Humans are living longer than ever, with an average life expectancy for Americans at 78 years. While living to an old age is not guaranteed, there are some habits you can acquire which will increase your life span and make the life you live a happy one. Here are five to consider:
Laugh — a lot
I recently read a diet and lifestyle book that prescribed daily laughter along with eating healthy foods and avoiding sugar. The science behind laughter as a health benefit is fascinating. According to an article from Psychology Today, laughter can reduce pain and blood sugar levels, restore emotional stability between people and, remarkably, help your blood vessels function better — which is good for your head and your heart.
Good sources of laughter include playing with children, reading humorous books, watching comedies and playing party games. People who laugh are happier, making life more enjoyable.
Heal your body with rest
Sleep is a powerful force. Scientists believe sleep lets the neurons in the brain recover from the work they do during the day. Growth hormones are released during sleep, which is why children sleep longer when they are going through growth spurts. Lack of sleep is linked to greater risk for many diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
When you allow your body enough time to sleep, you will notice increased energy, mental focus and a better mood. People need varying amounts of sleep, so find what works for you and make sleep a priority in your life.
Give water a chance
Water is essential for every living thing on the earth. In modern life, it's easy to take the availability of water for granted. If you have clean, potable water coming out of a faucet in your home, you are very lucky. This "elixir of life" regulates your body temperature, helps remove waste, fortifies cells and organs and keeps you feeling invigorated. It's the beverage people should choose to drink most often.
If you get tired of plain water, try adding lemon, lime or other citrus. Drink sparkling water or make your own infusions with mint, cucumber and lemon. You can get some hydration from other beverages like fruit juices and tea, but make water your main drink of choice and avoid added sugar and chemicals.
There's a new movement sweeping the globe, but it's not happening quickly. It's called The Slow Movement, and its purpose is to encourage people to slow down and connect with people, food, places and life. This movement is a direct result of the stress that life places on all of us. Stress is a cause of many undesirable physical symptoms like headache, fatigue, muscle pain and stomach problems, and it can lead to health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity.
It's hard to get rid of stress. Slowing down and finding time to relax can seem impossible. Take small steps. Learn deep breathing techniques. Practice a few yoga poses. Turn off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bed, and schedule some down time into your day.
Move and groove
Not everyone is an Olympic athlete, but everyone does need to exercise. A good rule of thumb is 30 minutes a day which can be broken into smaller chunks. We've all heard the advice to take the stairs, park farther away from buildings and take a quick walk after lunch or dinner. If you can't make it to the gym or don't have time to go for a run, those tips are practical and helpful.
The secret to enjoying (or at least tolerating) exercise is to choose something you enjoy. For example, a friend of mine loves to hike with her dogs, but you'd never find her in a spin class. I love to run and lift weights, and my husband prefers team sports. Whatever regimen you choose, try to include exercises that promote endurance, balance, flexibility and strength.
Life should be enjoyable, and good health is an important factor in a happy life. As you make these five habits part of each day, you'll live a longer, more fulfilling life.
Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.