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Most Americans equate “health” with professional health care, especially now, but I’d go so far as to say that self-care and family-based caregiving are the foundations of both good health and happiness.
Aside from COVID-19 practices, there are self-health practices learned from living (and backed by scientific research). None of them takes much in the way of cash.
The hard truth—at least in my experience—is that they never become habits. Each one requires daily recommitment (remembering) and daily practice (just doing it).
Eat lots of vegetables. Although science doesn’t identify a single vegetable, group of vegetables, or plant constituent as the “most important” for health, piles of research confirm that the people who eat the most and greatest diversity of vegetables (and fruit, too) enjoy better all-around physical and psychological health. You can’t overdose on green, red, and yellow vegetables (but go easy on the fried potatoes). If you can’t find fresh vegetables, frozen is the next best thing.
Exercise (almost) every day. This doesn’t mean hard-core gym. I exercise outside as often as possible and think of ways to incorporate daily life tasks as “exercise” (e.g., digging, raking, shoveling, stacking wood, stair-climbing, walking or biking as a form of basic transportation). Staying physically active makes everything else easier. It enriches every corner of my life. I aim for an hour total and incorporate some type of strength or weight training. If you don’t have weights, use your body! Squats, lunges, push-ups, planks, and balancing poses are five exercises for strength training without equipment.
Floss and brush. Floss and brush. Teeth, gums, and other tissues in the mouth are connected to the rest of the body. Poor oral health can lead to a host of whole-body problems. (Note: Dental hygienists have taught me the importance of using correct brushing and flossing techniques. Look up a tutorial.)
Aim for 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep most nights. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep most nights. Research shows that getting around 7 hours of quality sleep every night helps to manage weight, improves memory and slows cognitive decline, reduces the risks of diabetes and heart disease, and more. When many people are living together in a house, sleep is #1 to decrease irritability and get along.
Apologize. It took a long time for me to understand that when things go bad in almost any situation, I’ve usually played a big part in it. Apologizing fully and without qualification (regardless of the role another or others played in the bad situation) clears my emotional decks so that I can move on.
Forgive. A closely related psychological truth that it took me a long time to absorb: Forgiving doesn’t absolve others of the consequences of their actions, but it does free up the energy I expend in holding them accountable for my pain. Holding accounts means that I expect others to change before I can feel better. Forgiveness empowers me to move on.
Invest in high-quality relationships. Again, an abundance of research supports the notion that cultivating close family and friendship ties promotes physical and emotional well being. Like everything else associated with health, it takes time, energy, and knowledge to sustain healthy relationships. Those with family at home, this is a good time to treasure those ties. Those who do not have family at home, keep up phone calls, learn Zoom and do your part in reaching out to communicate with family and friends.
Cultivate an understanding of many points of view. Getting at the heart of how people develop their points of view on a particular issue, and what values and actions they attach to them, helps me to develop compassion. I’ve found that working on this skill has also helped me to refine my attempts to persuade others to see and respect other points of view.
Express gratitude. I find the act of saying aloud or writing about something for which I’m grateful causes an immediate internal shift away from self-pity, blame, anger, and other energy-sapping emotional states. Feeling grateful and saying so is a good way to start the day or start any day over.
What do you do to stay healthy and happy? Share your tips in the comments below!
Margaret Boyles is a longtime contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She wrote for UNH Cooperative Extension, managed NH Outside, and contributes to various media covering environmental and human health issues. Read More from Margaret Boyles