Have you ever noticed that your idea of having a healthy lifestyle isn’t often the same as someone else’s? It can mean very different things to different people, and that is healthy in itself. It can also be confusing.
The most obvious description of a healthy lifestyle is eating healthy foods and being aerobically active as a way of life. But seldom will two people make the same food choices and do the same activities. Ginny, for example eats raw foods and runs most days of the week. Margaret loves pasta and grilled food, and she has found that whole wheat pasta and lean meats are a healthy way of eating her favorite things. Her activities are kayaking, hiking, Tai Chi and gardening. Robert is an avid swimmer, dancer and hiker, and he eats a lot of complex carbohydrates. All of them are living healthy lifestyles, but they aren’t at all similar.
So how do you know if you are choosing healthy foods and activities? There are several ways of knowing.
One way to start is be informed about the basics of healthy nutrition and aerobic activity. The food pyramid is a good place to learn about nutrition, because it isn’t based on a rigid diet but on eating a variety of foods in moderation with healthy guidelines. Getting familiar with your target heart rate zones is a way to understand aerobic health. Heart rate charts are typically posted on the walls of gyms and easily found on the Internet, and they tell you know to gauge and determine your optimal activity intensity. The food pyramid and heart rate zones are tools that can guide you to make your own decisions about which foods and activity levels are best for you.
The next way is to pay attention to what your body is feeling. If you are hungry, eat. If you are full, stop. If you are exhausted, see what happens if you rest and what happens if you do a bit more. If you are in pain, get help if you don’t know what to do about it. If you are out of shape, start moving. When you pay attention to your own body, you will get clues about what is healthiest for you. Our tendency is to ignore the signals, but eventually you’ll learn that isn’t a good decision. As I know first hand, your physical symptoms will get worse until you finally pay attention and begin to make healthier lifestyle changes.
The third way is to ask a professional you trust for advice and who listens when you say something doesn’t feel right. Be aware that not all professionals are right or will do what is best for you. If your gut is telling you that you shouldn’t do something, don’t. I injured my back following the orders of a personal trainer, and a number of my clients have hurt themselves in similar ways.
A healthy lifestyle is also living with less physical and emotional stress. Getting a full night’s sleep, drinking enough water, limiting alcohol to moderate levels and getting a multi-vitamin can make a big difference in your stress level. How you choose to respond to situations is another key factor. You can sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic and be angry and anxious or calm and focused on something more pleasant. It is a choice, even if it doesn’t appear that way.
A great way to reduce stress is to take time out to just enjoy yourself and to do what feels good to you. I know this is hard to do, but everyone that finally does it discovers that it isn’t as selfish or difficult as they feared. They find out that they feel so much better and that this has a positive impact on everyone around them and their productivity. More seems to get done even though they took time out for themselves. It is paradoxical until you try it.
Having a healthy lifestyle is also pursuing your passion and your life’s purpose. The more aligned you are with your spiritual center; the more healthy you will feel. This becomes more obvious when you don’t feel excited about your life, lack passion or don’t have something to look forward to. I went through a dark time when I had a mid-life crisis and lost passion for my career. I struggled to reconnect with what really mattered to me and felt lost and anguished. I sprang back to life when I finally found my passion again. For those that don’t find their reason for being, they become prone to illness, depression, alcohol and drugs. They lose their health when they are out of touch with their heart and soul.
What aspect of your lifestyle isn’t healthy, and what choices will help you feel better this week?