While at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, a series of twelve large posters that extended for about thirty feet caught my attention. The twelve posters were all under one heading: "12 Habits of Highly Healthy People." Note: not just healthy people, but "highly" healthy people. I spent some time in thinking about each of the twelve habits. Some were not surprising--others were, at least for me. Space does not permit my going into each in great detail, but here are some highlights.
Habit 1: Physical Activity. We've all heard from numerous sources that physical activity is good for people, but here are a few important details: finding a physical activity that you like (enjoy) and committing to doing it, every day, for about thirty minutes. It may be as simple as just taking a walk. Logging daily results will help keep you on track.
Habit 2: Forgiveness. Nearly everyone has been hurt by the actions or words of another. These can leave you with lasting anger, bitterness, or resentment. But if you don't practice forgiveness, you are the one who pays most dearly. As a clergyman, I have seen what bitterness can do to a person--not a pretty picture! It sometimes helps to remember that most of us have also been guilty of hurting someone.
Habit 3: Portion Sizes. Let's face it--most of us eat more than we need to or should. Portion sizes at restaurants have steadily increased in recent years, especially in the United States. We often have the extras "boxed" to take home and finish, but many times we just eat it all. Food selection is important, but controlling portion sizes will also control your waistline, and most of us could do with some reduction in this area.
Habit 4: Preventive Healthcare Testing. Regular health screening tests are an important part of your health care. Most of us do not think of immunizations as screening, but they are a part of preventive screening. You should get preventive healthcare testing recommendations from your healthcare provider and act on them in a timely manner.
Habit 5: Adequate Sleep. Sleep is vital for good health and well-being. It is an important factor in your own safety, and the safety of others, for example while driving or in the workplace. Inadequate sleep makes a person more irritable and not able to concentrate. What you may not realize is that sleep also impacts your immune system, your weight, and your risk for serious medical illnesses. Seven to eight hours of sleep is needed, and one needs to "stick to a regular bed and wake time."
Habit 6: Try Something New. New experiences can be both exciting and scary, but overcoming your fear, embracing your strengths, and demonstrating curiosity will reap the benefits of personal growth and discovery, contributing to good health. Challenging your brain regularly will lead to optimal mental well-being. Make this a priority, even at work: several times a day consistently for a month, do something different or do something that you do regularly but in a different way. Do this and you'll "be surprised at the differences in the way you feel and function."
Habit 7: Strength and Flexibility. Developing strength and flexibility aids in improving performance, preventing injury, and achieving personal fitness goals. Strength is not just for body builders or elite athletes. Be sure to learn about proper techniques, warm up beforehand, and hold that stretch!
Habit 8: Laugh. Research shows that laughter offers health benefits in four dimensions: physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. By recognizing the therapeutic benefits of laughter, you can be even more intentional about bringing more laughter into your life. Enjoy life and don't hesitate to show your joy by laughter.
Habit 9: Family and Friends. Having close friends and family has far-reaching benefits for your health. A strong social support network can be critical in helping you through the stress of rough times. Family and friends can also encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits. "Invest you time in those people who matter most to you."
Habit 10: Address Addictive Behaviors. You need to recognize your current behaviors and know when you've lost control of what you do. It happens! A healthy lifestyle involves moderate consumption of food and for many includes the use of alcohol and caffeine. A healthy lifestyle can also include using the internet and communicating by texting. Some people engage in gambling. There are safe, tolerable levels for these types of behaviors. On the other hand, there is no safe level for tobacco and illicit drug use. You need to understand the unhealthy consequences of additive behaviors and be ready to take the necessary measures to correct them.
Habit 11: Quiet Your Mind. "Quiet Your Mind" is about non-reacting, about just being there without judgments of liking or disliking. Mindfulness is about being able to notice and pay attention to what is going on in the present moment without judgment or the need to react: it's about registering with your senses. Cultivate your mindfulness by getting alone in a quiet place, taking ten deep breaths, and doing nothing, all the while observing with your senses, but not reacting. Do this for about five minutes several times a day.
Habit 12: Gratitude. Gratitude is an acknowledgement that you have received something of value from others. It's a sense of wonder, appreciation, and thankfulness. Practicing gratitude can help facilitate coping with stress and promoting personal growth. You should start your day by thinking of things you are grateful for and by expressing thanks throughout the day. Also, start a gratitude journal and everyday try to enter three things you are grateful for. When going to sleep for the night, dwell on at least one of them.
If you truly want a highly health life, here are twelve things you should cultivate. Each will bring meaningful change.