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10 Things You Should Do Every Day to Live a Healthier and Happier Life

Updated: 6 days ago


Healthy Habits for a Healthier and Happier Life

While the ideal daily routine varies from person to person, everyone can benefit from implementing these 10 things you should do to live a healthier and happier life. If you can do these 10 things consistently, you will be well on your way to looking, feeling, and performing your best.


1. View morning sunlight and taper evening light exposure


Your circadian rhythm coordinates the timing of a wide range of processes in the body, including those that control your sleep-wake cycle. Your circadian rhythm is primarily controlled by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a bilateral structure in the hypothalamus. This central circadian pacemaker receives photic (i.e., light) input from the photosensitive ganglion cells of the retina via the retinohypothalamic tract; the SCN then sends this signal to structures such as the pineal gland, which produces melatonin for induction of sleep. Getting sunlight on your eyes within an hour upon waking, preferably around the time of sunrise sets your circadian rhythm by triggering the SCN, thereby controlling the timing of cortisol and melatonin. [1]


While viewing morning sunlight is key, it also helps to view sunlight in the late afternoon or

evening, around the time of sunset, which helps to anchor our biological clocks and encourage the correct level of melatonin. Our physiology has evolved to be in the presence of high levels of ultraviolet light during the day and low levels during the night; the more cues to the time of day and night your body gets, the more accurately it’s able to set your circadian rhythm. Thus, it is also important to regulate evening light exposure as day gives way to night.


Limiting your exposure to bright light, particularly blue light, in the evening is nearly as critical as morning sunlight viewing for regulating your circadian rhythm. The blue-yellow balance of sunlight shifts from primarily blue to primarily yellow throughout the day; dimming interior lights and shifting the light-balance to be more amber in color mimics this. Also, screens radiate a lot of blue light, so avoid viewing screens at least an hour before bed. It’s worth noting that merely eliminating blue light, by, for instance, wearing blue-light blocking lenses, isn’t always effective, particularly if the light source is bright. [1]


2. Practice gratitude


Practicing gratitude simply means reflecting on the things in your life that you’re grateful for. During this practice, it’s important to focus on experiencing the feeling of appreciation,

whether it’s for a loving family member, having a roof over your head, or simply for another day on Earth. It can also be beneficial to include things in your life which you may initially think are inherently “bad,” but, upon further reflection, actually are an opportunity for you to learn and grow; reframing your mindset about these things will help you recognize the blessings in all things.


Practicing gratitude cultivates contentment, an emotion that is largely mediated by serotonin and that leads to improved physical and mental health. [2] As such, gratitude practices can be incorporated into a morning routine to boost your mood and/or into a bedtime routine to promote sleep (because serotonin is the precursor to melatonin).


3. Practice meditation and breathwork


Meditative practices can be a powerful tool for promoting optimal physical and mental health, and they can be applied in various ways for various purposes, including managing stress, driving productivity, promoting sleep, and programming mindset. Consistent practice of meditative practices, such as mindful breathing, grounds and centers your mind, allowing you to more easily stay calm in stressful situations.


During meditation, you train your mind to focus your attention on a certain task, such as breathing or relaxing areas of your body, redirecting straying or negative thoughts and guiding them toward a positive intention. Practicing meditation in this way has been shown to shrink the fear center of the brain (i.e., the amygdala) that plays a central role in initiating the stress response. [3] This builds a level of mental resilience that allows you to calmly respond to a stressful situation rather than react irrationally to it.


Another benefit of meditation is that it not only creates an internal buffer against stress, but also against large emotional fluctuations. A spike in dopamine levels after some pleasurable stimulus is always followed by a period of low dopamine levels of proportional amplitude; in other words, high highs are always followed by low lows. This happens because during large spikes in dopamine levels, the stock of readily available dopamine in the synaptic vesicles is depleted and needs to be replenished. [4] This holds true whether the dopamine-spiking stimulus is cocaine or an exciting accomplishment. Practicing meditation can help you stay centered in moments of misery and in moments of ecstasy. In short, meditation makes you unshakable.


Practicing breathwork also helps to enhance your energy metabolism by increasing oxygen intake and improving cellular respiration, which is a set of metabolic processes that convert chemical energy from nutrients and oxygen molecules into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary carrier of energy in cells. This can be seen in the chemical equation for cellular respiration:

Glucose + Oxygen yields Carbon Dioxide + Water + Energy


This means that practicing breathwork increases your ability to convert food and air into usable energy.


Furthermore, breathwork can be applied in different ways to create different effects. For example, emphasizing the exhale tends to create a calming effect, whereas emphasizing the inhale tends to create a stimulating effect.


4. Do at least 20 minutes of Zone 2 cardiovascular exercise


Zone 2 training is defined as cardiovascular exercise that holds your heart rate at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. This range is ideal for building a base of cardiovascular fitness and has a variety of health benefits that are directly and indirectly related to cardiovascular health, including lowering blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body fat percentage as well as improving cognitive function, bone health, and insulin sensitivity. More specifically, Zone 2 training promotes mitochondrial biogenesis, mitochondrial efficiency, and metabolic flexibility.


Mitochondrial biogenesis means the creation of mitochondria within the cells. The mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell; they produce all of the energy the cell needs to function. The more mitochondria in each cell, the more energy you can produce.


Mitochondrial efficiency is the ability of the mitochondria to produce energy from nutrients, namely fatty acids and glucose. So, the higher the mitochondrial efficiency, the more energy you’re able to extract from the food you eat.


Metabolic flexibility refers to the ability of your mitochondria to shift between fat and glucose as an energy source according to physiological demands and nutritional circumstances. Metabolic inflexibility can lead to metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity.


Basically, Zone 2 training keeps your mitochondria healthy, which is important for all aspects of health. Conversely, unhealthy mitochondria result in mitochondrial dysfunction, which is relevant to cancer growth, immune system function, dementia, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and many more common diseases. [6]


Doing at least 120 minutes of Zone 2 training per week will allow you to make the most of these health benefits.


5. Consume at least 2 servings of green leafy vegetables


Green leafy vegetables are high in phytonutrients, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Phytonutrients have many beneficial effects on health, including reducing risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and various other diseases. Dietary fiber can be divided into two categories – soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Generally speaking, soluble fiber helps sustain a healthy gut microbiome; insoluble fiber helps you pass digested food through your digestive tract.


From a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) perspective, green leafy vegetables help promote the smooth flow of Qi and Blood throughout the body, thereby helping to resolve many different patterns of imbalance.


Also, consuming cooked vegetables is generally better than consuming raw vegetables because your body can extract more nutrients from cooked vegetables, and you can consume more of it (just imagine what happens when you wilt down a large bunch of spinach).


Consuming at least 2 servings of green leafy vegetables per day is part of our general dietary recommendation: eat (organic) whole foods, not too much (or too little), mostly plants. If you can follow this simple piece of advice, most of your dietary concerns will be resolved directly or indirectly as a result.


6. Sip (warm) water regularly throughout the day


Water has many important functions in the body, such as acting as a “building material; as a solvent, reaction medium and reactant; as a carrier for nutrients and waste products; in thermoregulation; and as a lubricant and shock absorber.” [7] Thus, staying hydrated is critically important for all aspects of health.


However, it’s important to regularly drink small amounts of water rather than to sporadically drink large amounts of water. This is because sipping water will allow your body to better absorb the water that you are drinking. It’s also important to drink warm (i.e., close to body temperature) water rather than very cold or very hot water because warm water is more easily absorbed by the body. If you are drinking very cold or very hot water, allow the water temperature to equalize for a moment before swallowing.


7. Avoid screens (especially your phone) for at least the first hour upon waking and the last hour before bed


Limiting your screen time, particularly in the morning and at night, will not only improve your sleep, but also help maintain your mental health. Social media and other media viewed on screens are highly stimulating and can desensitize you to the pleasures of everyday life while reducing your attention span. This happens because these media cause you to release small amounts of dopamine, and if you indulge too much and too often, your dopamine baseline will fall. Mainstream media outlets also constantly fill their headlines with bad news and sensationalism, which can negatively impact your mood and outlook.


Instead of scrolling TikTok, checking your e-mail, or watching CNN in the first and last hours of your day, try practicing meditation and gratitude and/or work on your self-development.


8. Perform at least 1 random act of kindness


The altruism center of the brain is a deep brain structure and is part of the primitive brain. We are wired to help one another, and the benefits of the interaction are not one-sided. Neuroscience has demonstrated that helping others is a powerful way to improve overall health. When you help others, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin are released, causing a boost in mood.


Additionally, serotonin is connected to sleep, digestion, memory, learning, and appetite. Dopamine is connected to motivation and arousal. Oxytocin is connected to social bonding, trust, and empathy. Oxytocin also decreases blood pressure and is anti-inflammatory, and, therefore, reduces pain and enhances wound healing.


Helping others can take on many forms. Small, repeated boosts of these neurochemicals will produce the most benefit so find ways to give and to give often – opening a door for someone, donating money or time, or simply smiling.


Furthermore, when you help others, the same neurochemicals, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, are released in the receiver, stimulating an innate desire to pass on the good deed and, thereby, creating a cycle of giving and positivity. [5]


9. Do at least 1 thing better than you did yesterday (and mentally reward yourself for it)


No one is perfect, and we all can improve in some aspect of our lives. Thus, you can set a goal each morning to improve yourself in at least one aspect of your life every day. Perhaps you want to be more loving, more hardworking, more personable, healthier, and/or happier.


Each day take one small step toward your goal. It is important, when pursuing a goal, to reward the pursuit of the goal rather than overemphasizing the achievement of it. This means that as you are doing anything that propels you toward your goal (even if it’s something boring or unenjoyable), take a moment to deliberately commend yourself for working diligently and congratulate yourself when you reach minor milestones, and, when you finally achieve your goal, do not get overly caught up in the moment and celebrate too much.


For example, let’s say that you’re completely out of shape right now, and you set a goal to run a marathon one year from now; the first day, you are completely exhausted after taking a lap around the block; at this moment, even though you feel miserable and feel like your goal is unachievable, you need to consciously applaud yourself for putting in the effort and acknowledge that even though you’re not there yet, you eventually will be; then, you set another slightly more challenging milestone for the next day and repeat; finally, you make it to the marathon and cross the finish line; at this moment, even though this is a momentous occasion and achievement, you must remain composed and not allow yourself to become manic with jubilation; this does not mean that you can’t be grateful for or happy about finishing the race, but rather that you shouldn’t over-celebrate the accomplishment or the reward (i.e., the hot fudge ice cream sundae that you promised yourself if you finished the race).


Rewarding the pursuit rather than the achievement of a goal in this way allows you to consistently achieve goals without losing motivation and passion along the way as well as buffers you from the “postpartum” depression that inevitably follows.


10. Embrace any stressors/obstacles/failures as an opportunity to grow and learn


The stress response is well-known for its adaptive utility in highly stressful situations; however, it wasn’t programmed into our DNA just to respond to sabertoothed tiger attacks. The other, arguably more important, utility is that it drives us to go out and seek things that we need for our survival and procreation, but don’t already have, such as food, water, shelter, and mating partners.


Imagine that you were alive 20,000 years ago; you’re low on food and water, and you’re worried that you’ll starve. So, you decide to go out hunting and gathering. However, the world is full of dangers, from sabertoothed tigers to risks of infection. Faced with this situation, you have two choices: risk starvation or brave the dangers. For these moments, Mother Nature has gifted us with a neurochemical adaptation that rewards us for choosing to move forward.


In these situations, epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are released during the stress response, are accompanied by dopamine when we decide to take action. [4] In this context, dopamine creates a sense of craving for accomplishing a task and makes us feel good about facing our fears head on and pursuing our goals. This innate drive, fueled by epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine, explains the proliferation of our species.


This drive, however, doesn’t only apply to survival and procreation, but also to seeking personal and professional goals. Coming back to the present day, we can use this inherent reward mechanism whenever we’re faced with a stressful (but non-life-threatening) situation, like we often are when we are pursuing some goal in our lives.


The pursuit of any goal worth pursuing will inevitably involve some periods of friction and stress. Being able to manage the stress, using methods such as the “physiological sigh” and meditation, and pushing forward through physical action and positive affirmations will allow you to pursue your goals while boosting your mood and improving your self-esteem in the process.


In short, behavior comes first; mood follows action. This is the neurochemical basis of the growth mindset.


11. Bonus: Spread the wellness to at least 1 person

If you found this article helpful or insightful, please share it with anyone and everyone that you think could also benefit from it. Part of our mission is to improve the overall health and well-being of as many people as we can by promoting healthy lifestyles and mindsets.


If you’re interested in being part of this mission, please join our Facebook group, Spread the Wellness, where we are growing a community of like-minded people who want to live healthier and happier lives and help others to do so as well. In this group, we share free health advice and health-related news and encourage others to do so as well.


References


[1] Blume C, Garbazza C, Spitschan M. Effects of light on human circadian rhythms, sleep and mood. Somnologie (Berl). 2019;23(3):147-156. doi:10.1007/s11818-019-00215-x


[2] Lilian Jans-Beken, Nele Jacobs, Mayke Janssens, Sanne Peeters, Jennifer Reijnders, Lilian Lechner & Johan Lataster (2020) Gratitude and health: An updated review, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 15:6, 743-782, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2019.1651888


[3] Taren AA, Creswell JD, Gianaros PJ. Dispositional mindfulness co-varies with smaller amygdala and caudate volumes in community adults. PLoS One. 2013;8(5):e64574. Published 2013 May 22. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064574


[4] Huberman A. Controlling your dopamine for motivation, Focus & Satisfaction Huberman Lab Podcast #39. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmOF0crdyRU. Published September 27, 2021. Accessed May 25, 2022.


[5] Hazlett LI, Moieni M, Irwin MR, et al. Exploring neural mechanisms of the health benefits of gratitude in women: A randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun. 2021;95:444-453. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2021.04.019


[6] Luks HJ. Zone 2 heart rate training for longevity and performance. Howard J. Luks, MD. https://www.howardluksmd.com/zone-2-hr-training-live-longer-less-injury/#:~:text=During%20Zone%202%20training%20you,an%20energy%20source%20(substrate). Published July 11, 2022. Accessed October 6, 2022.


[7] Jéquier E, Constant F. Water as an essential nutrient: the physiological basis of hydration. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010;64(2):115-123. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2009.111

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