A healthy lifestyle and happiness go hand-in-hand, yet why is it that so many of us lack the discipline to follow through and really make that difference?
Today, I’m excited to share a guest article from an expert on fitness, nutrition and self-improvement who provides some great, well-researched strategies for helping you live a more healthy lifestyle. Aqilah Norazman shares with us her experience in overcoming health issues, how it related to her own happiness and some quality tips for raising your happiness levels by living a more healthy lifestyle.
Take it away, Aqilah!
“To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” – Buddha
We all know that being happy is one of the key to staying healthy. But what about being healthy first before being happy? Let me tell you a story.
Four years ago, in the midst of finishing my Science degree in college, I was in my happy place. I was meeting new people through volunteering programs in college, I had a good relationship with my family and I was absolutely certain of what I wanted to do after I graduate.
But I wasn’t healthy, not even close to it. Life was great back then, all the parties, dinner out and socializing, it left me with no time at all to take care of myself in terms of exercising, eating better or sleeping well. But it doesn’t really matter because I was satisfied with my life.
Until one day, I had to do a series of physical activity tests in my Physiology lab class. Oh great, I thought. I couldn’t even climb 10 flights of stairs without feeling breathless. That was when I realise how much I’ve been blinded by this happiness I felt inside me. Months flew and I was more and more assured that I wasn’t satisfied. It came to a realization that I was just living through the motions because happy things surrounded me. Deep down inside, I was suffering. And I was only 20 years old.
Things started to go downhill after that class. I started feeling lethargic, less confident and moody day by day. I wasn’t motivated to study and at that point in time I suddenly wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do after I finish college. I knew I needed a change, or risk having my bubbly spirit and active personality die. I made a conscious decision to start taking care of myself. And that made all the difference.
One year later, I was 45 pounds lighter. I didn’t feel like there was a need for me to be surrounded by people all the time, I just felt contented being with myself. And that was the moment I felt I have truly achieve true happiness, which still lives within me today, three years down the road.
You are not alone
In fact, according to an epidemiological study by the University of Eastern Finland has shown that being healthy not only stops someone from acquiring dangerous health risk of a sedentary lifestyle, but also the overwhelming sadness that could accompany it.
This simply means that adopting a healthier lifestyle can ward off the feeling of being sad and depressed leading to increased happiness.
Thankfully, I noticed how much my health was affecting my mood and life and I started making changes to it. If you find yourself being on the same boat as I did four years ago, remember that it is not too late to make a change. Nothing is. But it all lies in you and how much you want to make a difference to your health and your happiness.
Although there are so many things we can do to be happy, starting to pick up healthy habits one step at a time is crucial increase our willpower and achieving life-long success. Here are 5 healthy ways to being happy that you can implement into your life today. Do it one at a time and feel all the difference.
1. Decrease Stimulant Intake
So many of us drag our way through the day with the help of stimulants – particularly, caffeine. Even that green tea that you had a few hours ago contains caffeine. Although stimulants are alright at certain time of the day for certain groups of people (e.g. pre-workout nutrition for athletes), having them primarily to get us out of the door in the morning because we don’t feel good is not a healthy habit.
Here’s an idea. Slowly decrease caffeine (or other stimulants) intake. If you’re having five cups of coffee a day, don’t just go cold turkey and have none after reading this. Limit yourself to four cups each day for a week, and then three the week after, two the week after next and so on. Even if it seems slow, at the end of the day, you are consuming lesser caffeine than you normally would and what was initially a 5 cups a day thing is now only one on Friday morning.
2. Increase Physical Activity
Our body is designed to move. Most of us spend excessive amounts of time in the day sitting which has the potential to create body tension. Even worse if this excessive sitting we do at work is followed by a couch potato session at home, followed by sleep after a heavy dinner. And we wonder why we’re always tired.
The thing is, increasing physical activity is easier said than done, even for myself as a fitness trainer who has been in this industry for a while. If you’re not used to exercising, getting up and out for a walk apart from weekly shopping sprees seems like such a chore. That is why I’m not telling you to go start running a mile right now.
Here’s an idea. Progress and build up. Just like having caffeine a little lesser every week, exercising does not have to be a cold turkey event. You’ll risk hurting yourself and feel less motivated than you started off. Before you even have a goal of losing weight in mind, start walking. Just go out, put on some angry or meditative music (depending on what you like) and walk. If you can only last 5 minutes before you get bored or tired, then stop at 5 minutes. Do it again the next day and 5 will soon be 6, 7 and so on.
Once your body starts to identify the momentum that it has slowly built up, you’re more inclined to start setting goals and work even harder towards it. That’s better for you, your sanity and your body.
3. Decrease Processed Foods
I know, you’ve probably heard it a million and one times before that nutrition is important in staying healthy so I’ll spare the broken record and not say the same. But I’ll say this – decrease intake of processed foods and increase intake of food that is proven to increase your mood and make you feel happy. We all know what processed foods are – sugar, white bread, white pasta and so on. But do you know that there are certain foods out there that has been proven to increase endorphins, dopamine and decrease levels of cortisol? Here are some of them:
– Whole-grain breads
In other words, unrefined carbohydrates and good fats is the way to go to improve our mood and happiness. Try increasing your intake of these foods from the list above. Studies like this one in the British Journal of Health Psychology has shown that the food we eat can trigger the emotional centres up in our brain, thus affecting how we feel after eating them. Eat a balanced diet with more of the good stuffs above and feel the difference.
4. Take Care of Your Skin
Our skin is the biggest organ in our body. It is also the one thing that keeps us away from all physical extremities like dust, wind, atmosphere and so on. It is also vital for most of our body’s processes like respiration, excretion and secretion. But how often do we really take care of them?
If you’re like me who tries to give some TLC to your skin, make sure you’re not slathering it with chemically based products. If you don’t really take care of your skin, start developing a routine and choose products that are most organic and least harmful. What we apply on our skin has the potential to penetrate deeper into our body so take this chance to use products that does not only help your skin, but also bring positive effects on to your body.
Last but not least, relax. Relaxing is one of the easiest ways to improve your mood and bring happiness to yourself. The less time we have to relax, the more our body produce the stress-inducing hormone cortisol and the higher our chance in developing stress related diseases. One simple way to do this that can increase your happiness, energy, confidence and emotional balance is meditation.
Before you run away thinking that meditating involves you sitting in your bathrobe in one corner of the room with the heater on for hours, you’re wrong. That is not meditation.
Meditation is the act of clearing your mind and like everything else we’ve covered in this post, progression wins over anything else when it comes to meditation. Pick a time in the day, preferably first thing when you wake up, and sit in silent and breathe, just for a minute. After a while, the minute becomes 2 and then 3 and four and so on.
Here’s to you…
We try so hard to make the conditions on the outside of our lives – our house, the car, our phones and the people surrounding us – perfect but rarely do we focus on our insides. There are so many things out there that we can’t control and our body is not one of them. Take charge of your wellbeing, start taking care of yourself and focus on the things we can do within ourselves to make us happier.
Happiness can be a reward, as much as it is a consequence in other aspects of our life. Pick one of the areas above and work on it. Chances are you’ll find that your emotions, wellbeing, outcome of life and most importantly state of happiness will improve.
Mine did. And I know yours can too.
Share with me…
Have you adopted a healthy habit recently and found yourself being happier than you ever did? What is it? Is there anything health-related in your life that you think is bringing you down?
Let me know by writing a comment below and I would love to help you. I may not know all the right answers but I can offer you my most genuine and sincere thoughts.
Aqilah Norazman loves helping your average person live a pretty awesome life. She spreads her happiness at PrettyAwesomeFitness.com on all things fitness, nutrition and self-improvement. Grab her free eBook here and connect with her on Twitter.