We live in a world that stresses convenience and instant gratification. The emphasis on protecting our health is declining as our waistbands expand. It can be difficult to lead a truly healthy life in these times of fast food and artificial sweeteners, but there are some ways we can strive to be truly healthy in the 21st century. Taking a big-picture perspective, here are the three basic elements to living a healthy life:
1. Learn what to avoid
Here’s the thing: Nature knows what she’s doing. There isn’t anything humans can manufacture that nature doesn’t already make better. Don’t believe it? Look at it like this — food-industry scientists spend billions developing zero-calorie artificial sweeteners, most of which still come with about a million negative side effects. Ingest a natural sweetener like organic raw honey instead, and your body knows what to do with all of the different parts of it; the body takes out what it needs, and sends the rest through your system. Sure, it has calories, but there are no nasty side effects.
Here’s another point to consider: The term “high fructose corn syrup” appears on the ingredient list for a staggering array of foods and drinks. What is it? It’s an isolate made from the sugars in corn — in other words, a refined sugar. Our bodies are hard-wired to receive nutrients in a biocomplex. The body knows what to do with all the nutrients it gets as long as they’re all lumped together. But when they’ve been stripped down, as with high fructose corn syrup, our bodies forget how to process them and end up simply storing them as fat. This can lead to anxiety, weight gain, depression, brain lesions, fatigue, dizziness … the list goes on and on. The side effects are numerous and horrendous!
My point? If it doesn’t exist in nature, don’t put it in your body. This might seem drastic, but trying to get to the purest forms of food is a great way to increase your overall health.
Some examples include whole grains, organic fruits and veggies, and organically raised meats. Sound unattainable? I know organic foods can be expensive, so take a look at the “Dirty Dozen” and “Green Fifteen” produce lists to see where you can afford to buy non-organic. I also recommend shopping at local farmers’ markets. Usually everything you get there is healthier for you than what you can find in the grocery store (and at a better price).
In addition, try to incorporate vegetarian meals into your diet. The idea that we need to eat meat every day is wildly inaccurate. High-quality meat two or three times a week with vegetarian meals the rest of the time is a great way to eat healthier, and it can save money as well. Make sure to use alternate sources of protein in these meals, such as eggs, cheese, nuts, or grains like couscous or quinoa.
This diet might seem limiting, but try not to think of it in terms of denying yourself “bad,” but enjoyable, foods. Instead, you’re giving your body the fuel it needs to function properly. You’ll feel better and begin to crave these healthy foods in general. Need something sweet? Try keeping fruit on hand; oranges are a favorite of mine.
Sounds a little trite, right? “Eat right and exercise.” But in most cases, improving your health really is that simple. We don’t have to all be health nuts or gym rats, but many of us live overly sedentary lives. We work jobs where we sit at desks and stare at computers; this is bad for our backs, our digestion, our mood, so it’s absolutely imperative for us to break these cycles.
There are a lot of exercises we can incorporate into our daily lives. Stretch at our desks at work or school. Go for a walk after dinner. Swim a few laps. Lift some weights. Take up yoga.
I’m not saying the exercise has to be strenuous, and I’m certainly not arguing that everyone has to wear a certain size or achieve six-pack abs. But if you’re looking to increase your overall health, exercise has to be a part of it. Exercise can be fun — find an activity you enjoy, something you can do with your partner, a social activity, or make it your quiet time.
Be sure not to put too much strain on your body when you start a new exercise program; it’s important to avoid injury as much as possible. Also, make sure you’re using correct form on the exercises you start, again to reduce the chance of injury.
Many people see exercise as an obligatory chore or a punishment they have to endure. But exercise doesn’t have to be this way at all. It’s a gift that you are giving to your body. Think of exercise as the activity you do to love yourself.
3. Be holistic
True health includes mind, body and spirit. In addition to your healthy eating and exercise, try some meditation. In the spirit of full disclosure, I used to take anti-depressants in order to help with some anxiety issues. In addition to eating right and a routine of stretching before nightly meditation, the medicine helped me to feel much better. Soon I was able to wean myself off the meds.
I know some folks might be wary of going to the doctor or are unable to afford health care, but there are resources out there for people to gain access to health care and medicine.
True health is not simply about numbers on a scale or cholesterol levels. We need to be able to be happy in our health. Take stock of your life and identify any negative influences that could be making you anxious, depressed, or just plain miserable. It might mean setting boundaries, switching careers, or making some other big change in your life. Whatever you do, find out what makes you happy and pursue it.
Browse healthy-eating solutions
Browse yoga gear
Browse fitness equipment
Browse natural wellness products