5 BEST Ways To Improve Your Health (That Are NOT Food/Diet)

5 BEST Ways To Improve Your Health (That Are NOT Food/Diet)

Ever feel like you’re eating really healthy but kind of still feel…well, not your best? While I’m a firm believer that what you consume is one of the most important things you can do to either heal or harm your body, there are some other very powerful ways to improve your health through your lifestyle. Some are absolutely essential (like sleep and movement), while others are still fundamental but get pushed to the backburner all too often.

I’ll try go in order of importance.

1. Sleep

Yep, I’m putting sleep before exercise. But to many of you, it may come as no surprise that good sleep is one of the top ways to improve your health.

In fact, experts say that if you have an extra hour to either sleep or work out, you should choose sleep. Sleep is so underrated, considering it’s when all your best healing happens. It’s also when your digestive system gets a welcome break from eating/working. Matthew Walker, PhD–neuroscientist, sleep expert and author of the bestseller “Why We Sleep,” says “there is not one process in the human body, (that we’re aware of) that isn’t improved by sleep.” Sleep reduces diseases of all kinds, and helps keep your body functioning better than any other tool. 

I personally am a sleep-obsessed diva. It started with an eye mask when I was a teenager, and ended with the million props I have now. Eye mask, ear plugs, nose strip, mouthguard, blackout curtains and a sound machine. I know it sounds like a lot, but this combination I’ve been perfecting over the years really lets me fall asleep in one position and wake up 8-9 hours later the same way. I LOVE sleep. And I feel like absolute garbage when I don’t get it. 

These are the real things I actually use and highly recommend: 

Dohm White Noise Sound Machine. You can make the volume higher or lower in 3 different ways (button, or twisting the sides and/or top) to get the exact sound you want. What makes me feel good about this sound machine that I have been using for many years is that it is a real fan inside–not a prerecorded track (like many sound machines out there). The distinction is important. Some studies have shown that recorded sounds mess with your brain after a while, but a constant (real) fan noise does not. Since I use this machine every single night, that matters to me. Note: I have had the Dohm sound machine for 6 years and it is still going strong. 

And if you’re curious, here’s my eye mask, my ear plugs, and my mouthguard. *#ad

If you feel intimidated by the mouthguard–don’t. It’s actually super easy to take a mold (they give you more silicone for free if you mess it up anyway), then you just send it back in the pre-stamped envelope they send and voila. Shortly after, you’ll get a mouthguard that fits your mouth perfectly and prevents clenching, grinding and even slow teeth-cracking (yikes, I know). 

*As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

2. Social Connection

Am I still shifting exercise lower and lower? Not at all. Movement is simply just about equal in my book to mental health. Because if your mental health is crappy, you might not feel like moving. 

When I think about our society and how we live today, in separate homes, often in small families, I feel a little sad. We are tribe animals. It’s in our blood to be surrounded by a village. And instead many of us feel isolated and alone with our problems, and I think this is a horrible way to live (even though I often live this way). 

Being someone who has moved A LOT, to a handful of different locations on this planet, I have had to start over and over with building community. I haven’t lived near my family of origin for over a decade, which is definitely tough, and I have not felt a true sense of having roots probably since leaving South Africa over twenty years ago. 

Yet, everywhere I go, I try to make new friends. I know this isn’t easy for everyone, but if I can do it–you can, too. I am seriously a homebody introvert, but I force myself to put myself out there because I know I need to find other humans to interact with, and even form bonds with. 

I’ve used several apps to find friends (Bumble BFF, VINA, Peanut, Etc.) and when I’m hanging out in public spots like a park or something, I talk to the people around me. Sometimes friends stick, sometimes they don’t. But I do believe we should all get some social connection into our schedules. 

FYI: Harvard Agrees

A recent Harvard study showed that one big factor in our overall happiness comes from small daily interactions. So there, even casual conversation with a total stranger is one of the studied ways to improve your health.

It may or may not have been a struggle for me at first (it was), but I’ve gotten better at (gasp) being friendly. Where my natural instinct is to shun small talk and get away from people I don’t know as fast as possible (kidding, not kidding), I now stop and take a breather. I try not to rush others or myself. I smile and compliment and connect with everyone from the grocery store cashier to the mail carrier.

My old attitude was more like “why bother?” since these people aren’t going to become lifelong friends, but now that I understand how it scientifically affects my happiness, I’ve changed my standoffish ways. (Lol but not lol.) 

And between my family and close friends, my attempts to make new friends anywhere I spot one that might fit, and even my interactions with random strangers, I truly feel the mental benefits of feeling my community tighten.

3. Movement

Alright, here we are. And for the record, I don’t put exercise below social connection, I believe they are both important. Some people don’t need this reminder, they go, go, go and make exercise part of everything they do. I am not one of those people. Physically, I am pretty lazy and slow. I really have to pump myself up to get those workouts in. 

The good news is: it doesn’t take much exercise to get health benefits. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week, which works out to around 20 minutes a day. That feels about right, right? And don’t forget at least 2 days of muscle-strengthing exercises/resistance training. 

In The Words of A Physical Therapist…

So what should you do? I once had a physical therapist say to me that an ideal regimen for humans would be a mix of swimming, cycling and pilates. Low-impact, great for muscles. I was actually in PT for back and hip pain exacerbated by walking, so I do not go for a walk every day (as many recommend). Some days I walk, some days I bike, and if I’m really lucky I get to a pool. 

This is the bike I use and love. It’s not a cheap, little foldable thing, it’s the kind of bike you’d find in a gym. I didn’t want to halfway invest in something flimsy–I wanted to buy a bike that would be okay sitting out and beckoning me to use it. It’s not enormous, definitely fits just fine tucked into a corner near our couch. And seeing it there often is enough to get me to hop on, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

The main perk of having it readily available is that you can go as fast and as hard and QUICK as you like. Instead of 45 minutes at a moderate pace, you can go hardcore for 10. 

As for strength training, pilates is an easy choice for me. There are near unlimited choices of pilates videos on YouTube, whether you’re looking for 10 minute pilates (ahem, me), gentle pilates, no wrist (or knee, or ankle or whatever) pilates, beginner or intermediate, ETC. 

Pilates is basically difficult yoga, with a focus on core strength instead of stretching. Some of those flexible yoga lovers out there, myself included, are doing what is naturally easy for us. Instead, it’s better to challenge your body to a little work. And having a strong core will get you through the physical pains of aging in a way that nothing else can. 

Jessica Valant, one of my favorite Pilates channels

4. Meditation

Hello essential component of daily life! Meditation is majorly underestimated as one of the key ways to improve your health. I once heard a stress expert predict that someday in the future, meditation will be as commonplace (and expected) as brushing our teeth. We are not at that day quite yet, but many are catching on. 

My own meditation journey started just over a decade ago, right in the midst of my worst time with Lyme Disease. During research on healthy living, I kept coming across this concept of stress management through meditation. And since I was feeling pretty stressed, I decided to give it a try. I found some guided meditations on YouTube by The Honest Guys and went on an internal trip to a relaxing land of elves. This was LONG before there were millions of YouTube meditations to choose from. 

Nowadays, you don’t have to go anywhere near elves (if you don’t want to). There are as many meditation choices as pilates workouts. Some of my favorites include this quick ten minute NSDR (non-sleep deep rest) by Andrew Huberman, this longer NSDR (a.k.a. yoga nidra) by the Mindful Movement, this loving kindness meditation by Abby Medcalf, and even some meditative ASMR. (I know some people hate ASMR, kind of a love it or hate it thing and I LOVE it.) 

Please tell me in the comments, do you love this or no?

A Quick Digression to Honor The Therapy of Abby Medcalf

While we are talking about stress management, it is extremely worth it to go beyond Abby Medcalf’s meditation videos to her channel of videos. She is a literal goddess from heaven giving away free therapy and making the world a better place. I have been listening to her podcast “Relationships Made Easy” for several years now (and reading her books, including “How To Be Happily Married Even When Your Partner Won’t Do A Thing”–amazing, amazing, amazing) and I can say without a doubt that she is truly life-changing. You can also find her on Apple podcasts, Spotify, etc.

And I DOUBLE TRIPLE QUADRUPLE recommend this if you don’t have your own therapist already. (I think everyone should. And I am lucky enough to have honestly the best therapist in the world and I still enjoy Abby’s work.)

Back to meditation.

The research out there on the benefits of practicing meditation for stress management is undeniable. Your brain is plastic (hence the term, neuroplasticity), and stretches and changes and forms new pathways depending on what you do with it. Even if you are older, do not be discouraged. Your plasticity is still there–give it a workout! 

Over time, you can honestly almost feel your neurons shifting around. In a stressful environment like an argument with our partner or a scolding from our boss, most of us instinctually go to flight, fight or freeze (or fawn, a new one). The more you practice meditation, the more you train your brain to pause before your amygdala goes nuts and gets your heartrate up. And as you can imagine, these moments of pausing add up, and can slowly turn us all into much calmer, happier and less reactive people. 

5. Spending Time Outside

Much like social connection, this is an activity that humans need but have sort of left in the past. We treat going outside as a luxury, or at least as a non-essential. But at the end of the day, as civilized as we are, we are still animals, and all animals need time outdoors. Technically, we BELONG in nature. 

Though spending all of our time outdoors is certainly ideal for our health, it’s very much impractical for most of is. So what’s the solution?

I think with this one, we have to do the best we can and squeeze it in. Playing with the kids outside kind of kills a few birds with one stone (jk, no one is killing birds around here). Or if you have an hour off, maybe take a book outside and get some sunlight instead of screen time on the couch.

Morning Matters Sidenote:

If you can get outside for even 2 minutes in the morning, the researched benefits are pretty huge: regulating your circadian clock ends up regulating almost every other function of your body (including metabolism, sleep, cognitive performance, and many more). 

No one has made “morning light” more popular than Andrew Huberman lately, but the idea of getting morning sunlight in your eyes has been around for a while. It was mentioned in the vegan documentary “Hungry For Change” many years ago (the movie that also got me hooked on Kris Carr) and I loved the idea instantly, since I am a bona fide sun lover! I could sit in the sun ALL DAY. 

Of course, I know there are some issues with UV rays. So, this is a happy medium. Get the sunlight on your skin, just do it in the morning. And *a little* in the afternoon doesn’t hurt either. 

And while you’re at it, take in the trees, get a break from your phone and remember you’re just an advanced little critter, hanging out on one lucky planet. 

PS. Here is my number one bonus tip that is really not a bonus but totally required:


Drink half your weight (in ounces) of water every single day. Space it out, but drink more in the morning and less as the day goes on. 

I think it’s worth noting that most of the things on this list can be done simultaneously. You can exercise, outside, with friends (and drink some water), and boom, you’ve achieved quite a lot. Maybe play a meditation video before bed, or my favorite time: when I need a catnap. I’m not great at napping during the day, but a little or long NSDR goes a LONG way to feeling refreshed.

So there you have it. There are many ways to improve your health, but I truly believe these listed above (plus nutrition) are the foundation.

Interested In More Ways To Improve Your Health?

Check out my post on eating healthy, “What Is A Flexitarian Diet?” This relaxed way of eating ensures that you get all the plant-based, whole foods on your plate, but you don’t ever feel deprived (which we all know leads to binging and/or falling off the wagon). Of all the ways to improve your health, we can all guess that good nutrition is one of the best.

View “What Is A Flexitarian Diet?”

Read This Book For Everything Health!

If you’re a reader and interested in looking deeper at health, this new book is an absolute must. I’ve never read anything that explains so accessibly and beautifully what is going on inside of our bodies, and how to make the most of the one special life that we have.

View Good Energy Book Review

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