I’m a huge fan of counseling. I attend counseling myself, and I recommend it to everybody. I think it’s a great way to work on your issues or struggles, improve your mood, and make sure you are living the kind of life you really want.
But counseling isn’t the only way to improve your health and well-being. I read an article recently that reviewed 8 lifestyle changes you can make to improve your life. Each of these lifestyle changes has research evidence supporting its effectiveness.
- Exercise. Regular exercise can improve your physical and mental health. But it’s hard to do consistently. My main recommendations here are to start small and stay consistent. Don’t resolve to run 5 miles right off the bat—that’s too much! Instead, try to walk for 5 minutes. Once you do this consistently for a week, you can increase from there. Also, try to do something that is fun or at least tolerable. If you hate going to the gym, try something different, like going for a bike ride outside. Just get moving.
- Nutrition and Diet. Eating healthy is good for us. We all know that—but it’s not easy to do. Temptation and fast food are everywhere! The keys here are to eat (a) good and healthy food and (b) a moderate amount of food. Most people who struggle here either eat a lot of junk food, or they eat too much. Figuring out how to eat healthy can be overwhelming. My recommendation here is to start with one thing at a time. For example, maybe resolve to only eat dessert once per week. Or drink water instead of soda. Once you get consistent with this one thing, move on to something else.
- Nature. It can improve our mood to get outside and into nature. This can be hard depending on where you live. For example, I live in the city, and I spend most of my time inside. Make it a goal to spend at least a little bit of time outside each day. Find some green space and get connected with your surroundings.
- Relationships. One of the largest predictors of our health and well-being is the quality of our relationships. We have a deep need for intimacy, and we struggle when those needs go unmet. In today’s world, it is easy to make surface-level connections (e.g., take a look at how many Facebook friends you have), but it can be more difficult to develop and maintain deeper relationships. Do you have people in your live who invest in you? Do you invest in other people?
- Recreation and Enjoyable Activities. You need some time each day to relax and have fun. What is in your schedule that is just there for your enjoyment? Sometimes these activities get pushed out because of work or family commitments that seem more important. It’s important to have balance.
- Relaxation and Stress Management. High levels of stress, or poor ways of coping with stress, can damage our health and well-being. How stressful is your day-to-day life? Are there things you can do to lower your stress level? Maybe you have too many commitments, and you should start saying no (even to good opportunities). Some level of stress is inevitable. When you do get stressed, how do you cope? If you aren’t sure, it might be a good idea to develop a set of ‘go-to’ coping strategies you can use to deal with stress. Some of my favorites include exercise, watching sports, and connecting with friends.
- Religious and Spiritual Involvement. In general, research has shown that people who have strong religious and spiritual commitments have higher levels of health and well-being. If you consider yourself religious or spiritual, there might be ways to utilize this part of your life to help improve your health and well-being. Religion and spirituality can be important sources of social support, meaning and purpose, and coping strategies.
- Contribution and Service. We feel good when we give our time, talents, and energy to serve others. Helping others helps us. Think about how you might give part of your time to help others who are less fortunate than yourself. Think about the major problems in your community, and see if one catches your heart. Then do some research and see if there is an organization you might be able to volunteer with.
Discussion: What do you think about the 8 lifestyle interventions to improve your health and well-being? Which one would you like to work on in your life?