Following the birth of my second baby, I found myself stuck in our apartment most of the day with two little ones under the age of 3. My husband was working at a start-up that was demanding 80 hours a week from him and even though I had supportive family and friends nearby, I had a lot on my shoulders. I was physically and mentally exhausted, and experiencing what I have learned was post-partum depression. Searching for a way through those dark days, I discovered that health is a habit. I noticed the positive influence that eating well, exercising, and guarding my sleep had on my mental health; physical levers I could pull that helped my mind be clear and purposeful again.
While many factors affect our health, one thing we know for sure is that physical and mental health live on a two-way street. Every choice we make, regardless of intended mental or physical effect, influences our whole being.
Small improvements to our daily habits, changes that anyone can easily do (or not do), result in a significant positive impact on our overall health. As few as four regular healthy habits have been shown to extend our lives by up to a decade! In short, our health is not something out of our control—health it turns out, is a habit.
Perhaps the most encouraging part of this whole concept is that it puts the power back in your hands. You are in complete control. You are not broken. You are not alone. There is a path forward and you have the ability to move toward a happier, healthier, more vibrant YOU every day.
There are four main areas where you will experience the greatest impact from making small positive changes. These changes usually start as thoughts, then turn to simple actions, and over time become powerful healthy habits that define your life and identity.
Nourish Your Body
Most people know we need to consume nourishing food, primarily plants, in order to have the nutrients our body needs to function correctly. The hard part about this is that we live in a time with so many wonderful food products that are not only convenient and inexpensive, but are incredibly delicious. They are designed to be that way!
I’ve reduced this often overwhelming topic into two highly effective tips that you can immediately use as your new healthy habits: 1) consume less prepared and processed foods, and 2) eat more plants.
By eating more plants, you have less room on your daily plate for other less nutritious options. When you swap out highly processed food products for whole foods close to their natural form, you are giving yourself the gift of real food nutrition that your body is meant to thrive on. You choose what makes it past your teeth into your stomach. Realize that food is fuel and your body needs the benefits that whole plant-based foods provide. Stop starving yourself by consuming nutrition-poor foods and choose to swap them out bit by bit with healthier options that you still like enough to eat regularly. You will find that you feel better, have more energy, and have a clearer mind.
Move Your Body
Our ancestors could not obtain nutrition without a significant expenditure of calories, which basically means they were always moving. In this light it shouldn’t be surprising that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with multiple health problems, most of which are extremely serious and currently increasing in modern society. Movement supports the proper function of all your body’s systems, specifically the lymphatic and circulatory systems which deliver nutrients and help remove naturally occurring waste produced by your cells.
The best thing you can do to form new habits in this area is to find something you truly enjoy doing that involves moving your body and then challenge yourself to do this activity 2-3 times per week. Walking, stretching, dancing, and hiking are examples of things that don’t include equipment or gym memberships.
Perhaps the most difficult and most rewarding habit on my list is to become a guardian of your sleep. We live in unique times where our natural sleep patterns are not only unnaturally interrupted, but completely obliterated by artificial light and endless distractions and stressors. Truly restful sleep is when your body works on cleaning and restoring cellular function throughout your body. It is increasingly understood that poor sleep patterns may even increase risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Sleep habits are often difficult to change, but simple things can be done to make progress. I recommend establishing a regular bedtime routine that includes reduced screen time, relaxing activities such as reading or meditation, and waking at a consistent time. Of course living life requires modification of these things, but the closer you guard these small habits, the bigger the rewards you will reap.
Modern stress levels are beyond anything humans have ever experienced. We’re all participating in a mass experiment seemingly designed to see how much input our minds can take in before shutting down! Again, thanks to our ancestors, whose lives were much more boring than ours, our body reacts to stress by producing a powerful stress hormone called cortisol that is meant to temporarily turn us into superheroes by increasing certain life functions and reducing others. If our minds and bodies remain in this heightened specialized state, however, we begin to experience problems over time.
It is absolutely crucial to your physical and mental health to identify your primary sources of stress and make small changes that protect you. This may include reducing time on social media, time spent with certain people or groups, scheduling time to be alone (hello to all my introverts out there), or simplifying your to-do lists to only essential tasks for a few days each week. It may also include adding time for meditation, physical activity, or using essential oils or other natural supplements to help you relax.
One last piece of advice: trust your heart. If you give yourself a few minutes to quietly consider how you might improve in any of these areas, you will immediately be able to identify ways to improve, and maybe you already have while reading right now. I’m just here to give you permission to make it happen. You want the peace and clarity that comes with even marginal improvement in these areas. It’s yours for the taking, so choose a couple things you feel like you can change this week, and go get it.