the weekends? We’ll tell you.
- It screws up your sleep cycle.
- It gives your body one more thing to recover from each day, in addition to the stress from work and exercise. (A disrupted circadian rhythm is a cause of stress.)
- If your late nights involve alcohol, don’t be fooled into thinking that the buzz means that you’re de-stressing. Maybe your frontal lobe gets a short vacation, but the rest of your body has to work extra hard to process the alcohol. Everything is connected, and you will feel it the next day — everywhere.
- Due to added stress from (2) and (3), getting up for work on Monday morning becomes hell, and you’ve officially started a stress feedback-loop where you’re using each weekend to recover from more and more stress.
If your goal is to be healthy, then sleep must be a priority. End of story.