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Chris graduated from Georgia State University in 2009 with degrees in Journalism and Creative Writing. He has spent a lot of time working with the media. From engineering radio broadcast for most of Atlanta’s major sports teams to shooting high school football games behind a camera, Chris has a lot of media experience. Besides that, he loves soccer, detective shows, and a buffet list of 'nerdy' things that would embarrass his wife.

Living Better Overhaul: How to Finally Make This Year Your Healthiest

healthy eating

Maybe there’s more to getting healthy than eating your veggies. (Image Credit: Webvilla)

Admit it: when you said that you were “going to get healthy” in the New Year, you probably pictured yourself at the gym everyday or drinking kale smoothies for each meal. It sure sounds like what we all imagine to be the optimal path for healthiness. After all, consistent exercise and dieting would probably make just about everyone’s list of things that contribute to a your overall health. But is that really all it takes to get healthy? Not if you understand what good health really is.

The word itself can mean different things for different people and a majority of us wouldn’t ever consider ourselves to be a benchmark of very good health. But if you were to frame your understanding of the word on the World Health Organization’s definition, you may be surprised just how unhealthy we really might be. According to WHO, “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Based on this definition, managing your diet and exercise seems like the least you could do to live a healthier life.

Physical

Perhaps why physical health is so dominantly considered to be the sign of overall health is because of the way we view ourselves. Simply think to why you made the New Year’s pledge in the first place. Maybe you felt sluggish, or your clothes weren’t fitting right; maybe you started to feel a little bit of extra “coating” around your waist that wasn’t there early last year. Either way, it’s easy to point out what we don’t like about ourselves in the mirror. But exactly how much of this is under our control?

In America, at least 69% of people are overweight or obese, which contributes to the worldwide obesity almost doubling over the past three decades. Some of this can be linked to the successes of modern technology making our jobs and daily lives much easier over the last century. However, that doesn’t change the decisions that we make outside of the job.

What you choose to eat and how much physical activity you choose to incorporate into your day are completely up to you. Even if you work long hours or odd hours, there are a ton of ways to remain physically active. For example, a recent feature in Health Magazine offered tips to help those with busy schedules fit exercise into their daily routine with such things like taking the stairs or quickening your pace while completing errands. In fact, you wouldn’t believe how many exercises you could fit into a 10 minute gap of your day.

But is that enough to really make a difference to your health? Actually, it is. According to the CDC, adults should find a way to fit in 150 minutes of “moderate-intensity aerobic activity,” as well as 2 days of “muscle-strengthening activities” a week. Did you catch that last part? You have the full 7 days to reach that number, so there really isn’t a serious need to start the year off with the countless other “resolutioners”  for a 2 hour gym session every day. That’s just a quick way to burn yourself out. If  diving into long and strenuous exercise was your thing, then it probably would have already been a part of your lifestyle. Too avoid quitting within the first couple of months (or let’s be honest, days), it’s more important that you learn what your physical activity goal should be and find a way to bring it into your daily routine.

The exact same thing can be said for trying to completely change how you eat. In fact, the biggest mistake that people make when trying to adjust what they eat is thinking that they can do whatever it takes to get healthy fast. But crash dieting or extreme dieting rarely lasts and is often more harmful to your body than not, a point made in a recent Men’s Health article. Just go ahead and ask yourself: do you know anybody who actually went on a diet and stuck with it? It’s not likely, as a number of people who diet to reach a goal either find it too hard to sustain, or ditch the diet as soon as they reach said goal.

While none of that sounds terribly optimistic, it’s only because we often take the wrong approach to this sort of thing. Dieting is mostly seen as a temporary act that we have to try to lose weight or get healthier, but the experts argue that it should instead become an adjustment that we can fit in to a long-term lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be terribly complicated either. The National Health Service suggests that one of the easiest ways to maintain good health is to enjoy a balanced diet and defines this as both “eating the right amount of food for how active you are” and “eating a range of foods,” and that’s it. The plan doesn’t suggest dropping carbs for a couple of weeks to slim down or skipping out on breakfast every morning. Instead, the ideal diet probably isn’t too far away from what we may already be doing on a day-to-day basis. Sure, based on some of the NHS suggestions, there may be a couple of tweaks such as eating less salt or substituting some of the sweets we eat. But that seems more natural than completely reworking your entire meals plan (or simply employing meal replacements), doesn’t it?

Mental

Everyone needs a good base to succeed and what better base than the mind? Mental health and satisfaction are often overlooked when it comes to “calculating” overall health, however they play a huge role in our ability to navigate what life throws at us. Consider for a moment the role your emotions play in how you approach any given situation. Do you tend to eat more when you’re sad? Do you work harder when you’re angry? While some people can compartmentalize every feeling they get, a majority of us are tied heavily to the emotions we experience. That’s why it’s just as important to keep track of your brain as it is your body.

Taking a Break From Work

Everyone needs a break. (Image Credit: Jeff Sheldon)

One thing that is hard to do in this day and age is maintain an appropriate work-life balance. Technology again plays a huge role with this as smartphones allow us access to our work emails or employer’s calls away from the job. With the recent economical crisis, many people are just happy to have jobs and are now working harder and harder to keep them. But according to an article recently featured in The Economist, overworking yourself may actually correlate to being less productive. Did you ever stay up all night to study for a test just to forget what you read on exam day? Perhaps it’s sort of like straining a muscle while you’re going hard in a football or soccer game? Either way, your life shouldn’t be all work all the time.

You do want to challenge yourself, but not at the expense of the rest of your life. Much like diet and exercise, achieving a balanced mental state is all about discovering what fits into your life. You need hobbies and free time just as much as you need goals. Sure, you may have been worried that your New Year’s diet and exercise plans would put a damper on your writing or karaoke nights, but if you’re this far down in the article, then hopefully you’re revising those ideas anyway.

Social

Our social health or well being shouldn’t be confused with our mental health. While the two are closely linked, each should be viewed and analyzed by themselves. This is especially true since most of us don’t even consider how we interact or communicate as a pillar of our overall health. But to truly be healthy, there is a considerable need to monitor and possibly adjust this aspect of our lives.

Social Media Not as Social

Find the right balance between your social life and life on social media. (Image Credit: Jonathan Velasquez)

When it comes to how social we are, most of us would consider ourselves to be average if not above average. After all, we all get News Feed updates, right? Or retweet something to one of our followers? But being socially active is more than just being engaged online. According to the University of New Hampshire, one of the signs of social wellness is having “the ability to be who you are in all situations.” Is that you? What happens when you log off or the wifi is down? Would you know how to carry on a conversation with an acquaintance, a potential dating partner or someone you don’t even like? How we perceive ourselves socially shouldn’t always be how we view our avatars online.

What sort of relationships we carry on offline are really the key to how socially healthy we are. We all know this, whether we’ve played on a team, grown up with siblings or even worked with the same group of people for years. It’s the way that we interact that helps us grow and feel more fulfilled. Living our lives out online can sometimes make us forget that, and even hurt our social wellness. It wouldn’t be easy with technology and social media being as pervasive as they are now, but try to seek or grow face-to-face relationships with others. Find a reason to talk to someone that you run into or see every day. You don’t have to go out of your way; you just have to start paying attention to the communities that you’re in.

Still think you can get healthier with just a couple of weeks of personal training or going vegan? While there are a ton of people who will list out 80 different ways for you to become healthy, only you can really make that decision. Maybe you’re the gym-five-nights-a-week sort of guy or girl, or maybe you like to learn a different language, or spend time walking your dog with your significant other in the park. You don’t have to choose one; and you shouldn’t.

Instead, remember that it’s a team effort and that your physical well being is just as important as your mental and social well being. Doing so may ensure that this year is your healthiest year yet!

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