13 Small and Simple Ways to Start Living a Healthier Lifestyle

updated Jan 3, 2020
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Figuring out how to create a healthy lifestyle shouldn’t be overwhelming. So why does it feel so hard sometimes?

Rather than thinking about the big picture of “getting healthy”—after all, “healthy” is such a nebulous term that can mean wildly different things from person to person—it can be helpful to come up with practical ways to shift your everyday rhythms toward well-being. You know, things that help you stay in tune with yourself, treat your body kindly, and get closer to any goals you may have. These changes might seem small, but little decisions add up—especially when they become routines.

Looking for some basic but powerful ways to incorporate wellness into your daily life? Here are a few doctor-backed (and simple!) ideas for a healthier lifestyle, starting right now. 

Credit: Apartment Therapy

Practice mindful breathing 

Joseph Feuerstein, MD, Director of Integrative Medicine at Stamford Healthcare, says breathing mindfully is one of the most powerful tools for mental and physical health. 

Because breathing exercises trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, which “turns off” the fight-or-flight response, they can be especially helpful in moments of stress. Make a habit of paying attention to how you breathe, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed or upset. 

To center and relax your mind and body when you’re on edge, Feuerstein recommends trying this 30-second breathing exercise: Close your eyes, breathe through your nose, hold your breath for a count of four, and then slowly exhale. “Doing this is going to put you into a physiological state of relaxation,” he says. “There are very few things we can do that have a similar effect, but one of them is breathing.”

Get your phone out of the bedroom

Ellen Vora, MD, a holistic psychiatrist based in New York, says keeping your bedroom a “no phone” zone is a great way to improve sleep and even mental health. “Basically, by creating a phone-free sanctuary in your bedroom, you can get to bed a little earlier and sleep better because you’re not disrupting your circadian rhythm,” she says. “You’re also not getting addicted to scrolling before bedtime.”

Track your steps on your phone

If you want to be more active, you don’t need to stress out about a gym membership. You don’t even have to get a FitBit. Just track your steps using the health app on your phone. Once you’re tuned in to how much you’re moving, you might be more motivated to keep the momentum. “Generally, once we keep track of something, we do a better job with it,” he says. While every body is different, as a general rule, Feuerstein recommends women get around 8,000 steps a day for heart and lung health, both of which will make you feel more energized. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Bring a water bottle with you everywhere

It’s easy to forget to consume water—even though hydration is a vital part of health (it does everything from regulating to keeping organs functioning properly). Instead of focusing on the number of cups you’re drinking daily—that’s an unreliable guide, since factors like altitude and humidity can impact how much water someone needs—Feuerstein says it’s better to tune into your own body. When you go to the bathroom, aim for light yellow pee rather than a darker shade, which indicates you’re dehydrated.  You can make that easier by bringing a water bottle with you wherever you go as a tangible reminder to drink!

Get a platform for your bathroom

Digestive issues can affect how your entire body feels. For a practical method to keep things moving, Vora often recommends her patients invest in a bathroom platform (like the Squatty Potty). “The goal is to get something that allows your body to have more complete evacuation,” she says. “Something like this could help with constipation, bloating, hemorrhoids, and all the downstream consequences of digestive imbalance.”

Credit: Lauren Volo

Eat more colorful foods

When it comes to eating, there’s no need to label foods as “good” or “bad”—just try to focus on variety when you can. For example, Feuerstein says it could be a good idea to try three kinds of vegetables and two kinds of fruit each day. Since every color vegetable contains different phytonutrients, focus on consuming veggies in a variety of colors—for example, a serving of kale (green), a serving of red (peppers), and a serving of orange (sweet potato). 

Keep a list of things to do instead of scrolling your phone

When you’re feeling stressed, lonely, or bored, it’s easy to reach for your phone as a distraction. But disconnecting by going online won’t leave you feeling rejuvenated. Vora suggests keeping a list on your fridge of things you can do instead of scrolling, like reading a paper book, calling a friend, taking an epsom salt bath, or going on a walk outside. “Try to come up with something other than the ways we all default to using our pockets of time when we don’t want to do anything demanding,” she says.

Keep a voice journal

Keeping a journal can be a great way to offload stress and process emotions, but who has the time to sit down and process with a pen and paper every day? To make journaling easier, Vora often recommends her patients record voice memos on their phones. “The key is not to have everything written down in perfect handwriting, but to get your thoughts out so you can process them,” she says. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

Have people over more

Community and connection are a big part of well-being—but there can be a lot of barriers to face-to-face time with others, especially in your own home. Vora says she often counsels her patients to lower their standards for hosting and have people over more often.

“We’re in such an epidemic of loneliness. We feel like we couldn’t have people over because the house is a mess or we don’t want to shop and meal plan or chop an onion,” she says. “I’m a big advocate to ask people over to a messy house and order takeout—what matters is that you connect with people.” 

Use a “self-love compass” to guide your choices

Living in a world of fad diets and eating approaches can feel demoralizing. Vora says a gentler, self-aware approach to food—and really, any choice you’re faced with—is one based on self-love. Usually, Vora recommends her patients make choices as radical acts of self love. “It’s all gray area. If you eat the cookie or if you don’t eat the cookie has everything to do with whatever an act of self love would be in that moment,” she says. Next time you make a decision, check in with your motivation. If you want to do something because you love yourself, go for it.

Make it easier to make more home-cooked meals

Everyone’s situation is different, but when you can, Vora says cooking meals at home is a great way to promote a healthy lifestyle, ground your body and senses, and connect with others. But stress from meal planning, shopping, and prep isn’t exactly conducive to health. To make home-cooking easier and less stressful, Vora says she often recommends her clients hire a TaskRabbit for an hour a week for tasks like grocery shopping it’s financially accessible. You could also subscribe to a service like SunBasket or HelloFresh for weekly meal delivery!

Remind yourself regularly of your purpose

It may sound a bit woo-woo, but Feuerstein swears by reciting a Jewish prayer when he feels stressed on the job. His goal is to remind himself of his purpose as a doctor and to connect to something bigger than himself, both of which he says can impact well-being. “There’s a lot of research out there that people who have a lack of purpose don’t have as good of health outcomes as people who do,” he says. 

To center your mind and body, find a practical way to remind yourself of your own purpose. It doesn’t have to be religious—for instance, if you’re annoyed with your boss, think about why you started at your job in the first place, and how you can use your role to help other people. 

Be gentle and honest with yourself

Most of our personal growth stems from self awareness: When we pay attention to our minds and bodies, we can make decisions that lead to emotional and physical health. If you want to live a healthier lifestyle, try to focus on being both honest and gentle with yourself. When you notice a potentially unhealthy habit, come up with some practical ways to shift toward health. But give yourself grace along the way: You’re human, and self-love will get you a lot farther than shame ever will.