The dictionary definition of the word “balance” is “an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.” Anyone who’s ever experienced physically losing their balance knows what can come next—a trip, a fall, an injury. In a proverbial sense, having no balance in your life means that you can come crashing down, and this can hurt you in more ways than one: You can get sick, you may perform poorly at work due to a lack of efficiency or drive, and you may neglect your relationships with the people who matter most.
One of the most important reasons you should live a well-balanced life is to protect your heart: According to the Department of Health, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the Philippines; the World Health Organization estimates that heart disease deaths in the Philippines account for nearly 20% of total deaths. In the U.S., one person dies every 37 seconds from heart disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When it’s your life on the line, it becomes all the more crucial to find out how to live a balanced lifestyle.
How to Bring Balance to Your Life
Some people think that an all-or-nothing approach to living a healthy life is the way to go. But makes it more intimidating and, thus, harder to achieve. Keep in mind that a balanced life doesn’t mean living in the other extreme: While having a very strict diet free of everything except raw foods seems like a healthy way to go, in the long run, it’s not doable. You want to be able to introduce lifestyle changes and practices that you can sustain.
The following tips can help you get on the road to a balanced life—and because they all have positive effects on heart health, you’ll increase your odds of making it a long and happy one.
1 Eat a variety of foods. Keep a food diary for a few days and take note of the color of your food choices. If they’re mostly white, brown, and golden, then it’s time to add some color to your diet. Foods with different colors contain lots of different nutrients (no, M&Ms don’t count) so load up on fruits and vegetables. The American Heart Association also recommends adding whole grains, skinless poultry and fish, as well as nuts and legumes, and limiting saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets, and sugar-sweetened beverages. If you’re a true-blue carnivore, then choose lean cuts of meat over fatty ones.
Keep from falling off the healthy wagon by allowing yourself the occasional treat. (In this case, M&Ms do count.) And if you do go off track? Don’t beat yourself up—tomorrow is another day!
How this helps your heart: Cutting back on sodium can lower your risk for hypertension, which puts a lot of strain on your heart. Cutting back on sugar, fat, and cholesterol (which comes from red meat) can also lower your risk for blockages in your arteries, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke.
Eating a healthy diet overall can provide you with the nutrients your body needs to function properly and give you more energy, leading to more productivity both in and out of work and, potentially, a fuller, more balanced life.
2 Get enough exercise. Even a single exercise session can do wonders for your heart, according to an article published in JAMA Cardiology. But, of course, you’ll want to engage in regular physical activity for long-term health. Experts recommend getting 30 minutes a day. You can break that down in 10-minute increments that you can spread out throughout the day. Get up and get moving—even a brisk walk around the office will do!
How it helps your heart: Exercise helps lower your blood pressure, can help you keep the weight off (provided you don’t binge eat as a reward), and can get your heart working more efficiently.
3 Get enough sleep. There’s nothing quite like sleep deprivation to leave you feeling cranky, lethargic, and feeling down so good sleep is essential for overall health. While there are charts recommending amounts of sleep for various age groups (seven to nine hours is the standard for adults), how much you need exactly depends on your own body. The U.S. National Sleep Foundation recommends asking the following questions to find your own magic number:
- Are you productive, healthy, and happy on seven hours of sleep? Or do you need nine hours to get you into high gear?
- Do you have health issues (overweight, at risk for disease)?
- Are you experiencing sleep problems?
- Do you depend on caffeine to get you through the day?
- Do you feel sleepy when driving?
It may be a process of trial and error to determine the exact number of hours you need.
How this helps your heart: While the mechanisms linking sleep and heart health aren’t clear, the National Sleep Foundation notes that people with sleep apnea often have heart problems. The foundation also states that a lack of sleep “causes disruptions in underlying health conditions and biological processes like glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation.” Before you go and decide to sleep the entire weekend, though, note that oversleeping may likewise cause health problems. Even when it comes to sleep, it’s all about balance!
4 Manage stress. Chronic stress can affect your quality of life and lead to a host of health problems so it’s important to learn some coping mechanisms: Breathe, go for a walk (which also contributes to your exercise for the day, so it’s a win-win!), or meet a friend for coffee. You can also get a diffuser to help you relax with essential oils for mood management or get an aromatherapy massage. You can learn more about how to keep stress at bay by reading about these five-minute stress busters.
How this helps your heart: According to Harvard Health Publishing, researchers are still looking into how stress directly affects heart health. But what we do know is that stress can lead to unhealthy behaviors that then lead to heart disease—smoking and drinking alcohol can increase blood pressure while bingeing on unhealthy foods can block up your arteries. Learning stress coping mechanisms can thus keep these unhealthy habits at bay and, in the long run, contribute to a well-balanced life.