Setting the Course to Find Health and Happiness:
I’m glad you are still exploring ways to make your lifestyle support your health and happiness to the greatest extent possible. When it comes to our habits, I suspect you have been given plenty of advice by many well meaning friends, family and health professionals.
How can you begin to figure out what might be the most important steps for you to take at this time and how you can be successful making those changes stick long term?
The First Step is to decide if you want to ease into things gradually, or go for as many positive changes as possible all at once.
Most health coaches and behavioral health counselors will advise people to only take on one or two new habit changes at a time, hoping that a more narrow focus will improve the chances of success, and then more positive steps can be added later.
However, since many of us have multiple areas of our lifestyle that needs to be addressed, often because of immediate serious health concerns, it may be important to go all in for a total lifestyle makeover. This may actually not be as difficult as it sounds, and if significant improvements in our health and happiness are realized quickly, our motivation to continue will be strong.
The Second Step is to decide what actual healthy lifestyle actions, whether just a few or many, are important for you to take at this time.
There may be some habits you have hoped to start or stop for a while, and now is the time. Perhaps you aren’t sure about exactly what to do, but you just know from the way you are feeling that some changes have to be made. Hopefully this will become more clear as you learn more about the many possible Healthy Lifestyle Steps listed below.
The Third Step is to support your actions with Friendship and Fun as much as possible.
When I say Friendship what I’m really talking about are the things that give our lives Meaning. And by Fun I really mean what gives us Motivation.
Healthy Relationships are a great source of meaning for most of us. We also can find great meaning in Being Creative, working to Solve Problems, enjoying Material Things, being open to our Spirituality, and simply being Open to Fully Experience Every Moment of each day.
Simple Rewards like Pay or Praise are a good start for motivation, but only get us so far, mostly for simple tasks. To really get us to achieve great things for the long term, we need to first tap into what gives each of us a great sense of Meaning. Then add a sense of Autonomy (“This is my thing”) and Mastery (“I got this”). Soon our Motivation begins to build on itself.
By connecting Friendship and Fun to our new healthy lifestyle goals, as well as other things that give us a great sense of Meaning and Motivation, our success, rooted in true Joy, is bound to grow strong. We will more often find Long Term Solutions to our problems rather than reaching for the Quick Fixes that too often bring us more stress down the road.
The Fourth Step is to have the right mindset: Give your best effort, but don’t expect to be perfect.
Improving our Health and Happiness is something definitely worth committing to. Not only for ourselves, but for all of those around us that we love and care about. We need to realize, however, that this is not always a simple process. There can be many barriers that will need to be overcome, and we won’t get it right every time. If we have a plan in place for when we get sidetracked, it will be easier to get right back into our journey forward, perhaps with a few adjustments that will make it even better.
Below is a list of Healthy Lifestyle Steps to consider. Click on the links to learn more:
Enjoy Vegetables: 3-5 servings per day (1 cup)
- Green Leafy Veggies: 1-2 times a day (spinach, romaine lettuce)
- Cruciferous Veggies: 1-2 times a day (½ cup broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, etc)
Enjoy Beans: 2-3 servings per day (½ cup pinto, black, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans)
Enjoy Whole Grains: 2-3 servings per day (½ cup hot cereal or cooked grain like brown rice or quinoa, 1 cup cold cereal, 1 slice whole grain bread, 1 small corn or whole wheat tortilla)
Add Tree Nuts: ¼ cup each day (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, etc)
Limit Salt: less than 2 grams per day (even less is best)
Drink Water: 2-3 servings per day (8-12 ounce glass)
Limit eggs to only 1-2 times a month (or even stop eggs completely)
Switch to beans (legumes) from meats 3-4 times a week
(or even stop them completely)
(**bacon, ham, sausage, hot dogs, lunch and deli meats, smoked dried or canned meats)
Make sure you are taking the vitamins that you may be lacking. Vitamin D3, 2000 to 4000 units, which is 50 to 100mcg, for most people, unless you are regularly exposed to enough sunlight. 4000 units for nursing moms, 600 units for newborns, 800 to 1000 for toddlers, 1000-2000 for most kids and teens. Higher doses if you are older, overweight or have darker skin color.
Especially for those eating primarily plant-based, Vitamin B12 is essential. 50mcg daily or 2000mcg once a week for most adults, The dose is a bit different for Seniors, Pregnant Women and Kids. Seniors over 65 need at least 1000mcg a day, and over 50 likely need that much too. Pregnant Women and kids over age 10 can take basically the same as middle age and young adults. 5mcg for infants to age 4, and 25mcg for Kids 4 to 10.
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- Start at 5-15 minutes 3-4 days a week if desired
- Increase to 20-30 minutes 4-5 days a week when able
- Work up to 45-60 minutes 6-7 days a week if desired
*or other light to moderate intensity activity like yoga, light housework. Moderate activity feels like you can “talk easily, but not sing” and may cause a little perspiration
**or other moderate to strenuous activity like biking, swimming, tennis, gardening. Strenuous feels like “you can only talk a few word sentences at a time” and usually gets you sweaty
Start strength, stretching and balance exercises 2 times a week
- join a gym (or set up a home gym)
- attend a yoga, tai chi, dance or another exercise class (or do at home with DVD/Online)
Commit to not sitting for over 1 hour without getting up and moving for 5 minutes
Make time each day for mental relaxation and spiritual connection:
- meditation, mindfulness, or prayer
- time in nature
- begin with 5-10 minutes, increase to 20-30 minutes or longer as desired
- for more ideas check out the Greater Good in Action website
Encourage Joy and Avoid Negative Stress:
- journal about positive experiences. Celebrate and enjoy them. Also explore the more difficult experiences. Identify any counterproductive thoughts and feelings and try to focus on more reasonable and helpful ways to think and feel about them
- consider what ways you feel joy
- consider also what ways you feel stress
- commit to steps you can take to find more joy and less stress
- can you ask someone such as a friend or family member to join in your journey?
- would a trained counselor be helpful?
Encourage Healthy Sleep:
- less caffeine and alcohol
- more physical activity and outside or in bright light time
- slow down and dim the lights before bedtime (including TV,computer, and phone screens)
- have bedroom set up for better sleep (dark, quiet, cool)
- allow for 7-9 hours of sleep
- get checked for sleep apnea if you snore, stop breathing, find it difficult to stay awake during the day, have difficult to control insomnia or high blood pressure, or depression or memory issues
Make sure you are challenging your brain to stay sharp by doing complex tasks
- start reading a book
- schedule time for making art or playing a musical instrument
- regularly play a complex game you enjoy
- learn a new activities such as cooking, gardening, or another craft or hobby
- seek an opportunity to teach, mentor or lead
Maintain a strong social connection:
- regularly attend a club, classes, or church
- commit to strengthening an important family relationship or friendship
Take time each week to consider what gives your life meaning and purpose
Commit to stopping or minimizing harmful lifestyles:
Commit to making a safe lifestyles a priority:
- wearing seat belts and helmets, having smoke detectors in place and working, gun safety, caution when using equipment and chemicals
- eat organic foods as much as possible, and avoid being exposed to pesticides, weed killers and mold.
Here are some trustworthy resources to help guide healthy lifestyle choices:
Or simply read this article from the Blue Zones website on 20 Habits For a Healthier, Happier Life.
Forks Over Knives has helped millions of people understand the power of a whole-foods, plant based diet.
The Game Changers is geared towards those looking for both peak performance and long term health.
Dr Joel Fuhrman has inspired many with his informative books and programs.
I have a few more thoughts about Health and Happiness. I look forward to sharing them on the final page, What Matters Most.
Ted Nyquist, MD.
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