Healthy living has entered the mainstream in recent years, but it’s often hard to know what information is trustworthy and backed with evidence. There are countless angles that experts and enthusiasts take in describing what is best in pursuit of a healthier body and mind.
Some of the advice is intuitively dismissible, some is easily misleading, and some is recurring among most sources that is actually grounded in evidence. The simple and recurring nuggets of wisdom are typically where we can find the most impact when employed with a bit of intentionality.
The pursuit of this article is to share five realistic, concrete tips for healthier living from a plant-based endurance athlete that are rooted in science and experience.
The key is figuring out how to implement these pieces of advice into your busy lifestyle and daily routine. Most of these tips will not be new to the ears, but hopefully will be conveyed in a manner that carries the weight of their importance.
Nutritious and mindful living isn’t about limiting the good things in life – it is about realizing how much our capacity for wholesome experience is enhanced with some discipline in our day to day choices.
Whole-Foods, Plant-Based Eating
First and foremost, as can probably be gleaned from the title of this article, is to orient your life toward a vegan diet. More specifically, a whole-foods, plant-based approach to eating. The United States adult obesity rate is over 40 percent. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US – one person every 36 seconds according to the CDC.
The plant based lifestyle emphasizes food groups like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nut & seeds, as well as legumes. At the same time, it is imperative to avoid refined and processed meals and ingredients. The health benefits of this dietary transition are countless – prevention & reversal of heart disease & diabetes, lower risk of prostate & breast cancer, increased energy, hunger stabilization, etc.
Some people choose to make the switch for the environmental and ethical benefits as well. This transition does not need to be one sweeping change, and for many works well as a slow adjustment of consumption choices over time. Endless resources are available in making this lifestyle change. The stigma around vegans and their “pushiness” is not unwarranted in many cases – but know that there are many of us who are much more subtle and judgement-free in our plant-based choices.
Activity & Exercise
The second tip is certainly not a stretch either, especially coming from an endurance athlete. An active lifestyle is so important to our physical and mental well-being. The CDC states that only 21% of American adults meet physical activity recommendations. As was mentioned previously, these tips are not revolutionary, but the data shows how little weight they bear in our everyday lives. The key in this pursuit is finding a form of exercise that is enjoyable, and employing a level of consistency to it.
For an endurance athlete, this pursuit comes in the form of running, biking, & swimming, with yoga and strength training practices sprinkled in. For many, it can be a brisk walk at dusk, a few games of tennis, or a boxing class at the local gym. These activities exercise our aerobic fitness, elevating our heart-rate for a consistent period of time, and ultimately increasing our odds for a longer life.
The benefits of exercise do not need to be exhausted here, most people are intuitively aware of this list. A lacking component of such a regimen in our 21st century world is the discipline & consistency that exercise requires. Routine is valuable, and momentum is powerful. We’re all in it together, too.
Number three on the list is one we really can’t live without – sleep. Most people are familiar with the recommended 7-9 hours per night, and some are fortunate enough to meet that mark most nights. However, it’s no secret that when life gets in the way, and time is scarce, sleep becomes one of the first sacrifices.
Neuroscientist Matthew Walker is a big advocate in the sleep space, and has shared some profound findings in his studies. His research is pretty clear – more sleep leads to a longer life. Furthermore, the chances of major diseases mentioned above, and more, are significantly increased with a recurring lack of sleep. Too little shut-eye also negatively impacts the efficiency of our immune system, while leading to a greater risk of anxiety, depression and even suicide. The factoids are easy to read through – implementation is the tricky part. Our schedules are packed full of responsibility, but prioritizing sleep is critical. Extra hours on the weekend have been proven to be an inefficient way of catching up on our missed weekday slumbers. Avoiding caffeine in the second half of the day, limiting electronic use before bed, and giving ourselves a few hours between dinner and bedtime are a couple tips to maximizing the limited time we’re able to budget for sleep. Over time, the more we can emphasize our nightly routine, and prioritize it ahead of other non-essentials pursuits, the healthier we will be.
In today’s world of constant distraction and stimulation, being still with ourselves rarely fits into the equation. The fourth tip is centered around a mindfulness routine. This can take quite a few different forms for different people, whether it be journaling, meditation, or professional therapy. So much of the time, it can feel like our life is leading us, rather than us leading our life. Allowing for moments of stillness and reflection give us time to define what our core values are, and how we can keep them in the forefront of our pursuits. This is a foundational step in leading a life of more fulfillment, passion, and the array of other buzzwords we seek. If we’re never taking the time to ponder what makes us tick, how can we orient our lives with intention? Mindfulness is an important practice that allows the space for these larger questions – and provides us a more enriched mental and physical health.
The fifth and final tip may be one less commonly preached – to emphasize social relationships and community throughout our lives. It is no secret that those who develop and nurture meaningful relationships tend to be happier, but they also have been proven to live longer. A Harvard study made up of a few hundred thousand people concluded that lacking meaningful relationships increased the chances of premature death by 50%. This increase is more significant than the negative effects of obesity. Additionally, a study conducted in Sweden on those 75 and older found lower chances of dementia for elders who were fulfilled in their relationships with friends and family. Numerous other studies that tracked various biomarkers as a function of social integration concluded similar findings. Acting on this in our own lives can take place in a lot of ways – striking up conversation with new people, volunteering for a cause that you believe in, joining a club that brings you joy, and/or reaching out to long-time friends more often. Effort and intentionality in our relationships go a long way, and will keep us above ground with a smile on our face for longer.
Consistency is Key
Eat more whole-foods. Exercise often. Sleep plenty. Practice mindfulness. Embrace relationships. These five things are what this plant-based endurance athlete considers to be the most important pursuits in living a healthier life. We are all going to fall short sometimes (a lot of the time, if you’re like me) – striving for consistency is the best we can do. And while this article only scratches the surface on these topics, the world is abundant with information that expands on them.
Finding trustworthy, objective sources is an unavoidable part of that journey. However, the more we lean into these principles and ways of living, the more I believe our world will develop into a happier, healthier, and more balanced place.
Written by Ross Boothroyd. Ross is a former aerospace engineer turned freelance writer and crypto investor. He is passionate about plant-based eating, financial freedom, and decentralized finance. Check out more of his writing here