5 min read

Whether you're a fast-food junkie or just someone who prefers lounging on the couch to taking a jog, it's easy to feel yourself falling into unhealthy habits. So many of these poor health decisions feel so good at the time; after all, who doesn't love pizza and Netflix? All of these choices add up and soon you feel sluggish, unmotivated and run-down.

The truth is that maintaining a healthy lifestyle isn't an impossible challenge if you're willing to dedicate yourself to taking the first difficult steps toward changing your habits. After all, healthy habits are created the same way that unhealthy ones are: with repetition. With that in mind, here are the five most important habits to cultivate on your way to a healthier you. From adding a probiotic supplement to your diet to eating clean, these real world tips help you create healthy habits for a balanced gut.

Eat a Clean and Balanced Diet

With all the fad diet crazes out there, it can sometimes seem difficult to know exactly what a healthy diet looks like. In truth, eating healthy isn't that difficult if you follow a few basic guidelines. For example, "eat the rainbow" is one of the most frequently-used slogans when teaching children about the fundamentals of nutrition--but it's a principle that adults too often forget to adhere to.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults should eat at least eight servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and following the slogan's advice by aiming to eat a range of colorful fruits and vegetables can help ensure that you get a balanced amount of key vitamins and nutrients.

As you add more fruits and vegetables to your diet, try to also eat a cleaner diet overall by reducing the amount of processed foods that you eat. Recent studies have found that a diet high in processed foods is linked to an increased risk of cancer; other research suggests that merely cutting back on processed foods, refined grains and added sugar is enough to promote serious weight loss--even without counting calories or trimming portion sizes. While an occasional treat is fine, your everyday diet should be heavy in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein sources with limited processed foods.

Drink Plenty of Water

You've likely heard the recommendation to drink at least eight cups of water a day, yet in the midst of a hectic schedule, it can be easy to forget something as fundamental as staying hydrated. However, the importance of getting enough water each and every day is so fundamental that you need to do whatever it takes to build this habit: carry around a refillable water bottle, add flavor to your water with cucumber or lemon slices, or use a smartphone app to keep track your water intake.

What can you expect when you've finally established the habit of reaching your necessary daily water intake? Research has shown that proper hydration can improve memory and critical thinking, cut back on headaches, improve digestive function, and increase your metabolism and aid in weight loss, among many other benefits.

Exercise Regularly

It's pretty unlikely that there's an adult in America that doesn't understand the important role that regular exercise plays in a healthy lifestyle--it's translating this knowledge into actual physical activity that's usually the issue. For better or for worse, however, exercise plays one of the most vital roles in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Regular physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, regulate your cholesterol levels, boost your energy levels, improve the quality of your sleep, and enhance your mood. Need additional motivation to get moving? Research has found that increasing your activity levels and improving your overall fitness has a direct linear relationship to improved health, lowering your risk of developing life-threatening diseases such as cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

How much exercise do you need to see these benefits? Studies suggest that you can reduce your risk of life-threatening diseases by 20 to 30 percent by burning 1,000 calories a week through exercise; for a person of moderate fitness, that's the equivalent of about three 30-minute jogs a week. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests fitting in at least two-and-half hours of aerobic exercise and two strength training sessions each week. Don't be afraid to start slowly, however; any exercise is better for your health than no exercise, and your endurance and stamina will build up as you make physical activity a regular part of your week.

Pay Equal Attention to Your Mental Health

It can be easy to fall into the trap of defining a healthy lifestyle purely in terms of your physical health, but ignoring your mental health can be a big mistake. Research has shown that mental and physical health are highly interconnected, with each promoting--or detracting from--the other. Indeed, the World Health Organization (WHO) has found several key associations between physical and mental well-being; poor mental health can be considered a risk factor for developing chronic physical conditions, and vice versa.

What can you do to nurture your mental health alongside your physical well-being? For starters, aim to get at least seven hours of sleep a night; studies have found that lack of sleep can be a major contributing factor in a number of mental health conditions. You can also help manage your day-to-day stress by using basic relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga, deep breathing and visualization.

Add a Probiotic Supplement to Your Daily Routine

The first four steps on your path to a healthier lifestyle will likely take a real concerted effort on your part, so let's end with an easy one: begin taking a daily probiotic supplement. As simple as this habit is to implement, the wide-ranging beneficial effects of a probiotic supplement on your overall health are very real. Probiotics help to introduce good bacterial strains to your digestive tract, bringing balance to your all-important gut microbiome. Like a drop of water in a pond, the health benefits of a balanced microbiome create positive ripples throughout your body.

An entire body of scientific research shows the potential effects of probiotic use: a boosted immune system, an improved metabolism with the potential for increased weight loss, a better-regulated digestive tract, higher energy levels, lower incidence of allergies, and even reduced depression and better mood. Best of all, you may be able to realize all of the benefits simply by taking one pill a day.

Shifting from an unhealthy lifestyle to a day-to-day routine built upon healthy habits may not happen overnight. However, by taking definitive steps to eat better, stay hydrated, move more, nurture your mood and support your gut microbiome with a probiotic supplement, you'll be well on your way to a healthier you.