WHEN MOST people hear the term "healthy living," many immediately think of food. Commercial diets have always been popular and seem to be increasing in popularity. For every fad diet that gets rave reviews, there are five more fad diets that are proven to be unhealthy.
But living a healthy lifestyle is more than just what food you put into your body MUCH more. Food is only one source of fuel for you to live. What about the other factors that contribute to your overall well-being that aren't edible? Things like emotional well-being, relationships, spirituality, sleep, work and playtime all fall into the mix of creating a healthy you.
Because food is usually the first area of focus, it's important to make healthy, informed decisions. Read labels. Read articles in the paper, in magazines and online. Read, read, read learn all you can about food additives and where your food comes from. If you eat meat, what does your meat get fed before you consume it? If possible, choose high-quality, grass-fed organic meats. If expense is an issue, then choose a leaner cut of non-organic.
Fruits and vegetables are also very beneficial and chock-full of essential vitamins. Try to eat at least one healthy green vegetable per day. When you go grocery shopping, fill your cart with tons of vegetables and some fruit (stick with berries and green apples, as they have a lower sugar content than most other fruits). The majority of healthy foods are stationed along the perimeter of the store, so spend most of your time there.
Avoid pre-packaged foods if possible. If you do eat packaged or processed foods, read the label and try to choose items with the smallest list of ingredients. Typically, if you can't pronounce an ingredient (or any of the ingredients, for that matter), then ask yourself if there is a better choice you can make. Remember, nobody is forcing you to eat a certain way. You make the choice about what foods you use to fuel your body. Keep in mind, however, that we must eat to live, not live to eat.
Emotional well-being is also important to living healthy. In today's world, we're always "plugged in" to news, sports, celebrity gossip and social networks. Life is constantly on the go and even when you find a few minutes to yourself, most people whip out their smart phones and check Twitter or email.
When was the last time you unplugged? Turn off the TV. Step away from the computer. Put your smart phone away. Take some time every day to reconnect with your environment. Close your eyes and do some deep breathing or meditation. Take a walk outside without your iPod, just listening to the sounds around you. Exercise causes our brain to release endorphins, which can positively boost your mood and lower depression, so any movement at all is good movement.
How are your relationships? Do you spend more time playing mom, dad, wife or husband than you do on yourself? When was the last time you took some time to visit with or talk to some friends? If we work too much or spend too much time focused on others, we lose track of helping ourselves. It's great to help others, but continually neglecting ourselves can lead to distress, which will definitely contribute to our overall health. Foster healthy relationships with your family and friends. Take the time to ask for support or help where you need it and listen to their wants and needs as well. It will lead to a better balance not just in your daily life, but also in your overall health.
Many people also develop strong spiritual beliefs that give them fuel. Regardless of faith or religious preference, these spiritual bonds we form with a higher power give us strength, hope and help us face adversity. Someone who has faith but has been waivering in spiritual dedication might find himself lost or confused about life. Making an effort to reconnect with those beliefs can help boost mood and decrease stress.
Most of us do not get enough sleep. The effects of lack of sleep are quite astounding, and something so simple like catching a few extra "zzz's" each night can make such a drastic change in our energy, mood and health. Not getting enough sleep can: cause various health problems like stroke, diabetes and heart trouble; contribute to accidents; increase depression; impair judgment; inhibit learning; negatively affect skin; lead to weight gain and obesity; and cause forgetfulness.
On average, adults require about seven to eight hours of sleep each day. Think of sleep as a time for your body to "reset." Sleep affects every system in your body hormones, immune system, cardiovascular health, breathing and appetite are all things that "repair" themselves during sleep. By short-changing sleep, you short-change your body's ability to properly prepare for the next day ahead. To get a good night's sleep, sleep in the darkest room possible and turn off background distractions like the TV.
Finding a healthy balance between work and play is something many adults have trouble doing, especially if someone works more than one job. Working without taking time to step back and enjoy life will only lead to unhappiness and burnout. Use your vacation days. Plan a trip away for the weekend. Spend a weekend just relaxing with your family. Participate in an activity you've always wanted to try with a friend. Make certain to take the time to laugh, play and participate in the activities that bring you joy.
Healthy living isn't one entity it's actually a balance of several different "fuels" for your body. Try this: write the factors mentioned in this story on a sheet of paper scattered around in a circle. Now, connect the areas with lines. If you're happy and satisfied in all areas, you will find you have a perfect circle, which will roll easily. If you're off on any area, or lacking in another, you'll get a "flat tire" and it will be very difficult to roll along.
Trying to keep your life balanced is key and takes work, but the end result is a happy, healthy life.