Virtually everyone knows that if you want to be healthy, you have to eat wholesome, nutritious foods in appropriate amounts (at least 80% of the time or so) and exercise regularly. You also need to maintain a healthy weight, which is generally an outcome of the previously mentioned lifestyle factors.
And of course, smoking is, well, bad. In fact, in 2009, the results of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition found that people who don’t smoke, don’t get fat, do exercise, and do eat a healthy diet are 80% less likely to develop common chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
That all seems like pretty commonsense stuff, and since you’re reading this blog, you are likely doing your best to incorporate these into your life. But as you know, enjoying optimal health is an ongoing, lifelong process, and if you’re anything like me, you may be looking for even more ways to boost your health.
Besides those well-known “big rocks,” are there other ways to continue to improve health that may be a little unusual, albeit effective?
The answer is a resounding yes!
And today, we’ll dive into three of my favorites. As an added bonus, not only are these strategies highly effective when it comes to enhancing health, they can also improve happiness, and they’re quite enjoyable to boot. Score!
Count Your Blessings: Gratitude Journal
How often: Daily
Time commitment: 1 minute, give or take
What is it: A gratitude journal is simply a list or diary of things—maybe 3 to 5—you’re grateful for. If you’re not sure how to get started, some experts recommend looking for one small thing, one big thing, and one thing in the environment. And it can be done anytime—first thing in the morning, last thing before going to sleep, or anytime in between. For example, this morning, I wrote that I was grateful for coffee, my job (hopefully my boss is reading), and the beautiful mountains and trees outside.
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How is it effective: Research has shown that “counting your blessings,” so to speak, increases optimism. That makes sense. More surprisingly, people who commit to a daily gratitude journal are more likely to exercise and less likely to experience symptoms of illness. They’re also more likely to help others, which improves their feelings of connection. What’s more, a gratitude journal can improve sleep quality, improve feelings of well-being, and increase the likelihood of making progress on personal goals. Not bad for something that takes a mere minute or so a day and feels pretty darn good, right?
The Un-Hike: Forest Bathing
How often: Whenever possible, but at least once a month
Time commitment: “A short and leisurely visit”
What is it: Originating in Japan, the practice of Shinrin-yoku involves taking short, casual strolls in the great outdoors (typically in a forest) to improve health. Don’t mistake forest bathing with hiking. This is a slower-paced practice, and the objective is not for you to push yourself toward physical exertion. Rather, the idea is to be fully present and completely relaxed as you walk slowly in nature, enjoying the sights, sounds, smells, and a sense of peace, quiet, and calm as you breathe in nature deeply. Sounds pretty awesome, right?
How effective is it: While walking in nature is certainly nothing new, the term Shinrin-yoku was first coined by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Japan in 1982. Since that time, forest bathing (also known as “forest therapy”) has been well-documented to improve health in a number of ways, such as lowering the stress hormone cortisol, pulse rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar. There’s now a field of research dedicated to forest medicine as a preventive strategy. Other benefits of forest bathing include boosting the immune system (by as much as 50%), improving mood, increasing focus, promoting recovery after surgery or illness, boosting energy levels, and promoting more better, more restorative sleep. Again, that’s not too bad for something that can be so enjoyable. It’s a great way to unplug, clear the mind, and reconnect with nature—and what matters most to you.
Laughter: The Best Medicine
How often: As frequently as possible
Time commitment: As much as possible
What is it: Laughter is the physical response to humor, which the Encyclopedia Britannica describes as “rhythmic, vocalized, expiratory and involuntary actions.” It can be a deep belly laugh, a hearty chuckle, or even a little giggle.
How effective is it: Laughter feels good for a reason: It triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals and painkillers. Researchers from Loma Linda University in California have shown that laughter also lowers blood pressure, reduces levels of stress hormones, boosts the immune system by activating T-cells, tones the abs, and even gets the blood pumping to support heart health. And like exercise, it also can increase your oxygen uptake, which is good for the heart, lungs, muscles, and brain! It’s well worth it to seek people, experiences, and events that tickle your funny bone.
We don’t suggest replacing regular exercise or healthy eating habits, but adding these three surprising, simple, easy, and effective strategies can help improve your health—while you enjoy your life just a little (or a lot!) more. So, find a reason to laugh, get outside and connect with nature, and count your blessings as often as possible! You’ll be grateful you did.