16 Benefits of a Healthy Lifestyle & 7 Steps for a Healthier Life

Healthy Living
Photo by Nathan Cowley from Pexels

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

It’s what we all want, right? A healthy, happy life where we feel great, sleep well and are bursting with energy. Optimal health is not always in our control but often we can make small changes and see significant improvements, and there are three things that, when combined, have the potential to change EVERYTHING. These things are: eating a whole food plant-based diet, taking regular exercise and actively taking steps to improve our mental health. Read on to find out more about these three powerful pillars of health and how they might just change your life.

What Is A Healthy Lifestyle?

It’s more than the absence of pain or disease; a healthy lifestyle is about finding and incorporating positive habits that will help you get the very best out of life through taking good care of yourself. And it’s not a question of setting a goal, achieving it, and then sitting back to enjoy your great health. No, it’s a process, and while that can feel daunting, it means that every day offers a brand new opportunity to make good choices and improve the quality of our lives.

Why Is A Healthy Lifestyle Important?

Because no one enjoys being weak or ill, or feeling tired, overwhelmed or depressed, and our bodies are all that keeps us in this world. Looking after them should be a priority yet many of us take better care of our cars than ourselves. Being healthy is not a competition. We all start at different levels and have different strengths, weaknesses and abilities. But there are things we can all do to help us achieve our own personal health potential, and with that comes some of the best things in life: joy, freedom and fulfilment.

Get Rid Of Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States with about 647,000 Americans dying each year from it. In so many cases, this disease is preventable with a healthy lifestyle. People often think heart disease runs in families but that is because poor diets and exercise habits run in families, and this means we can break the chain! A 2019 study of 500,000 adults found that for every 100 grams of red or processed meat that individuals consumed per day, their risk for heart disease increased by 19 percent. Conversely, plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Ditching animal products is one amazing way to protect your heart. And if we can move a little more too, that’s all to the good.

Reduce Cancer Risk

The World Health Organization has confirmed that all processed meat, such as bacon, hot dogs, chorizo, salami and any other meat that has been smoked, cured or otherwise processed, is carcinogenic. Furthemore, there is sufficient evidence to say that all red meat is ‘probably’ carcinogenic. Research has found that even a moderate intake of red meat raises the cancer risk. Evidence suggests that consistently drinking as little as one cup of dairy milk per day can increase your risk of breast cancer by up to 50 percent. The happy flipside of all this is that being vegan is a double whammy of positivity – no carcinogenic meat, plus plant foods are cancer-protective. Other ways to reduce your cancer risk are to cut down on alcohol, quit smoking, and to exercise regularly.

Improve Your Mood

Studies are starting to reveal the close connection between our gut biome and our brains, and we are coming to understand just how vital a healthy gut is for our mental well-being. There is no doubt that diet plays a key role in depression and mood. One Australian study found that the symptoms of people with moderate-to-severe depression significantly improved when they received nutritional advice and ate a healthier diet for 12 weeks. Research also shows that eating too much sugar, processed meat, fried foods and high-fat dairy products could also be associated with anxiety and depression. But a whole food plant-based diet that is laden with antioxidants, probiotics, B vitamins and essential fatty acids can make all the difference in the world.

And this is where exercise really pays dividends. Research shows that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour a day can reduce the risk of major depression. It is thought that exercise increases serotonin and endorphin levels, as well as helping you sleep better. It also gives you a sense of accomplishment, and that improves our self-esteem and self-worth.

Gut Health Booster

We have trillions of microbes living in our guts, and these form the gut biome. Scientists are learning all the time just how significant a role they play in protecting our health but one thing is clear: this is a two-way street, and we need to look after our gut biomes so they will look after us. A healthy gut biome can help us maintain a healthy weight, protect our hearts and kidneys, avoid cancer, protect our immune systems, and lower the risk of both rheumatoid arthritis and depression. To keep our biome happy, we should eat a plant-based diet, quit smoking, take antibiotics only when necessary and move more.

Better Memory

Dementia is characterized by a progressive deterioration in memory, thinking, behavior and the ability to perform everyday activities. It is devastating for any individual affected and also for their family and friends. It is all too common – more than 6 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia – and yet it isn’t inevitable. Drs Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, neurologists who specialize in this field have developed a program that can prevent Alzheimer’s in 90 percent of people. In the remaining 10 percent who have a genetic predisposition to the disease, it is possible to delay its onset by up to fifteen years. What is this miracle program? Eating a plant-based diet, exercising, getting good sleep and reducing stress are at its heart.

Weight Control

Our weight is connected to so many health outcomes – from heart disease to cancer to our self-esteem and mental well-being. A recent study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition compared a whole food plant-based diet with the Mediterranean diet that is often thought to be optimal for weight loss. The study found that within 16 weeks participants lost an average of 6 kilograms (or about 13 pounds) on the vegan diet, compared with no mean change on the Mediterranean diet. Once again, a plant-based diet is found to be effective, and if we add in exercise, we can speed weight loss up, while giving ourselves a very welcome serotonin hit!

Check out some incredible stories of people who have transformed their lives on a plant-based diet.

Diabetes Control

A healthy plant-based diet has been shown to prevent, treat and even reverse type 2 diabetes. This is a disease associated with an unhealthy lifestyle, and particularly with overweight and obesity. It’s so common that we forget just how serious it is but it can lead to kidney disease, blindness and limb amputations. Keeping our weight down by eating a healthy plant-based diet and exercising can dramatically reduce our risk of suffering this life-threatening and life-limiting condition.

Prevent Bone Injury

We know we sound like a broken record but there are two great ways to reduce your risk of bone injury – eat healthily and exercise! In terms of eating for bone health, we need good supplies of calcium and vitamin D. You can get calcium by eating green leafy vegetables (not spinach), nuts, tofu and soy products, molasses, and fortified plant milks and yogurts. As for vitamin D, that’s the sunshine vitamin so be outside in it everyday if you can. In winter, most people are advised to take a supplement.

Bone health relies on us using our bodies and strengthening the skeletal system. Any weight-bearing exercise – from dancing to running to literally bearing weights – will help keep our bones strong.

Sleep Better

You know that feeling after you’ve had a full eight hours of uninterrupted sleep? Unbeatable, isn’t it? But for so many of us, achieving this seems harder than climbing Everest or rowing across the Atlantic. Getting a good night’s sleep doesn’t just result in us feeling better the next day, it has a profound impact on our health and well-being. Insufficient sleep has been linked to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a weakened immune system, so finding tips and tricks to help us sleep better could not be more important. Once again exercise can play an important role here. Our bodies want and need to work so find an exercise you love and build it into your routine. Meditation is useful in calming a busy mind and putting a barrier between the busy-ness of your working day and your evening routine. Switching off screens can help and avoid caffeine in the afternoons and evenings.

Protect Your Mental Health

Our mental health is just as important for our sense of well-being as our physical health, so we would do well to take some tips from the “World’s Happiest Man”, a Tibetan monk called Mattieu Ricard. He took part in a 12-year study during which his head was hooked up to 256 sensors while he meditated. The scans showed that he experienced a huge level of “positive emotions” in the left prefrontal cortex of his brain – an area associated with happiness. It was a level “never reported before in the neuroscience literature”, so he must be doing something right. What’s his secret? He says we should put others first and be kind, compassionate and benevolent. But also, we should train our brains by thinking happy thoughts for 15 minutes every day. The World’s Happiest Man is also vegan, and we know there is a strong correlation between mental health and diet.

Boost Your Energy

Here we go again… a healthy diet and exercise are really key to boosting energy. Refined carbohydrates, sugar, caffeine, junk food – all the kinds of things we reach for when life gets busy or challenging – can send us into an energy slump which makes us feel even less able to cope. Choosing natural slow-energy-release foods such as whole grains can make all the difference to our energy levels. It pays to be prepared so keep some healthy snacks readily available so you’re not tempted to reach for the candy when you need something fast.

And here’s a curious thing… often we tell ourselves that we feel too tired to exercise but if only we would start, the energy would come. That’s right. Exercise creates energy. It sends the blood around the body, oxygenating the muscles and making your feel more alert. So, when you’re too tired to exercise, exercise.

Increase Your Longevity

There are some diseases and conditions we can do nothing about but in many cases we can prevent the biggest killers simply by taking better care of ourselves. Eating well and in moderation, exercising, drinking alcohol in moderation, and abstaining from smoking are key factors in our longevity. In terms of what we eat, vegans suffer less heart disease, obesity, type diabetes and some cancers than meat-eaters, and healthy plant-based diets are associated with lower risk of all-cause mortality, so that is a great place to start. But research also shows that maintaining a strong social network can prolong life and so can a spiritual or religious connection. Oh, and it’s wise to look before you cross the road.

It’s Good For Your Wallet Too

A happy healthy life can improve our finances, too. The last four of our 16 benefits relate to the dollars in your pocket.

Less Health Care Costs

The American healthcare system is often referred to as a sick-care system. It treats the sick, often at a significant cost, but rarely gives advice about prevention. Dr Dean Sherzai describes the system if a person is brought to the emergency room following a stroke: “They get a checkup, CT scan – thousand dollars. MRI – a couple thousand dollars. ER stay – several thousand dollars. ICU stay – several more thousand dollars. By the time they’re done, they’ve spent anywhere between $20 to $40,000. And after all that, guess what they get? Here’s an aspirin and here’s a cholesterol-lowering medicine. It can’t get more cynical than that.” Our moms may have told us that prevention was better than cure and they were right. And the good news is that stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and some cancers can be prevented through lifestyle changes. Find out more about diet and the costs of healthcare.

Fewer Costs Of Transport

If you can walk, run or cycle to work you’ll save money and improve your health, vitality and wellness at the same time. So, before any journey – whether it is to the grocery store, an appointment or to meet a friend – ask yourself, can I get there under my own steam? You’ll feel better if you can, and save some money too.

Reduced Costs On Grocery

A recent Kantar study, funded by Veganuary, found that vegan meals made at home cost 40 percent less than meat-based meals. This is no great surprise! The most expensive items in the store outside of the alcohol section are meat and fish, while vegetables, seasonal fruits, legumes, and grains are among the cheapest. Base your meals around these and your bank balance will thank you for it.

Improving Your Productivity

Being happy, healthy and full of beans – literally and metaphorically – can help boost our productivity. If we’re self-employed, this can translate into an increased income. Or it may mean we can afford to take the afternoon off and spend some time with the people we love.

What Should You Do To Have A Healthy Lifestyle

So, with all of this in mind, we’ve collated our 7 steps for a healthier life. If you’ve read this far, you’re unlikely to be shocked by what’s coming …

Exercise

There it is. Exercise. There is no way around it – exercising is good news for our physical and mental health. It keeps us fit, strengthens our immune systems, protects our bones, wards off serious disease and boosts our self-esteem. But exercise doesn’t have to be a chore. Find something that you love. If jumping about the kitchen to thrash metal makes you happy, that’s the exercise for you. If skating, dancing, playing volleyball or wild swimming floats your boat, find some time each week and fit it in.

Get A Healthy Diet

What we eat is one of the key components of health. Build your meals around plants – fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, salads and herbs – and you may find some incredible short-term benefits, while also protecting yourself in the long-term from some of our biggest killers. Find out more about how to think beyond ‘diet’ and incorporate plant-based eating into your lifestyle.

Sleep Properly

Prioritizing good sleep is absolutely key to good health so finding a sleep routine that works for you should be high on your To Do list. We are advised to stick to a routine, keep our bedrooms cool and calm, avoid eating late or drinking caffeinated drinks in the evening, refrain from taking naps in the day, exercise regularly, and limit screen time. For some people a bath before bedtime helps. For others, gentle yoga or meditation can help us unwind. Reading a book or listening to a podcast can give our minds something gentle to do and stop them going over and over things we have done in the day or must do tomorrow. Some people find soothing music helps, as does drinking chamomile or valerian root tea. Others use apps that talk them through exercises for falling asleep. Some people report that a weighted blanket makes all the difference.

Take Care Of Your Health

It’s obvious isn’t it? But by this we mean be mindful of your health. Don’t take it for granted. The coronavirus has shown that underlying health conditions can make us more vulnerable to infections, so taking steps to protect our health can be as simple as washing our hands more regularly, eating more fruits and vegetables, and going for a 20 minute walk every lunchtime. We don’t advocate for perfection – that path is stalked by stress and unhappiness. Instead, we advocate for taking small achievable steps, and – if they work out – taking a few more.

Avoid Alcohol, Drugs And Unsafe Practices

There are some things that are just risky for both our physical and mental health, and alcohol and drugs fall into that category. Not everyone suffers as a result of their use, of course, in the same way that some people can smoke 40 cigarettes a day and live to a ripe old age. But the risk is there, and for every octogenarian dancing at a party between puffs of cigarettes, there are many more with lung disease, COPD or bronchitis, hooked up to machines in hospitals. Besides, all the cool kids know that kale smoothies and long-distance running are where the fun is at these days.

Do What You Love

Yes! This is your life. Why would you spend it doing something you hate surrounded by people you would rather see rocketed into space? We cannot always change our circumstances but dare to think what you could change that would make your life better. Job, home, relationships are the biggies but it could be something as easily achievable as attending night school one evening a week to learn something new, making a commitment to meeting up with a friend once a month, or ensuring you go out in nature every weekend. Whatever it is you love, find a way to do more of it.

Get Rid Of Bad Energy

This is no call to a hippy mindset; this is important. ‘Bad energy’ comes from within and without. Many of us have a voice in our heads that speaks harshly to us and about us. To combat it we need to work on our self-esteem and we may benefit from exercise, mindfulness techniques or therapy, or setting ourselves a challenge and working toward it. And what about the bad energy that comes at us from someone else? Putting some distance between ourselves and that person – either physical distance or emotional distance – can pay dividends. And we should take a moment to examine ourselves here, too. Is it possible we have caused upet or distress to others? Can we do better? To find happiness in our own lives, we would do well to pay heed to Mattieu Ricard – who after all knows a thing or two about happiness – and prioritize others. Kindness, generosity, benevolence and compassion, once put out into the world, have a wonderful habit of finding their way home.

Are Vegans Healthier Than Meat Eaters?

Vegans who eat a balanced whole food diet get all the nutrients they need while reducing their risk of many killer diseases – from cardiovascular diseases to type 2 diabetes and some cancers. On balance, eating vegan looks to be a great choice for staying healthy, and it can even reverse some chronic illnesses. There is some evidence that vegans live longer, too. Take a look at these powerful testimonials by real people whose lives were changed by switching to a plant-based diet.

Conclusion

It turns out that the secrets to optimizing our health are not secrets at all. Eating plant-based, being outside in nature, exercising and getting enough sleep can make all the difference in the world to our health. And it will shock no one to know that smoking is not good for us, while drinking alcohol should be done in moderation.

But knowing it and acting on it are two separate things, and we can help with that. If you’d like to know more about how to get started on a plant-based diet, check out our 31-day vegan challenge, and you’ll receive some great resources, recipes and daily emails to help you on your way. It’s free but great health is priceless.

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