Fads drive the fitness industry. Calorie counting is repackaged in a million different ways from point systems to color-coded portion control containers. If not tracking calories, you are probably either going vegan or diving into the new carnivore diet (yes, this is actually a thing). Everyone is always searching for the newest thing—with the quickest results. In this crowded space, only the extremes seem to break through.
Fitness programs are called Insanity or Shortcut to Shred. Competitive types are checking fitness technology to tell them whether or not they feel up to a hard workout. "I feel great but my HRV is a little lower than I expected." Amid all this noise, we often overlook what works best. It's too simple. Too obvious. I’m glad you are losing weight by eating only meat, but I’m fairly certain the results won’t be negated by adding broccoli and carrots.
The most sustainable, sensible, and successful lifestyle habits aren’t always sexy, but they work. With that being said, below are my top 10 most transformational healthy lifestyle habits—the force multipliers that tend to amplify every area of life. See how many you do and consider adopting one.
Disclaimer: Exercise is by far the most important, transformational lifestyle habit there is. It leads to positive changes across every arena of life. Thus, I’ve thrown out the broad habit of “exercise” from this list entirely. It’s just too easy. To make things interesting, however, I do consider some specific types of exercise, as below.
10. Transform Your Lifestyle by Running
There are those who will say running is somehow unnatural, overly strenuous for the body, and bad for your health. A fan of Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, I could not disagree more. Humans have run long distances for millennia. We once chased gazelle down by pushing them to sheer exhaustion. There is no more accessible exercise modality.
It is true that running is not the best way to burn fat or train the cardiovascular system. Running, alone, does not sufficiently build the muscle and range of motion most essential to our aging and thriving.
Even more, it has a high injury rate, but this is mostly a consequence of living chair bound lives on overly mattressed shoes. Particularly when balanced by other training, running a couple of miles is a skill we should all hone from time to time. It would be a shame to lose this essential human capability.
9. Transform Your Lifestyle by Mindfulness Training
This involves meditation and elements of yoga. I know most people are sick of hearing about the benefits of meditation, but, it is the essential antidote to the whack-a-mole pace of 21st-century living.
It is by no means a magic bullet, yet daily mindfulness training does far more than just relieving stress. It rewires the brain to promote greater focus, patience, control, and emotional well-being.
More than that it trains you to notice thoughts without being at their mercy. For anyone wanting to master themselves and, by default, their own life, meditation is essential. This is why it is one of IHD’s Three Core Habits.
8. Transform Your Lifestyle by Walking
Walking is something almost all of us can do and benefit from. For the most untrained it's the first step (no pun intended) to improving physical health and for the most trained it is phenomenal recovery. You could think of this as a way into meditation and calming the mind or just a necessary reprieve from sedentary indoor living.
We all need sunlight and exposure to the elements regardless of whether the temperatures are ideal. It’s great thinking time or a wonderful activity for connecting with loved ones. For those who want to take it to the next level, hike the hills. Now that’s a workout.
7. Transform Your Lifestyle with Water
Our bodies and minds don’t work optimally when we are dehydrated. Drinking more water (and maybe only water) helps everything from headaches to constipation. Even more, we tend to consume far more unnecessary calories when we aren’t drinking enough water. Often we think we are hungry when we are thirsty.
But don't drink just anything. Those liquid calories add up quickly while doing less for satiety than food. I don’t want to lose you completely. Sprinkle in an occasional alcoholic beverage or two, but other than these occasional treats and black coffee or tea, you’d do well to eliminate all beverages that aren’t just water.
6. Transform Your Lifestyle with Resistance Training
Resistance training is awesome. It raises your metabolism, increases bone density, improves posture, brings you through full ranges of motion, and makes you capable of living fully.
You could take strength training to an extreme where it started to pull you away from other healthy practices, but for most people, it is one of the healthiest lifestyle practices one could adopt. It is truly a microcosm for all of life. Start by learning how to execute fundamental movement patterns: squat, hinge, push, pull, and carry.
5. Transform Your Lifestyle by Commuting by Bike or Foot
No stressful traffic. Exposure to the elements. Interaction with your local environment. Daily exercise. Lower transportation costs. What isn’t to like about using human muscle for the bulk of your locomotive needs?
This practice signals a commitment to living your healthy values that goes far beyond any one-hour practice. That is why I believe these last habits are a notch above the previous five. It’s the difference between taking your vitamins and getting all the necessary vitamins and minerals from balanced, awesome nutrition.
Nothing compares to living your value for health twenty-four hours a day. That is why author of Blue Zones, Dan Buettner contends that:
Photography by Bev Childress of Fort Worth, Texas
"The world’s longest lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons, or join gyms. Instead they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work."
4. Transform Your Lifestyle with an Active, Rewarding Profession
In the same vein as number five, having an active profession takes movement and incorporates it into your entire day. The hour at the gym is a great first step, but it can’t entirely undue a cubicle-ridden life, seated in office chairs while hunched over a screen. Even more, the stress of work and work commutes are a real killer.
Any occupation that doesn’t exacerbate these killers is a great thing. Any occupation that is full of purpose and community will go a long way to promote mental health and the conditions where physical health can thrive. Work is a large part of our life, so we should choose wisely.
3. Transform Your Lifestyle by Cutting Out Added Sugars
In the Western Diet, sugar is everywhere and it is added to everything. Processed foods are full of added sugar and it is hell on waistlines and minds. That’s why the WHO now recommends getting 5% or fewer of your daily calories from added sugars.
Cutting them out completely leads people to eat far more whole, naturally occurring foods. This tends to create wonderful nutrition habits. It is one simple change that is easy to follow after just a little planning. Still, I recommend allowing yourself to break these rules once a week. When indulgences are controlled, they become truly wonderful.
2. Transform Your Lifestyle with a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Adequate sleep regulates our hormones, rejuvenates our bodies, consolidates memories, and boosts our immune system. Poor sleep leaves us feeling sluggish, moody, and at greater risk for depression, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.
Even more, if you are well-rested you are far more likely to make good nutrition choices and lead an active day. Conventional wisdom tells us that adults need 7-9 hours of sleep tonight, but few take any measures to achieve this.
Here are my suggestions:
- Go to sleep at a consistent time each night.
- Create a consistent wind-down routine, 30-60 minutes before bed.
- No phone or TV in the bedroom—get an old fashioned alarm clock
- If you can’t fall asleep after about 30-minutes, get up and do something that makes you tired.
- Apply meditation principles at bedtime.
1. Transform Your Lifestyle with a Health-Conscious Community
This last one is the hardest to accomplish, but the most transformative. We are communal creatures who tend to take on the practices of the group around us. If the norms are to sit staring at spreadsheets, scanning social media in free moments, and eating fast food for lunch every day, then you are likely to take on these patterns.
This is normal. There are careers, sub-cultures, and cities where healthy living is far more common, however. Whether we live in an active community or just find a tribe of active mavericks in our community, integrating your health and wellness into your social life will satisfy a deep need for connection, while making healthy habits an easier, more natural extension of daily living.
Take What's Useful
As with any top ten list, personal bias and inherent broad generalizations guarantee imperfection. I encourage you to question the order and what might have been left off.
At the very least I hope these give a different perspective on health and the way we choose to live our lives. If this list has you inspired to adopt new practices, I recommend focusing on one or two new habits at a time. Slow and steady always wins.
For more help creating the ability to act in more constructive ways, check out my e-book, The Essential Guide to Self-Mastery. Remember, life is to short to be normal.