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Healthy Lifestyle

Healthy Lifestyle

Starting a healthy lifestyle can involve eating nutritious foods, engaging in regular physical activity, and prioritizing your mental health.

When you’re not at your healthiest, you can probably tell. You may simply feel “off.” You may find that you feel tired, your digestive system isn’t functioning as well as it normally does, and you seem to catch colds. Mentally, you may find you can’t concentrate and feel anxious or depressed.

The good news: a healthy lifestyle can help you feel better. Even better, you don’t have to overhaul your entire life overnight. It’s pretty easy to make a couple of small changes that can steer you in the direction of improved well-being. And once you make one change, that success can motivate you to continue to make more positive shifts.

What is a “healthy lifestyle”?
Ask 50 people to define what a “healthy lifestyle” is, and you’ll likely get 50 different answers. That’s because there’s no one way to be healthy. A healthy lifestyle simply means doing things that make you happy and feel good.

For one person, that may mean walking a mile five times a week, eating junk-food once a week, and spending virtual or in-person time with loved ones every other day. For someone else, a healthy lifestyle may be training and running two marathons a year, following a keto diet, and never having a sip of alcohol.

Neither of these is better than the other. Both are perfect for that person. You get to decide what your healthy lifestyle looks like.

How is it beneficial?
Making changes to improve your health can lead to benefits for your body, your mind, your wallet, and even the environment.

1. Prevents disease
Healthy habits can reduce the risk of various diseases, including those that may run in your family.

For example, in a recent study, adults who followed a standard American diet (rich in fruits and vegetables) for 8 weeks had a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

In another 2020 studyTrusted Source, researchers found that every 66-gram increase in daily fruit and vegetable intake was associated with a 25 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Swapping out some refined grains for whole grains also reduces the risk of disease. In an observational studyTrusted Source of almost 200,000 adults, those who ate the most whole grains had a 29 percent lower rate of type 2 diabetes than those who ate the least.

And a reviewTrusted Source of 45 studies concluded that eating 90 grams (or three 30-gram servings) of whole grains daily reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by 22 percent, coronary heart disease by 19 percent, and cancer by 15 percent.

In terms of exercise, as little as 11 minutes a day may add years to your life. In a 2020 study, researchers tracked more than 44,000 adults. Those who got 11 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day had a lower risk of death compared to those who only exercised at that intensity for 2 minutes. This comparison held true even if people sat for 8.5 hours every day.

2. Saves money
It’s always smart to see your primary care physician for an annual physical exam. This is especially true seeing how some health conditions, such as high blood pressure, are “silent.” This means they don’t have any symptoms, so unless you are checked, you usually don’t know you have the condition.

However, the healthier you are, the less likely you will have to see a doctor. This could save money by reducing co-pays, the need for prescriptions, and other treatments.

3. Lengthens lifespan
Basic healthy habits are connected with living a longer life. If, at age 50, you’ve never smoked, maintain a healthy weight, are regularly active, follow a healthy diet, and keep alcohol to a moderate consumption, you could live up to 14 yearsTrusted Source longer. Making even a few of these changes could lengthen your lifespan.

4. It can be good for the environment
Ultra-processed foods are those that contain refined grains and additives to change the texture, taste, or color. Some examples of these foods are cheese puffs, packaged dessert cakes, chicken nuggets, and sweetened breakfast cereals. More than 70 percent of foods in U.S. supermarkets are ultra-processed.

The making of ultra-processed foods contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, water scarcity, decreased biodiversity, plastic waste, and deforestation.

Then, there are animal products. According to a 2013 study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (an agency within the U.N. that focuses on reducing hunger and food inequality worldwide), raising livestock for meat and dairy makes up 14.5 percent of human-created greenhouse gases.

However, there are easy fixes for this. For example, if every American cut their weekly beef consumption by 1/4 pound, the decrease in global warming gas emissions would be the equivalent of taking four to six million cars off the road, according to the National Resources Defense Council.

But it’s not only about what you eat more or less of. Replacing short car rides with biking can also cut back on the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

In a non-peer reviewed 2010 study, researchers estimated that if 20 percent of citizens in Madison, Wisconsin biked for trips less than 5 miles, it would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 57,000 tons each year.

And, a 2017 study in Stockholm found that, if drivers who lived within a half-hour bike ride to and from work commuted by bike rather than car, it could save 449 years of life annually in the county due to reduced vehicle emission.

These estimates aren’t simply dreams. Barcelona’s bike-share program reduces emissions of carbon dioxide by about 10,000 tons each yearTrusted Source.

What is the easiest way to start one?
Your journey toward a healthier lifestyle starts with small changes that you feel confident you can achieve. Consider making “SMART” goals. SMART stands for:

specific
measurable
attainable
relevant
time-bound (met by a deadline and done in a certain amount of time)
When you focus on SMART goals, you could find more success. And one initial “win” will propel you to set new, bigger goals.

Consider the following tips for beginning to improve your overall health.

1. Eat more vegetables
A 2010 analysisTrusted Source of prospective studies suggests consuming more veggies and fruit is associated with lower risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and premature death.

Although eating more vegetables is better, you don’t have to go from zero to nine servings a day. Perhaps your goal is eating one serving of vegetables at dinner. If you already do that, consider eating one vegetable or fruit at every meal.

Keep in mind that less-processed veggies are better. Rather than fries, try roasted potatoes seasoned with herbs or make a stir-fry of several colorful vegetables and drizzle them with a tasty vinaigrette.

2. Swap in whole grains
Replacing refined grains with whole grains will benefit your health. In a small 2017 studyTrusted Source, 81 men and postmenopausal women were divided into two groups. Half followed a diet that contained whole grains, and the other half followed a diet that was calorically the same but contained refined grains. After 6 weeks, the whole grain group increased their resting metabolic rate (RMR). RMR is how many calories your body burns at rest.

Research from 2016Trusted Source and 2020Trusted Source link consuming more whole grains with reduced risk of diabetes, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

Start small by replacing one refined grain each day with a whole grain — maybe it’s your breakfast toast or the pilaf you make with dinner. Experiment with different grains and flavorings to see which ones you enjoy most.

Whole grains include:

plain oats
whole grain bread and pasta
brown and wild rice
buckwheat
bulgur wheat
millet
barley
spelt
quinoa
farro
Refined grains include:

white bread and pasta
white rice
most breakfast cereals
chips
pretzel
crackers
3. Be more active
If the words “exercise” or “workout” put you off, think of this step in terms of physical activity or simply moving your body.

You don’t have to run a marathon — or run at all — to be healthy.

You could walk, go for a bike ride, take salsa dancing lessons, practice martial arts, or try a workout class online. The most important thing is to choose an activity you enjoy. Choosing an activity you have an interest in will increase the chances that you’ll stick with it.

Secondly, remember that you don’t have to start with a long workout. Aim for 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week. When you feel ready, add another 5 or 10 minutes. Keep doing this until you reach at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week.

4. Maintain friendships
Strong relationships and staying in communication with friends and loved ones can support mental health.

For one, the risk of depression is greater in people with low-quality relationships. Those with the poorest quality social relationships have more than double the risk of depression compared to people with the highest quality connectionsTrusted Source.

Similarly, researchTrusted Source suggests feeling isolated is associated with an increased risk of poor self-rated health and depression. It is also associated with various health problems, like headaches, palpitations, and lower back, neck, or shoulder pain.

Even if you cannot get together with friends or family in person, schedule a time to catch up over a phone or video call once a week. Or, simply start chatting with a neighbor when you see them.

5. Control stress
Chronic stress puts your body into fight-or-flight mode all the time. This taxes your immune system and makes you more susceptible to health problems, including:

heart disease
diabetes
digestive problems
depression
high blood pressure
anxiety
difficulty sleeping
Exercise can help reduce stress by releasing pent-up energy. Physical activity can also boost the release of mood-lifting hormones called endorphins.

For others, mindfulness practices — like meditation, deep breathing, journaling, or spending time in nature — can help to lower stress. Talking to friends can also help.

If you would like more support relieving stress, consider therapy. Working with a trained psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist can help you work through challenges life throws your way, and it can help you learn new skills to manage stress.

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