How would you define healthy? Perhaps being an XS or skinny size trouser type person. Maybe you perceive healthy as a diet restricted to leafy greens and fruit, perhaps combined with a hyper-disciplined exercise regime demanding many hours each day in the hot and sweaty zone. Such pursuits don't conjure up a sense of 'balance' and in my view are more likely to result in long-term inconsistencies, both in your commitment and motivation.
'Consistency' is the key factor here, as is the concept of 'lifestyle'
When a way of being becomes very much a part of your way of life - it becomes easier to sustain in the long run. This is the major problem with crash diets or fitness fads - resulting benefits don't seem to last because the commitment required is either not sustainable or are too extreme that they are unable to become integrated lifestyle habits.
Common ideas for what it means to be healthy are higher levels of fitness and reduced body weight or at least a reduction in body fat. Alongside these common ideas are common misconceptions such as the need for excessive exercise routines to increase fitness and a significant reduction in food consumption to lose fat.
Taking the focus here at general, health-promoting lifestyle habits - it really can be easier than you think. At various stages of my life I have gone through intense periods of obsessive pursuits - both at the exercise and diet levels. These past few years I have discovered a much simpler and enjoyable way for staying fit and healthy. It comes down to purposeful and consistent habits.
As a rule of thumb I aim to be as moderately active as I can each and every day. This is mostly about countering the negative effects of sitting down all day, every day. This is easily achievable and accessible for anyone who is physical able to walk. I choose to walk when I can instead of car or public transport. I will choose the stairs instead of a lift, even if it means getting out a couple floors before my floor. Stair climbing is such a superb means to exercise and in a very short space of time can get your heart beating as if you're thrashing it in a spin class. Try double stepping for increasing the intensity.
I aim to get to the gym twice a week for a short 45min weight-lifting session. Modern research, plus my own experience, supports the tremendous physiological benefits of weight-resistant training. Typically, I only make a single session each week - but it still works.
When I meet new people and if health & fitness comes into the conversation I am always given the impression that people think I spend a lot more time in the gym or training than I actually do. This is because I am in good physical shape and no doubt express a healthy vibrancy inline with how I feel.
My food choices have a lot to do with this and in fact I would suggest it has more significance than exercise does.
Almost 4 years ago now I explored for the first time the now very popular food-lifestyle called Paleo or primal. The fundamental shift came from learning that 'low-fat' is best is mostly nonsense which has a direct impact on sugar level intake, sugar (in its various forms) being the main culprit for poor nutritional health.
When I first started the primal lifestyle I took it to the extreme. In 3 months I lost 12 kgs all while eating more, especially more of all the food types I had believed would kill me, and having never felt better.
The ultra-strict primal/paleo lifestyle is no doubt a super healthy way of being but I found it to be socially restrictive at times. What I eventually learned was that my body has adapted/changed as a result of such a fundamental shift in my approach to food, becoming more sensitive to food types that don't agree with me, but able to tolerate without obvious ill-effect foods which are not necessarily strict paleo.
The result; overall I have so much freedom with my exercise and eating choices now all the while seemly able to maintain great levels of health & fitness.
I've spent a number or sporadic weeks travelling abroad recently and has been tough to stick to any normal routine of eating or exercise. Strangely, although I felt like I had completely fallen from the wagon some days I did not suffer any drastic energy loss or ill-effects.
I believe this is simply due to the fact that my overall health & fitness habits are now very much part of my way of life. So when the variables and stresses of life challenge my routine I am still able to make conscious choices and get back on track soon enough to maintain the momentum.
If your inner-sense is calling you to explore improvements for your eating and food choices I can only encourage you to explore the Paleo movement. I warn you that your discoveries will be shocking and naturally you will feel a lot of initial resistance, depending on your level of conditioning to the old ways of thinking.
If you keep telling yourself that you must do more exercise but time and commitments are preventing you from doing so - I encourage you to explore a new perspective - change the goal posts - keep it simple - just move more each day - think stairs.
You will know you have found a balanced lifestyle when the simple things no longer seem too tough to achieve.
Go well, Robin
Image courtesy of ‘stuart miles' / FreeDigitalPhotos.net