The Single Best Thing You Can Do for Your Health Right Now
There's more to improving your well-being than watching what you eat.
With all the information out there about how to get healthy, it can be hard to know what actually works and what's just another fad diet or trendy workout technique. But even though you may have a hard time deciding where to start on your road to being healthy, it's never been more important that you do, in fact, get started.
With the coronavirus still very much a threat and flu season just around the corner, maintaining a strong immune system and being in good physical health should be top priorities. What those things don't need to be, however, are stressful or difficult. In reality, there are a handful of things you can seamlessly incorporate into your daily life that will have enormous benefits to your health. Even better news? One of the most important of these healthy habits is something you already do on a daily basis.
It goes without saying that a balanced, nutritious diet should always be considered an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. However, the focus here is on habits and behaviors outside of your dietary choices. With that, read on to discover the single best thing you can do for your health right now—as well as a few others. And for more important health information, check out Everything You Need to Know About Flu Season This Year.
According to JoAnn Manson, MD, chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School, if there were a pill that provided the health benefits you get from regular physical exercise, "people would be clamoring for it." Alas, no such pill exists. The good news is that all you have to do to enjoy the enormous health benefits of exercise—such as lowering your risk of developing a number of chronic health conditions—is engage in 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week. That's only 30 minutes a day, five days a week—and, the CDC says, a brisk walk counts.
Whatever you do, set yourself up for success by choosing activities you enjoy. "No matter how good an activity may be for you, you probably won't sustain it if you hate doing it," Manson says. And for things you can do to be more active, check out these 21 Simple Ways to Start Moving More Every Day.
There's no way to completely eliminate stress for from your life. It's just a fact of life—especially in the age of coronavirus—and according to National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), experiencing stress in certain situations can be a positive tool of motivation. But letting yourself get bogged down with the stress of everyday life isn't only bad for your mental well-being, but it can do serious harm to your physical health—acting as a contributor to things like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, the NIMH says. That's why it's important to do things to manage these feelings when you notice them building up. Everything from exercise and meditation to talking with a therapist can make a huge difference. For more on how feeling overwhelmed is taking a toll on your well-being, check out these 18 Subtle Signs Your Stress Levels Are Harming Your Health.
One of the biggest challenges of the pandemic, especially early on, was getting used to spending much less time outside. But now we know that when you social distance and wear a mask, getting some fresh air and sunshine is not only recommended, but strongly encouraged. Especially given what we know about the link between vitamin D and COVID-19. A study published on Sept. 3 by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that having a vitamin D deficiency increases your risk of testing positive for the coronavirus by nearly 80 percent. So while the weather still allows, get yourself outdoors whenever you have the opportunity. And for how you can tell if you aren't getting enough of the sunshine vitamin, check out these 20 Surprising Signs You Have a Vitamin Deficiency.
One thing about our current situation that could accurately be described as ironic is the fact that due to the coronavirus pandemic, maintaining social relationships has probably never been more difficult, nor has it ever been more important.
"We are social animals by nature, so we tend to function better when we're in a community and being around others," Craig Sawchuck, PhD, a psychologist with the Mayo Clinic, said in an interview on the clinic's website. According to Sawchuck, in addition to fending off feelings of loneliness, socializing helps sharpen your memory, increases your happiness and well-being, and may even help you live longer. So make sure to stay in touch with family and friends as much as possible—even if it's just over phone or video chat.
Get some sleep.
If you do nothing else on this list, at least do this: Get some sleep! According to the CDC, sleep is not a luxury, but an essential element of being healthy. Failure to get sufficient rest significantly increases your risk of developing any number of serious medical issues, including heart disease, type-2 diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. Yet, one in three adults in the U.S. gets less than seven hours a night—the minimum amount of sleep recommended by the CDC.
If you're one of those people, it's time to make sleep a priority, starting now. Both the NIMH and the CDC recommend things like managing your stress, getting regular exercise, and getting natural sunlight each day to help improve your sleep habits. Sound familiar? And for more helpful information delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.