Imagine it’s 1954 (this will take more imagination for some of us than for others) and you’re watching television’s top-rated show: I Love Lucy. Your eyes begin to glaze over as you squint at your tiny black-and-white television set. Soon you fall fast asleep. You sleep very soundly. In fact, you sleep so soundly, that when you wake up, it’s fifty years later: 2004, and you’re looking at a large screen plasma television with stereo surround sound. Instead of Lucy and Ricky, you’re watching Extreme Makeover (or The Swan, or America’s Next Top Model, or America’s Biggest Loser, or…).
What goes through your mind?
One of the first things you’ll probably notice is how fast everything moves. You may also notice how obsessed people are with their looks. People want to look good and they want to look good now. And they’re willing to try a lot more than Vitameatavegamin to do it!
Most everyone wants to look good… they probably wanted it in 1954, too. However, looking good isn’t the same thing as being healthy. Some thin people are actually quite unhealthy (not to mention unhappy). And some extremely muscular people engage in very unhealthy practices. Quick fixes, nips and tucks, fad diets, pills, potions, and lotions may help some look better, but real health is a slow and steady process. Lasting change with sustainable results takes time… and effort.
There’s no secret to staying healthy, just a lot of common sense. Here’s what it takes:
Proper Attitudes + Proper Behaviors = Lasting Change
Let me suggest to you five key attitudes and five key behaviors that contribute to a healthier life.
Gimme Some Attitude
I’m one of a kind.
Everybody is unique. We all have different bodies, different genes, different health histories, and different health risks. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. By paying attention to what your body needs, you’ll find what weight is healthy for you, what exercises work best for you, what foods you should eat and avoid, and how much sleep you need each night. Since we’re all different, it doesn’t really make sense to compare ourselves to anyone else (though we all do it to some extent). The healthier attitude is to compare yourself to where you used to be before deciding to live a healthier life.
Instead of going for the quick fix, go for the slow (and lasting) one. If you’re trying to lose weight, be content with losing a pound or two per week. If you lose weight too quickly, you’re much more likely to also lose important muscle tone. You might also cause your metabolism to shut down, and chances are, you’ll put the weight back on just as quickly. The same holds true if you’re trying to gain some muscle. Slow muscle growth is more sustainable over the long haul.
Too many people focus solely on the scale. Actually, the scale isn’t the best measure of your health. The scale might be reflecting changes in water weight. Also, if you start losing fat and building muscle, you could lose inches while actually gaining (or maintaining) weight. Pay more attention to how you feel. How your clothes fit. Whether you have more endurance. More strength. Getting affirmation from others is always good to hear, but beware-no amount of external affirmation will ever be enough. So, don’t base your goals on what other people think or say.
I stay positive.
Pessimism and negative thoughts only lead one direction-downward. Research shows that we can “train” our minds to be more optimistic. In fact, keeping a positive attitude will do more to reduce stress than any other factor. This doesn’t mean that you wear rose-colored glasses and deny reality. But it means that you learn to see the good in every situation, learn from mistakes, and positively deal with negative thoughts. Hanging around other positive people will help, too. Some people boost our energy, others drain it. By paying some attention, you’ll know who’s who.
I stay young.
Ever notice that the older we get, the more we seem to age at different rates? A two-year old is basically a two-year old. But some forty, sixty, eighty year-olds are a lot younger than others. Obviously, genetics plays a role in how we age, but so does our attitude about aging.
Most of the time we don’t even think about breathing. It just comes naturally. But we can get more out of our breathing by paying some attention to it from time to time-especially if we’re feeling stressed out. Sit back or lie down, relax, and focus on breathing deeply. Breathe in through your nose, inflating your abdominal cavity first, then your chest. Slowly breathe out through your mouth. Yoga is a great way to practice healthy breathing.
Okay, this is a mouthful. You can find tons of information (some of it contradictory) about healthy eating. So let me just give you a few very practical tips:
- Eat a healthy breakfast (coffee and doughnuts don’t count!).
- Don’t eat two hours before bed.
- When dining out, drink water, not soda.
- Cut way back on butter, margarine, fatty salad dressing, and salt.
- Control your portions. Better to eat a small quantity more often than a large quantity less often.
- Eat more fresh foods and less processed foods.
- If you must drink coffee, try to cut out the sugar and cream.
- Substitute low-fat cottage cheese or a salad for fries.
Get fresh air and sunshine.
Contrary to what some say, the sun is good for us and necessary for life. That’s why we don’t grow our plants inside dark rooms. Yes, too much exposure to the sun can be harmful, and skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. The key is to use common sense and not get burned. Getting outside into the fresh air and sunshine can do wonders for our physical and mental health.
As with eating right, there’s a ton of information (again some of it contradictory) about the best ways to exercise. If you have the time, money, and inclination to join a gym and/or hire a personal trainer, great. Here are some other things you can do:
- Take the stairs more often.
- Walk more.
- When shopping, park further away from the entrance.
- Get one of those large inflatable exercise balls. Use it as a desk “chair” or do some abdominal exercises on it while watching TV.
- Tighten your abs every so often (like every time you’re stopped at a red light).
- Enjoy recreational activities that require your own power: hiking, biking, canoeing, cross-country skiing, kayaking, etc.
- Pursue an active hobby like gardening or woodworking.
Besides being next to godliness, good hygiene is an important part of staying healthy. Hand washing, brushing, and flossing. That sort of thing. It also means keeping your insides clean-by avoiding cigarette smoke, too much alcohol, and other dangerous chemicals. Oh, and don’t forget to wear clean underwear!
Things have changed quite a bit in fifty years. However, these attitudes and behaviors for staying healthy worked in 1954 and they still work today. Nothing fancy about it. No quick fix. No miracle pill. If you haven’t already, give them a try… especially if you’re starting to feel sleepy while watching TV.