Simply put, a lifestyle is a way of living. For many of us, there’s our current lifestyle, and then there’s the healthy lifestyle we wish we had. The two can be very different. Are you consciously making lifestyle choices, or is your lifestyle just a function of where you were born and who you hang out with? I’ve made significant changes to my lifestyle, but even so, it remains a work in progress.
We don’t have control over our genetic backgrounds (yet). And serious blows, sometimes both physical and psychological, have defined many of our lives and made a healthy lifestyle feel out of reach. If this sounds like you, do what you can with what you have. Making those first few changes won’t be easy. But over time, you’ll feel empowered by taking charge of your lifestyle.
Why is it so hard to be Healthy?
The easiest thing in the world should be to make healthy choices. But we are bombarded with advertisements that make unhealthy choices sound so much more attractive. For instance, when I am lucky enough to watch a Packers game on the local channel, I am inundated with beer commercials. Is it any wonder that I still miss a cold beer on Packer Sundays? Or if I’ve had a long day at the office and I’m bored with the leftovers in my refrigerator, I can grab a convenient fast food burger, fries and soda at a bargain price. I love a good discount, so the two-for-one deals and super-sized sodas are a real temptation, after all, I’ll have saved money! NOT!
Why does it feel like we have to swim upstream to create a healthy lifestyle? Our commercial food and drug industry don’t make it easy for us. Yet our society is quick to blame individuals for causing their own problems. Today, fat-shaming is a “thing.” Obesity is an epidemic. People of all ages are overdosing on opioids. And nearly every family has been affected by mental illness. Something is wrong!
It takes hard work to create a healthy lifestyle – one in which you eat the right foods, get plenty of sleep, stay active, keep your mind fit, and manage stress. It’s about bringing physical, spiritual and mental health together into one body. Four steps will take you down the road to a healthy lifestyle.
Step 1: Address any Addictions
Do you have an addiction? Is there a pattern of behavior that comes close to an addiction? Addiction can come in many flavors, from the alcoholic and over-eater, to the ultra marathon runner. Addiction therapy has come a long way and while some people can move to moderation, others have to set firm boundaries and exclude the addictive item altogether. If you have an addiction that is affecting your ability to live a healthy and happy lifestyle, your number one priority is to address the addiction. It’s difficult to move on to step 2 without first getting help. You CAN do it!
Step 2: Be Kind to Yourself
Be your own best friend. No one is perfect and we all learn by mistakes. We are pained to see loved ones engage in self-destructive behavior. We feel powerless. Yet we may be engaging in behaviors that sabotage our own health. Drinking too much. Sitting in front of the television. Isolating ourselves because we feel depressed. Eating food simply because we are bored. Take a hard look at the behaviors you know you need to change. Recognize the problem, but STOP kicking yourself! Then pick one behavior you want to change and replace it with something that is beneficial. For instance, turn off Facebook and go for a walk. Trade in the glass of wine for sparkling seltzer water. Replace criticism with encouragement. Give it a try right now.
Step 3: Manage Stress
Stress, worry and anxiety can derail a healthy lifestyle fast. Wouldn’t it be better to just head to the bar than to deal with your dysfunctional family? Or perhaps the stress of caring for an ill loved one has destroyed your appetite and zapped your strength. The thing is, none of these behaviors improve the stress level. In fact, they often exacerbate it. Find your own healthy way to deal with stress. Figure out what that looks like for you. Maybe it’s deep breathing exercises, a walk around the block, ten minute meditations, or even joining a laughing session! Just avoid using alcohol, food or drugs to relieve everyday stress.
Step 4: Plan for Success
Make a plan. Write it down. Determine the steps you need to take to achieve your goals. My personal demon is eating the wrong food. I know which foods are healthy for my body and which aren’t, but that doesn’t prevent me from reaching for the Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer section. So to conquer my biggest challenge, I plan ahead. That’s what the Healthy 7 is about. And if it’s time to indulge in Ben & Jerry, I plan that into my schedule as well. Hey, life’s too short to forego every simple pleasure. Just remember step 2, being kind to yourself.
The Most Powerful Tool of All: Forming New Habits
A common myth, based on observations by a plastic surgeon, was that it takes 21 days to create a habit. But it turns out, science shows that it takes about 66 days to form a new habit. Several years ago I read The Power of Habit, which shows how cues trigger reactions that lead to rewards. You can break the habit loop! We all have the power to change our habits to create a healthy lifestyle. Let’s encourage one another to take the next step toward good health!