While there are many relaxation techniques that can help you find calmness and control in the midst of chaos, the simple truth is that most of our health comes down to four simple practices: sleeping well, exercising, eating well, and forging meaningful connections with others. If you don’t have these four parts of your life under control, start there. 

Sleep

Adults need around seven to nine hours of sleep each night, teens need eight to ten, and school-aged children need nine to eleven. Sleep is essential for our health, mood, and cognitive function. A lack of sleep increases your risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, mood disorders, and dementia.

In addition to the long-term effects, a lack of sleep lowers your productivity and reaction speed to a similar degree as alcohol. Studies show that after 17-19 hours without sleep, driving ability is impacted as much as a blood alcohol level of 0.05, the legal limit in many places. It’s simply impossible to perform well when you are overtired.

If you aren’t getting enough sleep, getting more should be your number one priority. Without enough rest, it’s impossible to relax and find calmness in your life. To improve your sleep: 

  • Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day
  • Keep your bedroom temperature between 18°C – 22°C
  • Stop using screens, electronics or TVs for an hour before bed
  • Develop a soothing night-time ritual, such as reading a book, taking a bath, or sipping chamomile tea
  • Consult your doctor if sleep problems persist. There are many techniques that can help you get a better night’s sleep. 

Exercise 

When you are stressed, your body prepares for physical battle. This is known as the “fight or flight” response, and it occurs when your body releases stress chemicals, including cortisol and adrenaline, in response to a stressor. These chemicals help us fight our enemies, but if they circulate in our blood stream for too long, they can cause inflammation and a variety of health problems.

Fortunately, any kind of exercise or physical activity helps your body burn off stress chemicals and return to a relaxed state. In addition to lowering your stress levels, getting enough movement in your day helps keep your weight steady; lowers your risk of heart disease, blood pressure, and diabetes; strengthens your bones and muscles; improves your mood; and keeps your brain and memory sharp as you age. 

Exercise is one of the best ways to improve health, lower stress levels, and stay youthful. Get the recommended minimum of 150 minutes of moderate movement in per week. That’s just 20-30 minutes of walking, most days of the week.

If you don’t yet get 150 minutes of moderate activity each week, start moving today! Whether you walk, run, bike, swim, dance, garden, or just play with the dog, the activity doesn’t matter as long you get your heart pumping. The key to sticking with an exercise plan is finding something you enjoy doing. If 20-30 minutes is too much right now, just do what you can. Even a couple of minutes is better than nothing – every bit counts! 

Eating Well

What we eat dramatically affects our health, mood, and cognitive function. A poor diet raises your risks of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some types of cancer, and dementia. In contrast, eating well helps keep us healthy and combats the effects of stress on our body.

Simply by adding a serving of vegetables and piece of fruit to each meal, you would feel a big improvement in their health, energy, and wellbeing. Despite the grandiose claims of most diet plans, the basics of healthy eating are simple:

  • Eat plenty of:
    • Whole grains
    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Lean protein such as poultry, fish and legumes  
    • Healthy fats such as fatty fish, nuts, and avocados  
  • Reduce your consumption of:
    • Heavily processed food (junk food)
    • Red meat, and especially cured meat such as bacon and sausage
    • Full-fat dairy
    • Sugar-sweetened beverages and other sweets
  • Eat at regular intervals to keep your energy up

Don’t worry about eating “perfectly”. There’s no such thing. Just eat healthy things that you enjoy, most of the time, and have a treat now and again because life it short. That’s all there is to it! 

While the basics of healthy eating are simple, eating well can be a challenge for many people. Often, cost is an issue. Rest assured that some of the cheapest foods are also the healthiest. Staple foods such as oatmeal, rice and beans, apples, bananas, cabbage, carrots and potatoes are all cheap, tasty, healthy, and easy to prepare.

Connecting with Others

Humans are social animals, and we need meaningful connections to other people to be at our best. Yet as mentioned earlier, in today’s society, loneliness is a growing epidemic. Without regular human connection, our health, mood, and cognitive function declines, and our mortality risk increases. 

If you don’t have good friends you can turn to, your health may depend on making some. Build more human connections by: 

  • Joining a club, team or group that does an activity you enjoy
  • Volunteer for a cause you believe in
  • Take a class in a subject you enjoy
  • Call, text or email an old friend you haven’t spoken to in a while
  • If you belong to online communities, take the conversation into the real world, and arrange a meetup in your vicinity.

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