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12 Small Lifestyle Changes that Will Dramatically Improve Your Physical and Mental Health

Living a healthier lifestyle doesn’t have to mean drastic changes in our daily habits and routines. We can and should start small when it come to change in our lives. These small healthy living tips will make a big difference to help you live a healthier, happier, and improved lifestyle.

Here are 12 simple lifestyle changes that will dramatically improve both your physical and mental health.

1. Drink more water

Most of us have heard it all before. You should drink water. Drinking water is good for you. Your body is made up of 70% of water. So it seems obvious, but we don’t always do it. Here are some benefits that are not so obvious and you may have never heard before.

Besides the multitude of benefits for physical health, staying hydrated affects our mental health. Since the brain is made up of about 75% of water, dehydration very quickly affects how we feel and think.

Drinking water regularly is an easy step to take to be as mentally healthy as possible. You can start with a glass of water first thing in the morning and then throughout the day carry a water bottle everywhere you go.

2. Worry less

Worrying rarely does anything to help a situation or life in general, whether we can control the situation or not. It’s a waste of time and energy we could be using to actually take steps toward solutions. Worrying should not be confused with concern either. We can be concerned without worrying. Worrying is stressful and causes anxiety.

Worrying causes the cortisol levels in our brain to rise which is a major health concern as it can lead to many health problems. Some of the side effects of worrying too much can include insomnia, headaches, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, anxiety, depression, weakened immune system, high blood pressure, nausea, digestion issues, sore and tense muscles, irritability, indecisiveness, heart attack, and stroke.

Worrying can often stem from a lack of preparedness. Being prepared can help eliminate the need for worry. Practicing mindfulness can also help reduce chronic worrying. It’s helpful to also learn to let go of control for things we can’t control and work on increasing self-awareness.

“Worrying doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles. It takes away today’s peace.” – Unknown

3. Walk more – get moving

Walking is a light form of exercise. Not only does exercise have a multitude of benefits, but walking alone has its own benefits too. It’s an easier and more natural way to get started on taking care of our health which means we’re more likely to stick to the change. There are fewer health risks for walking than other more vigorous or high-intensity forms of exercise like running and weightlifting.

Walking has been shown to not only have physical benefits but mental health benefits as well. A study published in The Lancet Psychiatry found that people who walked as a form of exercise had 10% fewer “bad” mental health days than people who didn’t exercise at all. Walking releases endorphins which can help us cope with stress. This also helps relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Exercise also lowers depression risk. Walking can also help you relax easier and sleep better. Another benefit of walking is that it can make you more productive. One study found that people who made time for physical exercise showed increased productivity compared to those who didn’t.

Walking helps you learn better and keeps your brain sharp. Research shows that exercise increases the level of brain chemicals that are vital to learning and memory better than brain games do. Walking helps you become more creative. It even makes you more confident by improving your self-image, and sense of self-worth and attractiveness.

Walking also gets you outside which is beneficial to health as well as explained in the point below.

Walking is a simple but effective path to improved mental and physical health.

4. Spend more time outside

Spending time outside is beneficial to both mental and physical health. Healthy exposure to sunlight gives you your natural daily dose of Vitamin D. We get more than 90% of our vitamin D from sunlight exposure. Other scientifically proven benefits to physical health include better vision, improved immune system, reduced pain, longer life expectancy.

Research has found that going outside and seeing green can actually make you motivated, happier, and less tired. Seeing the color green also gives you a creative boost, according to one study. Another study found that people scored 50% higher on creativity tests after spending a few days outdoors.

Greenery is also known to reduce stress which can ease anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, especially when combined with exercise. When in nature, you also get more oxygen which is vital to your well-being (see point #7). Going outside is also a great and fun way to make it easier to exercise.

Besides the fact that going outside often smells great, research shows that natural scents such as roses, freshly cut grass, and pine make you feel more relaxed and calm. Being outside can boost your energy too. One study suggests that spending 20 minutes outside gives you an energy boost comparable to a cup of coffee. Studies show that it also gives us more focus and improves short-term memory.

Being in nature also makes us better people, according to psychologists, because we learn to value more important things in life like relationships and community.

5. Get enough sleep

Sleep not only affects us physically but also mentally and emotionally. And quickly at that. Sleep and mental health are closely correlated. Sleep problems can increase the risk of developing particular mental illnesses according to Harvard Health, especially depression. It also puts you at risk for other health conditions. An estimated 90% of people with insomnia have another health condition.

Sleep deprivation impairs our normal functioning. It’s one of the most common sleep problems. It disrupts our ability to focus and makes you forgetful. Chronic lack of sleep can even kill or damage brain cells. Our ability to make sound judgments is also impaired by lack of sleep. This leads us to make poor choices including decisions about sleep. People who were continuously getting six hours of sleep felt adapted to the lack of sleep, but tests on mental performance continued to decline.

Lack of sleep causes premature aging of the skin including fine lines, wrinkles, and dark circles. It makes you look older faster. You’re also more likely to get sick when sleep deprived because it weakens your immune system. Sleep deprivation also reduces libido and interest in sex. Sleep deprivation causes irritability as well and has an adverse effect on our emotions and mood. Lack of sleep makes us more likely to react emotionally to a stressful situation. That, with impaired judgment, makes us vulnerable to say and do things that we’ll later regret.

Sleep deprivation shortens your lifespan. People who slept less than 6 hours a night were 200% more likely to have a stroke or heart attack in their lifetime than those who got seven or eight hours. Lack of sleep is also a major cause of death and injury by accidents. One study showed that getting 4-5 hours of sleep makes you four times more likely to have a car accident compared to getting eight hours of sleep.

If you take “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” literally, you’ll be “sleeping” a lot sooner than you’d probably like to.

6. Learn how to cook

Learning how to cook can improve both our health and our budget. You get to learn a valuable skill too. But there are also both mental and emotional benefits to learning how to cook.

Research has found that baking is therapeutic. Cooking also satisfies our desire for achievement. When we cook, we reward ourselves with good food that we made ourselves. It also gives us meaning to our actions which the term for it is called “behavioral activation.”

Cooking increases creativity and happiness, according to one study. It also makes you focus and get in “the zone” or a flow state. The process of cooking helps ease the mind and relax the body which can reduce anxiety and depression. Cooking also helps you get more nutrients and eat healthier food for your brain.

Both cooking (whether together or for the other) and taking a cooking class can serve as a great date night. It saves money, involves actively doing something with your partner, and it’s fun. Even when you cook for others such as family and friends, it allows you to bond and connect with others in meaningful ways. You feel good feeding others and seeing them enjoy something that you created.

7. Practice deep breathing

If you think about it, there is no other thing that is more essential to our survival than breathing. More so than drinking, eating, and sleeping. It’s the shortest thing we can go without. We can go for hours and days without eating, drinking, and sleeping. But when it comes to breathing, it’s only a few minutes.

I realized the importance and benefits of breathing when I chose it as a topic for a research paper for my high school anatomy class. We all breathe naturally and automatically so we rarely ever think about how we breathe. We don’t have to control our breath yet we have the ability to. The interesting benefits are not too well-known though.

Various forms of therapies and spiritual exercises involve focusing on and controlling your breath. Athletes are also known to do this to improve their performance. According to Harvard Health, deep breathing, also known as belly breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, or abdominal breathing helps reduce anxiety and stress, slows our heartbeat, and lowers or stabilizes blood pressure.

Your brain needs oxygen to survive. Your brain can only go a few minutes before sustaining brain damage, being induced into a coma or death. More oxygen for your brain means have a better and sharper mind which leads to improved control and focus. Oxygen also gives you more energy. Deep breathing also helps you relax better, sleep better, and fall asleep faster. Belly breathing leads to better emotional control as well.

Deep breathing also increases your life expectancy. Multiple studies show that there is a strong relationship between better breathing and longevity. One study found that all 152 people who suffered a heart attack had serious breathing irregularity.

Shallow breathing can cause fatigue, premature aging, weakened immune system, a buildup of toxins, loss of function in areas of our lungs, sleep disorders, dizziness, chest pain, palpitations, anxiety, weakened eyesight, muscle tensions and soreness, and digestion problems.

Make sure to practice deep breathing by being aware of your breath, taking long and slow breaths, using your belly not your chest, and breathing through your nose instead of your mouth. I hope you’re practicing as you’re reading this. 🙂 Notice how much better it feels. This helps especially during times of stress and when concentration is needed. Breathing has a natural healing ability.

8. Sleep naked

Sleeping naked helps you fall asleep faster. Your body temperature has to cool down when you fall asleep. When you’re naked, your body cools down more which makes you fall asleep more quickly. You’ll also get better quality sleep. Sleeping naked will help you stay cool under the covers.

Sleeping naked can boost your self-esteem and help you feel more comfortable with your body. One study discovered that spending time naked improved self-esteem and body image overall. Sleeping naked also improves your skin. Research has found that it helped the skin’s ability to heal. Another benefit of sleeping naked is that it can reduce your stress and anxiety.

Sleeping naked also improves sexual health for both men and women. It reduces the risk of infections for women and increases male fertility. Sleeping naked can improve your relationship too. One study found that skin-to-skin contact releases oxytocin which bonds people together and builds attachment between each other. Another benefit is that touching your partner is great for your health, not just your relationship.

If you aren’t comfortable sleeping completely naked, even just reducing how many layers you wear or exposing more skin is a start to experiencing these benefits.

9. Make more love

As long as it’s consensual and done safely, sex can be good for you. Having more sex can strengthen your immune system. Research shows that sexually active people get sick less often. It also lowers blood pressure, improves women’s bladder control, lowers risk of heart attack. Having sex is also a great form of exercise.

Sex can boost your self-esteem and self-confidence. You get to feel desired, physically nurtured, and close to someone. Having sex can also reduce stress and act a natural painkiller. Sex also helps you sleep better.

Having more sex doesn’t only improve your health, it also improves your romantic relationship. (Happier relationships also improve health.) Lovemaking can make you feel connected and close to your partner, both emotionally and chemically. It also boosts your libido. According to a study of about 300 women, women who were sexually active in long-term relationships were less likely to be depressed than women who weren’t sexually active. Lack of physical intimacy is one of the main reasons for unhappy or failed relationships and marriages. Partners with “dead bedrooms” report feeling depressed, lonely, rejected, undesired, and having lowered self-esteem.

If you don’t have a partner, you could always give yourself some love although it doesn’t have all the benefits that sex does. Remember to stay safe.

10. Meditate

You’ve probably heard before the advice to start meditating. Mediation has multiple mental health benefits, but one surprising fact is that meditation psychically changes your brain over time. The brain literally expands with mediation. Before recent research on meditation, it was only believed that meditation is healthy for you.

Research has found that mindfulness meditation changes the gray matter in several parts of the brain. It increases the gray matter in parts of the brain associated with learning and memory (the hippocampus), compassion and empathy (the temporal-parietal junction), and sense of self and introspection (posterior cingulate cortex). This means that meditation was found to have positive effects on memory, learning, attention, sense of self, and empathy. Meditation also decreased the grey matter in part of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and stress (the amygdala) which means that meditation reduces stress and anxiety.

Mediation was also found to decrease symptoms of depression, help improve sleep, and helped with managing negative emotions such as anger and fear. One study found that when people were showed disturbing graphic images, those who meditated beforehand had a quicker emotional recovery than those who didn’t. Another study found that people when people were asked to relive an experience that made them angry, those who had never meditated experienced more intense physical reactions in contrast to those who were experienced practitioners who did not have much of a physical reaction.

When building a habit to meditate, it’s better and easier to start small. You can start with just five minutes every morning or evening by sitting or lying down in a quiet place, setting a timer, focusing on your breath and being a passive observer to your thoughts. Or you can try a guided meditation. My personal favorite is called the 6 phase guided meditation by Vishen Lakhiani, CEO of Mindvalley.

11. Stretch

Stretching has a multitude of benefits. It feels good too. Although stretching is an integral part of yoga, it’s not the same thing as practicing yoga which also has its own benefits. Stretching can be done without the need for yoga. Stretching improves flexibility and helps reduce the risk of injury. It can improve physical performance, improve your workout, and increases blood circulation.

One of the benefits of stretching is that it reduces stress and muscle tension. It also helps you sleep better. Stretching also improves your body alignment so you’re more centered and balanced and it improves posture as well. Bad posture can be very destructive. Stretching increases energy. Increased self-esteem and self-image is also a byproduct of stretching from improved flexibility, mobility, and better posture.

Yoga class is not necessary for stretching, but it can be a good idea too since it combines stretching and breathing and physical performance. Stretching alone is a simple and easy way to improve your health. It’s good to start with light stretching upon awakening and before bed as well as throughout the day, whether you’re physically active during the day or not. Make sure to warm up before stretching as it’s not a warm-up. Static stretching should also be done after a workout not before.

12. Work on your posture

Having good posture can make you healthier and feel happier. When you carry yourself a certain way, it affects your emotions and mood. The mind and body have a very strong connection. Poor posture can worsen negative emotions and mental issues like depression, put you in a bad mood, and make you feel more stressed.

Poor posture can also make you feel and look insecure. Good posture can make you feel and look more confident. You’re more likely to look approachable with a better posture. Good posture also gives you an energy boost and makes you feel more productive.

When you have better posture, you’re less likely to have muscle imbalances. It also helps with balance. You’re also less likely to injure yourself while exercising because good posture means good form.

If you’d like to improve your posture, don’t worry, I’ve got your back. As stated in the previous point, stretching is a great way to improve posture. Another great way is to schedule practicing good posture. Those of us who have bad posture, have it because we’re either unaware of the fact that we have bad posture or we never think about it which can make it harder to fix. We can schedule thinking about our posture by attaching it to every time we do something (that we do often) like checking our phone or watch.

These improvement tips are key to good physical, emotional, and mental health. We’re not one-dimensional when it comes to health. They’re all connected and not mutually exclusive. Our approach to mental and physical health should work together also. Mental health is physical health.

*Please make sure to consult your physician before implementing any changes.

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