Health is made up of so much more than physical fitness. Just because you go to the gym religiously doesn’t mean you’re maximizing your quality of life or wellbeing. Truly healthy people have other habits that promote the overall enjoyment and good feeling in their lives.

From practices like getting adequate sleep, integrating the best parts of their life, taking cold showers, and keeping good posture, we’re going to go over what you can do to keep feeling – and looking – your very best for years to come.

Here are seven tweaks you can make to instantly boost your health and happiness to the next level.

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#1 Make New Habits a Habit

Being fit has a variety of meanings. We understand it today as being in shape. But historically, it had more to do with the survival of the fittest and our ability to flourish in our environment.

Our living scenarios have shifted a great deal in recent history, from the tribal to the industrial to the modern technology culture. Fitness really has nothing to do with being faster or stronger these days. It’s more about how adaptable we are, how able we are at picking up new ways of living so we can improve our immediate and long term health.

To do this, we must acquaint ourselves with the processes needed to usher in new plans of action.

Now, changing overnight is impossible. And it’s always going to be easier to add a new routine than to cut an old habit. Harvard Medical School found that it takes 66 days to cement a new habit.

Going all in on a new project – as cool as it sounds – takes a lot of partial effort over sustained time. It’s easy for us to say that we’re going to change, but preparing ourselves for change means having patience and determination.

We can’t fix everything all at once. If you’re trying to add flossing to your daily cycle while getting into a difficult cardio routine, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Good things take time and the benefits are often slow to show up, materializing only long after we’ve set our minds and our bodies to it.

The Four Steps to Creating a New Habit:

  • Contemplation
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance

Habits are tied to our motivation, the ‘why’ we do things. A habit loop is a three-part process:

  • The trigger: that tells your brain to let a behavior unfold (‘I want to build a six pack’)
  • The behavior: the action and the routine created (doing core exercises)
  • The reward: something the brain likes to help it remember a habit loop (for example: ‘I like the burn because it reminds me I’ll get results,’ or ‘I look great’)

# 2 Socialize More

With so much technology, many of us live, work, shop, and workout in isolation. As a result, we’re becoming lonelier and less resilient physically. Humans evolved as social creatures, hardwired to live our best with consistent and varied interactions.

Those people who live the longest and experience the lowest rates of disease live in rural, tight knit communities. The oldest people consistently hail from the tropical island of Okinawa, Japan.

What’s the islander’s secret? Okinawans’ lives are low-stress, filled with family and friends, and consist of routine mild to moderate exercise throughout their life.

People with stronger social connections are 50% more likely to live longer than those with weaker connections. This is a similar mathematical relationship to being a smoker or non-smoker. Watch the movie Happy to learn more.

Tip: In a slump at work? Go for coffee with colleagues. Not only will this brief bit of exercise get the blood moving and burn a few calories, but it will boost satisfaction, productivity, and workplace happiness following. Making this a routine could seriously reorient how you see the culture of your workspace.

#3 Take Cold Showers

The Native Americans used to dip their toddlers in the winter lakes and streams to toughen them up. Crazy? Not at all.

Cold Means Healthy

Modern science tells us that exposing the body to intense cold improves the hardiness of our cells, improving our immune system and circulation. The temperature decreases that we withstand (briefly) in turn increase our tolerance to stress and disease.

One study found a lowering in uric acid levels during and after exposure to cold stimulus. The antioxidant that keeps other antioxidants performing at optimal levels – glutathione – shoots up when we contact chilly water.

The Polar Bear Club seems to be onto something.

A cold shower is also a quick way to wake up and get alert in the morning. That initial deep breathing in response to the system shock will increase the heart rate, increase overall oxygen intake and release a rush of blood throughout the whole body.

Net gain: a boost of energy to start the day.

Cold hydrotherapy tests also show that icy showers relieve depression symptoms via the intense impact upon cold receptors in the skin. The resulting amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings in the skin affect the brain en masse. The antidepressive effects boost mood.

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#4 Get Good Sleep

Losing out on sleep is setting yourself up for failure. Yes, some people may be able to operate on four hours of sleep a night. Odds are, that’s not you. If you’re feeling unfocused and having difficult time completing tasks during your day, you may not be getting enough rest.

40% of people get less than the recommended 7 – 9 hours of sleep a night. It’s getting so bad that the Center for Disease Control calls our sleep problems “ a public health epidemic.”

It’s also a block on healthy living. Lack of sleep means you don’t get the chance to heal damage done to your cells and tissue while awake. When you fall asleep, your body begins to secrete growth hormone. Less sleep means less growth – and is linked to muscle atrophy.

Insufficient sleep is also known to decrease testosterone levels and deplete libido.

Getting your Zs will also improve the look and feel of your skin as well. “Good sleepers” recover better from ultraviolet light exposure and also showed fewer signs of aging, according to a study in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology.

Sleep More to Thin Down

Studies have shown that people who sleep less are also more likely to be obese. Those that regularly sleep less than seven hours a night were 7.5x more likely to be overweight. And that’s taking into account family history, demographic factors, and physical activity.

Researchers attribute this to hormonal changes while you sleep – not getting the proper sleep stimulates the appetite.

#5 Integrate Your Life

Keeping your life compartmentalized by different activities is not only inefficient, but it will lead to less overall health. A major component of overall bodily health is general happiness. This isn’t some statistic, just a basic universal reality – health (along with wealth, love, happiness) are the pillars to quality living. Instead of segmenting your life, combine activities that you enjoy to get compound benefits from each.

For example, combining your fitness routine with a social group or with a pastime your love will bring you rewards in both the emotional sense and the physical sense.

Crossfit has become a very popular activity to break the boundaries of rigid, solo workouts. It opens up your routine to variety and layers of rewarding experiences.

Say you love to rock climb: join a Meetup group of rock climbers for a weekend trip. This way your getting healthy, staying happy, and feeding your passion. You might even make new friends or meet a lifelong partner.

When you’re involved in an activity you find intensely pleasing, you lose track of time and enter a “flow state.” This positively altered state of consciousness is incredibly relaxing and beneficial health and wellbeing. It’s essential a moving meditation, allowing your mind a chance to chill out while the body feeds the spirit.

Think of it: how many stressed out surfers do you know? Bummed out tennis players? Chronically depressed basketball enthusiasts?

That’s the quality of integration.

#6 Drink Lots of Water

Your body is 90% water. It makes sense then that depriving your system of its primary ingredient would decrease its overall efficiency and promote complications, right? Here’s a chart to help you determine if you’re drinking enough aqua.

Stay Cool Inside

Water consumption keep your temperature normal which makes it easier to exercise to maximum levels. Without investing extra calories in regulating your body temperature, you’ll have more energy for your workouts and the rest of your day.

Water also lubricates your joints, ligaments, and tendons while protecting your spinal column. Proper hydration eases the friction you experience while moving, streamlining the processes of movement, increasing agility and flexibility.

More fluids means you’ll sweat (and thereby cool) more easily. A fit, conditioned body sweats more due the higher blood volume and excess fluid to be sweated out. So if you sweat in the gym – rejoice! You look healthy!

Elimination processes with urine and bowel movements are also easier for the body to do with the proper fluids.

#7 Keep Good Posture

If you have a computer or a smartphone, you’re suffering from steadily worsening posture. The physical downturn brought about by techno-culture can only be staved off by conscious efforts to stay more upright and linear in our figure.

To remind yourself to sit and stand straight, make stick-e notes for your desk, computer, front door, etc. Maybe set an hourly alarm on your phone – whatever works. These reminders will provide the positive reinforcement to succeed.

Breathe Right

Good posture facilitates deep, quality breathing. The difference between sitting up and slouching can have serious impacts upon your ability to breathe from low in your abdomen. Breathing from the upper thorax and solar plexus stimulates hyperventilation – a fight or flight response – which wears you down throughout the day. Proper breathing also allows your brain to get the oxygen it needs to increase your thinking ability.

Look Better, Feel Better

You’re going to look better and more attractive to others with good posture. “How you carry yourself” is a phrase derived from the appeal of being upright and straightforward in one’s approach. Our natural response to those who slump or slouch is that they are unkempt and resigned – as opposed to looking assertive and in control.

Just like faking a smile can make you feel happy, standing and sitting straight can make you feel more self-confident. We live a bodied experience and what our bodies undergo feeds into our mental state.

Keeping feet facing forward while standing and walking, shoulders back, and head lifting from the crown (as if being pulled to the sky by a string) are the basics of good posture.

Invest in Yourself

To improve posture, get a massage. Drawing attention to the areas that support good alignment will you remind to engage the proper muscles. Yoga and pilates are also amazing exercise for improving posture, lengthening the spine (making you taller), and creating muscles that actually support your best body posture.

Getting a good quality chair, one with lumbar support, or a back cushion for chairs and car seats can really help you create a habit of healthy posture. If your bed or pillow needs replacing to support a healthy body and good sleep, pull the trigger on a very important aspect of overall health and wellness.

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We can all be healthier. With so many options to increase our total health, all we need to do is focus upon one or two areas we’d like to improve upon and wait for our bodies to adapt to the process. Adopting a mindset that’s open to positive change will be essential for helping you drink more water, jumping in a cold shower first thing in the morning, sitting up straighter, being more outgoing, or integrating different elements of life into our workout routines. Remember: the process is the destination. Stick to the routine and you’ll be enjoying the benefits before you know it.

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