Ten Ways to Live Better

In 1846, Henry David Thoreau wrote "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify. Simplify." As an experiment, the Concord, Mass. philosopher moved to a cabin on the shores of Walden pond. There he grew a garden, worked intermittently as a hired man, and announced his intention to live "simply and wisely." Thoreau's lament was that so-called modern conveniences, instead of making things easier, had enslaved us. "We do not ride upon the railroad; it rides upon us," he wrote. It's easy to imagine what Thoreau would say about the fax machine, voice mail, eating in the car and our persistent habit of doing three things at once. Today, in spite of all the technological advances, we've lost sight of how to enjoy life. Keeping up the pace has led us to stress, sleeplessness, high blood pressure and heart disease. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet -- no pill we can take to bring us back to health. Instead we have to change the way we live. Here's a list of ten simple places to start: SHUT OFF THE TELEVISION. Life is so complicated we need to reflect on technology and what it does to us, according to Dr. Usha Sellers, Assistant Dean of Social Sciences at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Mass. "There is no end to want. One has to set one's priorities," said Dr. Sellers. "There are things that give meaning to live and that's where I'm going to put my resources. Not in new gadgets. Not in 1,000 cable channels." Dr. Sellers noted that college students are not speaking or writing as well as they should. "That's because we're not talking to each other," she said. Television cuts off conversation and tires you out. Without it, we are forced to create entertainment and enjoyment for ourselves, Dr. Sellers said. As a young girl growing up without television in new Delhi, India, Dr. Sellers loved sports and still begins each day with an early morning game of tennis or a brisk walk to focus on her "mental health." She had never been camping and hiking until her husband, Bill, took her to the White Mountains. "If you're not open to new ideas, how can you enjoy anything? Break the routine," she advised. "Whatever you do, take your time and enjoy it." TAKE A DEEP BREATH. The Hindu yogis believe you have a certain amount of breaths assigned to you for your lifetime. "If you have one million breaths, why not take them slowly and deeply? Why not savor them?" said Julie Needham of North Andover, Mass., a yoga instructor and practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method of Body Awareness. Breathing is the most important thing we do, although we are rarely aware of it. "If you're going through life and you're not noticing what you're doing, you're in trouble," Needham said. She recommends bringing your focus to the movement of your breath. Notice how your chest and belly and ribs move. Feel the separation of the rig and the expansion of the belly -- even the air through your nostrils. "When you put your attention on what's moving, it connects you to the relaxation response," said Ms. Needham. Needham believes that simple awareness exercises like the one described above lead to free, relaxed breathing. "The moment you relax, you get a better delivery of oxygen," she said. EXERCISE YOUR IMAGINATION. "I think good books ask us to think about ideas, to think about values in a way that television often doesn't," said Dr. Roger E. Wiehe of Andover, Mass., a professor of English at University of Massachusetts Lowell. He suggested regularly setting aside time for your reading. If something doesn't interest you, pass on to something else. But give an author a chance. Get used to the language and style before you pass judgment. "One of the things that people enjoy about reading is that it's solitary," Dr. Wiehe said. Although he is leery of reading lists, Dr. Wiehe offered some titles for consideration: Homer's "Illiad" and "Odyssey"; Dante's "Divine Comedy"; Chekhov's short stories; Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"; Tolstoy's "War and Peace"; Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred years of Solitude"; Charles Dickens's "David Copperfield"; Thoreau's "Walden"; Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse"; Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises"; and Flannery O'Connor's "Wise Blood." "Literature puts your mind to work constructing scenes, imagining characters and settings, and measuring your own experience against what is presented in the work, according to Dr. Wiehe. "Literature takes us out of ourselves," he said. "It moves us toward other ways of seeing life." LAUGH OUT LOUD. Laughter helps us emotionally and physiologically. "Deep belly laughter is the latest wonder drug," said Dr. Sylvia Hallsworth, director of nursing at Northern Essex Community College. Laughter reduces pain, exercises your heart and lungs, and stretches the diaphragm, facial muscles and shoulders. It fills the blood with oxygen and affects your digestion and circulation. For the chronically ill, ten minutes of hearty laughter can mean two hours of pain-free sleep because of the powerful chemicals released into the bloodstream, according to Dr. Hallsworth. She suggested using whatever means necessary to give yourself a good laugh, including videos, cassettes and visits to a comedy club. "I just look at Buddy Hackett or Robin Williams and I'm hysterical," she said. RAISE YOUR HEART RATE. Twenty minutes of aerobic exercise three or four times a week will give you more energy and an improved outlook on life. Walking, running, in-line skating, mountain biking, swimming, cross- country skiing and the like make it easier to find heart thumping exercise you enjoy. "Fit people tend to be happier people," said Lori Guile, a fitness director. "They're generally in a real good mood." Walking is great exercise to start with. "That's something anyone can do anywhere," said Guile. After a visit with your doctor or other fitness evaluation, buy a pair of good walking or running shoes with cushioning and support. Wear loose-fitting clothing, a hat and sunscreen in warm weather and carry a water bottle. Then find a companion. "Having someone with you makes the walking easier," Guile said. She advised choosing a less traveled route, preferably flat, and starting out with gentle walks of approximately a mile before increasing your speed and distance. Cedardale teaches a method called bodywalking: head in line with shoulders, shoulders relaxed, chest lifted up, abdominals and buttocks tucked, arms relaxed swinging close to your sides, not crossing in front of you. ENJOY THE RIGHT FOODS. Most people get the majority of the calories from fats, oils and sweets. "Your body doesn't like these calories. They're expensive," said Aggie Giglio, a registered dietician and nutritionist. "If you can afford them, buy them. If not, don't borrow -- don't take in calories you're not going to burn off." Eating from the bottom of the food pyramid is better -- grains, pasta, bread, cereals, fruits and vegetables -- things grown from the ground. Watch your fat, alcohol and salt intake. Eat less, eat more slowly, and take time to enjoy the food, said Giglio. Sensible low fat eating -- bagels, fat free crackers, yogurt, apples -- will allow you to eat more frequently. "Ask yourself this -- if your body was an automobile, is the fuel you're putting in the tank going to give you mileage?" said Giglio. She said that people love food and they should, it's an enjoyable part of life. But Giglio also stated many people need to mix healthy eating with exercise as a way of gaining control of their lives. TAKE A NAP. Dr. Alberto Sobrado, a physician specializing in internal medicine, rises every morning at 3:30 a.m. After one or two hours practicing martial arts, he has breakfast and heads to the office for a long day of seeing patients. But sometime in the afternoon, after a light lunch away from his desk, he disappears for an hour. Dr. Sobrado takes a nap. "I don't want to figure out what it does for me," he said. "I just like it." A native of Costa Rica, Dr. Sobrado said an aversion to napping might be a "cultural thing" here in the U.S. Dr. Sobrado believes he can produce twice as much in a day if he naps. Simplicity and regularity is the key to sleeping well, he says. You'll be better rested if you go to bed and rise at the same times daily. SAY A PRAYER. Meditation, reflection and prayer are important to people of every denomination because they point to something beyond this earth, said Rev. Robert W. Conole, Parochial Vicar at St. Monica's church in Methuen, Mass. During his training, Father Conole was told "with every heart beat, you should be conscious of prayer." Defined as intimacy with God, he said that prayer can help you appreciate the quiet. The simple exercise of repeating something over and over makes you aware of your posture, gesture, environment and temperament. For someone who has never prayed, Father Conole advises "just relax and keep it simple." GET STRONGER. Lori Guile recommends combining cardiovascular training with strength training for overall fitness. Strength training three times a week can help you build lean muscle to go with your newly acquired endurance, she said. "Increase your body temperature first," Guile said. She recommended starting off with some easy jumping jacks or by skipping rope. After breaking a light sweat, stretch the hamstrings, calves, quads, lower back and torso. Nautilus-type machines are good for beginners because they teach proper weight-lifting form and have many safety features built in, said Guile. Exercising at home with dumbbells and other free weights, or with push-ups, dips, pull-ups and stomach crunches, will also complement your walking and running. LOVE SOMEONE. At three months of age, we recognize our caregiver and exhibit happiness. That's where we learn how to love and give love, said Dr. Silvia Hallsworth of Northern Essex Community College. Intimacy and play should then remain important parts of our experience. Dr. Hallsworth, who has been married for 35 years, insists we must stay in touch with the child in us if love is going to last. That means taking time to be together. "By racing along in third gear, we're not enjoying what we've been given to enjoy in this life," she said. She and her husband, Jack, a recreational pilot, take long pleasure flights up the coast, which Dr. Hallsworth described as "like watching a feather on a summer day, you're just going on the breeze." During her days as a clinician, she saw terminally ill people trying to come to terms with their loved ones as time was running out. She decided to do the things she always wanted to do, not to put them off. "Keep in mind that life is fragile and very short. Let's make the most of it," she said.

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