Surprising Habits That May Support Overall Health
by Adam Bible
It’s common knowledge that exercising, eating healthy food, and getting plenty of quality sleep are core pillars of a healthy lifestyle. But for those of us who want to take our pursuit of living a long and healthy life to the next level, there are all sorts of other ways to gain an edge—some as simple as stepping outside or taking a few breaths.
We tracked down seven surprising—and simple—habits to incorporate into your current regimen, all of which can easily be added to your daily routine!
7 Surprising (and Simple) Healthy Habits
1. Keep Things NEAT
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or ‘NEAT,’ is made up of all the little movements we make throughout the day, like cleaning, cooking, mowing the lawn, or even just fidgeting.
“Moving more, even if not planned exercise, will help increase calories burned and encourage your body to stay moving,” says Marie Spano, R.D., C.S.C.S., C.S.S.D., a consulting sports nutritionist for a professional baseball team and lead author of Nutrition for Sport, Exercise, and Health.
Make a daily, concerted effort to increase these small movements; research has shown that NEAT can help contribute to overall daily energy expenditure.
2. Push Up Before You Brush Up
It is often easier to build another good, healthy habit by piggybacking onto one that’s already established, like brushing your teeth.
“Add some simple pushups in the morning before you brush your teeth,” says Oscar Smith, a celebrity personal trainer in New York City and the author of Natural Strength. Adding exercises to your routine throughout the day is an easy way to sneak in additional activity.
3. Don’t Sugar-Coat It
If you’re committed to a healthy and fit lifestyle, refined sugar consumption may already be something you’re paying close attention to. But you don’t have to eschew sugar totally to reap the benefits, says Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., an award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best-selling author. “Use it wisely. Sugar is there to help flavor food. For example, a bowl of oatmeal could use a little sweetness to be tasty, so use your sugar there. You could do one teaspoon of 100% maple syrup or honey, and top it with chopped nuts and fresh fruit.”
If you have a serious sweet tooth and are having a hard time moderating sugar, try something more drastic, says Brian Mazza, founder of High Performance Lifestyle Training. “Go for no processed sugar for 30 days. A 30-day sugar-free challenge is a great opportunity to realize just how much sugar you’re eating, and can lead to more mindful choices.”
4. Take a Few Deep Breaths
Adding some relaxing moments into your hectic, but mostly healthy, life is an essential strategy to round out your lifestyle.
Meditation can be a great way to help manage stress and support a healthy immune system and digestive system, and even practicing a few deep breaths can have positive effects.
“Deep breathing can help calm your sympathetic nervous system and help lower stress,” says Spano.
Try this simple calming routine developed by wellness guru Andrew Weil, M.D.: Sit somewhere quiet with your back straight. Inhale slowly through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven, then exhale completely through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat the cycle for 4–6 breaths.
5. Don’t Sweat It
While it is important to keep your health and fitness goals in mind, there is no productivity in obsessing over the notion that you aren’t doing everything right.
There’s no need to venture beyond your means and add unnecessary emotional and financial stress, says Duffy Gaver, a former Navy SEAL, celebrity trainer, and the author of Hero Maker: 12 Weeks to Superhero Fit.
“Turning your training up a notch in a smart, incremental way is what’s correct. Listening to your body, when it says you can do more or you need to back off or rest, is what’s correct,” he says. “Simply trying to advance your athleticism and your health, is now, more than ever, correct.”
Take it one step at a time, keep your momentum, and don’t get snagged on the details.
6. Double Up Your Workout
While common, hitting a plateau in your training can be demoralizing and demotivating. Instead of trying to rearrange your workout to shake things up, Gaver suggests doubling up.
“Do the same exact workout twice in one day—once in the morning and once in the afternoon,” he says. “Try to at least match, if not exceed, the reps, sets, or weights during your second workout.”
Doubling up on the same workout, physiologically speaking, can give those muscles twice as much workload, which, once recovered from, could add up to greater gains, Gaver says. It’s also a fresh challenge. “How bad do you really want this? Banging out two full leg workouts in one day or two back and biceps workouts within a few hours of each other is no small ask. Are you willing to go that next step towards your goal?”
Remember that everyone is different, and always consult a healthcare professional prior to starting a new exercise regimen.
7. Get Outside
Being able to step outside for a walk, run, or bike ride—or even just to take in the sight of some trees swaying in the wind—may go a long way. “We know that sunshine can lift our mood, but even on a cloudy day, getting outside and connecting with nature is important,” says Spano.
Spending time in nature can be a great way to help manage stress, and research has shown that the benefits of exposure to nature can be wide ranging. One 2018 study of over 290 million people in 20 countries found that spending at least two hours outside per week was linked to better overall wellbeing.
When in doubt, get out!