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Your health is a priority. If you don’t have your health it will impact your work, your relationships and your ability to be there for your children. Making your health a priority is not selfish, it’s the foundation to a good life. A life where you have the energy to focus on everything else you want and dream of.
This is the complete guide to how to build a healthy life. To establish healthy habits that becomes almost automatic. To understand which Cornerstone Habits are the foundation to a healthy life and how to build a life where your health is a priority.
What is Health?
The World Health Organisation has a very clear definition of health in their constitution which starts:
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.WHO
What this means is that your health, your wellbeing, is not just defined as not being sick, but to actually feel well. It also makes clear that health is a human right. Your right.
Being as healthy as possible is your right. You could even take it one step further and say that your health is your responsibility. It is your responsibility to be as healthy as you can, to exercise your right to the highest attainable standard of health so you can be the best person you can for your family, your work, and for yourself.
But unless you consider health as a priority, this will be very difficult to achieve.
How to Make Your Health a Priority
You know your health should be your priority, but is easier said than done with everything esle going on. We all face busy lives with responsibilities, priorities, wants and wishes that seme to take priority.
The key is to incorporate healthy habits into our lives that don’t take a lot of extra time and energy. Do it the right way, and you will get more energy to spend on other priorities in your life!
It will, however, take some time up front. You will need to use your energy and attention to put new habits in place, habits that are conducive to a healthy life. We will focus on putting a few Cornerstone Habits in place that will be a foundation to a healthy life, and that you can then build on.
By making a few changes to how you live your life, you can quickly start enjoying the benefits of health, of wellbeing, and this will take you on an upward spiral that will be enjoyed both by yourself and by everyone around you.
Let’s get started by taking a closer look at physical, mental, and social health:
Making Your Physical Health a Priority
Physical health encompasses a number of different things, and it can feel overwhelming to understand where to start. The good thing, however, is that improving any aspects of your physical health will have a ripple effect, improving your mental and social health, as well as making it easier to make further improvement to your physical health moving forward.
It’s important to remember that health is truly an aggregation of marginal gains. By making many small, on their own seemingly unimportant changes, they accumulate and become something much bigger, much quicker than we could have ever imagined.
Focus on implementing small, sustainable changes. Don’t try to do too much at once, or you risk becoming overwhelmed. This is when slow and steady truly wins the race.
My Health is My Priority: Healthy Eating
Eating healthy is not deprivation. It is not dieting. It is eating enough nutritious food to fuel our bodies and to limit foods that don’t serve us.
To start eating more healthily it’s important to start with adding healthy foods. If you start with limiting foods it will feel restrictive, and you’ll feel deprived. Instead, by starting with increasing foods that serve you, you will feel fuller, have more energy, and limiting less healthy foods will be a lot easier.
It’s also important to remember that there are no “bad” foods. Foods can be more or less healthy, but to label something as “bad” and in extension you as a “bad person” for eating it, or even craving it, will not help you live a full and healthy life.
All treats are on the table, just chose to consume them in the amounts that truly serve you.
One small piece of high-quality chocolate instead of a stale brownie anyone?
So, what foods should we eat more of? There are a lot of values going into food choices, however if we look at it from a pure nutritious perspective, these are some foods we should aim to eat more of, and those to consider which amounts serve us.
Eat More of these Healthy Foods
Aim for 5 servings of vegetables per day to fill up on fibre and vitamins. Try different types of vegetables. Can you fit one serving in at breakfast?
2. Real Food
Eat foods you know that they are. Foods your grandmother would recognise as foods. If you don’t know what goes in it, it’s probably not real food and is instead filled with sugar, salt, and things like high fructose corn syrup.
3. Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes are high in protein and fibre and contains several important minerals. Mix them with vegetables for a great filling salad!
4. Pro-Biotic Foods
Probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, and miso are great probiotics that can really improve your health. Eat the real thing though, rather than taking supplements. Supplements are unregulated and may not work, and by eating more probiotic foods you will fill up on great tasting, healthy foods.
Foods to Consider How Much Best Serves You
1. Refined Grains
Refined grains are high in calories, but most fibre, vitamins and minerals have been removed. Stay with whole grains and you will feel full and get the nutritional value that grains can provide.
Sugar is high in calories but not very filling which makes it easy to over-eat. This can lead to insulin sensitivity and type-2 diabetes and may impact the immune system and increase inflammation. WHO recommends limiting your sugar intake to below 5-10% of your total energy intake. That’s a maximum of 25-50g sugar, or 5-10 teaspoons every day (including what’s in your food).
3. Charred Food
Meat cooked over hot coals or direct flames will produce cancer inducing compounds. Just marinate your meet before-hand and the problem goes away! (source)
4. Deep Fried Food
Deep fried food is a source of harmful trans fats which significantly increases your risk for heart disease. This is especially true if you’re eating out as food outlets often use hydrogenated oils.
Long term risks include heart disease, stroke, liver disease, digestive problems, cancer, weakening of the immune system and mental health problems.
Remember to not try to change your diet all at once. Make small changes. Try some new vegetables. Try adding some more beans and legumes once a week. Swap your white pasta for a whole wheat version. And only when this feels completely natural and automatic, consider what other small improvements you can do to your diet, that won’t make you feel deprived.
Your Health is a Priority: Healthy Movement
Sitting is the new smoking. Exercising 1 hour per day and then be still for the other 23 hours is not healthy. Building in movement during the day should not take any significant extra time (that you don’t have!), instead, it’s about developing habits to move while you are doing other things.
It’s important to move different parts of the body, in different ways. Just swapping sitting all day to standing still all day (at a standing desk for example), will not solve the problem unfortunately.
Instead, this is a time to be playful, to be a bit silly, to take the opportunity to move around when it presents itself.
A few of my favourite ways of moving more during the day are:
- Walking around when on the phone.
- Hanging in tree branches when I pass them.
- Carry my washing with straight arms.
- Take stairs two steps at the time.
- Stand on one leg while brushing my teeth.
- Have impromptu dance parties in the kitchen.
Look around you. Is there anyway you could get more movement in while doing the same thing you are already doing?
Your Health is a Priority: Exercise
The NHS states that exercise can reduce the risk of major illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes and cancer by up to 50%.
More than that however, exercise can make you feel stronger, both physically and mentally.
Most guidelines states that you need a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week to stay healthy. That’s 30 minutes 5 days a week.
Exercise can be something rather low key like walking, but to really get all health benefits it’s important to also include some muscle strengthening activities. This is even more important as we get older and will start losing muscle mass if we don’t actively work to maintain or increase it.
Benefits to Increasing Your Strength:
- It let’s you do more without being tired.
- Helps maintain a healthy body weight.
- Boost your mood and energy levels.
- Promote healthy sleep.
- Build strong muscles and bones.
- And reduce your likelihood for injuries.
And you don’t need to spend 30 minutes 5 times a week lifting weights. 20 minutes of strength training 2-3 times a week is a great place to start. Focus on the main muscle groups and you will see significant improvements quickly.
Don’t know where to start? Get a personal trainer, find an exercise video on YouTube or take a Yoga class!
In addition to increasing your strength you need to do something that gets your heart rate up. I prefer a brisk walk, as it’s easy on the joints but make sure to pick something that you enjoy.
Join an ultimate frisbee team?
Play football with the kids?
Plan these activities, put them in your calendar and treat them as a priority. Remember, we are doing all of this because your health is a priority. A human right. Your prerogative. Your duty.
Your Health is a Priority: Rest and Recovery
After all of this movement we need to make sure that we rest. By getting a good night sleep our body can use all the nutrients, and all the movement and exercise, and build a better body. A stronger body. We don’t want to do all of the work of eating well, moving and exercising, just to become worn out.
Rest, and sleep, are cornerstones of a healthy life and will give you energy, increase your metabolism, and help build muscles and endurance. It’s almost magic!
Prioritising Your Mental Health
Mental health is as important as physical health. Maybe more. By building habits that promotes good mental health you will become more resilient for when life throughs you curveballs.
Good habits are not always the only answer, and if you are suffering from mental health issues you should ask for help, and keep asking until the help helps.
That said, the following good habits for mental health have are based in science and will help you improve and maintain a good mental health.
Eat Good Food
Be well nurtured. Eat food you enjoy. Have the energy you need to live your life.
We are already seeing the overlap between physical and mental health. This is why aggregation of marginal gains work! Improve your physical health and your mental health will follow.
Take a break. Breath. Look out the window. Let your mind slow down if only for a moment.
Sleep is as good for our mental health as for our physical health. Make it a priority.
Talk About Your Feelings
Share what is going on with your family, a friend, or if nothing else, your diary or a mental health professional.
Notice Automatic Thoughts and Self-Talk
Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to your (real or imaginary) daughter. We are often our own worst critics and it stops now.
Practise gratitude, compassion, and forgiveness. Try thinking of 3 things you are grateful for every night and you will soon see changes in your outlook!
There’s a lot of cross over between good habits for mental and physical health and those are a great place to start, to set yourself up for success. Once those Corenerstone Habits are in place, however, spend some time to focus on your self-talk and your resilience, to really prioritise your mental health.
Read More: 10 Good Mental Health Habits to Start Today
If you don’t make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness.Joyce Sunada
Making My Social Health a Priority
Social health is the impact of social relationships on your mental and physical health. It’s an area that’s not as much discussed as our physical and mental health and wellness, but looking at the WHO definition of health, social health is as important as the other two.
We need healthy relationships, support systems, someone to talk to. Positive social habits can strengthen every area of our lives. If nothing else, back-lash from the limited social contact during the COVID pandemic should be evidence enough of how important other people are to our health and wellbeing!
The NIH have put together 6 key areas to focus on to improve your social health:
Get involved with others. Always keeping your distance will not improve your health in the long run. Be involved in your own family, with your co-workers and neighbours. With your community.
Take Care of Yourself While Caring for Others
Your health is a priority! This is extra important to remember when you are caring for others, may it be a child, an elderly parent, or a sick partner. Remember the in-flight safety demonstration where they always tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others?
Get Active Together
Create movement habits as a community, not only as an individual. Can you start a running club at work or take walking meetings? Start a football team with your mates or take dance classes with your partner? This helps you create community as well as making you move more.
Build Healthy Relationships
Prioritise relationships where you support each-other. Talk, share, and be kind. Building strong healthy relationship can impact your mental and physical wellbeing. Make building and maintaining healthy relationships a priority.
Shape Your Family’s Health Habits
You determine how you and your family live your lives, no matter if you’re a household of 1 or of 8. How much time to you spend on your phones? Do you have dinner together? Do you cook healthy food? Are you doing things together away from the TV?
In summa, take care of your relationships and build healthy habits together with the people around you. You don’t need to do this alone. You will be happier, healthier, and more successful if you do it together with the people around you.
Taking Care of Health Conditions is a Priority
Finally, even though health and wellness isn’t just the absence of disease, it’s important to take care of any ongoing health conditions, mental or physical.
When you are not well, it becomes very clear that health is everything, that health is life, so get help. Take your medications. Build habits that will improve any health conditions you have.
As we age, most of us start accumulating bigger and smaller health concerns. A bit of arthritis, regular migraines, a wonky knee, a proneness to worrying and anxiety. Trying to pretend it isn’t happening, or feeling defeated, will not help you feel better.
Whatever you are going through, make sure you manage it best you can. Make your recovery, or the long-term management of the condition, a priority. Remember, your health is a priority. A human right. Your duty.
Making Sure Your Health is a Priority with Healthy Habits
To make our health a priority long-term, the key is to build habits that promotes health, and to implement them into our lives one by one, making sure they really serve us.
Start by identifying a habit that you feel is doable and that would have a significant impact on your health. It’s important to not take on too much. Resist the idea of a complete life overhaul that will likely overwhelm you.
Once you have identified the action you would like to take on a regular basis, let’s consider how to implement it into your life with the habit loop.
Habit Trigger / Cue
When will you do this habit? A specific time a day? After you brush your teeth? When you finish work?
Think it through and make sure it is really doable. And how will you remember? Do you need to set an alarm on your phone or leave yourself a note on your computer?
Make the action as small as possible, you want to be able to do it even on your bad days. Walk for 5 minutes is a much more sustainable habit then “walk for an hour”. You can aim for an hour, but you want to set yourself up for success, not failure.
What will make your brain want to do this habit over and over again? What craving is it satisfying? If your brain doesn’t feel you are getting any benefit from what you are doing, willpower will only take you so far (and that’s not very far at all!!).
When I first started my walking habit, the feel good of a walk wasn’t enough to make me do it every day. It was only when I started playing Pokémon Go on my phone my brain got the extra reward it needed to implement the habit. I long sense stopped playing the game, but my walking habit is still strong as now, I’ve built up enough feel good from the walk, that it’s enough to keep the habit going.
Cornerstone Healthy Habits
There are some habits that will have a bigger impact on your overall health and wellbeing than others. These are the themes that comes up again and again when we talk about our physical, mental, and social health.
Sleep, movement and exercise, and your diet, the food and drinks you consume, will impact all aspects of your health. Your first priority, therefore, is to implement Cornerstone Habits to support these three aspects of your life.
These Cornerstone Habits should be the ones that you always fall back on. The ones that supports you through times of stress. That are the true corenerstones of your health.
Cornerstone Habit: Sleep
Healthy sleep habits, or good sleep hygiene as it’s often called, consists of a number of different habits. Pick one to implement, and review if it’s serving you. Then try another.
It’s important when implementing new habits to look at it as an experiment, and not judge yourself if the first thing you try doesn’t work as expected. We are all different, and we can all get to know ourselves better.
If you don’t sleep enough most nights, or if your sleep is interrupted try implementing one of these:
What are Good Sleep Habits?
- Go to bed the same time each day.
- Get up the same time each day.
- Make sure there are at least 7-8 hours from when you go to bed until you get up.
- Keep all light out of your bedroom, including electronics.
- If you can’t get it dark enough, use a sleep mask.
- Keep your bedroom quiet or use earplugs if that’s not possible.
- Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings.
- Turn off all electronic devices 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, or excessive intake of fluids before bed.
Cornerstone Habit: Movement and Exercise
Movement and exercise can help your sleep, as well as your physical and mental health. Implement some of the movement habits mentioned above or make up ones that work in your daily life.
Create habits around exercise to make sure you exercise (including brisk walking) for 150 minutes a week and that this exercise includes both cardio and some kind of strength training.
Remember that exercise work just as well if you do 10 minutes 6 times a day as doing something for an hour. If you find it difficult to find even 30 minutes in your schedule, can you find 3 times 10 minutes?
Use a teleconference to do squats?
Have weights in front of the tv?
Meet a friend for a walk instead of a drink?
Instead of throwing up your arms saying that there is no way you can find half an hour 5 days a week for exercise, really think through your day and where you could get 5, 10 or 20 minutes of exercise in.
Set yourself up for success. Make yourself a priority!
Read More: 10 Health Benefits of a Daily Morning Walk
Cornerstone Habit: Diet
Diet is one of the most difficult things to change, especially as it may impact the rest of the family and we’re used to eat in a certain way. We have ingrained habits around meals, snacking, and the meaning of different foods. Comfort ice-cream anyone?
Don’t try to change everything at once. Take a look at the list of foods to eat more of, and start slowly adding them in. I suggest you start with vegetables.
If you aren’t the person cooking, ask them to make some extra peas, broccoli or just get some lettuce with olive oil on the side. Don’t make it a big deal, just find ways of adding vegetables to the different meals throughout the day.
Talk to your family about what you are trying to do. Try to approach it as a community. Change the habit of the family, not only of yourself. Use the power of the social health to make your habit better as a family. You don’t need to do this alone.
But if you do, if you live alone or your family have no interest in peas – do it anyway. You are a priority. Your health is a priority. A human right. Your duty.
Make Your Surroundings Support Your Priorities
You can make it a lot easier on yourself to implement new habits by hacking your habitat. By making your surroundings conducive to what you are trying to achieve. The habit you’re trying to implement.
Are you planning to exercise first thing in the morning? Get your gym kit ready the evening before.
Are you trying to eat more vegetables? By more vegetables you enjoy!
Hide snacks and sweets – out of sight, out of mind.
Wear clothes you can move in. You will never do squats during a teleconference wearing a pencil skirt!!
Whatever the habit is that you are trying to build, make sure you do whatever is in your power to make sure your surroundings make it easier for you. Really consider what you see and hear around you on a daily basis. It is helping you go where you want to go?
Is it helping you remember that your health is a priority?
Your human right?
Making your Health a Priority – Forever
Making your health a priority forever, and possibly making yourself a true health enthusiast, is about creating sustainable habits that you can fall back on when things get tough. The things you can always do, no matter what. The things that will ensure you have a base-level for your health.
For me, my Cornerstone Habits are:
- Walking every day. Often an hour. Some days 5 minutes.
- Hanging in a tree branch or pull-up bar. Making sure I use my upper body every day.
- Having a salad with beans and grains for lunch most days, making sure I get a number of fibre and nutrient rich foods whatever else happens that day.
- Go to bed at roughly the same time every day. Even on the weekends. There are exceptions off course, but they are just that, exceptions.
What Cornerstone Habits do you already have that helps you maintain your health? Can you build on those to set yourself up for better success?
Are there Cornerstone Habits that you can create, that you would enjoy enough to want to do them every day?
What is the one thing you can do, that you can prioritise, to make your health 1% better?