Four Things You Should Know about Getting Healthier

1. Exercising can add five years to your life...

Most research now agrees that active people live longer than their sedentary counterparts. The reasons for this are fairly straightforward: exercise boosts your immune system, makes you happier, and reduces your risk for a plethora of health conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, hypertension, and stroke. Despite this encouraging evidence, less than half of Americans meet the national physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes a week. But new research indicating that regular exercise may increase your life span up to five years could be the boost that most people need to start moving. Scientists examined data from several national health surveys and found an interesting link between regular physical activity and mortality. For each hour of vigorous physical activity during adulthood some people gain an extra 6.4 hours of life! So the more you move, the longer you live-let that be your mantra on the treadmill.

2. ...and yes, short bursts of exercise count.

A recent cross-sectional survey of over 6,300 individuals suggests that people who engage in smaller bursts of physical activity (less than 10 minutes) several times a day may be just as healthy as people who hit the gym for 30 minutes after work. According to the study, those who had an active lifestyle but not a formal "workout" practice had the same blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and other health-related measures as those who worked out for half an hour at a time. This is great news for people who want to be healthier but struggle to find time to go to the gym every day. Try parking your car ten minutes away from work and walking the difference, climbing the stairs instead of riding the elevator, or taking a moonlit stroll with your family in lieu of watching television. These little changes in your day can help ensure that even when you can't get to the gym, you're giving your body what it needs to stay healthy.

3. Sleep is crucial.

Sleep is considered by many to be one of the most important aspects of health-"more important than food," argued a recent article in the Harvard Business Review! This is because our quality of sleep directly affects so many other parts of our wellbeing: our mood, energy levels, appetite, and even our risk for diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and colon cancer. So it's crucial to develop good "sleep hygiene" and ensure that adequate sleep (researchers say 7-9 hours a night for most adults) becomes a part of your daily routine. Another interesting factor to consider is how our relationships affect sleep. A survey of over 3,000 people found associations between strained familial relationships or low social/emotional support and insufficient sleep. So nurture your relationships, and practice forgiveness and tolerance with the people you spend most of your time with-the benefits will reach far beyond your interactions with others and begin to affect the way you feel every day.

4. Self-compassion can make healthy habits stick.

When trying to implement healthier habits, like participating in more physical activity or kicking a sugary-soda addiction, most people take a tough-love approach-an uncompromising attitude that results in guilt and self-flagellation at the first slip-up. Sound effective? Definitely not, says professor and researcher Kristin Neff, who proposes a gentler alternative: treating yourself with the kindness you would show others. Self-compassion is far more successful in implementing healthy behavior change because it provides stable motivation and support: "The reason you don't let your children eat five big tubs of ice cream is because you care about them," says Dr. Neff. "With do what's healthy for you rather than what's harmful to you." So turn your attention to the reason you want to improve your health-because you want to feel better and because, ultimately, you care about yourself-rather than admonishing yourself for not reaching your goals in time. By accepting even your mistakes and imperfections along the way, you have a better chance of creating the lifestyle you've always wanted.