We’re looking at three of the biggest areas we can at least partially control and that can radically impact our health: environment, diet, and lifestyle. In the first post we talked about environment, and in the previous post took a closer look at diet. Today, let’s talk lifestyle.
Lifestyle is about our actions, habits, behaviors, and activity levels. It’s about whether we’re sedentary or active; about whether we’re getting enough sleep or compensating by drinking coffee all the time; about whether we’re receiving mental stimulation or numbing our minds.
The biggest factor here may be activity level. Increasingly, we’re a sedentary culture. Only 12% of Americans exercise regularly, and the rest of us either don’t do it at all or do it only irregularly. Once upon a time, we mostly worked on farms or ranches or did other physical labor, and our bodies were out there moving and doing most of the day. We came home with tired limbs from active work and ate heavy meals to refuel our energy-depleted muscles. Now, great numbers of people sit in front of computer screens, exercising mostly their fingers, and we don’t need the same foods our agricultural grandparents ate.
Proper sleep is another big one. Most of us don’t get enough, period. We push ourselves from before dawn till long, long after dark, and we may think we’re active—but really we’re just busy. We’re stressed, we’re over-committed, and we’re compensating for these things with other things that may not be healthy. Just look at the number of energy drinks in the local convenience store or the Starbucks on every corner.
When our schedule is messed up, we’re stressed out, and we’re compensating with coffee or other stimulents, we’re definitely not getting the rest our bodies need. But we’re also perpetually flooding our systems with stress hormones and remaining in a metabolic setting we were not designed to sustain.
We need to learn to get more active, yes, but we also need to learn to rest. Relax. Slow down. Make hard choices to prioritize what’s important, and put your body’s needs fairly high on the list—and the things that don’t fit simply need to wait. A healthy lifestyle is simply too important to compromise for cramming in one more thing.
If you pick up nothing else from thinking about lifestyle, simply think about getting yourself out and moving once every day for at least 30 minutes. It can be a brisk walk, playing catch with your child (or fetch with your dog), an exercise class, or anything else—but do something. Anything is better than nothing!