Living a healthy lifestyle consists of practising healthy and sustainable habits. Physical fitness, as a component of a healthy lifestyle, is not only about exercise. Dietary and other lifestyle aspects such as sleeping habits, stress management, emotional regulation and even social activities affect our overall wellness. Having a good exercise routine, as well as taking vitamins and supplements, does not offset unhealthy habits. It is important to consider that our habits must complement or ‘synergise’ with our fitness goals.
Sticking to a habit may seem difficult at first, so regard every small step done on a daily basis as an achievement. Easy or simple habits are likely to stick. Also, remember that consistency will put you on the path to success. To kickstart your fitness journey, develop these 15 simple habits for a fit and healthier you.
Many people dismiss the habit of drinking adequate amounts of water throughout the day. Numerous studies find that adequate hydration promotes healthy brain function, body temperature and blood pressure regulation, as well as sustained energy levels.
The water content in our daily diets, as well as the weather, are factors we also need to consider to gauge the actual water requirement of our bodies. Dry and protein-rich diets should prompt us to drink more water. On hot or humid days, cold drinks or electrolyte-rich beverages will help in replenishing the water and electrolytes we lose throughout the day, even when we are not sweating profusely.
Drinking water on an empty stomach as soon as you wake up is also a beneficial habit. The Japanese can attest to this claim, as they practice the so-called Japanese water therapy—starting the day with four to six glasses of water on an empty stomach.
Stretch before sleeping
Stretch and flex your body for a few minutes before you sleep. Stretching increases blood flow to muscles and joints, which reduces joint stiffness. People who suffer from lower back pain may also benefit from stretching. Doing this simple activity can help in relieving muscle tension and preventing sleep-disrupting cramps, which in turn promotes a better night’s rest. Remember to do only gentle stretches, as doing a strenuous workout before bed can have the opposite effect.
There are two stretching methods that you can practice: the static stretch and the dynamic stretch. A static stretch is done by stretching one muscle group at a time, while a dynamic stretch is performed by using momentum to slowly increase the range of motion of a joint or muscle. It is recommended to perform static stretches before going to bed, as the movements required to perform static stretches are more gentle and less active.
To do a static stretch, flex a body part until you feel tension and hold until your muscles are relaxed. To avoid straining, make sure to actively breathe while stretching to make sure that oxygen is adequately fueling your muscles.
Eat more lean meat, fat-reduced poultry and fish
When buying meat, choose lean meats, poultry without the skin, as well as fish over fatty meat cuts and cured meats. Animal fats that are found in usual cuts of meat contain high levels of cholesterol which, when consumed in unhealthy amounts, promotes high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases. Thus, choosing the leanest cuts of meats allows us to cut down on cholesterol intake.
For lean beef, a cut is said to be ‘lean’ or ‘extra lean’ based on the total fat in each serving. In terms of fat content, extra-lean beef is the healthiest you can ask from your local butcher or meat shop. The leanest cut is typically eye round roast and steak with 4 grams of fat per serving and 1.4 grams of saturated fat. The next leanest cuts include sirloin tip side steak, top round roast and steak, bottom round roast and steak, and top sirloin steak. Another easy rule to find lean beef is that anything with “round,” “chuck” or “loin” in its name is usually either extra lean or lean. Chicken prepared without the fatty skin and fish cooked using oil-free methods are also good dietary protein choices.
Probiotics, so-called ‘good bacteria’, are live microorganisms that are said to provide health benefits when consumed. Probiotics should not be confused with prebiotics, which are dietary fibres that help feed the friendly bacteria already in your gut.
A number of studies also find that improving or restoring the gut flora through probiotics promotes a healthier digestive tract and a stronger immune system. There are also strong claims that the intake of probiotics may reduce depression and promote heart health.
Probiotic-rich foods include yoghurt, laban, kimchi, tempeh, pickles and kombucha. Some types of cheeses also contain a good colony of probiotic bacteria.
Practice yoga and meditation
Try yoga in the morning. Doing yoga in the morning is said to, improve your metabolism, drain your lymph, boost immunity, and make you energised.
Limit sugar intake
Limit your refined sugar intake. Keeping tabs on your sugar intake is an important part of a heart-healthy lifestyle, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes. The empty calories from added sugars in desserts, sugary drinks and sweets can lead to weight gain and spikes in blood glucose levels.
You can try using raw honey as an alternative. It is rich in antioxidants which may defend your cells against free radicals. It may also relieve cough, colds and sore throats.
Increase your fibre intake
Eat more foods rich in fibre. High fibre foods may help with weight loss because they make you feel fuller for longer, and more likely to eat less. High fibre foods include wholegrain breakfast cereals, wholewheat pasta, wholegrain bread and oats, barley and rye—fruit such as berries, pears, melon and oranges. Pea, beans and nuts are also high in fibre.
A simple way to increase your fibre intake without creating any hassle in your kitchen is by opting for fruit smoothies. Just add any fruits you’d like, ice, and fresh milk.
Choose foods with a low glycemic index
Low-glycemic foods are slower to raise a person’s blood sugar levels than foods with moderate or high scores on the glycemic index. Low-glycemic foods include rolled or steel-cut oats, barley, sweet potatoes and non-starchy vegetables.
Avoid skipping meals
Never stay hungry for too long. Skipping meals can also cause your metabolism to slow down, which can cause weight gain or make it harder to lose weight. It may also lead you to eat too much and may cause you an upset stomach.
Get yourself easy to prepare snacks, like oatmeal, fruits and vegetables that you can eat anytime. Avoid junk foods, sweets, and pastries which may give you a full and satisfied feeling but are not good for you.
Practise ‘hara hachi bun me’—eating only until you’re 80% full
Eat until you are 80% full. According to the Japanese, “hara hachi bun me”, roughly translates to “eat until you are 80% full”. Eating until you are 100% is likely to bring on discomfort, negative feelings or even feeling the need to purge. Applying the “hara hachi bun me” rule means you miss out on that sensation of feeling too full.
Lead an active lifestyle
Get active and stay active. Exercise can help burn off excess calories. Exercise also offers numerous health benefits, including boosting your mood, strengthening your cardiovascular system and reducing your blood pressure.
Snack on fruits and vegetables
Eat whole vegetables and fruit at each meal and as snacks. Vegetables and fruits are low in calories, have fibre and can help you to feel full. Eat the fruit rather than drink juice. Juice does not contain fibre, and even unsweetened juices are high in sugar and calories.
Weigh your body in parts
Measure different parts of your body rather than weigh yourself. This can help yourself to be aware of the changes in your body, but this will not give you the feeling of too much urgency that may cause anxiety and pressure.
Cut back on sodium
Limit your sodium (salt) intake. Cutting back on sodium can significantly improve blood pressure and heart health. Too much salt is bad for your kidneys. As much as possible, avoid fast food meals, junk foods and processed foods. Cooking your own meal is good for you because you can control the number of ingredients and also the amount of each.
Increase your intake of healthy fats and oils
Choose healthy fats and oils. Monounsaturated fats improve blood cholesterol levels, and polyunsaturated fats are good sources of Omega-3. Monounsaturated fats include avocados, some nut oils - cashew, almond pecan and non-hydrogenated margarine. Polyunsaturated fats are found in flaxseed, omega-3 eggs, and cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel and trout.