People spend a lot of time and money trying to answer this question. There is a reason that “self-help” is a multi-billion dollar industry – people are unhealthy and unhappy and are looking for a quick fix.
Well good news! I will gladly give you the keys to a healthy lifestyle, no purchase necessary. SPOILER ALERT: It is NOT a quick fix. That being said, the keys to health are not complicated.
The keys to a healthy lifestyle:
1. Sleep. The science is clear that getting enough sleep is essential to maintaining your long term physical and mental health and avoiding chronic diseases ranging from obesity to Alzheimer’s. Sleep is the time when your body and mind can recover from the day’s events and purge the toxins that build up through the course of the day. Think of sleep as the time when your personal garbage men go to work. How would your house look if you NEVER took out the trash? This is how your brain FEELS when it does not get enough sleep.
2. Eat. As renowned food journalist and author Michael Pollan famously said, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. Legitimate scientific studies (beyond anecdotal stories about specific diets that worked for your friend’s cousin’s boyfriend) have made it very clear that the healthiest diets on the planet have one thing in common: the most common foods are vegetables. Different doctors will make claims that a specific diet is better than the others, but those results are mixed and complicate how easy it should be for us to know what to eat. At each meal, start with a plate full of veggies. That will be a great start for whatever you decide to build on top.
3. Drink. Humans are ~60% water. Our blood (the life-giving and sustaining substance responsible for bringing nutrients and removing wastes from ALL of our cells) is ~75% – 80% water. How can we expect our bodies to perform without enough water? It would be like expecting our cars to run on grape juice… close, but not gonna happen. Dehydration can cause headaches, overeating, fatigue, poor memory, poor concentration, dizziness, drops in blood pressure, comas and seizures. Oh and death – you don’t want that one.
4. Be merry. Life is going to be full of stressors, there is no way around that. However, how we react to the stressors CAN be completely up to us. With practice. Studies show even 5-10 minutes of mindfulness meditation per day can lower perceived levels of stress, symptoms of stress, and increase happiness. And incorporating a mindfulness meditation practice into your life has never been easier with apps like Headspace and Calm and Youtube videos (just search for “guided meditations”).
So there you have it: The keys to a healthy lifestyle are simple, but I am not going to say they are easy. These all take practice and a certain comfort with failure. There will be days when you don’t get enough sleep, eat a whole birthday cake, drink only fruit punch and hate yourself for it… But what will you do the next day?