ACTIVE - How to Be Healthy: 6 Ways to Improve Your Health By Katherine Wylie, BSN, RN
The topic of health and wellness has never been more popular than it is today. But with so many trends and fads out there right now, where are you supposed to start when it comes to learning how to be healthy.

Healthy is defined as being free from disease; something beneficial to one's physical, mental, or emotional state; or associated with good health or reduced risk of disease. However, this definition doesn’t offer any practical methods for applying this knowledge to the real world. If you’re ready to take action, this guide is for you.

We explore six key areas you can start working on immediately to boost your overall health and wellness. With practical applications for each, you’ll learn little things you can do each day to improve your well-being.

1. What You Think

Man meditating

Your mind is a powerful place and it is entirely up to you how you fill your own mind. You have the ability to choose what you will allow inside your brain to shape your thoughts. For example, you can choose to fill your mind with positivity instead of negativity, facts instead of hearsay, gratitude instead of hopelessness, and love instead of hate. Those are healthy choices. You can also nourish your mind with the things you watch and read.

Mental health is an integral part of living a healthy lifestyle, and when this part is lacking, it’s wise to seek help. This assistance may be in the form of a phone call to a friend to discuss your day, texting a family member after a difficult day at work, talking to a respected spiritual or church leader about hard questions you would like answered, and/or seeking out a therapist to help walk you through your current season of life. Recruiting help from trusted people and resources can help you develop better mental health habits.

2. What You Drink

drink water

What is your favorite beverage? If it has sugar or a form of sugar in the ingredients list, we’ve got some bad news. Added sugar can cause inflammation, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease. Decreasing and limiting all alcohol consumption is also advisable to reduce your risk for chronic diseases. Water, sparkling water, unsweetened tea, or coffee can be healthier options. Beware of sweet tea or coffee drinks with sugar hiding in added creamers. And ultimately, hydrating with water helps your body function better and perform at its best.

3. What You Eat

healthy eating

As vast as this topic can be, eating healthy can be put simply. Some essential guidelines include the following:

  • Eating whole, nutrient dense foods (sweet potatoes, whole grains, lean meats) when possible
  • Preparing food using organic or fresh ingredients
  • Cooking food according to proper standards
  • Buying food made with simple ingredients
  • Limiting salt and sugar
  • Eating an appropriate amount of protein for your body

A study showed that by improving your fruit and vegetable intake, you could decrease your susceptibility to obesity even if you may be genetically predisposed to it. Another study showed herbs and spices are not just helpful for flavor but actually contain antioxidants and lower the risk of death from several diseases.

4. What You Breathe

don't smoke

The air you breathe is vital to being healthy—it’s no secret that cigarette smokers experience a host of negative health benefits such as an increased chance of having a stroke, to name one. Smokers also have an increased risk for other chronic diseases. Unfortunately, even if you breathe secondhand smoke, your chance of having a stroke increases by 45%. Avoiding smoking and choosing to be around areas with clean air can help keep you healthy. If you find the air in your home to be bothersome, an air purifier may be a good option to consider.

5. How You Move

woman running in sunset

What do you do to move your body each day? Movement looks different for everyone but it’s best to get your body moving every day even if you just take a long walk. You may spend some time at the gym, go on a run, or utilize your own equipment at home, or grab your bike and head out to a local trail.

You may also struggle with the motivation to do those things. Sometimes we tend to overthink exercise and put unrealistic goals on ourselves. Start where you are and build from there.

If you’re a busy parent of young children, consider involving your kids, so you’re not struggling to carve extra time out of your day. This exercise method may include using resistance bands or dumbbells at home and taking turns using the equipment with your kids with proper supervision, of course. Make it a game and involve them in your healthy habits— this can encourage children to practice better health as well. It could also involve doing some squats each time you hand them their sippy cup or playing tag at a local park. Movement (even in small doses) makes a difference when it comes to getting into better shape. If you have a membership at a gym with childcare, consider staying a little longer each time you go or try a new workout class while your children play.

If you’re in a different stage of life, consider where you’re currently at with how you move your body and then start pushing yourself a little more each week by setting attainable goals. If you’re used to doing only cardio, add in some strength training. If you’re used to only strength training, incorporate some cycling or swimming. The most important thing is to be consistent with however you choose to move your body.

6. How You Sleep

woman sleeping in bed

For some, sleep can be an easy part of our lives to cut shorter to make room for something else. While that may be necessary in certain cases, your quality of rest still matters. Consistent sleep deprivation increases your risk for chronic health issues.

But, how much sleep do you really need? The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. They also recommend no screen time before bed, sleeping on a comfortable mattress, practicing a sleep routine each night, and minimizing potential disruptions from light and noise.

If you have difficulty with sleeping, consider making a journal of your habits surrounding bedtime. This journal should review your use of caffeine, the time you go to bed, the time you wake up in the morning, how many times you are up in the middle of the night and for what reason, and the last time you ate food and drank fluids before bed. You may be able to decipher for yourself what the issue is by reviewing your log. If you can’t, it may be wise to review this information with your physician.

Our Top Tips for How to Stay Healthy

We summarized a list of healthy behaviors based on the six areas we covered earlier:

  • Wash your hands well, and often
  • Exercise daily
  • Eat whole foods
  • Eat a minimal amount of processed foods
  • Reduce your sugar intake
  • Reduce your salt intake
  • Avoid fried foods
  • Rest your mind and body
  • Uninterrupted sleep
  • Cook meat thoroughly
  • Drink pure water
  • Limit your caffeine intake
  • Avoid sugary drinks
  • Eat enough protein
  • Eat food that is in season
  • Do not smoke
  • Do not use drugs
  • Only take medications your doctor has ordered
  • Avoid artificial trans fats
  • Spend time outside
  • Manage stress
  • Do activities that bring you joy
  • Meditate
  • Practice safe sex
  • Check your blood pressure regularly
  • Contact your doctor with your health concerns as they arise

Make a Plan

Which area needs the most attention in your life? It’s helpful to focus on one area at a time so you don’t become overwhelmed. Seeking to modify your lifestyle not just in what you eat but also in what you drink, your mindset, how much you move, and the way you sleep can all make a positive impact on being healthy. And remember that your health journey is just that—a journey.

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