man on beach

You’ve heard the phrase many times before, and you even agree with it. After all, who hasn’t done a particular diet (or many) in the past with nothing to show for it today? You’ve come to believe the experts’ conclusion that permanent weight loss or fitness requires a healthy lifestyle. But perhaps you have never really considered what that means. How exactly does a lifestyle that produces a fit body differ from one that produces an overweight, unhealthy body? Maybe you have an acquaintance whose size and shape you are a bit jealous of, especially since you know they aren’t on any sort of “diet.” You’re frustrated because you can’t quite put your finger on what they are doing so differently.

It’s easy to credit or blame genetics and age, but research shows that our choices, behaviors, and actions are really what’s most important. The biggest role genetics plays in our weight is determining our parents and siblings … and hence the family environment, foods, perspectives, and habits with which we grow up. Similarly, the biggest role that age plays in our weight is the changing behaviors that often accompany “adult life.” That really is wonderful news. Regardless of our age or family history, we really do have the power to live better and therefore, enjoy better life. Remember that annoying acquaintance we mentioned previously? Here’s how their lifestyle may differ:

Their Fun:

They choose more active options for enjoyment. Where an unhealthy lifestyle might settle for dinner and a movie, a healthier lifestyle might grab a snack on the way to the golf course. Or they may go to the shooting range, the bike trail, the baseball diamond, the volleyball court, the karting track, or the basketball gym. Even shopping at the mall can be a better, more active option than many choose. Will they buy something they don’t need? Maybe. But usually, that’s no different than what would happen in a restaurant they’d be at otherwise, except for the complete lack of calorie burn. It’s not that the healthy lifestyle never eats out or watches movies. But even that sequence looks different. The restaurant choice will be a lighter, more natural, better option that doesn’t put the blood sugar on a roller coaster. The result? Not only are less calories consumed during the meal, no junk food is consumed in the theatre. The movie is simply watched and enjoyed without the additional worthless starches. Vacations for the heathy lifestyle might include things like canoeing and hiking, rather than just hitting up the best reviewed food spots, watching the most acclaimed shows, or staying in the most comfortable hotels. The healthiest lifestyles don’t view all movement as work, nor do they view all fun as food. The unhealthy lifestyles often fall into the trap of believing that movement belies relaxation, and fun equals food.

Their Food:

They have higher standards for the quality of what they consume, and they have learned to moderate the quantity. A healthier lifestyle has learned to appreciate the effects of various fuels on their energy and performance. They have tuned into their bodies enough to recognize how they feel following one type of meal versus another. They have high self-esteem and simply want the best for themselves. These traits go beyond dictating what choices are made at the grocery store. They also influence which restaurants are chosen, and which items are ordered off the menu. In fact, they care about themselves enough to even ask questions, and perhaps have dishes modified to better suit their needs. When high quality food is not made available, the healthy lifestyle always moderates and limits their intake of less than ideal choices. Like the owner of a premium-fuel consuming sports car, they will put in just enough of the “regular” gas to get them to the next place where they can then fill up on a better option. Unhealthy lifestyles, on the other hand, settle for low-quality groceries and quantity-based restaurants. When presented with less than ideal food choices at parties and get-togethers, the unhealthy lifestyle tends to “throw in the towel” and indulge with reckless abandon. They sacrifice practicality on the altar of perfection. Meaning, when they find themselves offered a little of something that doesn’t bring them closer to their goals, the “screw it” mentality takes over and invaluable moderation is tossed aside.

Their Friends:

They make friends with those whose lifestyles resemble what they want theirs to be. Perhaps you have read the statement that concludes you are more or less the average of your 5 closest friends. Or maybe you recall the ancient proverb that says “friends sharpen friends,” like iron sharpens iron. But, did you know that your friends can dull you too? Research has shown that if you have a close friend who is obese, you have a 57% higher chance of becoming obese yourself. Though the exact numbers resulting from the studies are frightening, we really already knew that our friends habits are contagious. Ever find yourself doing or saying something, good or bad, that you never would have done or said prior to meeting that particular someone? Healthy lifestyles choose their friends wisely, according to their long-term goals. That’s not to say that they use them. They simply want to invest time and energy into people that they respect and desire to emulate. Someone once said, if you have the need to constantly be the smartest or wealthiest person in your circle, don’t plan on ever learning or earning any more. The same could be said for health. Unhealthy lifestyles never hang out with people who are more physically fit than them, and their chances of improving their own wellness decrease dramatically.

Their Faith:

They have deeper, less selfish, and more long-term perspectives. The healthiest lifestyles are low in stress. Considering the fact that we all go through various challenging circumstances, the less-stressed person has actually achieved that state skillfully and/or intentionally. They recognize that we live in a broken world, so they place more importance on spiritual matters than physical things. The healthiest lifestyles reduce their expectations of others, including themselves. They harness the power of communicating with God through prayer or mediation, and use the strength that their faith gives them to positively interact with the world around them. With their attention turned upward and outward, they are motivated by a greater good and look to help and heal others who are hurting. Not only does this give their lives purpose, the distraction from the obstacles in their own lives reduces their stress, and produces a much happier … and healthier person. Though the healthy lifestyle may not build their spiritual strength for the cause of fueling their own fitness, research has shown that health and longevity are improved just the same, because of it.

Their Fitness:

They prioritize their workout time and schedule their life around it. The healthiest lifestyles never underestimate or under-appreciate their time devoted to exercise. They realize that the 45 minutes spent making themselves stronger, healthier, and more energetic results in greater effectiveness in every single other area of their life. Why would you ever skip something that makes you breathe easier, move better, work smarter, last longer, sleep deeper, and produce more? Unhealthy lifestyles are quick to trade time spent in exercise for phone calls, errand runs, meals, tv shows, naps … good things or bad things … you name it. There is no end to the list of excuses or activities with which people replace exercise. Here’s the kicker: your body simply doesn’t care what you did instead. It only knows that it didn’t exercise, and hence will reduce blood circulation, tissue oxygenation, brain stimulation, and strength and stamina adaptations. Investing the time you would have spent exercising into other endeavors always costs you more than you think you saved. Those with the healthiest lifestyles understand this, and take care of themselves first and foremost. Presenting both a better body and and a better brain to the world, they can not only accomplish more than their non-exercising friends, they can do it with less time and effort.

Their Family:

They maintain and promote healthy relationships with parents, children, siblings, and relatives. The healthiest lifestyles don’t light fires, or fan the flames of existing ones. They don’t gossip and take sides, or provoke others to anger. They resist the urge to judge the actions and choices of extended family. The healthiest lifestyles simply refuse to spend the few years they have on this earth contributing to stress and division. Instead, they share love equally and unconditionally, always uniting people instead of tearing them apart. The health they promote amongst their family goes beyond relationships, and extends into physical health as well. They teach their children about nutrition, and involve them in active endeavors. They inform their parents of helpful science and research that may allow them to live both a longer and better life. They are ambassadors for natural foods and fixes, and work to change the size and shape of their family tree. While unhealthy lifestyles accept poor family histories and predict futures riddled with obesity, illness, and disease, the healthiest lifestyles recognize the opportunity they have to make a better quality of life easier for all generations to come.