6 Tips for Better Days With a Chronic Condition

When you’re going through a tough time, health-wise, it’s easy to become so focused on following doctors’ orders that you forget about the everyday things you should do to take care of yourself.

But positive lifestyle habits are a powerful part of the plan, not to mention good for your overall health, says Nadia Ali, MD, a doctor of functional and integrative medicine in Villanova, PA.

Try these six tips to make sure your well-being or a loved one's isn’t lost in the name of treating a medical condition.

1. Make mealtime pleasurable.

When dementia made eating a challenge for Eve Soldinger’s parents, she looked for ways to enhance the experience. She’d show up at the nursing home with their favorite foods (her mother loved egg-salad sandwiches) and used tricks to improve the social aspect of dining.

“If my mother sat at a table where no one talked, she didn’t eat,” says Soldinger, an acupuncturist in Washington, D.C. “But if we seated her at a table with people she liked, she’d eat more -- especially if she sat across from a man. She was very flirtatious.”

2. Stay physically active.

Just how active depends on your health. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity exercise (like a brisk walk) 5 or more days a week for most adults. But that applies to generally healthy people.

What’s true across the board: The body needs exercise to keep muscles strong. Research shows it benefits you from head to toe. It’s also great for your mood and burns off stress.

So try to do what you can.

“It doesn’t matter if you exercise at home or at the gym,” Ali says. “It doesn’t matter if you space it out or do it all at one time. The important thing is to do it and do it on an everyday basis.”

3. Enjoy the outdoors.

Hanging out with Mother Nature can help lower stress and improve symptoms of depression and anxiety, according to a 2014 review of research published in Frontiers in Psychology.

Do you live in a city? You don’t have to fully immerse yourself in the great outdoors to reap the benefits. City dwellers who moved to a greener neighborhood showed improvements in their mental health, a 2014 study in Environmental Science & Technologyshows.

Sure enough, Soldinger saw how relaxed her father was whenever they strolled the grounds of the nursing home where he spent his final years. “One time we were walking around the facility and he said, ‘Ohhhh, look at that tree,’” she says. “Just being connected to nature had a calming effect.”

4. Stay social.

We’re not talking about Twitter and Instagram. It's important to spend real face time with family and friends.

The number of relationships you have and how good they are affects mental and physical health, a study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior suggests.

Soldinger planned regular outings with her parents, whether it was a late lunch at a wheelchair-friendly restaurant, or an outdoor concert.

“My mother was a singer, so music was really important to her,” she says. “One time we went to a restaurant that had a three-piece jazz band. She was snapping her fingers and smiling this big smile.”

5. Get lots of sleep.

We all know that getting plenty of Zzz's is crucial for good health. When you’re battling a medical condition it’s especially key.

“Sleep is a way for the body to heal itself,” Ali says. If getting 7 to 9 hours a night is a challenge for you, try napping. Research suggests it can help relieve stress and bolster the immune system, your body's defense against germs. A 30-minute nap can offset the hormonal impact of a night of poor sleep, according to a study in a 2015 issue of The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

6. Stay calm.

Stress affects everything, from heart disease, diabetes, and cancer to quality of life, Ali says. In a 2015 study published in Health Psychology, researchers at Penn State University measured adults’ reactions to stress and how it affected their bodies. They found that people who didn’t stay calm when faced with even the minor stresses of everyday life had higher levels of inflammation in their bodies.

“Think of a mind-body technique that works for you -- yoga, tai chi, mindful breathing, guided meditation -- and do it every day for at least 20 minutes,” Ali says.