Everyone’s looking for that edge today. Whether you’re a serious athlete, a businessperson wanting to excel in your career, or just want to be more efficient so you can work less, routine is a potent catalyst for driving self-improvement.
For those who are just beginning on the path to a healthier lifestyle, it can be easy to get discouraged. Think about it. If your goal is to lose weight and you hate exercise, you’ll have to wake up every day and somehow force yourself to get on the bike, or the mat, or whatever to meet your goal. That can be incredibly intimidating, but real transformation requires real suffering. There’s just no way around that.
Fortunately, we don’t have to do it all at once. We can take baby steps towards these health goals so they’re less of a horror movie, and more of a sitcom. The smaller you start, the less likely you are to fail. Over time, your routine can become increasingly challenging to fit the requirements of your goal.
I’ve come up with a list of 10 practices that you can implement right away to get you on the path to better health. Some of these might seem trivial, because they are. But they’re also sustainable and modular. If you can adopt even one of these habits, you’ll open the door to others, and start making real headway towards a healthier and more fulfilling life.
1. Wake up before 6am
This is a tough one if you see yourself as a chronic night owl, but there’s a science behind the early riser habit. According to Sleep Advisor, waking up early helps you stick to a diet more easily. It also improves skin health, emotional health, and concentration (3). Having extra time in the morning when there aren’t any distractions also facilitates higher productivity.
2. Chew your food thoroughly
Ayurveda is a science that starts with diet. One of the things missing from contemporary nutrition is the HOW of our eating habits. How we eat makes a difference in how food gets digested and utilized for energy. Chewing food thoroughly prevents overeating, allows us to be mindful with meals, and facilitates easier digestion. All of this adds up to better mental and physical health.
3. Don’t eat while distracted
Going off of the last point. Becoming present with your food is essential. When you’re eating and watching TV at the same time, you’re probably not chewing your food all the way, and you’re more likely to overeat. Take the time to be with your food. Be thankful for it, and listen to your body. It never fails to tell you when you’ve had enough.
4. Scrape your tongue
This is another Ayurvedic practice, but modern science backs it up. Studies show that tongue scraping is an effective technique for reducing dental decay and bad breath (1).
The tongue plays an important role in digestion as well. Its job is to identify different foods so the body can produce the appropriate enzymes necessary for digestion. When there’s too much residue buildup on the tongue from bacteria, dead cells, and food, it can hinder the production of these enzymes.
Additionally, scraping the tongue can prevent overeating, since one of the biggest reasons we overeat is to get more flavor out of food. If the tongue is clean of residue, we can taste more and eat less.
5. Drink water without ice
America is obsessed with unnaturally cold beverages, and it hurts digestion. Drink things that are room temperature or warm.
6. Hang from something
Nope, you don’t have to do any pull-ups. Just find a sturdy ledge or pull-up bar and hang there for a while. You’ll probably notice an immediate difference since this practice opens up the muscles of the ribcage to facilitate better breathing. It’s also a great shoulder and arm stretch.
7. Write down dreams and gratitude
When you wake up, take a moment to pause and reflect on any dreams you may have had. Even if they’re extremely vague, write down what you can remember. You may find that more details of the dream start rushing back to you. When you’re finished, write down a few reasons why you’re grateful. I don’t know why this specific practice works so well, but I’m always able to relax and focus more easily once I’ve done it.
8. Keep the phone away from where you sleep
This is a major one. The temptation to grab the phone near bedtime is more damaging than many of us realize. The blue light emitted by the screen seriously impairs restful sleep. More than that, it’s an immediate distraction when waking up, and it can seriously disrupt your morning routine if you aren’t careful. My best strategy: keep it in a separate room until you’re finished with your routine.
9. Take walks
Your exercise routine doesn’t have to be the crucible of pain. It can actually be enjoyable and… easy. That’s right, walking can reduce hypertension, risk of cardiovascular illness, and improves bone and muscle health. Besides the physical stuff, it’s great for reducing stress, connecting with nature, and becoming more mindful. For me, it’s one of the best and most accessible forms of meditation out there.
I once went on a Yoga retreat where they offered something called Laugha-Yoga. I thought this was strange and somewhat cult-like at first. I can only imagine what it must’ve looked like to an outside observer. The instructor, a jolly old man reminiscent of a Yogi Santa Claus, began the class by cracking a few jokes and just laughing. That was it! We just did ridiculous shit the whole class and laughed at one another. It was awesome.
Laughter has a lot of short-term benefits, like soothing tension and simultaneously activating and deactivating the stress response. But the long-term effects of regular laughter are even more amazing. Laughter can reduce depression and anxiety, improve our immune system, and even reduce the experience of physical pain. (2)
The best part? The instructor explained to us that the body doesn’t know the difference between fake laughter and real laughter. So even if you’re just playing along, you’ll still get the same benefits.
The road to better health isn’t going to be paved in gold. You’re going to experience setbacks, and moments of self-doubt. But the best way to sustain a healthy routine is to keep it radically simple, and build from there.
(1) 5 Reasons to Scrape Your Tongue and How to Do It. (2018, April 5). Retrieved November 19, 2019.
(2) Mayo Clinic. Stress relief from laughter? It's no joke. (2019, April 5). Retrieved November 19, 2019.
(3) Sleep Advisor. Last Updated On June 13. (2019, June 13). Benefits of Waking up Early - Our 9 Tips for Making a Morning Routine. Retrieved November 19, 2019.