A balanced diet, regular exercise, stress management, proper sleep, and routine healthcare are the essential elements of a healthy lifestyle.
Aiming for at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day and building balanced meals and snacks that include fiber, protein, and healthy fat can help improve diet quality.
Most adults need 30 minutes of physical activity per day and it still counts even if it’s broken up into smaller bursts.
Your doctor can make healthy lifestyle habit recommendations and provide preventative screenings to help catch health problems early.
You know healthy habits are important, but how do we define a healthy lifestyle?
When it comes to healthy living, there’s no one size fits all approach. Everyone’s ideal healthy lifestyle will look a little different depending on personal goals, physical health, and food preferences.
That being said, there are essential elements that create the foundation of healthy living for everyone. These elements include healthy eating, regular exercise, stress management, and sleep. Within each of these areas, there’s plenty of opportunity for individuality and variety.
Healthy living is a lifelong commitment and we all have habits that can be improved. It’s important to remember that small healthy changes add up to big benefits.
Choosing to lead a healthier life helps you feel good so you can show up for the things and people you love. Healthy living can also improve your overall quality of life, lessen your risk of health problems, and support energy levels, mental health, healthy digestion, and a healthy immune system.
If you want to learn how to live a healthy lifestyle, this guide is for you. We’ll review the foundational elements of healthy living and provide practical tips to help you make a healthy lifestyle change.
How to Live a Healthy Lifestyle?
Your daily habits are the steps that make up your journey to a healthy lifestyle.
Whether you’re just starting out or have been prioritizing healthy living for a long time, it’s important to make changes to one or two habits at a time. Once you’ve mastered those, you can add another new habit.
Let’s dive into the four pillars of healthy living.
As a Registered Dietitian, one of my favorite ways to help others with their diets is by busting myths about healthy eating. You don’t need to prepare complicated recipes, purchase pricey superfoods, or follow trendy diets to improve your food intake.
The exact picture of a healthy diet will vary from person to person. The end goal is to fill your plate with nutrient-dense foods most of the time and leave some wiggle room for enjoying your favorite dishes and comfort foods because, as the saying goes, you’ve got to live your life!
Here are some of my best tips for creating more balance in your diet:
Focus on variety
Eating a variety of foods is one of the best ways to ensure you’re getting all the nutrition you need, but it doesn’t mean you have to plan an entirely different menu every day.
Instead of thinking about the number of foods you eat daily, think about the number of different foods you eat over the course of several weeks or in a month. It’s 100% okay to repeat similar meals and/or ingredients over the course of a week, especially if you’re meal prepping and trying to reduce food waste.
Adding variety to your diet can make mealtimes more interesting and enjoyable. Here are some easy ways to increase food variety:
Buy in-season produce, such as citrus fruits in the winter and berries in the summer.
Make your plate as colorful as possible. You don’t need to include every color of the rainbow at every meal, but be mindful of which colors you eat most often. If you usually reach for green vegetables, try adding a new color, such as orange carrots or purple cabbage, for added variety.
Add one new ingredient to your grocery cart each shopping trip and learn how to prepare it.
Enjoy both animal and plant-based proteins. Lean beef, poultry, and seafood are great protein options for meat-eaters, but everyone can enjoy a plant-based meal from time to time. Make it a goal to include 1 or 2 plant-based meals per week. Good plant protein options include beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and tofu.
For added insurance, you can include a multivitamin to help ensure you’re getting more of the vitamins and minerals you need in a day.†
Count your fruit and veggie servings
Fruit and vegetables contain nutrients that are important for good health, including Magnesium, Potassium, Vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants.
Aim for at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies per day. You can easily meet this goal by including a fruit and vegetable with each meal.
Here are some ideas to add even more fruit and veggies to your diet:
Add vegetables to scrambled eggs, soups, stews, casseroles, and pasta sauces
Have a green side salad with lunch and/or dinner
Include fresh fruit with breakfast and/or snacks
Pile veggies on sandwiches
Reach for fruit instead of baked goods or candy to satisfy a sweet tooth
Replace some or all of the oil or butter in baked goods with unsweetened applesauce or pumpkin puree
Toss a handful of leafy greens, like spinach or kale, in protein shakes and smoothies
Build balanced meals and snacks
Balanced meals and snacks provide sustained energy, satisfy hunger, and hold you over for several hours.
There are four elements to keep in mind when building a balanced plate:
Fiber - Found primarily in complex carbohydrates, fruit, and vegetables, fiber helps support a healthy digestive system. Complex carbohydrates include whole grains, like brown rice and quinoa, legumes, and starchy vegetables, like sweet potatoes.
Protein - Your body digests protein slowly, which enhances satiety. As mentioned above, try including both animal and plant-based protein sources, such as eggs, plain yogurt, lean cuts of beef and poultry, seafood, beans, and lentils.
Healthy Fat - Fat is not to be feared! The majority of the fat in your diet should be unsaturated. Here are some sources of healthy fat:
Fatty fish, like salmon and sardines
Nuts and seeds
Olives and olive oil
Saturated fats and trans fats, which are found in fatty meat, full-fat dairy, fried foods, pre-packaged baked goods, margarine, and some cooking oils, should be limited or replaced with unsaturated fats.
Try to include more Omega-3 fats, which help support a healthy heart.  They’re found in fatty fish, walnuts, and flax seeds. If you don’t regularly eat these foods, an Omega-3 Fish Oil supplement may be beneficial.†
Dairy or Dairy Substitute - Including two to four servings of dairy per day is an excellent way to meet your Calcium needs. Besides helping support strong bones, Calcium is essential for normal muscle and nerve function. If you don’t get enough of this mineral from food and Calcium supplements, your body will use Calcium stored in your bones to meet its needs. Adequate Calcium throughout life, as part of a well-balanced diet, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.†
Choose plain yogurt and milk instead of flavored varieties to keep your intake of added sugars low. Reduced fat dairy products contain less saturated fat per serving than whole milk.
If you’re sensitive to lactose or prefer not to consume dairy, look for lactose-free milk or dairy alternatives, such as almond or soy milk, that have Calcium added to them.
How much fiber, protein, and healthy fat should you have at each meal? A good visual aid is to divide your plate into quarters. Fill half the plate with vegetables, one quarter with a complex carbohydrate or fruit, and one quarter with protein, and then add a small portion of healthy fat
In some instances, a dairy product will also be your protein source. For example, cottage cheese or plain yogurt provides both protein and Calcium. You could add berries for fiber and nuts for healthy fat. If your meal doesn’t include dairy, add 1-cup of reduced fat milk or a Calcium-fortified dairy alternative.
This formula can naturally help crowd out junk food and processed foods. Let’s see how it can be applied to two sample meals.
A bowl of oatmeal or a plate of pasta with tomato sauce contains mostly carbohydrates. These meals provide you with energy, but it may be short-lived before you start to feel hungry again.
You can make the oatmeal more balanced by cooking it in milk or a Calcium-fortified dairy alternative instead of water. Mixing blueberries and walnuts into the oatmeal and having a hard-boiled egg on the side will give you a balanced meal.
For the pasta, you could add grilled chicken breast to the pasta, have a side salad dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, and a glass of milk.
Your drink choices count as part of your diet. Water is best for meeting hydration needs and most people need at least 8 cups, or 64 ounces, per day. If plain water isn’t your favorite, you can also enjoy unsweetened herbal teas, seltzer, fruit-infused water, or no sugar added coconut water.
Use moderation with reduced-fat milk (can choose non-fat instead) and 100% fruit juices, as they contain calories and natural sugars and can be easy to over-consume. You should also limit your intake of caffeinated beverages and alcohol consumption should not exceed more than 1 drink per day. Speak with your healthcare provider if you have questions about your caffeine or alcohol intake.
Respect your body’s unique dietary needs
You can respect your body’s dietary needs by eating when you feel hungry and stopping when you feel full. You shouldn’t eat to the point of discomfort or feeling stuffed.
Eating meals and snacks at regular intervals throughout the day supports your metabolism and provides continuous energy. Some people like three larger meals a day, while others prefer five or six smaller meals.
Paying attention to how foods make you feel is part of how to live a healthy lifestyle. Many people deal with food sensitivities and allergies that require dietary modifications. If you think you may have signs of food sensitivity or allergy, see your healthcare provider for testing and diet recommendations.
Your body needs regular movement to feel its best. Exercise benefits every part of your body, including your heart, brain, and bones. It can help you reach or maintain a healthy weight, improve sleep, help maintain bone density and help you deal with stress. Regular exercise is associated with longer life expectancy and helps to prevent some health problems. 
The United States Department of Health recommends all adults engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, which is about 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week. The recommendation also includes 2 days of strength training per week.
The best way to meet this target is to plan for exercise. Come up with a workout routine that includes physical activity you really like to do and then write them in your planner, set reminders on your phone, or find a buddy to help you commit to your workouts. Your plan could include playing sports, swimming, dancing, or nature hikes.
If needed, you can split up your 30 minutes a day to fit your schedule or fitness level. Three 10-minute walks are better than no movement.
#3 See Your Doctor Regularly or Whenever You Need To
Routine doctor’s visits are important for monitoring your health. Your healthcare providers can assess your risk for health problems based on your family history, lifestyle, and blood work and make suggestions to help you prevent issues before they start.
If you haven’t seen a doctor in a while, make an appointment with a primary care physician and plan to see them yearly for check-ups and preventative screenings. Your doctor can give you personalized recommendations, including any dietary supplements you may benefit from, for how to live a healthy lifestyle.†
#4 Make Time for Rest & Relaxation
Quality sleep and stress management are also on the checklist for how to live a healthy lifestyle.
Most people need 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Getting enough sleep helps support energy levels and weight management, whereas sleep deprivation leads to fatigue, moodiness, difficulty concentrating, and increased appetite.
If you’re not getting the recommended hours, try winding down with a bedtime routine and/or bumping bedtime up 10 or 15 minutes a day to extend your sleeping window.
Stress is a normal part of life, but if left unmanaged stress can impact your mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Having fun, relaxing, making time for hobbies, socializing, exercising, and deep breathing can all be helpful in diffusing stress.
The modern world and busy lifestyles can make it hard to unwind. For extra support, consider occasional sleep supplements to support a restful sleep and/or supplements for stress to find an inner calm.†
When it comes to creating a healthy lifestyle, you are in the driver’s seat. What makes one person feel their best may not work for another, but some aspects of healthy living are universal to all. A balanced diet, regular exercise, routine doctor’s visits, getting enough sleep, and effective stress management make up the foundation of a healthy lifestyle.
† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Wang DD, Li Y, Bhupathiraju SN, et al. Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mortality: Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies of US Men and Women and a Meta-Analysis of 26 Cohort Studies. Circulation. 2021;143(17):1642-1654. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.048996
Gammone MA, Riccioni G, Parrinello G, D'Orazio N. Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: Benefits and Endpoints in Sport. Nutrients. 2018;11(1):46. Published 2018 Dec 27. doi:10.3390/nu11010046
Ruegsegger GN, Booth FW. Health Benefits of Exercise. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2018;8(7):a029694. Published 2018 Jul 2. doi:10.1101/cshperspect.a029694
Sharon Lehman, RD is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and a health writer. She specializes in intuitive eating, recipe development, food photography, and hormone health. She shares healthy living tips and recipes on her blog www.heartandstove.com
Senior Manager, Medical and Scientific Communications
Melissa is a Registered Dietitian and provides leadership to Pharmavite’s Medical and Scientific Education team. She has over 20 years of experience educating consumers, healthcare professionals, retailers and employees about nutrition, dietary supplements, and overall wellness. Prior to joining the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Melissa launched and managed Pharmavite’s Consumer Affairs department and worked as a clinical dietitian throughout Southern California. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and completed her dietetic internship at Veteran’s Hospital in East Orange New Jersey.