You don’t always have to have big, crazy, overwhelming goals for your fitness, health and wellness. Sometimes finding happiness and getting more out of life is as simple as changing some small habits, or trying a new technique. Likewise, a healthy lifestyle is not all about working out and eating healthy. It’s about staying curious, broadening your horizons, using your mind and your body. It’s eating well and sometimes indulging.
This list of tips for healthy living and happiness is broken up into four categories – fitness, food, mind and soul – so you can either try out a few tips from one category in which you think you’re struggling, or you can take one tip from each category and see what happens when you incorporate them into your day.
1. Have a plan for your workout. If you’re strength training, write out your exercises so you’re not wasting time trying to decide what to do next. Know what you want to achieve in your run. Plan out which classes you want to do and schedule for them, if you’re more of a studio person.
2. Mix it up. If you’re always running, try a cardio machine, or cycling, or swimming as cross training so your body has new stressors to adapt to. If you always lift heavy, try an endurance circuit workout instead. If you’re all yoga, all the time, try a barre or Pilates class, or something totally new like spinning.
3. Likewise, when it comes to strength training, don’t be afraid to try out different equipment. There are so many ways to strength train: barbells, dumbbells, bodyweight, medicine balls, kettlebells, cables, battling ropes, DVRT training (sandbags), flipping tires – you won’t know you enjoy it unless you try it first.
4. When you’re short on time for your workout, think compound movements. That means taking an exercise like a squat and turning it into a full-body exercise, like a squat with a biceps curl to overhead press, or squats while doing a row on the cable machine. It takes the same amount of time, but you’re working so many more muscles.
5. Give a gym or a fitness studio a trial period before you sign up. Most will give you a few days free trial, but if that’s not offered, don’t be afraid to ask if you can have a few day passes, or a discount rate for a week. There are some gyms that seem perfect for your needs, but then you find out their class schedule doesn’t work for you, or the machines and weight floor are packed at the only time you can get there, or you just don’t like the vibe. Way better to discover that before you pay for a year with a sign-up fee as well.
6. If you always exercise alone, make plans with a friend, or join a group for a workout. If you’re always working out with others, try a solo session.
7. Don’t get stuck doing the same intensity for every workout. Even if you stick to yoga only, for example, there’s a big difference between restorative, power and hot yoga. Switch up your intensity level so you’re working in a different way every time you work out.
8. Always have a goal. It can be as small as doing one full push up or as large as completing a full Ironman, but goals are important to keep you motivated. Even when you’re working towards a big goal, it’s great to set small attainable goals along the way.
9. Pack some go-to snacks in your bag, in your car, at your desk and have them ready to go in your fridge. If these are the only thing you prep for the week, it’s worth it. You won’t find yourself starving between meals and either reaching for something unhealthy, or stuffing your face the next time you sit down to eat.
10. Get prepared for your food for the week. You can go all out and plan your meals and snacks for the week as well as set aside a few hours to food prep once a week so everything is ready to go. Or, if you’re not ready for that level of commitment, at least take the time to plan out what you’re cooking for your dinners for the week and grocery shop accordingly.
11. Include some protein with every meal and snack. It will keep you full longer than snacking on carbs only.
12. Don’t be afraid of fat – it’s essential for your body and keeping your metabolism stoked. Avocados, vegetable oils, dairy and nuts are a great sources of fat in your diet.
13. Remove labels. Not literally, I’m not talking about peeling off wrappers here. I mean that when you label your way of eating, you’re subconsciously boxing yourself in to a set of rules. Even if you have to eat a certain way for health or moral reasons (like gluten-free, or vegan), try rephrasing it to yourself as, “I eat as healthily as I can for my body and way of life.”
14. If you can see it, you’ll want it. Make sure your healthy choices – fruit, veggies, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, etc – are prominent in your fridge, at eye level and in clear containers. If you keep treat foods in your home or office that are tempting for you, keep them out of your mind by putting them at the back of your cupboard, drawer, or fridge, stored in a non-transparent container.
15. Forget cutting out the ‘bad’ stuff completely. If you love chocolate, eat it occasionally. If pizza is your favorite food, go out and eat the best pizza possible every now and again. If you’re eating super healthy most of the time, a few treats or splurges here and there will make you happy, not derail you completely.
16. Try a new fruit or vegetable once a week. You may be surprised how many you’ve never tried – have you eaten pomegranates, escarole, fennel, Asian pears, turnips, blood oranges, rambutan, mangosteen, dragonfruit, Romanescu broccoli, or sunchokes? Even when you run out of new produce to try, you can try cooking old favorites in new ways.
17. Learn a few easy recipes you can cook quickly, that are healthy and tasty, that everyone you cook for enjoys. These can be your go-to meals and you can stock up on the ingredients (apart from perishables), so you know you have a few options when you have no idea what to do for dinner.
18. Double or even triple your recipe when cooking an evening meal. Doubling it will give you leftovers, either for lunch the next day or for dinner if you’re okay with eating the same thing two nights in a row. Tripling it gives you the next day leftovers, as well as a batch to freeze for a meal in the next few weeks.
19. Learn a new skill. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn a different language, or how to play chess, or learn about a certain period in history. Take classes, find an online guide, or teach yourself!
20. Broaden your horizons and try things you may not have experienced, or think you’d like. Listen to a type of music, whether it’s opera or hard rock, that you’re unfamiliar with. If you love biographies, try reading fiction, or a graphic novel. See a foreign film, or a horror film, or a blockbuster. Just try something opposite to your usual.
21. Travel more and immerse yourself in the culture when you do. Even if you don’t have the funds for traveling, think about weekend or day trips to somewhere you’ve never been, or visits to museums, galleries or live events in your area.
22. Play devil’s advocate. Take anything you hold to be 100% true, then assume you are wrong. List all the arguments against that belief. Argue them to yourself like you were in a debate team. Then go back and restate your belief and see if you’re still 100% tied to it. Questioning yourself like this can make you more open to hearing out others’ points of view, realize when you are being close-minded and even strengthen your belief or faith in a certain opinion or philosophy.
23. Try meditation. It has so many benefits, but even if its only benefit was that you take a few minutes out of your day to breathe deeply and try to clear your mind, it’s worth it.
24. Likewise, take some time in your day to simply not be distracted by an outside source. A little time every day for you to think rather than be entertained is so good for your brain and your thought processes. The reason people say good ideas come to them in the shower is because your mind has a chance to wander while you’re showering. (I’d be willing to bet the bright ideas from showering didn’t happen to people listening to the radio while they’re in there.)
25. Stay curious! I’ve learned so much from being a mama to a 3 (nearly 4) year old. In the past couple of weeks alone I have researched and learned exactly where the North Pole is, in which country Lego is made and what the name ‘Duplo’ means, how long after the dinosaurs went extinct that humans came along, the correct plural of octopus, the exact definition of amoeba and more. If you don’t know the answer to something, find it out.
26. Try out a form of brain training. There are so many apps and websites you can check out that offer games and other ways to give your brain a workout. I’ve tried the free version of Lumosity, which is fun. I also occasionally check out a website called Clearer Thinking, which has mini-courses and tools to train you to be able to reason, think and make decisions more easily. It’s fascinating and free. You could also do some old-school brain training in the form of crosswords, word games and Sudoku.
27. Focus on listening to someone speaking to you, without interrupting. Not even an “uh-huh” or an “mm-hmm”. Really try to hear every word. You’ll be surprised how much more you pick up and understand when you listen to someone’s train of thought the entire way through.
28. Don’t save the good stuff for special occasions, every day should be your special occasion. Use the ‘good’ dishes for your meals, open the expensive bottle of wine someone gave you, light that too-pretty-to-use candle, lather up with that fancy soap.
29. Cultivate a healthy body image. Don’t think about your perceived physical flaws, play up your best features instead. Focus on what your body can do, rather than how it looks. When you have a negative thought about your body, rephrase it in your head to make it a positive.
30. Listen to a comedian, read a funny book or watch a movie that makes you laugh. Laughter is a powerful mood booster.
31. Make regular plans with your friends. Back when we were in NYC, it was sometimes next to impossible to set a date to hang out with a friend because everyone was so crazy busy all the time. But because I was in a book club, once a month I had a definite date with an awesome group of women and it made such a difference to have those scheduled plans.
32. Do one thing for others every day. This could be anything – giving money or time to a charity, holding a door for someone, folding someone’s clothes in the dryer you’ve been waiting for, skipping a chore to read books to your child – just something that makes life better or easier for another human, in a big or small way.
33. You know that saying, ‘Do something every day that scares you‘? It doesn’t mean go bungee jumping or sky diving every day (although those would definitely count). There are lots of things you’re afraid of and are eating away at you that you may not even realize. When was the last time you checked your credit score? Cleaned out the fridge? Had a conversation you know will be emotional or upsetting? Admitted you were wrong? Tried a crazy haircut? Added up all your debts and made a plan to tackle them?
34. Wear something that makes you happy. Your favorite item of clothing, your favorite color, a beautiful piece of jewelry, your lucky charm. It makes you feel good.
35. Learn how to accept compliments graciously. That means not immediately disagreeing with the compliment, or telling the person giving you praise why they are wrong. Start with a simple thank you and you can even work your way up to agreeing with it verbally.
Do you already do any (or many) of these?
What’s the best advice for happiness you’ve received?