I’ve been researching and writing a book for over two years now, culling from the best selling books on health, wealth and wisdom. I thought I’d share a few things that I have learned on improving your health and as a nod to James Altucher, I am trying to develop my idea muscle at the same time. Here’s some simple things that you can do to improve your health:
Ten ways to improve your mental health
- Take six deep breaths – Whenever I’m feeling stressed or tired or even feel like I need a reset, I take in six deep breaths. I completely fill in my lungs as much as I can, and then breathe out until I can’t exhale anymore and then I repeat five more times. I read somewhere that taking in a deep breath like that can help stimulate your vagus nerve (VAGUS BABY! sorry) and bring your peace and calm.
- Close my eyes and meditate for two minutes – Similar to the six deep breaths, sometimes I feel like I am getting distracted by notifications, pings on my phone, deadlines and I can’t help but feel like there are too many pulls in different directions. So whenever I am feeling overwhelmed, I close my eyes, try to forget for a moment, where I am, what I’m doing and then try to clear my head of any thoughts. It’s during those times that I get clarity on what I need to do and it helps put things into perspective – things are not that bad!
- Laugh – Laughing puts you in a good mood and I like to strategically watch stand up comedians (my favourite is Demetri Martin) before going into social settings. The comedy puts me in a good mood, helps give me something to talk about sometimes and I find that I’m more positive and sociable after watching something funny.
- Think about what you are grateful for every single day – Gratitude is one of the best ways to be happier with your life. When you think about the things that you are grateful for, your mind starts to shift from “here all the things that I need in my life to be happy” to “here is everything that I already have in my life already, how lucky I am”.
- Write and reflect – Do you keep a journal? I know, I know, I was somewhat of a skeptic too but there’s something about writing and reflecting on your day that gives you a sense of calm and clarity on things that I never found before. It’s a lot like talking to that best friend or partner about a crazy day you had at work except for those that may be introverts, this doesn’t require another person.
- Contact someone you haven’t talked to in a long time – Maybe it’s a friend that you haven’t seen in a while. Or your parents who you haven’t called for months. I’ve never caught up with someone I haven’t talked to and then not felt significantly better right after. Things get busy. Life gets busy. And we all have limited time. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t from time to time, connect with those that were a major part of your life in the past.
- Read a book – Even better, read something that can help you improve your life. Reading is a way to download information from another person’s experience and expertise into your brain. Don’t have a lot of books to read? Browse the articles on Medium or in the Pocket app.
- Organize and clean – Are you waiting for a friend to pick you up to go to dinner? Clean around your entrance – maybe put away those shoes that you have lying around or throw away those boxes that you grabbed from Costco to help with your groceries. Cleaning for 5 minutes may not seem like much but like all small activities, they add up over time. Cleaning up also means, at least for me, less clutter around the house, which helps with my sanity (I dislike seeing a lot of clutter around the house).
- Listen to your favourite song – It’s weird how listening to a song can pick up your mood just like that. Find a song that you like (or listen to some random ones based on other songs you like) and when you feel like are down or need a pick me up, listen to that song!
- Play a video game – And not just any game. Studies have shown that playing tetris helps you to de-stress from the day – something about those oddly shaped blocks and trying to fit all of them into different rows that help to reduce your stress. I personally enjoy puzzle games but video games can be a nice way to take a short break from things and get immediately into ‘flow’ though you do have to be careful that it does not turn from five minutes into a few hours.
Ten ways to improve your physical health
- Stand up and stretch – This is especially important if you have a desk job where you sit all day. Getting up and stretching won’t just be good for your body, it will also be good for your eyes too from staring at a computer screen all day.
- Stretch before bed – For some reason, I always thought it was a good idea to stretch before doing anything strenuous. But I learned that stretching is another way of tearing your muscles (I’m exaggerating a bit here) and therefore, it’s not a good idea to stretch before you do physical activity. It is, however, a good idea to warm up before which is much different from stretching. But if you feel like you got in a good work out that day and your body is a little bit sore (that post-workout feeling is great!) then I say try to get in a short stretch before bed. It’ll help relax your body and put you in a good mood before sleep.
- Embrace physical activity – Whenever I can, I try not to be lazy. Rather than stand on an escalator, I’ll try to walk up a flight of stairs, if it is conveniently located right beside the escalator. Or I’ll park a bit further away from the grocery store or from my work so that I can get in a few extra steps to walk to my destination. These small activities add up over time!
- Use smaller plates – Did you know that at buffets, if you pick a larger plate, you’ll try to fill it with as much food as you can (well, I mean this is the buffet mentality) but it also means that you would take a lot more food than you normally would if you had instead decided to choose a smaller plate. This sometimes applies at home – you’ll put a bunch of food on a large plate and feel like you have to fill the plate but if you put the food on a smaller plate, you may not feel full, even if it might be the same amount of food on both plates. Try it and see!
- Eat junk food but only if you make it yourself – It’s okay to eat junk food – potato chips are my favourite but take the time to make it yourself. Not only will it be healthier (have you tried to bake thinly sliced potatoes? Delicious but it takes a lot of work and you feel much better after eating those chips than the ones that come from the grocery stores) but it will take longer and you might find that after making the junk food, you won’t eat as much of it because it’s not as convenient to make and eat.
- Get moving in the morning! – Even if you don’t have an exercise routine in the morning, get moving! It’s wondrous how your mood is affected by the way your body moves. Tell me that you don’t smile if you start singing and dancing in the shower. Tell me that you don’t feel better if you raise your arms as if you won the lottery (even if you didn’t win the lottery).
- Drink a glass of water right when you wake up – I don’t think I’ve ever woken up from sleep and not felt dehydrated. Drinking a glass of water is like giving your internal body a shower – it quickly hydrates you and gets you primed for the day. Remember, your body is mostly water so if you are not getting enough water, your body will not function optimally.
- Pack lunch – Okay sure, packing your lunch might take longer than 5 minutes but you can save time if you make a big batch of dinner on Saturday or Sunday and then pack the leftovers into containers that you can eat for lunch during the week. Rather than eating out or eating ready made food, I think you would agree that it can be much healthier to make your own food and you could save some money by doing so as well.
- Make exercise a habit – B.J. Fogg teaches in his course “Tiny Habits” (which is free btw and a great primer on how to build and maintain habits) that a habit consists of three main concepts: an action, a trigger and a reward. For example, one way to build a habit of doing 100 pushups is to start small – every time you go to the washroom, do 1 push up. There are some key concepts here: first, start super small. If you can’t even do one pushup, try one sit up instead or one wall pushup. When you do it enough though, you’ll start to improve your fitness and you can start doing more – two pushups, five pushups, maybe even ten pushups every time you go to the bathroom.
- Take a rest day – Sure it’s important to go. Keep pushing yourself. Relentlessly own the day. But sometimes your body and your mind can only take so much. It’s important to remember that rest is just as important as the workout in the gym. Rest is where your body recovers and gets stronger and if you don’t allow it to rest, well, I can’t speak from personal experience or from a position of expertise but I know that the body can only take so much before it forces you to rest (though mind you, the body can take a lot).
Five more fun ways to improve your health
- Delete an app off your phone – I myself have a ton of apps on my phone – it’s almost an obsession really. I see a cool new app and I decide – hey what the heck, I’ll give it a shot. Then a few dozens of apps later, I have a phone where I can scroll for a few seconds and still not go through my list of apps which is scary! So if you haven’t used an app in a while, you probably won’t use it in the future. But what about apps that you MIGHT use in the future? You can install them when you need them.
- Walk outside – Sometimes you get cramped all day inside. You wake up, you eat breakfast, you get into your car, you park in your underground parking spot, you sit in the office all day, work, then you get back into your car, drive into your garage, sit in front of the TV at home and not once have you went outside at all or even touched a breath of fresh air. Go outside – preferably a park or somewhere with trees, flowers and plants. Breathe in the fresh air.
- Watch a funny cat video – Cats are funny. Or if you’re not a cat person, watch a funny dog video. I dare you not to laugh after watching a good cat or dog video!
- Eat good food – It could just be me but I find that whenever I eat good food, I feel significantly better than when I eat unhealthy, fast or processed food. I like to think of food as fuel for my body and if you threw in potato chips, fried chicken and hamburgers at your body (in other words, unoptimized low octane fuel for your car), would your body / car perform just as well? Maybe but maybe not. You get what you put in so if you are putting in healthy, raw, organic food with lots of minerals, vitamins and good calories, you are going to get more out of your body then if you put in processed food with lots of unhealthy fats, bad carbs and other unhealthy things.
- Disconnect from technology – Are you reading this on your phone? Computer? Stop! Even for 5 minutes. When’s the last time you didn’t check your phone every few minutes? Take this as a cue – try to get away from technology for 5 minutes. Don’t watch TV. Don’t look at your phone. Don’t browse youtube videos on your computer. Don’t watch netflix on your tablet. Stop and take 5 minutes for yourself.