It was my birthday yesterday, and it caused me to reflect on what I've learned about life as I've gotten older. In addition, I asked my community on my professional Facebook page what they appreciate most about aging. I got a wonderfully long list of wise and inspiring responses (to read them and be inspired, go to www.facebook.com/drsusanbiali ).

Here are my top tips for you, if you long to create a happier, healthier life:

1) Manage your stress and you'll fix almost everything

Stress is the cause of a staggering number of health problems and worsens any medical condition. Stress causes us to age faster, throws our hormones out of whack, and makes us feel anxious, fearful and irritable. I recently attended at course at Harvard's Benson-Henry Institute of Mind Body Medicine, and was staggered by the protean effects of stress and just how pervasive it is in our lives and our society. I discovered that I was way more stressed than I realized, and was living with a steady undercurrent of it. Learn to recognize the signs of stress in your own body and mind, and counteract them actively (breathing breaks, exercise, play, prayer, etc.).

2) Sleep is ground zero

If you don't get enough sleep, everything else will suffer. Sleep deprivation (which most of us suffer from) puts you in a pre-diabetic state, messes with your metabolism, makes you dramatically more likely to be overweight, increases your appetite, decreases your productivity, hampers your immune system, and makes you tired, moody, anxious and likely to be depressed. If you're struggling with any of the things on this list and you're not getting enough sleep (less than 8 hours a night), aim for improved sleep first before trying any other life strategies.

3) If you respect your own boundaries, people will respect you

I wrote recently about the fact that people-pleasers are most likely to be targeted by bullies. Historically I have been a terrible people-pleaser and spent way too much time and effort trying to make everyone happy. Practice building self-awareness, discover what you are willing to do and what you don't want to do. Start putting this into practice by saying no when something doesn't resonate or align with who you really are. People might get mad at first, but eventually most will come to respect you. And you won't secretly (or not so secretly) resent them anymore. Oh the peace.

4) Don't try to be someone else, just to please

This expands on the people-pleasing piece. So many of us (myself included) grew up focusing on what other people or society thought we should do. So many people are in careers or situations that depress them or make them feel hopeless. Yes, sometimes you need to dig deep, or have to work in a toxic environment in order to put food on the table, but sometimes it's wise to acknowledge the tool a situation is taking and take steps to change it.

5) Be childlike

Who said you had to grow up and be so serious? Cultivate the very best of the child within you. Practice childlike awe for majestic things, childlike silliness (silly cat videos on YouTube, for example), childlike faith, childlike hope, childlike play and creativity. When it comes to certain things, children do them way better than we do. Recapture it - it's still inside you.

6) Don't wait

Don't put off something that you know you need to do, don't wait until things are perfect. Figure out how you can start now, start small. Just start. You'll be so glad you did.

7) Have faith

My Christian faith is the core of my personal and professional life. I believe (and have experienced) that there is something greater helping me out in life, and continually working on me to change me for the better (there is a lot to fix, believe me, it is literally endless). There are endless studies that show the benefits of faith, prayer, church-going etc. on physical health and mental health. Everything just goes better (even when everything is going wrong, which it still often does).

8) When your body says stop, listen to it

Learning to listen to your body is a key skill in life. Drink water when you're thirsty. Eat good food when you're hungry and stop when your body says it's full. Sleep when your body wants to. Stop pushing when you feel tired. Take a vacation when every cell in your body and mind is screaming for it. Take a break when your shoulders creep up around your ears or your neck starts aching. Take really good care of your body, and listen to it. In turn, it will take really good care of you.

Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. is a medical doctor, health and wellness expert, life and health coach, professional speaker, flamenco dancer  and author. She dedicates her life to to helping people get healthy, decrease stress and enjoy more meaningful lives. Dr. Biali is available for keynote presentations, workshops/retreats, media commentary, and private life and health coaching—contact susan@susanbiali.com or visit www.susanbiali.com for more details.

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Copyright Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. 2013

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