Living a healthy lifestyle does not have to be all about discipline and privation. Here are 8 ways to improve your health that are a pleasure in their own right.
Trying to live a healthy, active life can feel like a chore sometimes. You've got an endless list of boxes to tick in your head. Five portions of fruit and veg a day? Tick. Half an hour of exercise five times a week? Tick. Whatever the scientists have decided is this week's new super food? Tick. And so on. It's a pretty joyless way of living life.
How refreshing, then, that one approach to living a healthy life is simply to take pleasure in it. There is sound evidence that this works. At the most basic level, people who report higher levels of happiness and pleasure tend to live longer. So here are 8 tips for living a healthy life that you can really enjoy.
1: Take time to appreciate the small things
It's an impressive finding from the field of positive psychology: People who make the effort to consciously appreciate three things about their day report significant increases in their happiness levels after just three weeks. Try it. At the end of each day, think about three things that you have appreciated. Write them down. Take a moment to savour each one, however small.
2: Eat chocolate
If you choose wisely, chocolate is no longer a guilty pleasure but a healthy one. The key is to go for the dark, unadulterated stuff and to eat it in moderate quantities. Savour the deliciousness and the added pleasure of knowing that all of those antioxidants will be doing their bit to delay the ageing process, ward off dementia, and protect you from cancer.
3: Talk to a friend
Feeling connected to other people is associated with improved mental and physical health. It wards off depression and anxiety and strengthens your immune system, making you less susceptible to anything from the common cold to cancer. Obsessively updating your Facebook status doesn't count as a meaningful social interaction, though – it needs to be more personal than that, and ideally face-to-face. Of course, you could always go for a walk while you chat to your friend, getting some fresh air and exercise at the same time...
4: Sleep well
Put sleeping on your t-do list for each day. It's really that important. Poor sleep is associated with a multitude of physical and mental health complaints and it's time we prioritised it more. So say no to the 24/7 culture whenever you can, turn off anything that involves a screen, and get some rest.
5: Do something you love
Doing something that really absorbs you can put you into a state of “flow” where you lose all sense of time and are profoundly connected to your experience. It's the opposite of the sort of blank vegetating state that we fall into in front of the TV or the internet. People who live to a very old age often report that they have a particular passion that has sustained them throughout life. So find an activity that you really enjoy, that absorbs your thinking and your creative energies, and don't feel that you have to get the chores done before you engage in it.
6: Eat consciously
For many of us, eating is something we do on autopilot, barely aware of what we're consuming. Instead, we should be taking time to eat our food, and to concentrate on the experience as fully as we can. Really smell it, taste it, notice its textures. Don't do anything else while you're eating. This mindful approach to eating tends to lead people to automatically make healthier food choices and eat less, and to enjoy what they do eat much more intensely.
7: Put exercise in context
If you want to make exercise an integral part of your life, you need to find an activity that you enjoy and that fits into the overall context of your life. If getting yourself to the gym feels like a massive effort and just not “you,” then you're unlikely to stick to it, however good your intentions. You need to find a form of exercise that is personally meaningful and pleasurable for its own sake, or that fits into your day as part of a broader picture. So find a dance class that you love. Train for a charity run to support a cause dear to your heart. Run or walk to work. Find your own personal way to make exercise an intrinsic part of your life, rather than an add-on.
It's official: Laughing is an excellent workout for your brain. It boosts blood flow and encourages the release of neurotransmitters that will also help you to concentrate and stay calm in the face of whatever life throws at you. You might not want to go as far as taking a laughing yoga class. But it's a nice thought that watching your favourite comedy programme is contributing to your overall health and wellbeing!
Live well and enjoy life.