12 Life Lessons Queen Elizabeth Follows for Good Health

Erica Sweeney
·11-min read

From Good Housekeeping

Queen Elizabeth II finally stepped out in October and made her first public appearance since the novel coronavirus pandemic began in March. Both British nationals and Anglophiles alike breathed a sigh of relief at seeing her again (despite the fact that she drew some ire for appearing in public without a mask). The Queen appearing in public brought comfort to most, as she spoke to encourage everyone to keep strong amid the pandemic — but her appearance alone was a reminder that she's been a lifelong symbol of resilience and longevity to admirers worldwide.

At 94, the Queen is the longest-reigning living monarch(!). Even now, Her Majesty continues her duties, seems to be in great health, and remains a cultural icon — and as always, there's so much we can learn from her. A new book, Long Live the Queen, released this week, has British culturalist Bryan Kozlowski exploring how the Queen eats, stays on top of work, spends leisure time, and navigates both familial and professional relationships, managing to do it all while aging gracefully. Kozlowski didn't directly interview the Queen for this guide, but it was curated from extensive research into public records and coverage of her entire life so far (there's even a bibliography which mega fans can turn to!) and his deep knowledge of British culture, which he cultivated in another fun guide to Jane Austen.

Kozlowski tells Good Housekeeping that he felt a sense of urgency in writing the book. “Her rules for life need to be recorded while we are still lucky enough to have her as a living example of what it looks like to stay vibrant under decades of enormous pressures and responsibilities,” he says. “She is truly a time capsule of a rapidly disappearing generation that approached life very differently than we do today — oftentimes with much more pluck and good sense — strategies that deserve to be remembered and, if we can, re-embraced.”

Living more like the Queen doesn’t “require a crown-jewel sort of investment,” Kozlowski emphasizes. Much of her success is rooted in her inner, not outer, choices, he adds: "Mental habits and unique ways of thinking—about food or exercise or work or rest—make her the down-to-earth woman she is today. Which, in turn, makes her lifestyle ‘secrets’ a surprisingly easy (and free!) joy to follow in everyday life.”

With season four of The Crown premiering on Netflix on November 15, it’s a great time to envision living like royalty. Below, a look at 12 life lessons we can learn from the Queen.

Never stop learning and keep your brain active:

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Since 1952, the Queen has maintained a hefty workload that includes dozens of public engagements each year (many around Christmas alone!) and hours of daily tasks. Each day, she receives a large red box full of paperwork — parliamentary reports, intelligence documents and other papers — and, according to Kozlowski, she spends about three hours going through it all. She also never stops learning and embracing new experiences.

Most people stick to an eight-hour workday and retire by their mid-60s. The Queen, however, is never off duty. Keeping your brain active, through work or educational projects, is essential at every stage of life, says Annette Medina-Walpole, M.D., president of the American Geriatrics Society and chief of the Division of Geriatrics & Aging at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “If we don’t use it, you lose it,” she says. “But, one of my patients once told me this, and it’s my favorite quote, ‘If I rest, I rust.’ I think that sums it up nicely.”

Ignore most of the productivity advice out there:

These days, we’re bombarded with productivity advice, and tips for multitasking and balancing work and home. The Queen takes an alternate approach, however. While her role demands she wear many hats (or tiaras and crowns!), she prefers to tackle tasks one at a time with full concentration. Researchers at Stanford University have shown that multitasking doesn’t really work for most people anyway, and completing one task at a time leads to better memory control and attention.

Instead of stressing over work-life balance or productivity, Medina-Walpole emphasizes integrating work, home and leisure activities. “It’s more about finding your happy place,” she says. “You have to find what makes you happy, what brings you joy in life, what makes you have purpose as an older adult. And, those activities are important not to do to the point that you’re exhausted.”

Establish a strong sense of purpose:

The value of meaningful work and a sense of purpose was instilled in Elizabeth II from a young age, especially thanks to her father's leadership. Today, these qualities are part of her identity. “The Crown is Elizabeth II’s life: a twofer package with inseparable symbiosis of duty and identify,” Kozlowski writes. Over the years, she has demonstrated compassion and tenderheartedness by supporting a number of charitable organizations and good causes.

You don’t need a “throne of cash,” as Kozlowski writes, to make a difference, though. Living with a strong sense of purpose and helping others even in small ways is good for your health. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Social Psychology found that the more random acts of kindness you perform, the happier you are. More research links volunteerism to better physical activity, overall health and decreased depression, and people with a higher sense of purpose had greater household income and net worth.

Leave plenty of time to play:

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Elizabeth’s life isn’t all about work and duty. Having fun is just as important, whether it’s spending time in the countryside, hanging out with her corgis or visiting her horse stables. The Queen also finds other ways to amuse herself. Details in Long Live the Queen uncover that one of the Queen's favorite games is “catching out the minister,” where she overly prepares for her weekly meetings with the Prime Minister and tries to surprise him with an aspect of government news that he hadn’t noticed.

Finding time in your busy schedule to play helps you mentally unwind from life’s challenges. Having hobbies (even something as simple as gardening!) and a purpose in life could extend longevity and life expectancy as we age, according to research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Other studies suggest hobbies like reading, visiting concerts or art exhibits, crafts, joining clubs and physical activities may work to reduce the risk of dementia.

Keep some constants in your life:

Routines and rituals are hallmarks of the Queen’s reign. According to Kozlowski, the Queen routinely:

  • Enjoys a wake-up cup of Earl Grey at 7:30 a.m.

  • A pre-breakfast bath in the morning.

  • Poring over multiple newspapers at breakfast, which also tends to be the same menu most mornings.

  • Mornings spent in meetings and sifting through her red boxes.

  • Afternoon visits outside the Palace, back in time for tea and the reading of more parliamentary reports.

  • A possible cocktail reception or public dinner.

  • Then in bed by 11 p.m. with her journal and a book.

Not everyone subscribes to the idea of “the comfort of the expected.” Though keeping some constants in your life, like a tight-knit group of friends and family (which the Queen also has!) or regular habits may be comforting and even good for you. According to Northwestern Health, going completely rogue without any kind of routine leads to extra stress, poor sleep habits, unhealthy eating habits and lackluster time management skills.

Enjoy your treats unapologetically, but in moderation:

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Duty may call for the Queen to eat off of gold plates from time to time, but she’s mostly an unfussy eater, preferring to dine on simple comfort foods. She also makes no qualms about indulging in treats — shortbread, scones, small raspberry jam sandwiches and a slice of chocolate biscuit cake are among her favorites. Alcohol, like gin cocktails and wine, is another indulgence. All of her vices, booze and sweets alike, are embraced in moderation.

Nutrient-dense diets rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats are best for us as we age, reports Harvard Medical School. But, depriving yourself of sweet treats or other less-than-healthy favorites can backfire, creating anxiety and causing you to overeat the foods you’re trying to stay away from.

Move as much as you can, but choose the exercises you enjoy most:

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Though Elizabeth II hasn't followed a strict exercise regime, physical activity has factored into her day-to-day for decades. And, she sticks to the activities she enjoys most: regular walks, though not necessarily brisk ones (which is still beneficial!), and horseback riding. At Buckingham Palace, she takes afternoon strolls around the gardens with her corgis. According to Medina-Walpole, “Keeping active, both physically and mentally, is going to help you in your day-to-day activity.” Exercise has been shown to improve cognitive function and help with conditions such as arthritis. The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week, along with strength exercises twice a week.

Don’t worry too much about being liked:

If you’re a fan of The Crown, you’ve seen the many instances when the Queen put crown and country first, even if it meant angering family. Since she’s always tasked with making tough decisions that aren’t always popular, the Queen has learned to not worry so much about being liked.

Wanting to please others and fit in are natural traits. But some research shows when people constantly worry about being judged by others, they incorrectly believe the judgment is harsher than it really is. Taking deep breaths and thinking positively help! According to Harvard Business Review, creating a personal philosophy, or “a word or phrase that expresses your basic beliefs and values,” enhances self-worth and helps you overcome your fear of other people’s opinions.

Embrace getting older:

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

After nearly 70 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II has embraced herself at every age. Never one to give into vanity, she’s maintained a timeless look and not given a care to emerging wrinkles or minor changes in health. “Aging naturally has ensured that her iconic image has become a record, a living archive of accumulated experience and vast wisdom, not an artificial rewind of lessons hard-won," Kozlowski writes in his book.

Aging well is highly individualized, and Elizabeth II “has grown lighter and more full of life” with each passing year, Kozlowski shares. Shifts in health are a natural, realistic part of aging, but that shouldn’t stop you from maximizing your quality of life at every stage, Medina-Walpole says. Healthy aging is “complete physical, mental and social well-being, but it’s not absent of disease or infirmary,” she says, and confronting a health ailment doesn’t mean you’re aging unsuccessfully.

Take a break, as you've earned it:

Despite being nearly always hard at work, the Queen takes time to rest and recharge, with countryside getaways to Balmoral Castle, spending time in nature or enjoying quiet time alone. She also takes regular daytime breaks. “However quaint it might sound, part of the secret to her unflappable personality is that she takes time for tea,” Kozlowski writes.

With our work and home lives blending more than ever, taking a few minutes for yourself has never been more important. Self-care should be about finding small, meaningful ways to recharge — whether it’s baking, binge-watching a new favorite show, meditating, exercising or anything else that makes you happy. These moments improve your mood, reduce stress, and even make you more productive, per studies.

Don’t let life’s drama get you down:

The Queen has endured a number of royal scandals over the years. But, she conveys a reliable, unflappable persona, outwardly at least. Some see Elizabeth as showing too little emotion, but her level of composure is a learned trait, needed to weather the challenges and responsibilities of a life in the public eye.

Learning ways to cope with stress and the drama that life sometimes brings reduces anxiety and can keep you from getting overwhelmed. “[The Queen] embodies resilience,” Medina-Walpole says. “Resilience is where you can manage and adapt to sources of stress, adversity, and you recover from that.” Optimism, social skills, self-advocacy, self-esteem and motivation could make you more resilient, she explains.

Be kind to everyone:

Stiff upper lip may come to mind when you think of the royal family. But Queen Elizabeth II has continually demonstrated kindness, respect for others, modesty and empathy. Looking for the good in others (as friends do!) and listening more than speaking have likely led to her longevity as a both a monarch and symbol of resilience.

Kindness is contagious, after all. It’s also good for your physical and emotional health. Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that when people are kind to others, their stress hormones drop, and feelings of depression, loneliness and unhappiness tend to improve. Kindness is also linked with better cardiovascular health and a longer life.

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