When talking about health, diet tends to be the first thing that comes to mind. While eating a balanced diet is a very big part of a healthy lifestyle, it is not all-encompassing. Your sleep patterns, hydration level, and even your thoughts also contribute to your overall health.
Believe it or not, lifestyle habits like these can have an even stronger impact on your health than what you eat!
Did you know that getting plenty of sleep is associated with lower body weight, higher athletic performance, improved immune function, and better overall mood?
It has been shown that improving your sleep can be one of the easiest ways to improve your health. A recent review of 15 different studies, posted by Oxford Academic, found that sleeping less than 7-8 hours per night is linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Poor sleep habits are also strongly linked to adverse effects on blood sugar metabolism. A 2010 study also found that sleep deprivation can cause prediabetes in healthy adults in as little as 6 days!
Along with nutrition and exercise, good sleep is one of the pillars of health. You simply cannot achieve optimal health without taking care of your sleep.
Stress is the next big factor that affects your health, regardless of what you eat.
When stressed your muscles naturally tense up to protect themselves from injury. They tend to release again once you relax, but if you’re constantly under stress, your muscles may not get the chance to relax. Tight muscles cause headaches, back and shoulder pain, and body aches.
Stress also stimulates the immune system. This stimulation can help you avoid infections and heal wounds, but over time, stress hormones will weaken your immune system and reduce your body’s response to foreign invaders. People under chronic stress are more susceptible to viral illnesses like the flu and common cold, as well as other infections.
Additionally, your liver produces extra blood sugar when stressed to give you a boost of energy. If you’re under chronic stress, your body may not be able to keep up with this extra glucose surge and it can contribute to glucose insensitivity and even the onset of diabetes.
Water is actually the most important nutrient of all! It’s essential for body temperature regulation,
Older adults often don’t get enough fluids and risk becoming dehydrated, especially during summer when it’s hotter and people perspire more.
Studies show that even mild dehydration, such as the loss of 1–3% of body weight, can impair many aspects of brain function! Many additional studies, with subjects ranging from children to adults, have shown that mild dehydration can impair mood, memory, and brain performance.
Even mild dehydration can affect you mentally and physically making it imperative to get enough water each day!
Your thoughts and feelings play a big role in your overall health. Positive thinking is associated with heart health, brain health and even longevity.
In recent years, researchers have found that your mind can have a powerful effect on your body. Immunity is one area where your thoughts and attitudes can have a particularly powerful influence. In one study, researchers found that activation in brain areas associated with negative emotions led to a weaker immune response to a flu vaccine.
By nurturing positive emotions, even in the face of terrible events, people can reap both short-term and long-term rewards,including managing stress levels, lessening depression, and building coping skills that will serve them well in the future.
Rest and Self Care
Mental well-being also plays a crucial role in overall health. While it can be easy to feel the need to be constantly productive, taking time to rest and reflect is important for mental health and stress relief.
While there are no specific guidelines for how much relaxation a person should incorporate into their lifestyle, making time to unwind and enjoy life is an important part of maintaining good health. Deep relaxation, like meditation, when practiced regularly not only relieves stress and anxiety, but also is shown to improve mood.
Deep relaxation has many other potential benefits as well—it can decrease blood pressure, relieve pain, and improve your immune and cardiovascular systems.
Taking time for self-care and relaxation is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. This can be anything from meditation and yoga to knitting, baking, walking, or swimming. Finding time for quiet and peaceful activities can make a world of difference when it comes to your health.
How You Eat
The quality of the food you eat is extremely important when it comes to health, but what about the way in which you eat?
In America, eating is often rushed, squeezed in, multi-tasked, and on-the-run. We may be distracted by television, work, or the computer while we eat. Many people eat very quickly and feel too full by the time they stop eating.
Distractions such as sitting on the couch and watching TV or being on your phone while eating can take away from the connection between you and your meal and contribute to overeating.
Using mindfulness practices to rebuild connections with these internal hunger and fullness cues will help you learn to regulate food and reach your health goals. Mindful eating allows you to feel in control and enjoy the experience of eating so much more.
To be more mindful with the way you eat try paying attention to the food that you eat, minimizing distractions, slow down your eating, chewing food thoroughly, and eat when hungry and stop at a comfortable level of fullness.
As you continue to explore healthful eating and managing food portions, remember that learning “how to eat” is just as important as learning “what to eat.”