You could spend forever working out exactly how to live a healthy life — the internet is full of hacks meant to help you optimise each little detail. But honestly, most of the benefits of sleep, exercise, and diet come from just doing the basics right. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, here’s where to start.
Exercise, any kind
You can run, lift weights, do yoga, take classes — there are tons of options. Any exercise is better than none, and if you’re feeling out of shape, try doing a little more than whatever you’re currently doing.
A healthy week’s worth of exercise should include:
Some strength training
You might be a runner who gets in a few quick strength sessions, or a lifter who hops on the rower for a little cardio once or twice a week. Or maybe you play a sport that gives you a good mix of both in every practice.
If you’re new to everything, explore until you find something you love. Then find a program, team, coach, or long-term goal to structure the rest of your training.
Zero exercise is not enough. Going for a walk every day is probably a good thing. And if you're training for a marathon, you'll be on your feet for a couple hours of hard workouts every week. But what is the benchmark for a human being just trying to squeeze enough healthy exercise into their life? Let's break it down.
There are entire industries that sell things to people who don’t have enough “energy.” You could buy their vitamins, gadgets, or motivational advice...or you could just get enough sleep in the first place.
If you routinely get six hours or less, fixing that will probably solve a huge number of what might otherwise seem like health or “energy” related problems. Most people need between six and nine hours. The way to get more sleep is usually just to rearrange your morning and evening schedules to allow yourself enough time in the sack.
Eat a non-crappy diet
There are many healthy ways to eat, so don’t worry too much about whether you’ve found the optimal one. All of the healthy diets involve lots of fruits and vegetables, and not too much sugar.
If you’re trying to lose weight, know that all of the diets and fasting schemes out there work the same way: they result in you reducing your calorie intake. Beyond that, they each have their own pros and cons: you might feel more full and satisfied on the high-fat content of the keto diet, or you might prefer the simplicity of intermittent fasting, or maybe you enjoy a lot of the foods you can eat on an old-school low-fat diet.
Whichever you like is fine, but if you’re relying on a diet to manage calories, pick one and stick to it. And remember that your diet matters more than exercise when it comes to weight management.
This one is a bit more nebulous, but if you’re feeling stressed out all the time, it may be hard to stick to any of the above changes.
Techniques like meditation can help, but often stress comes from everything else in your life: are you working long hours? Worried about making ends meet? Dealing with a new baby or a sick parent?
You may not be able to make those stresses go away, but you may be able to take a look at your life and find ways of coping better with what’s going on, and planning around the stresses you can’t change. Getting actual therapy will help mental health problems more than any amount of meditation or life hacks.
Don’t change everything at once
You’re just setting yourself up for failure if you try to get a ton of exercise and totally change your diet and get a whole new evening routine all at once. (If you tried all that in January and fell off the wagon, you know what I mean.)
Even within each of these domains, pick one thing at a time. Add a cycling class once or twice a week and see how that feels. Next week, find a few healthy lunches and get into the habit of packing them. Take stock of each change after you make it — has this changed things for the better? Would I like to do more? What challenges are in my way? — and before long, you’ll be living a healthier life.