Lifelong habits

Want to add years to your life? These habits will go a long way

couple eating healthy foodWe all want to lead long, healthy, and productive lives. Well, the secret is out: such a life is no accident. It may certainly begin with favourable genetics, but we can do a lot to encourage optimum health of our body, mind and spirit.

Take care of your body

The following tips can help your body function at its optimum.

Eat well. Your body is made out of the foods you eat…literally. Depending on your activity level, 6 to 8 months from now, nearly 100 per cent of the cells that make up your body will have regenerated. It's important to remember that these new cells will actually be created from what you eat between now and then.

If you want a stronger, leaner, and healthier body, you need to eat foods that will create this reality. You need to lay off the candies, sodas and alcoholic drinks, and start eating those things that you already know are good for you.

The University of Michigan recommends a daily diet consisting of: 8 to 12 glasses of water, 4 to 11 servings of whole grains, 1 to 3 servings of legumes, 3 to 9 servings of healthy fats [such as nuts, seeds, and some vegetable oils], and 1 to 4 servings of lean meats and fish on a weekly basis. What's more, it also suggests eating mindfully: truly savouring each bite of food so that you enjoy and focus on what you are eating.

Include dietary supplements. Is it possible to get all the essential nutrients you require from food? Perhaps, but only if we eat a wide array of organic fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes on a daily basis. Not to point fingers, but chances are that we don't. Vitamin and mineral supplementation can help make up the difference.

This is a 'pay now or pay later' situation. Either you regularly buy and take nutritional supplements now, increasing your health and wellbeing and preventing potential illnesses. Or, you pay later by falling sick.

Tip: To find out which health–preserving nutritional supplements suit you, consult a trained nutrition consultant.

Exercise often. The human body was created to move. Research suggests that even modest amounts of exercise can substantially reduce a person's chance of dying of heart disease, cancer and other disease. It also increases self-confidence, overall wellbeing and slows down ageing. You don't have to spend hours everyday at a gym or on a treadmill to reap the benefits of exercise. To move quickly from being out-of-shape to top fitness, simply walk.

Brisk walking for 30 – 60 minutes a day is all it takes ['Briskly' means that the walk should be at a fast but not uncomfortable pace]. Among other benefits, brisk walking improves cardiovascular fitness and blood circulation, reduces cholesterol, and lowers the risk of heart attack and high blood pressure.

Mind your mind

Good health isn't necessarily just a physical concern. A strong and active mind certainly plays its part. After all, can a physically-fit person really claim to be radiantly healthy, if s/he is chronically depressed, anxious or stressed?

Here are a few suggestions for treating your mind right and helping you lead a long and healthy life.

Make time to relax. Not only does stress sap your energy, negatively affect your immune system and lead to chronic physical problems, but it also steals your attention, exhausts your inner reserves, and keeps you involved in negative thought patterns.

Stress may be hard to dodge in this fast-moving world, but you can take steps to relax and recover each day. One important rule is to allow yourself at least 10 minutes between stressful tasks, whether at home or work. This gives your mind an opportunity to unwind before you get into another potentially stressful endeavour.

During these 10 minutes, try gentle or deep breathing techniques, muscle relaxation exercises, visualisation, stretching or any combination of the above. The more often you take time to relax, the better you will get at it and the better it will work for you.

Laugh out loud. Read funny books, watch movies or television shows that make you laugh, share funny stories or jokes with good friends, or even "fake it until you make it" by forcing yourself to laugh. Laughing is a powerful stress-buster that helps relax the mind. Research shows that it gives the immune system a boost and reduces the levels of stress hormones that lead to premature ageing.

friends laughingDeep laughter—straight from the belly—can have a truly cathartic effect, releasing pent-up emotions and frustrations. It can also serve as a distraction from feelings of anger, guilt or stress. Studies have also shown that laughter improves creativity, thinking ability, problem-solving, memory, recall and learning.

Challenge yourself. While physical exercise is certainly good for the brain [as it maintains blood flow and helps prevent the death of brain cells], mental exercise is just as important. It takes some effort to build a strong mind, but the results are certainly worth the exertion. Research is continually uncovering the relationship between an active mind and reduced risk of several debilitating conditions including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's disease and dementia. A lifetime of mental activity is the best protection against mental decline in old age. However, it's never too late to put your mind to use. Simple and fun things like crossword puzzles and number games such as the recently popular 'Sudoku' help keep a mind sharp.

For more adventurous people, studying a foreign language and learning a musical instrument have proven effective in keeping the mind healthy and active.

Stretch your spirit

Holistic health involves not only the body and mind, but the spirit as well. We are more than our physical body, thoughts, and feelings. We are also spiritual beings. Refining your spiritual energies helps improve your health and relationships, as well as your outlook.

Here are some ideas for encouraging spiritual growth and health.

Discover your inner landscape. Do you know who you really are? It's common to set up a mental list of what you like, what you don't, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and how you think life is meant to unfold for you. What if there is more to you than you give yourself credit?

Spiritual teachers have always encouraged plumbing the depths of our inner selves. Engaging regularly in practices such as meditation, journaling, and visual and kinesthetic arts can unlock parts of you that you didn't even know existed. Truer understanding of yourself, the more freely you can live your life.

Encourage connection. It's very easy to live a solitary life. In an age of unprecedented global communications, it's ironic that people are feeling increasingly lonely. Mystics and scientists alike have confirmed that we are intrinsically connected to everyone around us in a variety of ways, from the energetic and subatomic, to larger relations involving cultures and societies. Honouring and valuing the connection you have with those around you, can help create happiness in your own life and in the life of others. When you share time, thoughts, hopes, dreams, heartbreaks and joys with the people you care about, you open yourself to a rich world of relationships. Whether sharing deeply and intimately with a partner or spouse, or building community with others of similar mindset and values, you gain an opportunity to experience the fullness and vibrant energy of love that comes from being part of something larger than yourself.

Serve others. Give your time and energy to causes that you believe can deepen your sense of self-worth, broaden your faith and understanding of humanity, and energise your own spiritual growth. However, it's important to serve for the right reasons. Serving others because you think you should or because you feel obligated to will only drain and exhaust you. Authentic service, on the other hand, is a natural human tendency.

We are hardwired to spontaneously feel drawn to do service that engages our hearts and minds. This kind of service, a natural outpouring of the human heart manifest in the work of our hands, actually nourishes the one who is giving as much as those receiving.

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

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Ryan Harrison
Ryan N Harrison, a holistic health educator and consultant in private practice, holds a post-graduate degree in transpersonal psychology and certifications as nutritional consultant, holistic health practitioner, spiritual counsellor, quantum-touch practitioner; and advanced practitioner of EFT [Emotional Freedom Techniques]. He also teaches and lectures in online and traditional settings. He lives in California, USA.

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