HEALTHY LIVING

5 Ways Health Journalists Approach Life Differently

06/03/2015 07:00 am ET | Updated Nov 02, 2015
Shutterstock / oliveromg

As editors for The Huffington Post’s Healthy Living section, we’re constantly being bombarded by friend and family for health advice. Why are people putting butter in coffee? Does sex count as exercise? How often should I replace my pillow?

We’ve done our best to answer some of those questions, and for the rest we tell everyone to go talk to their doctor. After all, we’re not medical professionals, and we in no way should be advising you about that scary looking mole on your back except to say "Have it checked!" But the truth is that we’re up to our eyeballs in research, medical conference abstracts and health journalism, and in fact we have made some lifestyle chances because of the things we read and write all day. All of us have.

Read on to learn more about the most important ways our beat has influenced us to change our lives for the better, our tips on how to lead a healthier life:

1. We Prioritize Sleep

Because our editor-in-chief is the high priestess of getting enough sleep, this message has been prioritized across the newsroom -- not just in terms of coverage, but as a way to keep employees healthy and happy. For some of us, that meant coming to terms with our natural tendencies to be either early birds or night owls, and re-arranging our days around what feels best. For others, it meant taking “sleep hygiene” seriously by banishing glowing electric devices from the bedroom or saying “no” to coffee after lunch so that the caffeine doesn’t keep us awake at night.

Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, the science is clear. Sleep helps you maintain a healthy weight, keeps you mentally sharp, strengthens your immune system, helps reduce depression risk and enhances athletic ability, just to name a few benefits. And the culture around sleep in the U.S. is changing, too; where before lack of sleep used to be some kind of status symbol, a full night’s sleep has taken its place.

2. We Take Our Stress Seriously And Learn How To Manage It

HuffPost Healthy Living is all about finding ways to reduce stress and raise awareness about anxiety issues, and writing about these issues has made us realize that we weren’t taking our own stress seriously. Some of us admitted to laughing off our stress levels, only to be beset with anxiety or outsized feelings of dread. Others said that stressful thoughts were consuming them, robbing them of their happiness.

On the one hand, stress is good for you. It serves an evolutionary purpose, employing hormones like cortisol that help gear us up to either fight or take flight. In the modern world, that can translate into enhanced alertness, quick decision-making and a show of strength -- after which, that edgy, stressful feeling eventually dissipates. But in some people, acute stress can build without any release, until it becomes a chronic state of being. Elevated stress levels can contribute to higher blood pressure, diabetes risk and weight gain. It can even age your skin faster or cause inflammation.

Learning how to channel stress into productivity, or find ways to manage stress levels, is vital for those who want to live a healthier, more balanced life. If you’re battling stress and anxiety, scientifically-backed ways to calm down include going on a walk, breathing deeply, taking a break from electronics, kissing, doing yoga or listening to music. And in addition to meditation, medication works, too.

3. We Eat What’s Healthy, But Still Know How To Have Fun

Being Healthy Living editors doesn’t mean we subsist on a diet of raw swiss chard and poached turkey breast, although there was that time someone brought in kale muffins for a birthday celebration. There are a whole range of diet preferences in our department, ranging from paleo to vegetarian to Mediterranean to IDGAF. What we all have in common, though, is that we prioritize fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as healthy sources of protein. We’re also all trying, at different levels, to push the needle more toward “home cooked” than restaurant and takeout food.

Why? Because we’re trying to stay away from added sugars and excess salt, both of which contribute to chronic health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure. Both packaged and restaurant food tend to be high in sodium and restaurant foods you would least expect can also be packed with hidden sugars. It’s why we’re also shunning soda and diet soda as an everyday drink. Instead, we treat it as an occasional dessert when we do indulge.

4. We Exercise Differently

We all write in an office, which means we’re often sitting on our butts for hours at a time. It can be discouraging to think about all the ways we’re falling short (especially as we curate those yoga posts on Instagram), but the truth is that exercise isn’t a fancy gym membership or sweat-tech pants or a cult classroom experience. Exercise is simply a body in motion, and it can be simple to incorporate physical activity into our daily lives. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise a week and muscle-strengthening exercise twice a week, it doesn’t mean you have to spend all of that time going beast mode at your neighborhood CrossFit box or make a pilates studio your second home. Little chunks of physical activity -- even as small as 10 minutes of a time -- can add up to big health benefits.

Even walking just two minutes every hour was linked to a 33 percent lower risk of dying earlier, and interviews with exercise scientists have convinced us that every extra bit of physical activity -- even just brisk walking -- can make a difference in our health.

You could take the stairs instead of the elevator, get up every hour to go to the bathroom or get some water or take a break to stretch. Our walks to work or running to catch the subway are a form of exercise. If you drive, parking at the edge of the parking lot or a few blocks away from your intended destination is a way to get some extra steps in. Brisk walking around the park, in addition to a few lunges, push ups and sit ups, can make for a great exercise session. And yes, walking the dog is exercise. Of course, if exercise classes are your jam and they make you feel healthy and happy, go for it! But for others who feel like they don’t have the time or money to commit to pricey exercise activities, there are ways to work physical activity into everything you do. Alternately, it could simply mean recognizing that there are a lot of things you already to do keep your body happy and healthy.

5. We Don’t Sweat What We Can’t Control

We’ve made a lot of changes to our lives when it comes to sleep, diet, exercise, and stress. But we don’t have delusions about things we can’t control. For example, no matter how many squats we squat, we’re never going to have a booty like Nicki Minaj’s. And no matter how many green, leafy things we eat, we know that a family history of breast cancer makes us more predisposed to developing that same cancer, too.

That loss of control might unmoor us, but we choose to see it as a way to free ourselves from the pressures of attaining perfect health and a long, happy life. It also gives us the confidence and strength to resist the siren call of quick-fix “cures” or health trends that might turn the heads of others -- even people who should know better (raspberry ketones, anyone?!). It may get repetitive for people who read and write health journalism, but the health advice that endures is probably the most reliable: get a good night’s sleep, make time for relaxation, eat the best foods you can and move.

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