7 Healthy Habits for a More Functional Body

Each person’s body is an incredible organism, capable of myriad impressive feats—if we so allow, that is. Unfortunately, because the human body is all about adaptation, it quickly deteriorates when neglected. But the counter to that is we have a lot of control over how healthy our bodies are, and that opportunity should not be taken for granted.

Below are seven simple things that can all become habits. Pick one or two, and repeat them often and consistently for a month straight. Around then, they’ll become a natural part of your day/week. Then start adding more. Most take only a few minutes, so there’s no excuse to skip any.

Dead Hang

Strong hands and shoulders with full ranges of motion are important foundations for anyone who wants to follow a proper training program. So do this: hang from any pull-up bar with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders.

Perform three to five sets until failure to reap several benefits, including increased grip strength, enhanced shoulder and rotator cuff health, and spinal decompression. It’s a highly functional stretch that also builds real strength—now that’s a win-win. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets.

Deep Squat

Tight hips are an increasingly common issue among today’s ever-sitting population. And that can cause a host of additional problems, including lower back pain, poor posture, and a shocking inability to hold a deep squat—once a natural and oft-used position by our ancestors. This lack of mobility does not bode well for heavy squats at the gym.

Aim to hold the deepest squat you can while being as relaxed as possible. If you need support to go low while stretching this way, grab a table leg with your hands to balance.  Start with 20-30 seconds for a set. Add 10 seconds each day, working your way up to three minutes. Perform one set when you wake up and one set before you sleep.

Drink Water

Up to three-quarters of people in North America are chronically dehydrated. We are consuming enough liquid, but too much of it contains caffeine or alcohol, and our diets have become higher in sodium in recent decades. Dehydration’s negative side effects include fatigue, foggy memory, and irritability. And the old adage is usually true: if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.

After sleep, you’re almost certainly in a state of at least minor dehydration. Caffeine has benefits but your morning coffee isn’t helping replenish your system with the right fluid. Therefore, the best thing you can do for yourself upon waking is to take in a nice, tall glass of water. From there on, sip water throughout the day. Having some before meals can help you feel fuller faster.

Stand Up and Move

We all know that sitting is bad for us. A sedentary lifestyle, often led by 9-to-5 desk jobs, has major implications on weight, cardio, and metabolism, among other aspects of health. And physical exercise is unable to negate the negative impact extended periods of sitting inflicts on our bodies (and mind!), reports James Hamblin in The Atlantic.

Research confirms a sedentary lifestyle is correlated with higher incidences of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Sitting triggers all manner of serious, long-term impacts: bad posture by causing anterior pelvic tilt, poor hip mobility, and a slower metabolism.

Standing is better than sitting. Movement is better still. Standing, at least, keeps your muscles active and your metabolism revved, burning anywhere from 25 to 50 calories hourly versus sitting. Stand up and stretch for at least couple of minutes each and every single hour while sitting, lying down, or otherwise sedentary.

Go Outside

Several recently published books, including The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, make strong cases for nature as our ideal gym. They cite studies which point to the benefits of training outside: better mood, clearer mind, more creative thinking. This means you may enjoy your workout more and add more variety to your routine.

motion blur forest trail run

There’s also evidence that the effects of performing physical activity in nature can trigger positive mood swings that can last for days, so you can enjoy recovery day more too. Consider trail running, hiking, or mountain biking regularly.

Use a Foam Roller—And a Ball

Foam rolling, also known as fascia training, is essentially like performing a self-massage. A foam roller is ideal for sweeping big muscles like the quads and hamstrings, while a lacrosse ball or similar can work wonders on the feet and neck.

Newbies can start with something soft but everyone should graduate to hard materials—some discomfort is necessary to gain the benefits of self-myofascial release, which includes more relaxed and loose muscles, as well as improved blood flow, which aids recovery.

Include rolling as part of your warm-up, cool down, or perform the activity on its own.

Elevate Your Heart Rate

You don’t need to workout every day. But just because you aren’t in the gym, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the heart pumping. The heart will welcome the work, in exchange providing you with cardiovascular health and lower risk of major health concerns like cancer and stroke.

You have plenty of options: taking the stairs whenever possible, jogging instead of walking with your dog, getting friends together for flag football, dancing vigorously in your apartment—you get the idea. Anything beats something, and that’s a fact.