How to Build a Healthy Lifestyle
Discover tips and ideas you can use to make your life healthier.
There is more than one way to stay healthy, and if you asked people around you what a healthy lifestyle is, chances are you’d get a different answer every time. This difference stems from the fact that everyone makes choices based on their cultural and personal priorities and can only access options available within their socioeconomic and geographical environments (Cockerham, 2021).
Despite differences in definitions, scientists have long been conducting studies focused on the effects of lifestyle on health and wellbeing. A large meta-analysis that included the health outcome data of over 500,000 individuals concluded that adherence to a healthy lifestyle was linked to lower mortality risk (Loef and Walach, 2012).
A more recent study tracked the health habits and outcomes of over 120,000 participants for three decades. Individuals that met the researcher’s healthy lifestyle criteria were far less likely to die prematurely because of cardiovascular disease or cancer (Li et al., 2018). But how much lower is the risk of premature deaths when people live healthy lifestyles? According to this study, women with healthy habits lived an average of fourteen years longer than their counterparts with unhealthy lifestyles (Li et al., 2018). In contrast, men with healthy lifestyles lived approximately twelve additional years (Li et al., 2018).
Of course, a longer lifespan isn’t the only benefit of a healthy lifestyle. A study with over 3,000 men and women between ages 55 and 85 has shown that individuals with healthy lifestyles performed better than their counterparts in all measures (Visser et al., 2018). For instance, the individuals in the healthy lifestyle group were faster in physical agility tests and less likely to display symptoms of depression (Visser et al., 2018). They also had slower declines in cognitive function and social interactions (Visser et al., 2018).
In short, living a healthy lifestyle can help us feel healthier and be less likely to be depressed. Moreover, we might live an additional decade by adopting health-promoting habits.
How To Build a Healthy Lifestyle
The secret to building healthy habits that last is to choose sustainable behaviors that you can stick to. Here are some tips:
Choose healthy habits that you enjoy
So how do we know if a behavior is sustainable? The sustainability of a behavior depends on how much time and effort it requires and whether we are willing to commit to it day after day. Thus, habits that require the least time and effort might be easier to incorporate into our daily lives. Yet, there is another secret ingredient to make habits stick: likability. As discussed earlier, many people find detrimental behaviors hard to shed because they feel good. It becomes even more challenging if we attempt to replace them with habits that we don’t enjoy. Therefore, if we want our habits to last a long time, we might pick those we like and enjoy doing.
Social support and healthy habits
Another factor that may help lifestyle changes stick is the support from others. If you have family and friends who encourage you to take healthy steps and cheer you on your journey, you may find it easier to commit to those changes. If you don’t have a support system, no worries. You might be able to find support groups or organizations where you live or online and interact with others making similar changes. Moreover, you might also use apps to help you set goals, send you reminders, and display daily affirmations.
Create an exercise routine
Lack of physical activity has many harmful consequences, ranging from cardiovascular disease to atrophied muscles and metabolic syndrome (Bowden Davies et al., 2019). Unfortunately, many adults in the U.S. don’t get enough physical activity. But how much activity is considered enough? According to the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, adults should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week (WHO, 2010). Moderate activity is defined as an exercise that increases your heart rate by approximately 40% from its resting state, whereas a vigorous activity raises it by 60% or higher (MacIntosh et al., 2021).
Stick to a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet has two primary goals: prevent malnutrition and maintain a healthy weight. Unfortunately, many people don’t eat whole foods and consume high amounts of unhealthy fats (i.e., saturated and trans fats) and added sugars. According to the United States National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a healthy diet should include lean proteins (i.e., nuts, beans, fish, poultry, eggs, etc.) and limit added sugars, unhealthy fats, and excess sodium. Furthermore, it might include several servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains for sufficient fiber, calorie, and micronutrient (i.e., vitamins and minerals) intake (NHLBI, 2022).
Gradually replacing harmful habits with beneficial ones that you enjoy can help you attain a healthy lifestyle and increase your well-being.
Bowden Davies, K. A., Pickles, S., Sprung, V. S., Kemp, G. J., Alam, U., Moore, D. R., ... & Cuthbertson, D. J. (2019). Reduced physical activity in young and older adults: metabolic and musculoskeletal implications. Therapeutic advances in endocrinology and metabolism, 10, 2042018819888824.
Cockerham, W. C. (2021). Health lifestyles: bringing structure back. The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Medical Sociology, 150-170.
Li, Y., Pan, A., Wang, D. D., Liu, X., Dhana, K., Franco, O. H., ... & Hu, F. B. (2018). Impact of healthy lifestyle factors on life expectancies in the US population. Circulation, 138(4), 345-355.
Loef, M., & Walach, H. (2012). The combined effects of healthy lifestyle behaviors on all cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Preventive medicine, 55(3), 163-170.
MacIntosh, B. R., Murias, J. M., Keir, D. A., & Weir, J. M. (2021). What Is Moderate to Vigorous Exercise Intensity?. Frontiers in Physiology, 1481.
NHLBI. (2022). Healthy Eating Plan. Retrieved 14 March 2022.
Visser, M., Wijnhoven, H. A., Comijs, H. C., Thomése, F. G., Twisk, J. W., & Deeg, D. J. (2019). A healthy lifestyle in old age and prospective change in four domains of functioning. Journal of aging and health, 31(7), 1297-1314.
World Health Organization. (2010). Global recommendations on physical activity for health. World Health Organization Report.