Updated: Jan 19
Health is not simply the absence of disease, illness, or pain but complete physical, mental, and social well-being. It is about way more than exercising x number of times per week and counting calories.
A healthy lifestyle incorporates more than just exercise or a daily green juice. The truth is, our daily habits also contribute to our overall health. The ways we manage stress, our sleeping habits, our eating habits, and our daily movement all matter when we're talking about developing a healthy lifestyle.
Whether you're just starting a health journey or you want to take your current one to the next level, incorporating these six elements will help you stay on track and maintain a healthy lifestyle that benefits your mind and body.
The types and concentrations of light emitted by the sun vary throughout the day. In the morning, sunlight consists mainly of infrared (IR) light. As the day progresses, the levels of ultraviolet (UV) light increase between 10 am and 4 pm as the sun reaches its peak.
The UV levels decrease again as we progress into the evening, leaving higher levels of IR light. IR light penetrates deeper into the body and helps with the regeneration and repair of the body’s cells, thereby promoting healing in the body.
In addition to its regenerative benefits, morning sunlight helps regulates your circadian rhythm. It helps you wake up by reducing melatonin levels in the body and boosts mood by releasing “feel good” hormones like serotonin and dopamine. Additionally, it regulates hormones and blood pressure1 and increases energy levels and cognitive processes.
Inadequate light exposure can lead to mental health illnesses like mood disorders, anxiety, seasonal affective disorder, depression, etc.
Food is fuel and medicine. Aside from providing energy, the meals you eat play a major role in your health, as they contain vitamins and minerals that naturally fight inflammation which can lead to diseases. As such, your meals should include a variety of nutrients that your body needs and be balanced to promote satiety and reduce snacking and cravings.
Eating seasonally can ensure you get the full nutritional benefits from the foods, as they are freshest and most nutritious when in season. One main advantage of eating seasonally is food diversity. Food diversity will help you get vitamins and minerals from different foods throughout the year. It can help reduce or prevent illness and chronic issues because the nutritional value of in-season foods helps boost the immune system. Additionally, it can be cheaper than buying out-of-season produce.
In addition to eating seasonally, organic produce will not have chemicals that can negatively affect long-term health. However, organic produce tends to be more expensive, so make the best decision for yourself.
Whether you eat seasonally or organically, shop the perimeter of the grocery or visit a farmer's market to get the most nutritious foods.
To know what is currently in season, visit the season food guide.
Daily movement and exercise
Like food, movement is medicine. Movement and exercise have many benefits physically, mentally, and socially.
The physical benefits of exercise include improved strength and cardiovascular functioning and maintenance of a mobile, pain-free body. Additionally, it enables the flushing of toxins from the body through sweat and stimulation of the lymphatic system.
The mental benefits of daily movement and exercise include improved cognitive processes, mood, and sleep. It reduces stress, anxiety, and the risk of other mental illnesses.
Engaging in movement and exercise also has social benefits. It provides a way to connect with others. It can include taking a walk with friends, attending a group class at the local gym, participating in a community pick-up game, or other active social gatherings. It fosters community and feelings of belonging, enriching the quality of our life.
While vitamin D is naturally found in very few foods, the sun is a major source of the vitamin. Sunlight synthesizes vitamin D, which the body needs to build and maintain healthy bones and teeth because the body can only absorb calcium when there is vitamin D1.
This fat-soluble vitamin is also integral in regulating the body's cellular processes. Spending adequate time outdoors then is not just useful for mental health and well-being but also physical health.
As such, it should be a part of our daily routine that we practice in a safe way. Take a walk around noon to soak up some vitamin D.
If you live in an area where there isn’t a lot of vitamin D from the sun or during winter, consider supplementing.
Remember to do your own research and speak to your medical practitioner before you start any new supplement.
Stress is any negative response that the body has to an external stimulus. Stress can occur due to various factors, like life stress (relationships, family, grief, etc.), and work stress (work hours, unhealthy environment/culture, job uncertainty, etc.)2.
Stress can also stem from habits that prohibit the body from performing optimally. These stressors include undereating, overexercising, sleep deprivation, unhealthy diet, etc.
Stress can manifest in decreased energy levels, headaches, anxiety, panic attacks, elevated blood pressure, etc. Uncontrolled stress can lead to inflammation which can, in turn, lead to the development of diseases and illnesses.
Due to the potential for long-term consequences, it is imperative to lower stress levels. Address the stressors you can control, like diet, exercise and sleep. Other stressors will require you to take a step back and audit what is happening to find solutions that work for you.
Walking, playing an instrument, sitting outside listening to the birds, reading, whatever it looks like, find ways to lower your stress levels so that your body is not operating from a place of fight or flight on a continuous basis.
We should not sleep on the importance of sleep. Sleep is how the body repairs itself. It eliminates toxic waste, repairs cells, stores information, restores energy, and more during sleep.
Proper sleep ensures that you get the most out of your waking hours. Prioritizing your sleep regimen is crucial due to the numerous biological processes that occur while we sleep. Some practices for improving sleep are:
Limit or cut caffeine intake in the afternoon
Improve your sleep environment (temperature, mattress, darkness, etc.)
Stop eating and exercising too close to bed-time
Limit screen time at night. The sun regulates melatonin in our bodies, and artificial light at night can also have a negative effect on your sleep. It can keep you awake, produce stress hormones, and suppress melatonin.
Creating an ideal sleep environment will ensure you get the best sleep possible so you can function optimally the next day.
These different areas all contribute to our overall health, but that does not mean you have to overhaul your life today. Start with one component at a time, whichever seems the most attainable.
Lastly, focus on progression rather than perfection. You may not get ideal sleep every night. But getting one more hour a night is progress. Eating a balanced breakfast when you previously skipped breakfast is progress.
Striving to be perfect in every area will only add to the stress. It's all about the small steps you take each day.