When it comes to our future selves, most people think about insuring, rather than ensuring, their health and well-being as they start to age. Although having a good life insurance policy, a 401K, and access to medical care are important, equally important are the things you can do for yourself right now to lessen the potential risk of future health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
But instead of telling you to stop smoking, eat healthier, exercise more and wear sunscreen (okay, I might have to slip that one in), here are 10 not-so-obvious steps you can take now to ensure your well-being in the future.
1. Understand your why.
Think about what you want your body to be able to do in the future and whether or not your current habits will make it possible. This is your why. Do you want to be able to keep up with your grandkids? Do you want to be able to move pain-free well into your nineties? Do you want to travel when you retire? Do you not want to break a hip when you fall? If you answered yes to any of these, keep these long-term goals top of mind when you make decisions that impact your health during your day.
2. Make a plan.
Although understanding your why and having long-term health and wellness goals are important, so is having a plan to help get you there. Without a plan that features short-term goals and identifies potential roadblocks and tactics to help overcome them, achieving your long-term health goals will be near impossible. Creating and implementing SMART goals (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) will make the habits you’re trying to adopt more manageable.
3. Find an activity you actually enjoy doing and make time to do it often.
Let’s say your long-term goal is to hike Machu Picchu when you retire, your short-term goals are to lose weight and get fitter, and your SMART goal is to hike to the top of a local mountain without having to stop too often by the end of next June. Although you may be tempted to join a CrossFit gym, go on a detox diet, and run five days a week in order to reach your short-term goals, it’s honestly not necessary. If you enjoy hiking, just hike. If you hate running, don’t do it. You don’t have to do an activity typically associated with “being fit” if you don’t enjoy doing it. You are much more likely to stick to a fitness routine if it’s something you actually enjoy, especially if it aligns with your “why” and your long-term goals.
4. Lift weights.
Even though I just finished telling you not to do an activity you don’t enjoy doing, resistance training is one of those things I think everyone can benefit from. You may not enjoy brushing your teeth every day, but you still do it because you know what might happen if you don’t. Try to think of resistance training in the same way –not only will resistance training help make you stronger, it will also help to strengthen your bones, which is especially important as we age.If your goal is to not break a hip if you fall when you’re 90, starting a resistance training program now can definitely help.
5. Eat your greens.
And yellows, reds, purples and oranges.Having a diet full of a variety of fruits and vegetables is known to help increase health and life expectancy. Need I say more?
6. Reduce meat and processed food intake.
As you up your fruit and veggie intake, consider decreasing the amount of animal products and processed food in your diet. Research shows that people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet have a lower risk of cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases; so do people who follow a whole-foods, plant-based diet, such as the Mediterranean diet (which does include fish and small amounts of red meat and dairy).
7. Set aside time for self-care.
Although setting aside a few hours to have a bubble bath and read a good book once a week would be ideal, it’s not always possible with our hectic daily schedules. But even making time for a short self-care ritual a few times a week is better than nothing. Meditate for 10 minutes in the morning, go for a walk outside, or spend some time playing with your kids or pets.
8. Be present more often.
On top of your self-care activities, be sure to take time out of each day to live in the present moment. Put down your smartphone when you’re eating or walking, pause to take a deep breath at your desk, or simply notice the beauty in your surroundings when you’re outside in nature. Taking time to reflect and enjoy the present moment truly does make you happier.
9. Feel gratitude.
Research shows that people who adopt an “attitude of gratitude” foster more meaningful relationships, have reduced stress and anger and improved self-esteem, and are generally healthier overall. Try jotting down a few things you’re grateful for in a journal at the end of the day.
10. Wear sunscreen.
Because you know it’s the responsible thing to do!