Over the years, I’ve counseled thousands of people about their health and I have to say that it’s scary how common it is for people from all backgrounds to feel some combination of sick, tired, depressed, and miserable. It’s equally scary how common it is for people to simply accept that as their lot in life.
It really doesn’t have to be that way. Some of the most effective methods I’ve seen people use to improve their health are simple and easily accessible for most everyone. You don’t need a lot of money—you just need the drive to cultivate the right habits. Here are the six best initiatives you can start today:
1. Get some sunshine.
Soaking up the sun is something that’s received a lot of bad press in recent years, and these days everyone associates UV rays with skin cancer. While it is true that you shouldn’t spend all day in the sun, moderate, direct exposure to sunshine is a healthy thing.
In addition to encouraging a better mental state, exposure to sunlight affects the body’s production of melatonin and can promote more restful sleep. It’s also required for the body to be able to produce vitamin D, an incredibly vital nutrient not often readily available in food that supports cardiovascular health, bone health, and the immune system.
Sun exposure also seems to have an indirect effect on hormones. Vitamin D binds to proteins in the blood where it travels through the circulatory system to various organs and supports a number of essential functions. Without it, your endocrine system, which is very much in charge of your hormones, is affected.
Aim for up to 30 minutes of direct skin-to-sun exposure at least a few times a week.
2. Breathe clean air.
As the old saying goes, you can survive weeks without food, days without water, but only a few minutes without air. Given its place on the priority list, it almost goes without saying that the best air is fresh and clean.
A lot of people associate poor air quality with smog or industrial pollution. But according to the EPA, air quality is usually two to five times worse inside than outside. That’s a best-case scenario; the worst cases can be up to 100 times more toxic—full of VOCs and chemical fumes from furniture, paint, flooring materials, and other indoor building materials.
Don't rely on air fresheners to solve the problem—most of them just release an equally toxic chemical fragrance to disguise odors. Rather, get an air purification device for your home, preferably one that uses both HEPA and UV filters. You can also open the windows or get a few houseplants that absorb household toxins and release clean oxygen.
Better yet, go outside in nature and enjoy the fresh air firsthand.
3. Stay hydrated.
By some estimates, 75 percent of people suffer from chronic dehydration. Dehydration affects health in more ways than one. It flattens energy levels and can negatively affect every process in the body, including your bone and tissue regeneration, your natural detoxification abilities, your immune system—all of it. Even the blinking of your eyes and the beating of your heart require water.
Although the Madison Avenue marketing wizards prefer to write off water as plain and boring in favor of the overpriced, carbonated sugar water that is soda and energy drinks, there is no substitute. Avoid coffee, sodas, and energy drinks, as they are not good hydrators and will actually cause your body to lose water. Instead, drink half your body weight in ounces of water a day. For example, if you weigh 180 pounds, drink 90 ounces of water on a daily basis.
4. Don’t get “some” rest, get ENOUGH rest.
Have you noticed that in some circles, sleeping a few hours a night is viewed as a badge of honor, and sleeping the full, recommended eight hours is seen as a weakness? This type of thinking is completely backward. Adequate sleep—which is defined as about eight hours a night—is absolutely necessary for a healthy body and mind.
So why are people walking around tired all the time? Well, I dare say that, for most people, the problem isn’t that they’re too busy. It’s that they just need to shut off the TV and close their eyes. Trying to sleep with the TV or other gadgets on will only negatively affect your body’s natural biorhythms, so just turn it off, make your sleep space as dark as possible, and go to bed.
5. Exercise often.
You don’t need to become a fitness model, a triathlete, or a marathon runner. Even light activity can offer tremendous health benefits. Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise a few times a week can boost energy levels, help you sleep better, sharpen your mind, and strengthen your defense against illness.
To maximize the benefits, exercise outdoors. Studies have shown that exercising outside promotes better vitality, enthusiasm, and self-esteem and can help reduce depression and fatigue. Another study found that people who exercised outside exercised longer and more often—not to mention, exercising outdoors can also help you get your daily dose of sunshine.
6. Follow a clean diet.
You may be familiar with the expression “garbage in, garbage out.” Nowhere is that more true than with regard to the food you eat. Good nutrition is so vital to your health that I could write another 10 articles on nutrition alone. You can exercise and sleep twice as much as anyone else, but without a clean and balanced diet, those efforts will be in vain.Most of your grocery list should consist of whole, raw foods from nature—vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. I won’t say every prepackaged food is terrible, but it’s definitely a minefield of suspect ingredients. Get in the habit of making your own food and avoid the mass-produced “food widgets” that are largely found in the center of the grocery store—boxed, packaged, and loaded with junk, especially sugar and refined carbohydrates.