If only I knew then what I know about health now… is something I hear often. Many of us wish we could go back in time and tell our younger selves to take care of our bodies rather than live recklessly. The “invincibility of youth” (unfortunately) doesn’t last, giving way to numerous health issues that could have easily been avoided.
BUT, this doesn’t have to be your story. Today you have the opportunity to make a positive change, no matter what your age or health status. A change that will have your future self thanking you rather than begrudging you!
What I believe to be true (and what research shows) is that:
- You CAN prevent most chronic diseases if you make the necessary changes NOW.
- You CAN significantly improve (if not cure) chronic diseases, with which you are suffering, if you change your lifestyle and make health your top priority NOW.
So what must I do?
The good news is that it’s not complicated at all! Research suggests that incorporating the following 4 concepts can improve the health of ALL individuals:
1. Eat nutrient-dense foods
Teens and young adults can survive on just about anything! Think, 2-minute noodles, peanut butter on toast and pizza for an entire semester (true story!). No wonder, they’re always grumpy (just jokes). Nutrition is extremely underrated in this age group, yet vitally important. However, no matter what your age, eating whole nutrient-dense REAL foods is the only way to look and feel your best. If only we could cut through the marketing hype and tell the younger generation that convenient/fast/junk/packaged foods only do more harm than good… And that there are better options out there. The true convenient, fast foods are REAL foods such as; boiled eggs, cucumber, cheese, carrots, fruit, biltong, nuts, coconut shreds etc.
Another point I’d like to make is that healthy food can be delicious! Salads can be packed full of flavour and be more satisfying than a burger; a simple roast chicken and vegetables is better than any 2am garage pie; smoothies are the easiest, quickest meal you can make and, if you add the right ingredients, can balance hormones, give you sustained energy for the day, improve concentration and even help you build muscle (bonus). There is no room for excuses any more! A quick google or pinterest search will provide you with endless healthy recipe options and inspirations to get you started.
2. Exercise efficiently
And no, walking around on campus in your pyjamas or dancing in clubs after 6 shots of tequila doesn’t count! Varsity is a hectic time, but if you can put healthy exercise habits in place early on, you’ll not only feel better, be a happier person, sleep well and look amazing; you’ll be better able to handle stress.
Remember always that, no matter what, working out should be enjoyable! Find an exercise routine that you genuinely enjoy – don’t kid yourself. As you get older and life’s pressures grow (work, kids… if only you knew!), exercise either becomes something you love or is just another addition to your never-ending To Do list.
Lastly, those hippies doing yoga are not lame! You should give it a try before you mock it. Also, Pilates is the single best thing you can do for your body if you want to live a long injury-free life. And don’t skip out on fitness classes or going to the gym just because you’re paranoid or ashamed of people watching you. No one cares! They’re all there to work on themselves, not to judge others. Be yourself, love moving your body and let fun equal exercise and vice versa.
3. Sleep restoratively
Just because you can go to bed at 3am and get up for lectures/work at 7am and “feel fine” doesn’t mean you should! It is also not something to be that proud of. Sleep is the only time our body truly has to rest, heal, recover, build, restore and grow without interruption or complication. Your evening routine should be all about setting yourself up for a good night’s rest. Stop blue-light exposure an hour before bed time (TV, laptops, cellphones etc), invest in block out curtains so you can sleep until your body has had enough, avoid the use of sleep-aids (including alcohol!) to fall asleep and lastly, journal/pray/mediate to process your day, clear your mind and sleep soundly. Trust me, there will be times in your life when you wish you could have enjoyed the opportunity to sleep more! So, while you can, SLEEP and sleep well.
4. Remove or reduce external and internal sources of stress and toxins
Smoking is not cool. It makes you want to avoid exercise, floods your system with toxins and gives you pre-mature wrinkles. Excessively drinking alcohol is also not cool. An over-burdened or damaged liver disrupts hormones, causes weight gain, exacerbates skin breakouts, makes you lethargic and makes you moody/irritable – not ideal at any stage of life! Make it a priority to remove as many toxins from your environment as early as possible i.e. eat clean, use organic / natural products, wean yourself off unnecessary medication, spend time in nature and de-clutter your life. Do these things and you will reap the benefits later – benefits such as living a disease-free life, having age-defying beauty, enjoying boundless energy and experiencing a full, happy and joyful life.
Lastly, find a course or job you love rather than pursue something for the sake of money. Life is about so much more than accumulating wealth or status! True satisfaction and purpose is found where your passion lies. The impact of stress on your mental and physical health is simply not worth it. And the bottom line is that if you don’t change the situation that’s causing the stress, you’re putting yourself at risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, autoimmune conditions and a whole lot more.
I cannot motivate you to make a change in your life. No one can motivate you but you. My goal is to show you that change is possible and achievable, and my hope is that you will become motivated enough to make the necessary changes not only for the sake of your health now, but for your future self as well!