Health isn’t about one specific behavior but rather a series of practices that add up to better mental and physical well-being. Here are 14 habits that will not only make you healthier but feel good too. You can start with as little as one a day, and when you develop a sustainable routine, add another. As you incorporate more and more, you’ll ultimately build a well-rounded set of habits that’ll benefit your body and mind in a variety of ways.
1. Drink more water
In one study, when water drinkers were forced to ease up on their intake, they felt less calm and content and reported a reduction in positive emotions. But when people who were low water drinkers were forced to drink more, they experienced less physical and mental fatigue. Another study backed up these findings, concluding that regularly drinking more water might result in a better mood.
2. Eat more pulses
Pulses are plant-based proteins, such as beans, legumes, chickpeas and peas. Chances are, you have some dried or canned pulses in your pantry. Not only are these handy shelf-stable foods, they offer numerous health benefits. Pulses are full of fiber, therefore they’re digested slowly, which helps you feel fuller, longer. They also supply several immune-boosting minerals, including magnesium and zinc. Research into populations that live the longest, healthiest lives shows that those people tend to eat diets rich in pulses.
3. Cook a meal
Being trapped at home probably forces you to cook more, and if it seems tedious, here’s the silver lining: Studies suggest that people who cook at least six nights per week eat more healthfully — both at home and when dining out — even if not consciously trying to.
4. Add dried herbs and spices to meals
These culinary powerhouses can add potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds to your meals and snacks, plus herbs and spices amp up the flavor. The health-promoting substances in these seasonings are linked with a lower risk of certain chronic diseases, including cancer and heart disease, and the polyphenol compounds they contain are involved in protecting the lining of your GI tract, which helps keep your immune system healthy.
5. Eat two fruits a day
Only 12% of U.S. adults meet the daily fruit recommendations, which not only means you may be missing out on some vital nutrients, but also that your mood might be suffering. In one study, young adults who were offered an additional two servings of fruits and vegetables to their normal diet reported experiencing more positive moods, as well as an uptick in curiosity, creativity and motivation.
6. Have at least three cups of veggies each day
About 90% of adults don’t meet this recommendation so if you’re among them, try to find easy ways to add more veggies to your daily diet. Perhaps this will inspire you: A large study of middle-aged and older Canadian adults found lower rates of anxiety among those with higher intakes of fruits and veggies. You can boost your veggie intake by adding a handful of leafy greens to smoothies or egg scrambles, making a veggie-packed soup or whipping up a stir-fry with a frozen veggie blend.
7. Focus on healthy plant-based fats
In addition to using plant-based cooking oils like extra-virgin olive oil and avocado oil, add foods like nuts and seeds (and their butters) to your menu. While they’re high in fat, they contain bioactive compounds, which appear to make it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
8. Cut back on snacking and grazing
A better eating pattern involves three meals a day, spaced an average of four hours apart. If you find yourself constantly snacking or grazing between meals, it might be a sign you’re not filling up sufficiently at mealtime. Make sure your meals include at least a half-plate of non-starchy veggies along with some plant-based fats, a satisfying portion of protein and a small helping of starchy veggies or whole grains.
9. Limit added sugars
A new study of nearly 500 women found that insomnia is linked to poor diet quality, and that consuming too much added sugar raises the risk of sleep problems. As you’re unpacking groceries, check food labels to see how much added sugar is in products like yogurt, cereal, breads and condiments. Your goal is to stay below 25 grams per day for women and kids, and below 36 grams for men.
10. Make time to be physically active every day
Though 30 minutes per day, five days a week, is ideal, the CDC says some physical activity is better than none, noting that even a little activity offers some health benefits. If you can pace around your driveway, house or apartment for 10 minutes, do it! Staying active can help you maintain a healthier weight.
11. Think of a few things you’re grateful for
Gratitude helps cultivate a positive outlook, and research suggests this may help you become a healthier eater. Every day, make a mental note or jot down some things you appreciate, no matter how big or small.
12. Develop a meditation habit
Many paid meditation apps have upped their library of free content so now’s the time to adopt a meditation practice. Not only will it help you reduce stress, studies show it can also help reduce emotional and binge eating.
13. Go to bed at the same time each night
The coronavirus crisis has forced us to ditch common routines, like going to school and work, which can make it hard to keep track of time. Since sleep is so critical to keeping your immune system healthy, it’s important to stick to a consistent sleep schedule. Do your best to go to bed at the same time each night and get at least seven hours of shut-eye.
14. Tell someone you love them
Hopefully you’re doing this anyway, but if you need another reason to spread the love, this type of affectionate communication has health perks. Studies suggest it can help you keep calm and manage stress better.
MORE FROM SAMANTHA CASSETTY, RD
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