Exercise and a healthy diet are the initial stepping stones to leading a healthy lifestyle. Most people are unaware of a third vital aspect of maintaining heath. Taking care of your mind is the final piece to Leading a Healthy Lifestyle. This can include everything from visiting the doctor regularly, to developing healthy hobbies and taking time for meditation or reflection. This article will highlight those things you might be missing and discuss some interesting ways to de-stress, and relax that you may be unaware of. Meditate When most people think of meditation they picture someone sitting cross-legged, chanting “om,” and attempting to float in the air. Meditation is often misconstrued as something silly and a waste of time. In reality, there are multiple forms of meditation and its best if you try each one for 10 days before settling on one. All meditation requires is your concentration, therefore, It can be done seated, standing, laying down, or walking. Focus on breathing in and out calmly to allowing your lungs to fully fill with oxygen. Those who want to can take it a step further and repeat a mantra. It doesn’t have to be anything outlandish, but just something that you want to remind yourself. If you prefer to sit or lay down with your eyes closed you could consider the imagery technique. Guided imagery sessions can be downloaded online. They are typically short stories or scenarios meant to conjure positive feelings. Follow this link to learn more about guided imagery and for a sample of a session: http://www.healthjourneys.com/Main/Home/What-Is-Guided-Imagery/. Regular meditation of about 20 minutes a few times per week has proven to help reduce stress, which supports low blood pressure and boosts your immune system. In addition to the physical benefits, meditation helps provide emotional stability, increases happiness and improves concentration. It can be done by yourself or as a group activity, and as noted it comes in different forms. Healthy Hobbies There’s a wide variety of “healthy” hobbies out there for you to pursue as well. Having a hobby, or doing something outside of your normal duties allows you to break away from the monotony of life. Some people consider exercise to be their hobby and that’s great, but it’s important to realize that exercise should be a component of your regular routine. Whereas a hobby will break you away from your regular routine. Hobbies should be a healthy outlet where you can enjoy time by yourself or with others, doing something productive, but fun. Some hobbies to keep you moving could include outdoor activities like hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, surfing, snowboarding, skiing, or even walking. You could also join a local sports team. Sports aren’t just for your kids. Grab a few friends, or do it as a family and create a your own team. The nice thing about recreational leagues is they typically only last for a few weeks and games are once or twice per week. It allows you to try something new without making a long term commitment. For those who spend their days up and about, and just want a hobby where they can sit for a little bit, try to choose activities that challenge the mind. Colouring books have become a new fad. You may have tried to avoid falling into the colouring book trap, but you should give in! Colouring books are therapeutic, in that they have the potential to help reduce anxiety and encourage focus and creativity. The same thing goes for puzzles like Sudoku, jig saw puzzles, and sewing. If you’re ever experiencing a rough time one of these hobbies could help provide you with enough mental clarity to see you through. They can also serve as alternatives to meditation, so if you’re looking to calm your mind but don’t want to meditate one of those activities might be for you. There are so many different productive hobbies out there it might be difficult to decide. If you’re struggling to choose think about your lifestyle. Which activity or activities would be conducive to the time you have? Do you like to be moving or sitting still? Or a combination of both? Do you prefer solitary activities or activities with others? Your hobby should match your personality and interests, otherwise you won’t find it enjoyable. Time with Others Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert it is essential to spend a balanced amount of time alone and with others. Spending time with friends and family provides support and connectedness that you cannot achieve alone. Time with others can be spent incorporating any of the previously discussed healthy hobbies or yoga, therefore you can have your cake and eat it too. Those that spend regular time with others, even if only for an hour or less, tend to be more at peace with themselves. Being with others allows you to discuss things going on in your life and can provide a distraction to concerns you think about all day long. It can help break your routine, which for some is a refreshing change of pace to a stale day or week. Spending time with friends can help you stay on track with weight loss goals, keep you socially connected and happier overall. Loneliness is a leading factor in depression, which can lead to other preventable illnesses. Take some time out to be with others, just as you would carve the time out for yourself. Restorative Yoga One of the more common ways people like to wind down is through Yoga. There are many different forms of yoga including “Anusara” (for the beginner), “Ashtanga” (more rigorous), “Bikram” (follows a series of 26 poses throughout the entire class), “Hatha” (gentle version of pose sequences you might experience in “Ashtanga” or “Bikram”), “Vinyasa” (more common and refers to a flowing movement of pre-choreographed classes), “Iyengar” (closer attention to alignment and use of props), and finally Restorative Yoga (yoga without exertion). Restorative Yoga is believed to be more rejuvenating than taking a nap. While you may like your normal yoga class which most likely features movements from “Ashtanga” or “Vinyasa”, mix up the routine a bit with some Restorative Yoga. Not only do you feel rejuvenated after the class, but it allows you to slow down and add pace to your life. Without the focus on poses and sequences, Restorative Yoga really allows the participant to relax, which slows down the nervous system to help alleviate stress. In addition, it allows for some self-reflect and mindfulness. During a class you have the ability to create awareness of yourself and your body, which could lead to the discovery of unnoticed injuries or pain that you ignored throughout your busy week. Not sure which type of yoga is for you? Check out Giam’s guide to the different styles of yoga here. Select the one that will enjoy the most and don’t be afraid to try them all! Counselling Just like spending time with others is important because it allows you to communicate thoughts and feelings, sometimes you need to take it a step further. Counselling is a good way to process those emotions that could be contributing to stress, high blood pressure, and other preventable illnesses. Although it is good to spend time with friends and family discussing what’s going on in your life and sharing your feelings, constant communication of a negative kind can wear on your relationships. This is why counselling is a good option for some to maintain better mental, and physical health. Counselling isn’t necessarily therapy, it can include seeking advice, a sounding board or even pursuing a life coach to guide you through some difficult decision making. Stress isn’t always brought on by huge life decisions. Those little every day pains can add up and make a larger impact on people. Counselling can assist in processing those emotions, and help to work through them in a productive way. Your counsellor can also help hold you accountable for goals and help you find your purpose. If you just need someone to talk to they are there for that too. Counselling is a way to maintain good mental and spiritual health. See the Doctor Finally, as important as it is to spend time doing things you enjoy like spending time with family and friends, attending yoga classes, or participating in any of your healthy hobbies, it is equally as important to visit the doctor regularly. Be proactive about your health! Have annual checkups to ensure that your body is responding to the exercise, healthy eating and additional techniques you utilize to de-stress and take care of yourself. At a certain age it is crucial to also go through preventative screenings that can detect diseases. Some examples include: mammograms, colonoscopies, etc. that detect cancer and other abnormalities. Annual visits to the doctor go much more smoothly if you know what to expect. Make sure to arrive prepared. This means that you should jot down and discuss any and all questions or concerns you have to your doctor. It’s better to get it all out in one appointment than have to make another one later. Finally, if you know of family history illnesses make sure to get yourself checked out for symptoms. Act before and not after to ensure that you are taking proper care of your body. Your mind controls your body, emotions, and ultimately your health. There are many healthy ways to spend your time that increase your mental health. Bring together all three aspects of Leading a Healthy Lifestyle and you will see a major difference in your overall health. The right amount of regular exercise, a proper diet, and attention to the health of your mind will assist in longevity and the ability to live the life you want to live as you age. Do it and see for yourself!