As a health editor, I spend the majority of my day poring over content related to, well, health. At HuffPost, we're lucky to talk to experts on a daily basis about how to live our best lives, both mentally and physically. Over time, you start to pick up on some things. Themes begin to emerge loudly and clearly. It becomes obvious what is considered a universal "good." These things are often relatively straightforward, and it's clear that life would be happier and healthier if we would just do them. Sure, some of these are easier said than done, but their premises are often simple. I wanted to share a few of my favorites:
1. Have a bedtime. Sleep is considered the third pillar of health, and for good reason. Research is only making it increasingly clear that not getting enough of the stuff can have serious health effects. Meanwhile, getting enough sleep is good for everything ranging from weight, to mood, to even the immune system. One of the simplest things you can do to ensure you get enough sleep each night is to set a bedtime. Forgive yourself if you can't meet it every night (I tell myself I need to be in bed by midnight, but life gets in the way, and all of a sudden it's 1:30 a.m.), but make a point to try to stick to it.
2. Understand what emotional intelligence is -- and make a point to cultivate it. To have emotional intelligence means to be "confident, good at working towards your goals, adaptable and flexible. You recover quickly from stress and you're resilient," psychologist Daniel Goleman previously told HuffPost. It's made up of five parts: social skills, empathy, motivation, self-awareness and self-regulation. And fortunately, these are all traits you can cultivate. Be curious about things beyond yourself. Know what you're good at and where you can stand to improve. Try to improve your ability to pay attention.
3. Take a minute. This is something I'm admittedly still working on. I'm an objectively fast person -- fast at walking, fast at eating, fast at talking, you get the gist. This also makes me very impatient, and also sometimes very unobservant -- stopping to smell the roses has never been my strong suit. But slowing down to appreciate life and all its little moments builds gratitude -- and that's a very healthy thing.
4. Cut out sugar where you can. I used to be a dessert fiend. Cupcakes, ice cream, brownies, if you put it in front of me, I would most definitely eat it. And growing up, I drank some sort of juice at every single meal (being mildly lactose intolerant meant instead of milk, it was OJ at breakfast, OJ at lunch, and OJ at dinner). But the more I learned about how too much sugar affects the body -- and how it manages to sneak into all the non-dessert-like foods I also eat -- the more I realized I had to wean myself off the sweet stuff. So I started small. Instead of dumping sugar into coffee, I slowly trained myself to go milk-only. (Now, coffee with sugar just seems too sweet.) Instead of drinking juice and soda with meals, I opt for water (and on that note, I don't keep any beverages besides water in my fridge at home). I don't buy cakes or cookies from the store, so I'm not tempted to eat them at 10 p.m. when I'm in my apartment. Don't get me wrong, I'll still indulge in a slice of birthday cake or some ice cream. But those are treats, and I've realized that treats are not meant to be eaten all day every day.
5. Find an exercise you actually enjoy. It's not exactly a secret how much I opposite-of-like running. I'll still do it, because #health, but there are certainly other ways I'd rather get my fitness in. And that's completely OK. Research has even shown that whether we think of fitness as "fun" or "exercise" affects how much we end up eating. For me, exercise is a pill best swallowed as volleyball. For you, it may be dancing, or swimming, or riding your bike. Don't think that just because you don't like "conventional" exercise -- running, going to the gym, etc. -- you're "bad at exercise." No such thing!
6. Know when to stay off your phone. This is another one of those things I'm still trying to be better at. There are times for Instagramming and texting, and there are times where it's truly obvious you're not present because your eyes are glued to your screen. I had one of those moments a few days ago, when I was out to dinner -- I was so focused on answering some work emails, that when I finally looked up, I realized my dinner companions were silent, and had been waiting for me to get off my phone. It was a disruption and a distraction, and frankly, quite rude. Let's all make a point to end the madness.
7. Drink more water. Here at Healthy Living, we've dubbed Health and Fitness Senior Editor Sarah Klein the "hydration expert" -- she is always seen with a water bottle in hand, and if there's ever a hydration question, she either knows the answer, or knows the expert to ask. In my years of working with her, I've tried to follow her lead. Not only does drinking water keep you feeling full -- so you're not ravenously hungry (and overeating as a result) -- it is also a way to not drink sugary beverages. When you're drinking water, you're not drinking soda or sugary juice.
8. Cook food yourself. Sure, on the surface, a salad is healthy. But when a restaurant loads it down with sugary salad dressing and croutons, it can be anything but. The same goes for any other food, whether it's ordered at a restaurant or found in the freezer aisle at the grocery store. What's become abundantly clear to me, is that the best way to truly know what you're eating is to just make it yourself. Your eyes may be widened at how much salt you're eating, for instance, when you're the one measuring the teaspoons into your dish.
9. Stop worrying so much. Writing this piece about worrying was an eye-opener for me. As a Type A person, I also tend to be a worrier -- always wanting to be prepared for the worst, with a Plan A, B and C for action. But here's a revelation: Worrying isn't actually action. Worrying is just getting in your own head, creating a spiral of worst-case scenarios (that often don't even end up happening) that is very rarely productive. Instead, focus on the present. Maintain perspective in a worrying situation, considering what's actually likely to happen. Have confidence that you will be able to make it through.