By Amy Meadows
You know you should eat right and exercise to maintain good health. You know that you need to remove negativity and pursue your personal passions to bring more happiness into your life. Then why is it so hard to do these things sometimes? Well, general suggestions are great, but maybe you're looking for recommendations to enhance your mood and improve your physical well being in more measureable or tangible ways. Here, we've compiled a list of eight tips for boosting your health and happiness. You've probably heard them before — but we're backing them up with the kind of hard evidence that will convince you to apply them to your own life.
1 Just Breathe
According to Dr. Karen Tedeschi of Tedeschi Wellness, the way you breathe can be both a signal for how much stress you're under and a method for relieving that stress. "You may be holding your breath when you become stressed. So check in with yourself on an hourly basis to just see if you are holding your breath." If you are, then slow down and inhale deeply, expanding your lungs fully. Studies have reported that this type of deep breathing may increase the amount of oxygen getting to the heart, relieve congestion throughout the body, boost the immune system and even help the digestive system function more effectively.
2 Take a Walk on the Wild Side (In Nature, That Is)
It's great to take a break during the day and enjoy a short walk. If possible, however, it's even better to take your stroll where you can see trees and experience nature. Maziar Rezvani, MD, founder of AvicennaMD, which is comprised by Avicenna Integrative Medicine and Avicenna Allergy and Asthma, points to a study published in ScienceDirect indicating that, compared to an urban walk, a walk in nature results in benefits like a decrease in anxiety and an increase positive cognitive effects, such as better working memory performance. (This applies to where you live as well; Rezvani notes that studies suggest that people living in neighborhoods with a higher density of trees enjoy higher health perception and fewer cardio-metabolic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.)
3 Eat a Can of Tuna (Really!)
Or get out into the sunshine. Do whatever you need to do to boost your levels of Vitamin D. "Many holistic doctors and naturopaths agree that, although you might be in the normal range (commonly 30 to 100 on a blood test), you will feel your best in what we call an optimal range (60 to 80 on a blood test)," notes Debra MacIntyre, ND, of Vitality Project (formerly Natural Health Solutions). In addition to protecting you against colds and helping you fight depression, the proper levels of Vitamin D might help you balance your hormone levels, which will make you feel that much happier. Fortunately, getting more Vitamin D is pretty simple: soak up some rays (safely with sunscreen), eat fatty fish (even canned tuna), drink fortified milk or have an egg (including the yolk), among other options.
4 Laugh Till You Sweat
It's said that laughter is the best medicine, and now there's proof. "The physical act of laughter is comparable to cardiovascular exercise and shares many common physiological benefits associated with exercise," notes Celeste Greene, director of Laughter Yoga Atlanta. She recommends trying laughter yoga, a health and disease prevention program using intentional laughter interspersed with deep yogic breathing and gentle stretches. Greene tell us that scientific studies indicate that laughter not only reduces stress and anxiety, but also exercises muscles, improves respiration, stimulates circulation, boosts immune systems, elevates the pain threshold and enhances mental functioning.
5 Get at Least a Half Dozen Hugs Daily
"Nothing makes me happier than a good hug from my children or my husband. And animals count too," says Tanseem Bhatia, MD, of the Atlanta Center for Holistic & Integrative Medicine. In addition to the warm and loving feeling you get from giving and receiving hugs, there are a number of physical health benefits to the act. According to Maiysha Clairborne, MD, of Mind Body Spirit Wellness, hugs release the "cuddle hormone" oxytocin, which improves mood and decreases stress levels. She recommends getting (and giving) six hugs per day, which may also reduce blood pressure and decrease heart rate.
6 Have a Girls' (or Guys') Night Out
We all know that cultivating strong friendships can make you feel happier. But there's more to it than that. "Studies have shown that people who spend more time with friends have a 50 percent less risk of dying from chronic disease within seven years," Clairborne states. "Research has shown that spending time with friends and family decreases the risk of stroke and Alzheimer's, boosts the immune system and helps to relieve pain. So schedule one day a week to do something social."
7 Do a Happy Dance
When something good happens, big or small, celebrate it! "Celebrating is critical," Tedeschi says. "Some people even do a happy dance when things go their way." In fact, you can do anything from throw a party to call a friend to commemorate an important happening. The key is to reflect on the experience, which ultimately will make you more optimistic and allow you to feel less stressed overall. Those positive psychological effects will help you feel happier as you move into the future. And the happier you are, the better you will feel physically as well.
8 Find a Sense of Purpose
"People are happiest and healthiest when they have a purpose in life," MacIntyre observes. "Only you know how to answer this one, and you might have to sit somewhere quiet and figure it out. It could be as simple as rescuing a pet or as grand as wanting to change the world. Whatever it is for you, being involved in something bigger than yourself brings a special kind of happiness." What's more, studies reveal that people who feel they have a purpose in life tend to live longer, manage pain better, maintain stronger relationships and often have a greater protection against developing heart disease or Alzheimer's.
Atlanta Center for Holistic & Integrative Medicine, atlantaholisticmedicine.com
Laughter Yoga Atlanta, laughteryogaatlanta.com
Mind Body Spirit Wellness, mbswellness.org
Vitality Project, myvitalityproject.com
Tedeschi Wellness, tedeschiwellness.com