Tag Archive for: healthy habits

As the world and workplace grow increasingly digital, it can be difficult to find time to truly relax or experience the benefits of resting. You might leave the office at five, but with smartphones and laptops, there’s always one more email to send or one last bit of work to finish up before dinner. It’s exhausting.

Add social media into the mix and there’s hardly any time left for rest, recreation, and relaxation. And, as it turns out, these activities play a crucial role in regulating your mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

Rest and relaxation can take a variety of shapes—it’s not all about sleep or going on vacation (although those are great ways to practice self-care). Everyone relaxes a little differently. To really see the benefits of resting in your own life, you’ll have to figure out what helps you relax. That’s where this article comes in.

Understand the Importance of Rest and Relaxation Through the Benefits of Resting

The demands of a career, relationships, or life in general can occasionally be stressful. But with a little practice, you’ll be able to avoid falling into the stress spirals in your life. And even if they do crop up occasionally, you’ll know exactly how to deal with them.

You know that old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? Well, that same logic applies to stress. In other words, it pays to be proactive. And here’s the best part: One of the easiest ways to prevent stress is through rest and relaxation.

In the past few years, a number of companies around the world have put this approach to the test with four-day workweeks. The idea is pretty simple: if employees are expected to work one fewer day (without any impact on their salary) they’ll be more relaxed, healthier, and more productive. And it works.

It turns out that taking the time to truly relax and rest can impact your life and health in a number of positive ways. Some of the benefits of resting include:

  • Increased energy levels
  • Greater productivity
  • Lower reported stress levels
  • Greater sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in life

To see some of these benefits in your own life, you’ll need to find a relaxation method that works for you. But don’t worry, you’ve got a lot of options to choose from—and relaxation can come in unexpected ways!

Recreation as Relaxation: The Double Benefits of Physical Activity

People often think of relaxation as passive. That is, they think you’re relaxing when you’re not really doing anything. Or not doing anything demanding, at least. And while that line of thinking isn’t necessarily wrong, it leads people away from one of the most effective forms of relaxation: exercise.

It might seem a little counterintuitive that physical activity can be restful, but there’s science to back it up. (It’s important to note that exercise rests your mind, not your body.)

You’ve likely heard of a “runner’s high.” It’s the rush of euphoria that many runners, whether they’re amateurs or old pros, describe. This so-called high occurs as your body releases endorphins, a natural response to prolonged exercise. These endorphins—chemicals secreted by the pituitary gland—can help keep you feeling good despite the state of your daily life.

Exercises such as swimming, running, or simply walking can also provide an almost meditative experience. As your body repeats motions over and over again, your mind is allowed to wander freely. Your brain enters a state known as the default mode network, which is a crucial time of rest for your brain.

If your recreation takes you into nature, you’ll see even more benefits. Studies have shown that a walk in the park or a hike in the woods can do wonders for your stress levels.

Keeping Your Mind Healthy: 6 Additional Relaxation Techniques

Physical exercise can be a great way to rest your mind, but, let’s be honest, not everyone has the time or energy to get out and exercise every day. If you’re not big on running, don’t worry—there are plenty of other ways to relax and give your mind the rest it needs. You could, for instance, try one of a variety of relaxation techniques.

If you’ve ever taken a deep breath and counted to 10, you’ve already dabbled in the world of relaxation exercises. These techniques are basically exactly what they sound like: practices that, when executed properly, can help you relax your body and mind. The similarities to meditation are unavoidable. That’s because many relaxation techniques are considered forms of meditation and vice versa.

There are countless types and variations of relaxation techniques. And if you decide to integrate intentional relaxation into your daily life, you’ll have plenty of time to explore those options. But for now, you might find it helpful to start by trying out these six basic types of relaxation techniques:

  1. Breathing exercises: Controlling your breath is one of the easiest ways to manage stress. It’s also a great entry point into the world of more advanced meditation techniques. There are a number of ways to practice controlling your breath, but most breathing exercises follow a similar pattern: breathe in slowly, hold, breathe out slowly. The goal is to make your breathing more controlled, consistent, and intentional. Breathing exercises can help you clear your mind and feel more in tune with your body and its needs.
  2. Progressive relaxation: As one of the most popular relaxation techniques, progressive relaxation is taught and practiced in the military, many meditation clinics, and even some schools. Progressive relaxation begins with breath control. Once your breath reaches a slow and steady cadence, you will begin to tense and relax various muscle groups in turn. You start with your toes and move up your body towards your head. Each time you release muscle tension, you exhale, expelling mental tension out of your body, too. If you’re a beginner, there are lots of great resources for guided progressive relaxation online!
  3. Autogenic relaxation: This relaxation technique is a bit of a catch all for a variety of approaches. All this category entails is using your mind and body control to change automatic body processes—slowing your heart rate, for instance. Autogenic relaxation often begins with breath control and might incorporate elements of visualization. The end goal is pretty simple: through your own awareness of your body, you are able to influence your heart rate, breathing, and other systems to help deal with stress.
  4. Visualization: This technique exercises your imagination. Visualization is the practice of imagining a soothing scene or place, with as much sensory detail as possible. When you begin practicing visualization, you might find it useful to enlist online help. These resources will talk you through the process, telling you what setting to picture and what senses to pay special attention to. The more you practice, the better you’ll become at rendering these scenes without prompting. Like many other relaxation techniques, visualization can help regulate breathing, heart rate, and other bodily responses to stress.
  5. Mindfulness: One of the biggest stressors in the workplace is the urge to always look ahead. What projects are due next? What emails do you need to send tomorrow? And in a fast-paced work environment, a little forethought is crucial. But it’s also important to focus on the present. Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you regulate your breathing and try to focus solely on the present moment. What thoughts are coming to your mind? What sensations can you feel? Each experience is acknowledged, but not judged—you’re simply existing in the moment.
  6. Yoga: At this point, you’re probably familiar with yoga. This popular recreational practice combines many of the various relaxation methods discussed in this article: breath control, physical exercise, and mindfulness. Though yoga is a physically strenuous activity, many practitioners find it incredibly relaxing. Yoga is a great way to feel more connected to your body and relax. And, as an added bonus, it’ll help you increase your core strength and flexibility!

Harnessing the Benefits of Rest

After a long, busy day, sometimes just kicking back and watching Netflix seems like the best way to relax. Or maybe scrolling mindlessly through Instagram for an hour or two. While there is a time and a place for those activities, you should not mistake them for proper rest or relaxation.

To really see the benefits of rest in your own life, you have to take an active approach. Get outside and walk for an hour one evening. Maybe try incorporating 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation before bed each night. Your brain needs a break from the stress of the day as much as you do—be sure you’re giving yourself the rest you need to thrive.

In the hubbub and hurry of today’s world, it can be hard to find a peaceful moment of cognitive rest. Between bills, work responsibilities, and the demands of your relationships, you might feel like you have hundreds of tasks to take care of each day. And, honestly, there’s a good chance you do. It’s an overwhelming feeling. To make matters worse, the more you have to do, the harder it becomes to focus on a single task.

So what’s the solution? In the face of so many looming tasks, what can you do to boost productivity? The answer is a bit counterintuitive: instead of spending every waking moment focused on completing to-do’s, take some time to unfocus. Or, in other words, give your brain a break.

In a world obsessed with productivity, idleness is often cast in a negative light—it’s equated to laziness and sloth. But the truth is, cognitive rest plays a vital role in optimizing brain functionality.

Cognitive Rest: It’s Not All About Sleep

The importance of a good night’s sleep is one of the most frequently touted health facts. Ask any two people how much sleep is considered optimal and they’ll probably give you the same answer: eight hours. And it’s true, scientists do recommend that all adults try to get a full eight hours of sleep each night. But it turns out, eight hours of sleep is not the only type of rest your brain needs to keep functioning at its best.

The other type of cognitive rest occurs when you are not actively engaged in a task that requires a lot of attention. During these periods, your brain engages the default mode network (DMN). This is just a fancy way of saying that your brain’s energy is no longer being exerted on conscious tasks. Basically, your mind is allowed to wander or zone out. And that’s a good thing.

It’s important to note that cognitive rest does not mean your brain isn’t working. In fact, the opposite is true. When you are sleeping or engaging the DMN, your brain is hard at work. That work happens subconsciously, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t understand more about what’s going on.

The Role of Sleep in Optimizing Brain Function

While you’re asleep, your brain sifts through the day’s information, deciding what is and isn’t important. Some information is committed to long-term memory and some is dumped. It’s like you’re restarting a computer—some data is stored on the hard drive, but the short-term memory, which is often responsible for slowing the computer down, is reset.

Sleep also gives your body time to help keep your brain clear of toxins. Throughout the day, various molecules and proteins begin to accumulate in your brain. This buildup is counterproductive—especially for neural connections. In other words, the system gets a little gummed up.

In the stages of sleep leading up to REM (rapid eye movement), cerebrospinal fluid—a clear liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord—washes over your brain in waves. These waves help clear the debris, washing away the day’s buildup. It’s this process that allows you to feel fresh and sharp after a good night’s sleep.

Explaining the Default Mode Network

When you’re actively focused on a task—reading this article, for instance—you consciously interpret the information you are taking in. When the default mode network is active, on the other hand, your brain is engaging in subconscious interpretation.

Rather than interpreting external information, these subconscious processes often look inward. But what exactly does that mean?

As you go through each day, you take in extraordinary amounts of information both consciously and subconsciously. This information makes up the world as you know it. And you have a place in that world. When your brain engages the DMN, it parses through memories and experiences, making abstract connections that inform your sense of self. Through this process, your identity, morals, and more are solidified and expanded.

The connections your brain makes while engaging the DMN aren’t restricted to your sense of self. They can also help you find solutions to complex problems.

If you’ve ever grappled with a problem for hours only to come up with a solution while showering or walking, that’s your DMN at work! For the same reason, allowing the DMN to take over for a bit can enhance your creative thinking.

The Power of Daydreaming

One of the most common ways to engage the DMN is through daydreaming. Here’s the catch: not all daydreaming is beneficial. If you slip into a daydream where you imagine everything that could go wrong in an upcoming meeting, you’re not going to “wake up” feeling refreshed. You’ll likely be anxious, and, more importantly, you won’t have achieved any real cognitive rest.

To harness the power of daydreaming, you have to guide your thoughts. Fortunately, you have more control over your daydreams than dreams that occur in your sleep. This is where positive constructive daydreaming (PCD) comes in.

PCD is essentially the practice of lulling yourself into a guided fantasy. To do this, you’ll want to engage in a low-bandwidth activity—walking or knitting a simple pattern, for example. As you engage in that activity, allow yourself to entertain a wishful image. Maybe you’re relaxing on a beach somewhere with the sun on your back. Whatever image you choose, the key is to not become too invested. Simply use the image as a jumping off point for allowing your mind to wander. As you relinquish control of the image, your thoughts will likely turn inward and your brain will engage the DMN.

And, as you read above, that brain mode will help you achieve the kind of productive cognitive rest you need.

Four Activities That Rest the Brain

You might be thinking that the whole brainstorming activity feels a lot like meditation—and it is! It turns out several types of meditation, as well as a number of other activities, have the same effect. So what else can you do to unfocus and give yourself the cognitive rest you need?

Here are four easy activities that rest your brain:

  1. Going for a walk: There’s a reason walks are such an effective problem-solving tool. They take your mind off of the problem, allowing the DMN to work its magic. Research shows that the best walks for this purpose are unmapped and preferably through nature. Allow yourself to wander (safely) and your mind will do the same.
  2. Taking a shower: The shower is one of the only places many people truly relax and clear their mind. If you’ve ever stepped in for a quick shower only to leave 30 minutes later, don’t sweat it. As you lost track of time, your brain was relishing some much needed rest.
  3. Taking a catnap: If you haven’t been getting a full eight hours of sleep for several days in a row, an afternoon catnap might be just what you need to get back on track. Catnaps allow your brain to take care of some essential clean-out and consolidation, so you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and alert. Just remember to keep your nap between ten minutes and an hour—any longer and it might have the opposite effect.
  4. Playing a sport: It seems a little backwards that something as physically demanding as playing a sport can be restful, but it’s not your body you’re trying to rest—it’s your brain. Playing a sport (or other physical endeavors) can give you the chance to clear your head while staying active. Win-win, right?

Understand Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime and Find Time to Unfocus

Whether you’re trying to improve your creativity, escape that ever-present mental fog, or simply alleviate a little bit of occasional stress, try incorporating a little more cognitive rest into your life. If you’re already sleeping enough, add a walk—or any of the other activities that rest the brain—to your schedule. It takes time, sure, but you might be surprised with the ways it impacts your productivity and mental state for the better.

There’s a lot going on these days, so it can be hard to find the time to truly unfocus. But here’s the bottom line: your brain almost certainly needs more downtime. So set your phone to the side and make some time to rest your weary brain.

You’re often advised to “stop and smell the roses.” That’s because experiencing and appreciating your surroundings’ sensory inputs—rosy scents, burning sunsets, and soothing sounds—is peaceful and grounding. This mindful approach to life is enhanced by habits that help keep your senses sharp. In other words: learning how to take care of your senses helps your search for serenity.

The sections below will walk you through tips for caring for your senses, one by one. You may learn your healthy habits already form a foundation of care for your five senses that you didn’t realize existed.


The top layer of the dermis and bottom part of your epidermis house sensitive touch receptors. That’s why caring for your skin is essential to supporting your sense of touch. Try to incorporate these five skin-savvy lifestyle habits:

  1. Secure Sun Protection: You can choose sunscreen, long-sleeve shirts, a floppy hat, or a combination of all three. Use whatever works best for you to protect your skin from the searing rays of the sun.
  2. Eat Healthy to Achieve Skin Nutrition: Diet impacts your health from head to toe, inside and out. Opt for healthy, plant-focused meals and snacks to provide the nutritional skincare you need.
  3. Avoid Burn and Injury: You probably don’t need more of a reason than the pain you could experience. But avoiding injury will help maintain your sense of touch.
  4. Stay Active: Moving your body helps so many aspects of your health. And skin is certainly one. A heart-pounding workout does wonders to help your circulation, which is great for your organs—including the skin.
  5. Achieve Healthy Hydration: Drinking plenty of water is essential to maintaining your overall health, as well as supporting healthy skin. So keep sipping throughout the day—your skin will thank you.


A lot goes into building the perfect palate—including understanding the connection between taste and smell. But maintaining the foundation of an optimal, healthy sense of taste starts with just three lifestyle tips:

  1. Dish Up Variety: Trying new cuisines, seeking exotic flavors, and packing your diet with a variety of foods keeps your sense of taste sharp. Making your food pop with a variety of spices can also help you avoid over-salting or excessive sweetening your diet. With interesting, diverse flavors, you won’t hamper your palate with too much salt or sugar.
  2. Watch Your Mouth: Taste is on the tip of your tongue—and all throughout your mouth, too. Maintain solid dental hygiene (yes, that includes flossing) and check in to see what your tongue might be telling you about your health. Going to see your dentist a couple times a year is also helpful.
  3. Don’t Smoke: You know smoking is horrible for your overall health, and it especially wreaks havoc on your sense of taste. Smoke a tasty brisket, but avoid smoking cigarettes.


Your sense of smell is pretty resilient, but healthy habits can also help protect it and the connection it has to taste. Your sense of smell is also helped by maintaining a varied diet and practicing adventurous eating. Smoking is about the worst thing you can do if you’re trying to optimize your sense of smell—especially how it mixes with taste to help you fully experience flavors.


It’s time to open your eyes to five of the best lifestyle additions that will help you care for your sense of sight. And it will come as no surprise that they all revolve around keeping your eyeballs as safe and stress-free as possible.

Take a look:

  1. Eat Eye-Supporting Foods: Large, well-conducted studies have drawn a bright line between certain nutrients and supporting eye health. Your healthy, plant-forward diet will help you acquire many of the most important eye-supporting nutrients.
  2. Shade Up: Sunglasses are really cool. They’re also a fashion statement with an eye-health function. Your eyes, like your skin, need protection from the sun. The best way is to slap on some awesome shades.
  3. Consider Your Screen Time: Some sights strain your eyes more than others. The screens that dominate modern life just happen to be super stressful for our eyes. So limit screen time, or think about some glasses that help block some of the harsh blue light shining from your phone or computer.
  4. Make Friends with Your Eye Doctor: You don’t have to invite him or her over for dinner, but they are very helpful for maintaining your sense of sight. Make sure to keep your yearly optometrist appoints.
  5. Shield Your Eyes from Harm: Everything from fingers to metal fragments can hurt your eyes—and, thus, your vision. When you’re playing sports or working with potentially dangerous materials (like wood chips, screws, or chemicals), wear the proper eye protection. Donning some safety glasses or goggles might make all the difference for the health of your eyes.


You can only beat your eardrums so much before your hearing is impacted. Instead of testing your auditory equipment, stick to a couple of obvious, but helpful, healthy hearing habits.

First, keep the volume down. Avoiding exposure to loud noises is probably the best way to help maintain good hearing. That means you may need to seek the quite comfort of hushed hobbies.

And, if you can’t avoid it, try the second habit: cover your ears. You can still rock out at a concert, work with loud machinery, or enjoy other cacophonous activities as long as you protect your eardrums.

Exercise changes your body in many ways, some of which you can see in the mirror. The number on the scale may shift a bit and your clothes may start to fit better with each mile (or kilometer) you walk, jog, or swim. These scale and non-scale victories might be how you measure the success of your exercise routine, but have you ever considered the cellular benefits of exercise?

Your cells are the starting point for all the changes that regular exercise can bring. And there are many cellular benefits of exercise that can lead to full-body transformations. Cardiovascular and strength training exercises affect cells throughout your body. From your heart and brain to the white blood cells of your immune system, your cellular health is optimized when you exercise.

Cardio: It’s Not Just for Your Heart

Classic cardiovascular exercises send blood pumping and elevate your heart rate. You might add cardio to your training to build your stamina and endurance. But you’ll be doing more than that. Cardio can be a cellular health exercise, too.

Several cell types respond to cardiovascular exercise (cardiac cells included). Cellular health is supported by the quick, heart-pounding movements of cardio. Check out how cells all over your body respond to this fast-paced form of exercise:

Cardiac Cells

Let’s start with the cells closest to the action of cardio exercise. Cardiac make up your heart tissue. Your heart is essentially a super muscle, with an impressive compression force that pushes blood out to your entire body.

The muscle cells in your heart are highly specialized, and they don’t regenerate nearly as often as the other cells in your body (only about one percent of heart cells renew themselves every year). But there is a way to support cardiac cells and optimize their regeneration—exercise, cardio to be exact.

A 2018 study of mice helped scientists draw a link between cardio exercise and heart cell growth. Mice are frequently used as model organisms for human biology research. Mouse biology is very close to human biology and their genes work in many of the same ways human genes do.

Researchers found that mice with access to a treadmill in their enclosures chose to run approximately five kilometers every day. Their heart health was monitored and the scientists administering the experiment used DNA markers to track the growth of cardiac cells.

The results were spectacular, and favorable for the mice that had access to a treadmill. Mice who exercised made more than four times the number of new cardiac cells than their non-exercising counterparts.

This study helped cement the cellular benefits of exercise for your heart cells. So, if you have access to a treadmill (or a pair of running shoes and the open road) try putting in a few miles (or kilometers) the next time you want to focus on cellular health exercise.

Brain Cells

Anecdotally, many people believe you can train your brain like any other muscle in your body. It’s not a completely accurate statement since there are no muscle fibers in your brain. But if the goal of brain training is to strengthen the connections between neurons and build new neural networks, then exercise can definitely help whip your brain cells into shape.

Neurons, like muscle cells, can change as you exercise. Increased blood flow to the brain during exercise creates an oxygen-rich environment that your neurons thrive in. Extra oxygen and the release of neurotransmitters during exercise foster the growth of brain cells and the development of new neural pathways. You need these new neuronal connections to keep your brain “flexible” and to support your ability to learn new skills and make memories.

So, in a way, cardio exercises actually work out your brain, too. Movements that ramp up your heart rate are simultaneously stimulating your brain cells to grow and create new connections. Brain cells respond to heart-pumping exercise much like your large muscle groups respond to strength training—they grow!

Immune Cells

If you’re looking to mobilize the cells of your immune system, try to crank out a sweat session a couple times per week. Your white blood cells (WBCs) respond to exercise by increasing their circulation in the bloodstream. More WBCs in circulation means your immune system is primed and ready to take on germs that dare make an appearance.

The effects of exercise on immunity are well documented. You temporarily initiate your body’s immune response when you exercise. This allows your body to keep joint aches and soreness to a minimum after you work out.

With regular exercise you’ll experience a slight uptick in the number of WBCs that enter your bloodstream and stay in circulation. As a result, people who exercise regularly have been shown to experience fewer seasonal bugs and colds.

This phenomenon occurs only when regular, moderate exercise is performed. Consistent days of high-intensity exercise can trigger the opposite response from immune cells. “Overtraining syndrome” is the decline in immune performance that some ultra-marathoners and triathletes experience during training. Long periods of high-intensity exercises can put your body in a constant state of stress, actually hampering your immunity.

To hit the sweet spot of immune cell support, exercise moderately and consistently. A good way to identify what moderate exercise means for you is to gauge your breathing effort during your workouts. Try to aim for 70 percent of your maximum heart rate (you can calculate your max heart rate by subtracting your age from 220 beats per minute). That’ll keep you in the zone for cellular health and help you stay out of range of potentially damaging exercise intensity.

Telomeres (All Cells)

Cardiovascular movement influences the health of cells more generally, too. That’s the case when it comes to the telomeres that cap the ends of each cells’ chromosomes.

Chromosomes store all the DNA cells need to replicate (make copies of themselves). These chromosomes are used over and over again for multiple replication cycles. Telomeres are repeating segments of DNA that reside at the ends of each chromosome. These telomeres act as buffers to protect the chromosome from incorrect DNA replication.

Over time, telomeres start to shrink as more copies of each chromosome are made. Shortened telomeres lead to cellular aging and eventual death. So, it’s important to preserve the length of telomeres for as long as possible.

That’s where cardiovascular exercise comes into play. Regular cardio can slow the shortening of telomeres and moderate cellular aging. This is because cardiovascular exercise can affect the level of telomere-preserving enzymes in the cell.

The enzyme that protects telomeres from shortening is called telomerase. Exercise has been shown to elevate the amount of telomerase present in cells. And more available telomerase means telomeres are safeguarded from premature shortening.

Telomeres are at the center of the study of aging. While their role in general health and old age is not clear, one thing is certain. Exercise is great for keeping telomere caps from shrinking too soon and can positively affect the health of each of your cells.

More Cellular Health Exercises—Strength Training

Jogging through the neighborhood or riding a stationary bike exercise your cardiovascular system. But another method of exercise involves slower, more concentrated movements. It’s called strength training. Your heart rate won’t climb as high with strength training, but this form of exercise provides many benefits to your muscle cells.

Muscle Cells

Strength training in a gym setting often focuses on entire muscle groups, but the real effect of resistance exercises on muscles can be found at the cellular level. The cellular benefits of exercise for muscle cells begin rather uniquely. Injury to muscle cells during strength training is the launching point for these cellular benefits.

The cells that make up your larger muscle groups are injured (ever so slightly) when you strength train. Resistance exercises—like planks, push-ups, and squats—all create microscopic injuries to individual muscle cells. To repair themselves, muscle cells need to recruit the help of neighboring satellite cells.

Muscle fibers are surrounded by cells waiting to be called up to active duty when muscles are injured. These satellite cells fuse with injured muscle fibers and donate their organelles to help strengthen the muscle cell. Organelles from satellite cells—like mitochondria and nuclei—are valuable additions to muscle fibers. These organelles allow muscle cells to produce more energy and force during contraction.

Without exercise to trigger these micro-injuries, your muscles would never grow and strengthen in this way. Strength training is an important component of any exercise routine because it plays such a critical role in the health and growth of muscle cells.

Reap the Cellular Benefits of Exercise

Noticeable changes in your body and overall health are the reward of exercising regularly. And below the surface of it all, your cells thrive when you exercise. Think of the trillions of cells that make up your body when you are prepping for your next workout.

Shifting the focus of your workouts to the cellular level can help you appreciate how important your efforts are to even the smallest components of your body. Keep up the cardio and add in strength training so every cell in your body can experience the cellular benefits of exercise.

A lot of the information you find on weight management carries the same scientific heft as the blank pages you’d waste printing it out. The Internet wasn’t where weight myths started, though—not by a long shot. But weight-related misconceptions flourish in the fertile ground of today’s online ecosystem.

Physical and lifestyle realities make modern-day weight-management efforts hard enough. Add in the mountain of weight misinformation burying people’s best efforts, and you have a Herculean task.

But you can manage your weight to live a healthy, happy life. It starts with knowing fact from fiction. Clearing up six of the most pervasive weight myths is a good start. Read on to see which weight-related misconceptions you can toss aside to lighten the load of advice for staying healthy.

The Scale Says It All—Body Weight is Key to Your Health

It’s correct to connect higher-than-normal body weight with a broad range of undesirable health impacts. This is especially true when the added heft comes from accumulated body fat.

And body composition is certainly an element to consider when stepping on the scale. You’ve heard that muscle weights more than fat, which is true. Same goes for bone and water, too. So, that number on the scale doesn’t tell you everything you need to know.

Weight alone is a consideration, but your body composition is an important factor in evaluating what that scale number means for your health. Instead of buying this weight myth, put context around the measurements you’re doing. Also know that your body weight is only one piece of a big, complex health puzzle.

BMI is an Essential, Accurate Measurement

Body Mass Index (BMI) is somewhat useful in evaluating where you fall on the spectrum of healthy, overweight, and obese. But calling it a standard-bearing measurement, without realizing BMI’s shortcomings, spins this statement into a popular weight-related misconception. And one that can create unnecessary negative pressure on many people.

The simplicity of BMI—putting your height and weight into an equation that reveals your number—makes it a one-size-fits-all approach. Unfortunately, weight is an issue that’s highly personalized and incredibly variable. Here are two ways BMI’s oversimplification make its elevated importance a weight myth:

  1. Body composition isn’t considered. How much fat you have compared to muscle, bone, and water is—as you read about with the last weight-related misconception—essential context when discussing weight.
  2. The approach sidelines important demographic information like sex, race, ethnicity, and age.

Waist measurements (especially when related to height) are better, more accurate indicators of health risks related to body weight. It’s time you move on from relying solely on BMI—an outdated and inaccurate measurement—to make health decisions.

High Body Weight Signals Inactivity and Lack of Athletic Ability

This weight-related misconception is a common and painful bias that springs from bad information. Since many looking to lose weight turn to exercise, there’s a harmful conflation of physical activity and body weight.

As weight myths go, this one is particularly hurtful for those stereotyped by the way their bodies look. Just because someone looks to be carrying around a few extra pounds doesn’t mean they’re lazy or lack athletic ability.

How do you fight this weight-related misconception? Remember the most important statement: Bodies of all shapes and sizes can be—and frequently are—healthy.

Exercise Saves You from Bad Dietary Decisions

You may have read about the distance you need to run to burn off a big meal. They’re shocking numbers that underline why diet and exercise are talked about in combination.

Your bad dietary decisions will follow you to the gym—and likely long after. You can burn the calories you take in if you have the time to do it. However, this idea is best considered a weight myth because it’s not possible for almost anyone to balance out a bad diet with enormous amounts of exercise.

The truth is a successful weight-management plan needs to include a healthy diet AND consistent body movement.

Skinny Always Means Healthy and Being Thin is Ideal

Thin is always in when it comes fashion or pop culture. But a skinny body signaling ideal health is a major weight myth.

Staying fit and maintaining a healthy weight are beneficial to your health—as you’ve read so many times. But fretting over clothing sizes and wanting a thin image reflected in the mirror aren’t as important. Actually, a skinny silhouette can hide a bevy of issues, including the accumulation of harmful visceral fat.

This is one of the most damaging weight-related misconceptions. That’s because the unreal, unhealthy expectations set by “thin is ideal” images are—despite body-positive progress—still too prevalent.

Some body types don’t allow for anyone to meet these false ideals—no matter how hard a person tries. And the quest to look skinny is frequently very harmful for the physical and mental health of children and adults alike.

Instead, focus on what feels right for your body and your health goals. Eat healthy. Move your body. Sleep plenty. And always keep in mind that bodies are healthy and attractive in different sizes and shapes that may not match pop culture’s obsession with skinny.

Eating Fat Makes You Gain Fat Tissue

If you understand anything about how digestion breaks down dietary nutrients, you know this is an easily debunked weight myth.

Your digestive system does too much work, and your food goes through too much transformation, for the dietary fat you eat to turn straight into fat tissue. Sure, your body can store energy that was originally fat in adipose tissue (a fancy term for fat). But there’s no guarantee fat in means fat stored.

Skipping fried foods or fat-rich, nutrient-poor dishes are good ideas. But it’s worse to avoid eating fat at all—especially beneficial, plant-based options. Loading up on a balanced diet with plenty of plants is more effective for health and weight management.

Don’t Let Weight Myths Determine Your Health Journey

There’s always new, attention-grabbing content waiting when you want to read about weight. That doesn’t mean you have to buy into the weight-related misconceptions out there.

The basics of foundational health—a balanced diet, active living, minimal stress, solid hydration, and good sleep—are typically also beneficial for managing your weight. Everything else that offers a one-size-fits-all solution should raise a red flag about the advice or information possibly pushing a weight myth.

Avoid tripping yourself up with weight-related misconceptions by focusing on the basics and remembering that all bodies can be healthy, happy bodies.

When it comes to health and nutrition, most people focus on visible, tangible results. How many inches or centimeters did you drop from your waistband? How many reps could you bench press?

These types of external milestones can be valuable motivators. But they aren’t the end-all be-all indicators of health. For a more holistic approach to health, you have to look inside and ask: How healthy are my cells?

Every living organism is made up of cells, and the human body is no exception. Your body—and everyone else’s—contains roughly 37.2 trillion cells. And just like your body as a whole, these cells can be healthy or, well, less healthy.

Fortunately, you don’t need a degree in human biology to take charge of your body’s cellular health. Keep reading to learn why telomere length helps you measure health and how to keep your cells healthy with four lifestyle habits that support cellular health.

How Do You Even Measure Cellular Health?

Before diving into the rest of this article, let’s take a quick, crash course in cell anatomy. Each cell in the human body has, at its center, a nucleus. The nucleus contains 23 chromosome pairs (for a total of 46 chromosomes).

At either end of each chromosome is a DNA structure called a telomere. As cells age and divide, telomere length becomes shorter and shorter until the cell eventually dies. It’s a natural and inevitable process. So what do telomeres have to do with cellular health?

Well, telomeres don’t shorten at a fixed rate. They get smaller each time a cell divides, sure, but certain lifestyle decisions can shorten telomere length more rapidly. In other words, your diet, exercise habits, and other activities can prematurely age your cells.

And remember, cells are the building blocks of your body. If they prematurely age, so will you. For this reason, many studies exploring cellular health use telomere length as one way of measuring a cell’s health.

Enough about unhealthy cells, let’s talk about prevention. After all, you’re not here for a science lesson—you’re here to learn how to keep your cells healthy.

How to Keep Your Cells Healthy: 4 Cellular Health Habits

There’s a lot of conventional wisdom surrounding healthy living: Drink plenty of water, exercise for 30 minutes each day, wear sunscreen, etc. And a lot of that advice is great. What you may not know, however, is that many of those same lifestyle tips apply to cellular health.

It turns out, a lot of health-promoting activities and habits are healthy because they support health on a cellular level. Makes sense, right? When your cells feel good, you feel good.

Let’s dive into four cellular health habits that will help keep your cells thriving.

  1. Maintain a Healthy Diet

“Healthy diet” is a vague term that gets thrown around a lot without explanation. And most people only have a vague idea of what constitutes a healthy diet. Fortunately, when it comes to your cells, eating right is pretty straightforward.

In one study, researchers explored the correlation between telomere length and an individual’s adherence to the Mediterranean Diet and other similar diets. These approaches encourage eating primarily whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. On the flip side, individuals following these diets tend to avoid high-sodium foods, sugars (especially processed sugars), and red meat.

The findings speak for themselves—for women, at least. The dietary habits mentioned above were linked to longer telomere lengths in women, but not men. This doesn’t mean men are off the hook, however. In the sample population used in the study, men tended to have worse diets in general and consumed more red meat—the adverse effects of those dietary choices likely “cancelled out” the benefits of healthy eating.

At this point, it’s established that dietary choices can impact cellular health. So, let’s take a look at why.

There are two factors at play: free radicals and antioxidants. There’s a lot to be said about both, but here’s the gist of it. Free radicals are substances that can damage and deteriorate cells. And antioxidants are the substances that protect the body from free radicals.

So where does the Mediterranean Diet come in? As the fat in red meat cooks, it oxidizes which can then introduce free radicals into the body. By reducing your red meat intake, you can help prevent damage to your cells. And when prevention doesn’t work, go for antioxidant support. Fresh fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants. By eating plenty of produce, you can help maintain optimal cellular health.

  1. Exercise Regularly—And Yes, This Means Cardio

Sometimes even the most avid gym-goers avoid cardio. They’ll happily crank out set after set of curls, squats, and flies. But 30 minutes on the treadmill? Forget about it.

Resistance training (think traditional weight training) is a great way to improve strength and muscle definition, but it doesn’t do a whole lot to support telomere length. To reap the benefits of exercise on a cellular level, you have to include cardio in your workouts. It doesn’t matter if it’s endurance training (jogging, cycling, etc.) or high intensity interval training, just shoot for at least 30 minutes.

If you’re a cardio-phobe, don’t worry—you don’t even have to do it every day to see the benefits. In one study, participants did 45 minutes of cardio three times a week. After only six months, researchers observed longer average telomere lengths in that set of individuals than in subjects doing only resistance training or no exercise at all. That’s right! You can go for a run Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, take a nice, relaxing weekend, and still support your cellular health.

  1. Don’t Underestimate Sleep

If you ask a random passerby how much sleep is the “right” amount, they’ll probably tell you eight hours per night. And, according to most guidelines, they’d be correct. The amount of sleep a person needs varies, but for most people 7-9 hours a night is sufficient.

But what happens if you sleep less than that? You’ll probably feel pretty lousy—for starters—but consistently sleeping too little can also impact your health on a cellular level.

If you’re sleeping five hours or fewer a night, there’s a good chance your cells are being adversely affected—especially if you’re a man. In one study, the duration of sleep for men was linearly linked to telomere length. Put simply, the less sleep men get, the shorter their average telomere length. And, as mentioned above, shorter telomeres can mean prematurely aged cells.

While the effect of sleep on telomere length in women is less clear cut, it’s still a good idea to tuck in for plenty of sleep each night regardless of gender!

  1. Practice Mindfulness

Nobody likes being stressed out. It’s frustrating, exhausting, and, as it turns out, bad for your cells. At this point, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that excessive stress has been linked to shorter telomere lengths in adults.

But the effect of your mind on cellular health goes a step further. Not just stress, but a wandering mind—as opposed to being present in the moment—can have a negative effect on your cells, one study suggests. This, of course, can be difficult to measure. In the study, participants self-reported the degree and type of their day-to-day mind wandering. Those who reported more negative wandering—anxious, racing, and defensive thoughts—were found to have shorter telomeres.

If mind wandering is detrimental to cellular health, this raises another question: What can you do to counteract a wandering mind and maintain cellular health?

Let’s say mind wandering is one end of the spectrum—what’s at the other end? Presence of mind. Or, in other words, being present in the moment. There are a number of meditative practices that can help stave off mind wandering and ground you in the present moment, but one of the most popular is mindfulness.

Practicing mindfulness can help you stay present and reduce your stress, protecting your cells on two fronts! A win-win for your mental state and your cellular health.

Take Charge of Your Cellular Health

A healthy body starts with healthy cells. Fortunately for you, taking charge of your cellular health isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Now that you know how to keep your cells healthy, give these lifestyle practices a try. Start implementing one (or all) of the above tips in your life to keep your cells healthy and thriving.

Positive thinking isn’t just a great catchphrase. You can experience the scientific benefits of positivity. If optimism oozes from your every pore, cheers to you! But if your glass sometimes seems half empty, there’s good news—with a little effort, it’s relatively easy to trick your brain to be happy.

A positive outlook supports your immune system, aids in maintaining calm, and helps you adapt to change. Studies on the effects of positive thinking even show links to supporting long-term cardiovascular health.

Eric Kim, research fellow in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard says, “Our new findings suggest that we should make efforts to boost optimism, which has been shown to be associated with healthier behaviors and healthier ways of coping with life challenges.”

Positive thinking activates happy brain chemicals that can optimize your health, coping skills, and quality of life.

How Positivity Affects the Brain: The Science

Positivity affects the brain through chemical messengers. Neurotransmitters—like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin—play a major role in supporting your physical and mental health. They do this by sending instructions from brain cells to your muscles and organs. These chemicals help your brain and body work in tandem—so keeping them balanced is key.

The release of neurotransmitters has many triggers. And some may surprise you—like the plants that surround you. Multiple studies show indoor plants keep you feeling healthier and happier, but the benefits go both ways. You’ve probably heard talking to plants may help them grow better. But why? The theory is that plants may respond to the vibration and tones of the human voice (or music).

You aren’t so different. Just like plants, humans respond to vibration and tones. Life is a sea of rhythms that regulate several cardiac and neurological functions. Music and tones can support the activation of measurable stress-reducing pathways, and may even help maintain healthy heart rate, respiration, EEG measurements, body temperature, and blood pressure already in the normal range. Tones are also tied to immune and endocrine support, which may keep you feeling calm, energized, and in a good mood. All this explains what you already experience for your favorite songs. When you hear that perfect pitch, you feel it from your head to your toes.

If kind words and good vibrations—from music or positive talk—help plants grow, imagine what speaking kindly to yourself will do.

Physical Effects of Positive Thinking

When talking about the benefits of positive thinking, it’s not to encourage “toxic positivity”— invalidating what you’re experiencing by pretending everything is fine. But when a rough patch comes your way, finding the positives is better than allowing negative thoughts to run amok.

Even a few happy thoughts can evoke the following scientific benefits of positivity:

Support the immune system—When your body encounters occasional stress, these stressors can negatively impact your endocrine system and immune response. But your attitude toward stress also affects your immune response. It’s time to look at positivity as a tool that can help lead to health benefits.

Maintain calm—If anxiety is exacerbated by negative and intrusive thoughts, the opposite is also true. Expecting a positive outcome is a helpful formula to support calm, serenity, and balanced mood.

Optimizes resilience—How well you cope with problems defines your resilience. Rather than falling apart during challenges, positivity helps you to carry on and adapt to change.

Your positive thinking is reflected back to you in amazing ways. The next step is to train your brain to be happy, while respecting that all your feelings are valid.

3 Ways to Boost Your Bright Side

Living a healthy, happy life through the effects of positive thinking is appealing. But the world isn’t always hearts and flowers, and a positive frame of mind doesn’t come naturally for everyone.

Training your brain to be happy takes a little bit of work, but it’s your best go-to when life gives you lemons. Here are three ideas to spur positivity:

1. Trigger Your Happy Brain Chemicals

Tailor your lifestyle to fire up those neurotransmitters!

Use body movement to create positive thoughts—Certain body movements release happy brain chemicals. That’s why smiling, even if you don’t feel like it, can make you feel better. Even the simple gesture of holding both arms above your head in a victory stance sends happy signals to your brain. Move in ways that make you feel good—dance, swim, exercise, stand up straight, or just smile.

Listen to tones and music that help release neurotransmitters—Test key tonality and vibrations that work for you. Examples include music, laughter, or applause. To experience some funky tone therapy, listen to binaural beats by playing this Happiness Frequency track with headphones in both ears.

2. Keep a Grip on the Now

It’s easy to be so caught up in the daydream of your past and future that you forget that now is the only time there is. Teaching yourself to focus on the present is possible, and it offers plenty of benefits. It gives you time to calm down, prevents overthinking, and helps you make better decisions. To bring yourself into the moment:

  • Focus on your breath—Feel the air movement, watch your chest rise and fall, and count your breaths.
  • Pay attention to your senses—Focus on what you see, smell, touch, taste, or hear right now.
  • Meditate—Use guided meditation, sit quietly in a traditional way, or focus on white noise. Other ideas are to “feel” the energy in your hands, count the dishes you’re washing, or tally your steps.

3. Be Your Best Friend

Positivity is an inside job. Does the person in your head say nice things to you? Do you talk to yourself the way you would speak to your best friend? Jack Canfield, creator of Chicken Soup for the Soul, says “affirmations are to the mind what exercise is to the body.” And repeating affirmations helps to reprogram your unconscious mind for success.

Your positive self-talk should be simple and believable. Positive affirmations you don’t believe will get you nowhere. Try these techniques:

  • Start small and work your way up—Begin by telling yourself easy and general affirmations:

“I am enjoying the sunshine on my face.”

“All I need to do right now is breathe.”

“I have made it through hard times before.”

  • Get specific—As you become more confident in the positive reality you’ve created, you’re ready to move on to more personal affirmations:

“I welcome good things in my life.”

“I am healing.”

“I am worthy.”

“I can do this.”

Retraining your brain takes effort, but the effects of positive thinking last a lifetime. Even if life is not all roses and sunshine, learn to let the rain water your garden. Then you can sit back and watch your health blossom.

Usually you can ignore the snack drawer. At a certain point in the day, though, those little treats start creeping into your mind. An hour later, the snacks summon you, pulling you closer like a tractor beam. When that happens, your best hope to avoid dietary disaster is learning smarter snacking concepts. That includes planning, learning how to snack smarter, and understanding what makes a snack healthy.

When you add up each of the eight key concepts below, you’ll have a base of practical knowledge about how to snack smarter. Follow along and you’ll start turning to healthy snacks in no time.

Smarter Snacking Has a Purpose

Purposeful action yields better results than an improvisational approach. Smarter snacking is no different. You don’t have to bounce from craving to craving.

Instead, learning how to snack smarter starts with your purpose for eating between meals. Consider your daily schedule to ascertain physical- and mental-energy needs. Is a snack required to prepare for a workout or recover after? Answering these kinds of questions lends purpose and direction to help you achieve smarter snacking.

Understand Your Snack Sensations

Part of identifying the purpose of snacking is examining your hunger. What’s making you want to eat? Are you hungry or is something else driving your urge—thirst, boredom, or an emotional response?

Thirst can easily be mistaken for the sensation of hunger. A glass of water may be all you need. If your craving is led by emotion or boredom, try an activity—walk, ride a bike, or do a home workout. After all that, if your body really needs calories or nutrition, focus on finding a healthy snack with skills you’ll learn below.

Think of Snacking as a Chance to Add More Nutrients

Once you grasp the purpose and understand your urge to eat, it’s time to think about what to snack on. The best advice starts not with a list of acceptable foods, but with a mentality to take into your smarter snacking.

Here it is: snacking is a nutritional opportunity, not just about satisfying a craving.

That means seeing your snack as a way take in more essential and beneficial nutrients. Use your snack to add fiber, plant-based fat, protein, specific micronutrients, prebiotics, probiotics, or water-rich foods to your daily diet. Start reframing snacking from chasing comforting flavors to gaining a nutritional leg-up.

How to Snack Smarter? Stay as Close to Whole Foods as Possible

Whole foods—especially fruits and vegetables—are key components of a healthy diet. Those same whole foods are also the bedrock of smarter snacking.

What makes a snack healthy can be as simple as its closeness to whole foods. An apple and some almonds? Those whole foods are absolutely healthy snacks. Spreading almond butter on apple slices instead is still good because you’ve stayed close to the original foods.

Seeing how far your snack has shifted from its whole-food origins can help you easily identify the healthy snacks to target.

Minimize Overly Processed Foods, Sugar, and Sodium

Stick close to whole foods helps avoid a lot of the pitfalls of overly processed snacks. But foods that are heavily processed often contain more fat, sugar, and sodium than you need—even though they’re convenient. And the calories these options pack also comes without much in the way of fiber or essential nutrients.

If whole foods aren’t available or easy to snack on—because ease is key when a snack attack happens—you can opt for minimally processed foods. Good options exist. You’ll recognize them by their simple ingredients and minimal sugar, low sodium, and no trans fats in the nutrition facts.

Fiber is the Friend of Smart Snackers

A simple and accurate answer to “what makes a snack healthy” could be one word—fiber. Whole fruits, vegetables, and grains have plenty of these key complex carbohydrates. And that fiber does so much for your body:

  • Helps support satiety (feeling full for longer)
  • Optimizes healthy digestion
  • Acts as a prebiotic to support a healthy gut microbiome
  • Plays a role in helping maintain heart health

There’s a lot more fiber benefits. But you already have an idea about the importance of including complex carb as part of your smarter snacking approach.

Keep Snacks in the Context of Your Daily Diet

Your body doesn’t recognize snacks as separate from your regular meals. Food is food. Snacks are digested and shipped to the body just like breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Since there isn’t a special category for snack calories, you need to make sure they fit in your targeted calorie count for the day. Also pay attention to the amounts of macronutrients—fat, protein, and carbs—in your snacks.

Putting your snacks into your daily calorie and macronutrient counts keeps them in the right context—an important step when learning how to snack smarter.

Plan for Smarter Snacking Success by Budgeting

You know how many calories you need for your weight-management and lifestyle goals. (If you don’t there are resources to help.) And you already know you don’t want snacking to burst your caloric bubble.

That’s where you snack budget comes in. The concept piggybacks off of the advice above to put your snacks in the context of your full daily diet. It can help you plan out snacks before you hit the point where you’re ready to eat anything within reach. Proper planning—that’s easy to execute—will set you up for healthy, helpful snacking.

If you paid attention to the previous concepts, you won’t be surprised by the considerations for building a snack budget. Here’s what you should ask:

  • How many calories are available to allocate to snacks throughout the day?
  • What’s the amount of fiber, fat, and protein in the snacks compared to daily requirements or goals?
  • How many times a day do feel like a purposeful, healthy snack could be useful?
  • When is the best time to snack to optimize their impact?

With these answers, you’ll know your needs and you can start picking foods that fit into your daily budget. Making snacks part of your meal planning helps you scheme out your snacks for a week at a time, if you want.

Knowing How to Snack Smarter is Only Half the Battle

Turning what you’ve learned from these smarter snacking concepts into action is the next step. Fair warning: it can be a battle against your habits and cravings.

But you have the power to shift a potentially unhealthy habit into a powerful propellant toward your wellness goals. Start by understanding your needs, planning out your snacks, and identifying healthy options to reach for when cravings hit.

The last thing to remember is that—like developing any healthy habit—smarter snacking is a process. Don’t beat yourself up if a potato chip or two sneaks in now and then. Value the progress you make and you’ll learn to love eating healthy snacks.

Each glass of water fills up your tank—lifting you closer to levels of healthy hydration. You knew that, though. And you’re likely familiar with the benefits of proper hydration. That’s why you’re counting ounces, glasses, or bottlefuls. The connections between hydration and health run deeper than you may have previously even thought, though.

There are many well-known hydration benefits, including:

  • Maintaining healthy fluid and key electrolyte balance
  • Supporting skin health
  • Helping maintain healthy saliva production
  • Aiding in optimal digestion
  • Maintaining kidney health
  • Supporting proper elimination of waste
  • Playing a role in optimal nutrient absorption
  • Maintaining joint health
  • Supporting healthy temperature regulation (through water’s role in sweating)
  • Helping maintain the health of your blood supply

That’s an impressive list of important, wide-ranging benefits of proper hydration. But that’s only the beginning of what healthy hydration can mean for your overall wellness. Pour a tall glass of water, and dive into the exciting—and sometimes surprising—connections between hydration and health.

Healthy Hydration Levels Help Optimize Weight-Management Efforts

Water is heavy. And it makes up a significant portion of your body weight. That’s why boxers sweat off pounds before weighing in.

While you might not want to drink a liter of water before jumping on the scale, maintaining proper hydration is good for your long-term weight-management goals. Study after study strengthens the case for many weight-related benefits of proper hydration. And it can make an impact on the number you see on the scale in a few ways.

The first is satiety. Water makes you feel full. Researchers have found drinking water before meals—30 minutes prior seems to be the best timing—helps you eat fewer calories. And consuming fewer calories drives progress toward weight-management goals.

Second, thirst is often mistaken for hunger. This error can lead people to snack when they are really just thirsty. Staying properly hydrated—drinking water before you’re thirsty—will help you avoid a calorie-intensive mistake.

Drinking enough water may help support the maintenance of a healthy metabolic rate, too. Studies show ties between water intake and calorie burning. Part of this has been attributed to the thermogenic effort needed to heat water to match the temperature of the body. Other studies have also established connections between hydration levels and maintaining proper metabolism of stored fat.

Lastly, water is a zero-calorie beverages choice. Shunning sugary juice or soda when you’re thirsty is weight management 101. That’s because it’s effective to opt for zero-calorie water to help reduce energy intake, which adds up in your favor throughout the day.

Understanding the Fluid Dynamics of Hydration and Mood

You know food and mood go hand in hand. Think of the last time you skipped a meal and started feeling hangry (being angry because of hunger).

The mood-crushing implications of thirst don’t have a buzzword. That doesn’t make them any less real. Improper hydration—even to a mild degree—can ravage a perfectly fine afternoon with down moods, feeling anxious, irritability, and frayed nerves.

Like much of mood, your body’s messengers (neurotransmitters and hormones) are partly responsible. Neurotransmitters require water for maintaining proper function and balance. Dopamine and serotonin are the two brain chemicals that seem most impacted by improper hydration.

Don’t forget about the hormones, though. A study found the body’s stress hormone, cortisol, is released when you aren’t properly hydrated. And having extra cortisol hanging around isn’t ideal for everything from weight management to memory.

Next time, when you start feeling the creep of a bad mood coming on, downing a glass of water may help wash it away.

The Benefits of Proper Hydration Also Encompass Normal Cognition and Concentration

Your brain is a vociferous consumer of calories. It also has quite a thirst for maintaining healthy hydration.

The need for water goes beyond basic brain-health maintenance. Drinking enough liquid can support your ability to complete tasks because it may help maintain healthy cognition and concentration.

Studies linked even mild dehydration—defined as a drop of about two percent in body weight, which can occur from completing everyday tasks—to several impacts. When healthy hydration isn’t maintained, focus and working memory can be affected. A more severe or prolonged water deficiency may become detrimental to reasoning and thinking.

Your brain doesn’t make you aware of your thirst just because it craves refreshment. It wants water for support—to help successfully accomplish the massive mental tasks you face daily.

Hydration and Energy: Drink Up to Support Physical Stamina and Exercise Performance

Staying hydrated helps your brain maintain its energy and focus to conquer your mental to-do list. Your body is also able to clear physical hurdles with the help of sustained healthy hydration.

You probably already associate water with physical exertion. It’s a glass of ice water after strenuous yard work or the water bottle you tote from machine to machine at the gym.

Staying hydrated during physical activity is important. But striving for optimal hydration throughout the day also provides big benefits. Healthy hydration can help maintain your energy levels and aid in the fight against lethargy. Sufficient fluid intake and eating enough water-rich foods supports your ability to have the physical stamina to thrive.

Muscles move your body. And your muscles are overwhelmingly water—about 80 percent. Researchers have found that water moving in and out of muscle cells plays a key role in muscle contraction. So, keeping yourself optimally hydrated supports healthy muscle function and performance.

The explanations connecting hydration and energy go all the way to the cellular level.

Cells in your muscles—and throughout your body—need water to maintain health, structure, and optimal energy production. Healthy hydration sets up all your cells up for success by helping support the conversion of food into cellular energy (ATP). This fuel helps you crank through your busy days and have enough in the tank for exercise.

And your performance during those workouts is also tied to staying properly hydrated. Exercising requires a whole lot of muscle contractions. So water’s essential role in the mechanisms of this key muscular process make hydration and exercise inextricably linked.

Muscles are only part of the exercise puzzle, though. Movements during your routine also rely on many of your joints. And optimal hydration helps support joint health. Your joints are cushioned by fluid after all.

The problem with hydration and exercise is sweat, which is primarily made from water and salt. When working out, you can lose up to 10 percent of your body’s water weight through your skin. That’s why sports medicine organizations suggest drinking two glasses of water (about a half liter) before your workout and continuing to hydrate early and frequently throughout. This will help you maintain your energy level, support muscle activity, and optimize exercise performance.

Put the Benefits of Proper Hydration to Work for Your Health

Talking about food eats up a lot of energy in the health-and-wellness world. Diet is crucial for health, but it’s time to spare some headspace for healthy hydration.

The list of well-known benefits was long enough before tacking on weight, mood, cognition, and energy. But it’s undeniably impressive what simply downing enough fluids each day can do to help support your overall health. And it’s a much less complicated task than adhering to a diet.

No counting carbs or calories. No weighing portions. No avoiding this food one week and something else the next. Healthy hydration’s benefits can be felt by simply drinking water (plain is preferred) throughout the day.

Focus on the number of glasses, ounces, liters, or times you fill up your water bottle. Practice the bevy of tips out there for helping you manage optimal hydration easily. Do whatever works to maintain a healthy flow of water into your body, and to open the floodgates of the broad, health-supporting benefits of proper hydration.

Metabolism is often tied to weight. But there’s much more to it than how easily the numbers on the scale change. You’ve probably heard someone blame weight gain or feeling sluggish on having a “slow” metabolism—you’ll learn later that it’s not completely out of your control. But this is a common misunderstanding of the concept of metabolism.

The meaning of the word “metabolism” is very simple, yet few people seem to understand what it is and what it does. Metabolism is the set of chemical processes that take place in living organisms to sustain life.

On a microscopic scale, the reactions and processes that maintain cellular health are referred to as cellular metabolism. These reactions are catalyzed by enzymes and organisms big and small rely on them for growth, reproduction, structural maintenance, and responses to their environment. In the broadest sense, metabolism is what gives organisms life. Without it, there is none.

Your metabolism has three main functions:

  • Converting food to energy
  • Converting food to building blocks for proteins, lipids, nucleic acids and certain carbohydrates
  • Eliminating waste products

So the health of your metabolism ultimately depends on your diet and nutrition. You must eat and drink to provide the energy (calories) and metabolic building blocks (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fats) needed to fuel your actions, sustain your structure and integrity, and eliminate toxic wastes and cellular debris.

Without calories, there is no fuel. Without adequate nutrients, there are no building blocks to support structural integrity and mechanical function. And without proper elimination, toxic wastes and cellular garbage accumulate. Inefficient function in any of these areas will result in poor health.

Building Up or Breaking Down—It’s All About the Metabolism

All metabolic reactions are either anabolic or catabolic. Let’s define these different types of metabolism:

  • Anabolism (building up) supports new cell growth and production, storage of energy, and maintenance of body tissues.
  • Catabolism (breaking down) is the disassembling of fat, protein, and carbohydrates to release energy, keep you warm, and allow your muscles to contract.

The food you eat comes in the form of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. So the breakdown of these macronutrients and the elimination of wastes during digestion are catabolic reactions. (Check out a more detailed journey through the digestive system here.)

The Break Down: Catabolic Metabolism Simplified

In general, catabolism is the group of processes that break down large molecules into smaller ones for the purpose of providing energy and building blocks to construct new molecules.

Catabolism happens in stages, from general to very specific. First, large organic molecules (macronutrients) are digested from food into smaller compounds. Specific enzymes breakdown proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into much smaller and simpler chemicals.

  • Proteins yield amino acids.
  • Large carbohydrates (such as polysaccharides) are broken down to mono- and disaccharides (simple sugars).
  • Fats are split up into small fatty acids and monoglycerides.

These processes of digestion occur outside the cells. Then the smaller and more basic molecules are absorbed by the cells and converted into even smaller molecules like acetyl-CoA, which promote the release of energy.

Additional catabolic processes result in molecules that feed the citric acid cycle, electron transport chain, and oxidative phosphorylation (ATP). These chemical reactions release available and stored energy to support activity and build and support tissues.

The following is a very simplified overview of the catabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

The Build Up: Anabolic Metabolism Basics Explained

The opposite of catabolism is anabolism. Anabolic metabolism uses the energy released from catabolism to build and synthesize complex compounds.

Simple molecules and breakdown products of catabolism—like amino acids, monosaccharides, and nucleic acids—are used as precursors to build increasingly more complex molecules. These include polysaccharides (starch), amino acids and proteins, and fatty acids.

Anabolic carbohydrate metabolism starts with the conversion of basic organic compounds—pyruvate, lactate, and amino acids—into glucose. This sugar molecule can then be used for direct cellular energy and to assemble polysaccharides (starch and

glycogen). Glycogen is a storage form of glucose that can be accessed and broken down easily when the body needs energy quickly. When blood glucose levels drop, the body taps into its reserve of glycogen in the liver and muscles to provide energy for cellular function and activity.

Amino acids are used as building blocks to construct proteins and muscle tissue. In anabolism, individual amino acids are connected by peptide bonds, and their unique sequences result in specific protein structures. These various proteins include enzymes, hormones, and compounds your body uses for cellular transport, digestion, defense, and overall structure.

Long chain fats and fatty acids are built from acetyl-CoA and NADPH through the actions of enzymes called fatty acid synthases. Most of the acetyl-CoA that is converted to fatty acids in anabolic metabolism is derived from catabolized carbohydrates.

Catabolism and anabolism work in concert to maintain balance within the body. Under normal circumstances and health, the body attempts to maintain homeostasis. If there is enough imbalance in either direction, the body will change and adapt—at least up to a certain point. If there is a deficit of fuel and nutrients the body will stay in a state of catabolism. That’s because anabolism requires energy, while catabolism releases it.

The Role of Minerals and Vitamins in Metabolism

Vitamins and minerals do not provide direct energy, but they do play vital roles in metabolism. Several B vitamins are required as co-enzymes involved in the breakdown and buildup of macromolecules you read about above.

Several minerals—magnesium, zinc, iron, selenium, copper, and iodine especially—are essential parts of many enzymes in the body involved with metabolism. Minerals are also required for the building of new muscle and bone, which helps support normal body growth.

What is Metabolic Rate?

Metabolic rate is a way of explaining how much energy your body needs to fulfill all of its needs in providing for maintenance of body structure, energy use and storage, and cellular processes. Simply put, it’s the rate at which your body uses energy or burns calories.

When people refer to their metabolism being slow—typically as a cause of weight gain—they are referring to metabolic rate. Now that you have a very general idea of the meaning of metabolism, you can further explore metabolic rate and how they connect.

Basal Metabolic Rate

There are several pieces to the metabolic-rate puzzle. The first and largest fraction of your metabolic rate is known as Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).

The BMR measures the total calories you need to perform the body’s most basic functions, like respiration, circulation, brain activity, and cellular activities. In other words, it’s the calories you require to maintain your body if you were sleeping all day.

Measuring your BMR accurately is done under restrictive conditions and requires specific lab equipment and procedures. However, there are mathematic formulas you can use to get a reasonably accurate idea of your BMR. In general, your body size and muscle content have the most influence on your basal energy requirements.

You may also see metabolic rate described as Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). Because BMR and RMR are essentially the same, those terms are often used interchangeably.

Use This Equation to Calculate Your BMR

The Harris-Benedict equation is the most common way to estimate your basal metabolic rate. There are other formulas you can use, or, better yet, calculators that do it for you (see references).

Harris-Benedict Equation:

  • For men: BMR = 88.362 + (13.397 x weight in kg) + (4.799 x height in cm) – (5.677 x age in years)
  • For women: BMR = 447.593 + (9.247 x weight in kg) + (3.098 x height in cm) – (4.330 x age in years)

Adding an Activity Factor

For most people, the next largest portion of their energy requirement and metabolic needs is activity level. The principle is simple—the more active you are, and the more intense your activity, the more energy you require.

Measuring exactly how many calories you burn during any given activity is difficult, if not impossible, under real world conditions. There are various tables available to help estimate the energy (in calories) you expend doing different activities.

Body weight is factored in this estimate because it takes a lot more energy for a 200-pound (91 kilogram) person to run a mile than for a 120-pound (54 kilogram) person. In most people, physical activities account for about 15-30 percent of total daily energy requirements.

Estimate your activity level factor by choosing a category that most fits your current lifestyle:

  • Sedentary (desk job, mostly sitting, little to no exercise or extra activity): Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.2
  • Lightly active (sedentary job, activity like chores and walking 1-3 days/week): Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.375
  • Moderately active (moving around and active during the day, moderate workouts 3-5 days/week): Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.55
  • Very active (active during the day, sports or vigorous exercise on most days): Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.725
  • If you are extra active (heavy and demanding physical work, intense workouts 6-7 days/week) : Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.9

Adding activity level to your BMR gives you a value known as Active Metabolic Rate (AMR). You can calculate your AMR by multiplying your BMR and by your current level of activity from above.

Your AMR represents the number of calories you need to consume each day to stay at your current weight. If your goal is to lose weight, you would need a calorie deficit. That means you need to increase your physical activity level or decrease your energy intake by consuming fewer calories.

Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)

In addition to your basal and active metabolic rates, there are a couple of other minor factors that can influence your total energy expenditure. One is the level of energy spent during eating and digestion. This is known as the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).

It takes energy to digest, absorb, break down, and store nutrients.

  • Protein requires the most energy to digest and metabolize, so it has the highest thermic effect.
  • Carbohydrates require less energy than protein, and the more complex the carbohydrate, the higher the thermic effect. Starch and fiber have higher energy demands than simple sugars.
  • The thermic effect of fat is very low. It takes very little energy to digest, absorb, and store fat.

Overall, the TEF can account for as much as 10 percent of calories burned per day. That means eating a healthy protein-rich diet can make a difference over time.

Brown Adipose Tissue

Energy expenditure in adult humans isn’t impacted much by brown adipose tissue (BAT). But it’s worth mentioning since it’s a hot topic of current research.

Most adipose tissue (fat) is white. Each white fat cell contains a single lipid droplet. By contrast, brown fat cells contain numerous smaller droplets. The high number of iron-containing mitochondria and capillaries in the brown fats cells are what give the tissue its brown color. The primary function of BAT is in thermoregulation, or maintenance of core body temperature. This explains the abundance of BAT in newborns and hibernating mammals.

The prevalence of BAT diminishes with age in humans, but it is known to be present in adults with active and healthy metabolisms. Currently there is little evidence to support products or techniques to exploit or activate BAT in adults, but it is possible that this tissue may account for a small percentage of energy expenditure in some individuals.

What You Can Do to Support Your Metabolism

Many products and exercise methods promise to instantly rev-up your metabolism. But it’s not quite as simple as advertised. There are many factors in your control that can positively affect your metabolism, though. And making strides in these areas support your metabolism and help optimize vim and vigor throughout all aspects of your life.

Here some habits and activities you can perform to keep your metabolism performing at its best:

  • Exercise Regularly – Remaining sedentary is not good for you or your metabolism. All activity and exercise that increases heart rate increases blood flow. This delivers more oxygen and nutrients to cells where they are needed to support metabolism. With sporadic activity, the effect may only be temporary, but consistent exercise leads to more long-term effects and benefits. Combining endurance or aerobic exercise with resistance exercise and weight training will deliver the greatest benefit. You may have heard it takes a lot more metabolic energy to maintain muscle than fat. That’s true. So maintaining or increasing your muscle mass will help keep your metabolism younger while you age.
  • Stay Hydrated – If you want to extract the most from your exercise and metabolism, you need to stay hydrated. Some research has shown that lack of good hydration can stall your metabolism, putting the brakes on burning energy and weight loss. Cool, pure water or an appropriate sports drink are typically best.
  • Commit to Restful Sleep – It may seem obvious, but poor and irregular sleep can make your metabolism sluggish. It can also affect your motivation to exercise and eat right. Your body performs important repair and building functions during sleep, so cutting corners on sleep is likely to lead to poor overall health—in addition to a slower metabolism.
  • Manage Stress – Stressful situations prompt your body to increase cortisol production. That’s good if you need to handle a short-term crisis. On the other hand, chronic and unmanaged stress leads to consistently high cortisol levels that can be a huge problem. Cortisol impairs insulin sensitivity and that leads to possible weight gain and a lethargic metabolism.
  • Avoid Starvation Diets – Your metabolism can’t zip along efficiently if it doesn’t have the right fuel and a consistent supply of nutrients. If your calorie (energy) intake is too low for very long, the body will slow down building, repair, digestion, and other high-energy consuming functions of metabolism. This often happens when people undertake excessively rigid or strict diets, and one reason why trying to lose weight too fast can be counterproductive. If your daily energy intake is not enough to maintain normal activities and alertness, that’s a sign you may also be blunting your metabolism.
  • Eat a Varied, Nutritious Diet – Adequate fuel alone doesn’t do the trick. Quality protein, vitamins, and minerals in the right amounts are needed to build and supply hormones, enzymes, and structures you need to keep your body and metabolism strong. Several B vitamins and minerals, like calcium and iron, are key nutrients for maintaining a healthy metabolism. A plant-based diet is healthy and generally recommended.

But don’t skimp on quality protein or your muscles and your metabolism will suffer for it.

  • Get Regular Medical Check-Ups – If you’re doing everything else right but aren’t making the progress you should, check with your health-care provider about your medications, hormones, and genetics. Some medications can interfere with metabolism. And, for many reasons, some hormones levels can be off kilter. Hormonal issues related to the thyroid or endocrine system can often be adjusted or treated to put you on the right track. You can’t really alter your genetics, but, in some cases, it can provide information that a qualified professional can use to structure a diet or regimen that works best for you.

Your metabolism is very complex. But the basic principle is simple: It’s the way your cells convert the food and nutrients you eat into the energy and processes you need to move, think, breath, and exist. Under normal conditions, having a healthy metabolism has little to do with luck—and everything to do with following principles of healthy eating, exercise, and beneficial lifestyle habits.