Teenagers believe they are immortal and invincible – well, most of them, that is. And this attitude carries on into college and beyond. It causes them to take risks.

I know, because I was one of those risk-takers, all through high school and college. My friends and I didn’t bother with seat belts; we drove to really bad parts of town because some group was playing at a club; we drank underage and smoked a bit of pot. And we put ourselves in more danger by ice-skating on ponds that were untested and swimming in rivers and lakes when we didn’t know the depth.

Things didn’t change much in college. With all of this new-found freedom, I became a bit of an activist and found causes that took me around the country and allowed me to visit a few local jails. Many years later, my mother explained that I was responsible for every gray hair on her head.

Fast Forward

I’m not sure when it happened – probably quite gradually. I began to accept my mortality as real. And with that acceptance came a desire to remain on this planet as long as possible – there is just so much to experience and learn. So gradually, ever so gradually, the risks became less risky and the focus on living healthier became more pronounced.

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All of this has come in small, and progressive steps and still continues. There was no single event that caused me to begin this journey to living healthier – just a lot of reading and a general feeling that I wasn’t really taking care of myself as I should. Here are the things I have done so far that are already making a difference in energy level, general physical “feelings,” and more evenness of mood and temperament.

Moving More: My work is pretty sedentary – I sit. Last year, I read an article that was pretty scary. Women who sit for 6 hours or more during their non-work day time are 37% more likely to die at an earlier age than their peers. When I am not working, I now move. I clean, I walk my dog, I may stand while I watch some news item on TV, and if I do sit, I get up every 30-45 minutes. It’s such a simple little thing, and my house is a bit cleaner too!

Parking: I park at the back of parking lots, even when there are spaces up front. This forces me to walk more, and I figure over a year, it adds up. And, when I go to a big box retailer? I force myself to walk around the entire outer edge of the store before I start shopping. In many cases, this is close to 1/4 of a mile.

Stairs: I take the stairs rather than an elevator if I can. It’s such a small thing, and stair climbing increases heart rate and gets blood flowing

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Soda: I am so done with soda. Here is what I know now. There are between 8 – 10 tablespoons of sugar in a can of soda. That sugar turns to fat, and it is a very bad fat – it is the fat that collects around the body’s organs. Fatty liver disease can be directly linked to too much soda consumption. There are dangers as well from other ingredients. Diet soda has some pretty nasty ingredients too. I have traded soda out for tonic water with a bit of lime, and, now that I am used to it, I love it.

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Foods Close to Their Sources: This is a general rule I am trying my best to follow. What this means is that we think about the source of a food – let’s say green beans. They grow on farms. If we buy fresh green beans, they have not been through some factory for processing becoming coming to you. The same with a fresh orange. It is intact just as it came off of the tree it grew on. If we buy canned green beans, they have been through a factory processing in which many things have been added, including chemicals. Whole wheat grains have not been processed and refined in a factory somewhere. And if the foods have been grown locally, on small farms, that even better. We avoid GMO’s and many other harmful chemicals.

Meats: No one enjoys a rare steak more than me. And I enjoy other meats too. But here’s the thing: it is almost impossible to know what has been done to any meat or fish product before it lands in the grocery store. Corporate ranches and pig, chicken and fish farms all use food enhancements with chemicals. Then we think of fresh ocean catches. Well, not exactly. While most states in the U.S. have regulations and “advisements” on medical waste disposal, our oceans are now full of full of medical waste that can be consumed by seafood we eat. Do I eat meat and fish? Yes. But I have reduced my consumption, and you should too. And when I do have the great steak every once in awhile? It is even more delicious than before.

My Personal Life: One of the things I have come to know is that getting in some more exercise and eating better is not the full story of a healthier lifestyle. We all need healthy and rewarding relationships with others. I choose to hang out with people who are upbeat, positive, and productive, and I am gradually eliminating those who drag me into a “pit” of pessimism, complaining and negativity. They are so emotionally draining, along with really “needy” individuals. I am the first person to step up to help anyone, but there are just those for whom no amount of help can ever be enough. I have learned to say “no,” and it is so liberating.

My Spiritual Life: I would not be considered a “religious” person by any means. But we can all follow the basic tenets of most religious teachings – do good, be kind, serve others when we can. Volunteering has become an important part of my life, and I have my “pet” causes just as most everyone does. Lift your spirits by being of service in some capacity.

Learning: If we are not continually learning new things, we are not growing. Fortunately, I have a job that “forces” me to learn every day. Even if I did not, I know that total health depends on mental fitness, and mental fitness means stretching ourselves in new directions. Read, research, take a class – do something regularly that causes you to learn.

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These are my 9 elements of a healthy lifestyle – physical, dietary, social, spiritual and mental. Together, they produce a whole person who can greet every day with gratitude, energy, and optimism about the future.