Toned abs, fit legs, treadmills, weights, salads.
When people think of a “healthy lifestyle,” these are typically the images which come to mind. While these very well may constitute a healthy lifestyle, they are largely physical. And if we so define a “healthy lifestyle” as consisting merely of the tangible, like physical appearance, we may run into more significant issues that are plaguing our youth: eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and exercise-obsession, just to name a few.
Clinically speaking, healthy living should involve eating more nutrient-dense foods, maintaining a “normal” body mass index, and moving more often. If the associated benefits of this definition of healthy living are what we want, we need to create consistency. More specifically, we need to make small, sustainable changes to our lifestyles in the form of habits that we practice on a daily basis.
A healthy lifestyle requires these habits because all humans have a finite amount of willpower at any given time (that is, assuming the ego depletion theory of social psychology is correct, as scientific evidence generally indicates). And inevitably, there will be days, weeks, months, even years when we’ve been having difficulties in the classroom, feeling overwhelmed with piles of homework, having issues socially, or dealing with any other problems that will absorb our limited reserve of willpower to handle.
It will be a struggle to find the motivation to take a trip to the gym or prepare and eat a balanced meal. The amount of willpower each person has varies from individual to individual, but for all of us, it is unreliable and limited. We need to take the time to build habits for a healthier lifestyle, such that each habit becomes so routine it doesn’t require the willpower needed to choose between a dozen donuts and a hearty salad after a long day. It is the accumulation of these habits that builds a sustainable, healthy lifestyle, not the fast-result crash-dieting our society tends to promote.
If you aren’t in the right state of mind to build healthy habits, it will be practically impossible to build a long-term healthy lifestyle. So, if you want to reap the benefits of a nutrient-dense diet and regular exercise, you need to focus on your mental health first.
Yes, this is more easily said than done, especially if you’re dealing with a mental illness or an eating disorder. If either of these apply to you or you think they may apply to you, please seek professional health, regardless of your fitness goals. In any case, make sure to take care of your mental health. Get enough sleep. Spend all the time you need with your family and friends. Take time off from school or extracurricular activities if needed. Pick up a hobby that you love. If you desire to improve your fitness, taking care of yourself mentally will put you in the right mindset to build long-term, sustainable habits. Physical health will follow.
If you’ve rejected expectations for immediate results and dietary perfection and prepared for making a lifetime commitment to better health, you may be in the right mindset to start forming healthy habits. Start by taking little steps. Maybe make a promise to yourself that for the next few weeks, you’ll replace your daily after-class soda with an extra serving of fruit. Once that serving of fruit is a part of your daily regimen, add a new goal of moving an extra 1,000 steps per day. Repeat this process with different dietary and movement tweaks until gradually, you’ve established healthier habits that are practically effortless.
Building these habits slowly, rather than all at once, allows for the preservation of your willpower for the other demands of life while at the same time sets you on the right track for a long-term healthy lifestyle. However, this sort of healthy living is a lifetime endeavor. Inevitably, you will get off-track of your habits from time to time; after all, you are only human. When this happens, focus on starting small again and rebuilding those habits. Do so and you will be on the high-road to a healthier life.
Featured image via Pixabay.