Sleep, diet and exercise are three pillars of a healthy and happy life. While improving just one of these lifestyle factors can help people lead longer lives, several recent studies have suggested that improving all three may be a better way to improve both physical and mental health. 1 These will get us to healthy, but it takes just a little bit more to be happy: Our fellow humans and a goal.
Sleep offers the body and brain time to restore and recover, affecting nearly every tissue in the body. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep, yet almost one third of Americans are getting less than 6 hours per night. Sleep deprivation increases the risk of health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Prolonged sleep deprivation can also affect concentration and other cognitive functions. 2
Eating more plant-based meals: Scientists have found meals rich in carbohydrates promote an increase in insulin production, allowing muscle cells to absorb competing amino acids. This makes it easier for tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier, increasing serotonin levels in the brain. This may explain the association between depression and carbohydrate cravings. A healthy approach for ideal levels of tryptophan in the brain is to focus on plant proteins along with generous amounts of complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. With this pattern in place, there is sufficient serotonin produced to maintain feelings of well-being. 3
Eating meat: Diana Rodgers, an expert on diet and nutrition, argues that eating meat is good for you, but needs to be from healthy animals harvested in a sustainable way. Diana is a leader in sustainable food systems and speaks internationally about the intersection of optimal human nutrition, regenerative agriculture, and food politics. She is co-author of, Sacred Cow: The Case for (Better) Meat and the director, producer of the companion film, Sacred Cow. Her new initiative, the Global Food Justice Alliance, advocates for a nutritious, sustainable and equitable worldwide food system.
“Food combining” is a method of improving digestion to improve health. The Complete Book of Food Combining describes how food combining enhances the quality of your diet, increases your intake of vitamins and minerals and improves the way the body digests and absorbs nourishment. It is one of the safest and most successful ways to lose and maintain weight as well as being an invaluable, natural remedy for a variety of health problems.
Exercise is a cornerstone of health and benefits nearly every system in the body. Many of the benefits are seen immediately, like reduced anxiety, lowered blood pressure, and better sleep. Consistent exercise offers even more long term benefits, including better weight management, stronger bones, and a reduced risk of many diseases. 4
You’ve probably heard that exercise increases endorphins, but it also increases many more brain chemicals that make you feel happy. When you exercise, it increases endorphins, dopamine, adrenaline and endocannabinoid — these are all brain chemicals associated with feeling happy, feeling confident, feeling capable, feeling less anxiety and stress and even less physical pain. 5
If you’re like the countless others who have heard about the benefits of meditation, but can’t seem to find the time, good news. You may not actually have to meditate to get some of the benefits. Exercising outdoors can have a similar effect on the brain and mood as meditation. Exercising outdoors has an immediate effect on mood that is extremely powerful for depression and anxiety. Because it induces a state in your brain that is very similar to meditation, the state of open awareness. 6
And that’s not all
It’s hard to be happy when you are sick, which is why sleep, diet and exercise are a necessary foundation. To find happiness along the way to a healthy life, we need each other and a purpose to focus on.
Hanging out with family and friends not only can be fun, but research also shows it benefits your mental and physical health. Dr. Craig Sawchuk, a Mayo Clinic psychologist, agrees that socializing is key to good health. Socializing not only staves off feelings of loneliness, but also it helps sharpen memory and cognitive skills, increases your sense of happiness and well-being, and may even help you live longer. 7
Here is a message from our friends at Life Is Good about staying positive with those around us:
Have a purpose
Research shows that people who feel they have a purpose experience less sleep disturbance. They may also mediate stress while recovering from negative events more quickly. Additional studies found that people with a strong sense of purpose were less likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease as they grow older. For example, seniors who feel they have a purpose are more likely to use preventative services and move more, both of which can keep you healthier. 8 Whatever your purpose may be, whether it’s your work, volunteering or any team effort to reach a goal, we are social animals who get things done together. Happiness is the natural by-product of positive effort.