Think of all the things we go through for a good hair day. Color brightening shampoos and deep conditioners, blow dryers and curling irons, frizz busters and chemical straightening…the list goes on. But for all the brushing, washing, treating and styling, many don’t realize that the key to beautifully healthy hair is a beautifully healthy lifestyle.

The choices you make can affect your hair’s strength, shine and fullness. Alopecia, or thinning hair, doesn’t just affect men. We women, too, are sometimes faced with waning strands. There are many things that contribute to hair loss, and many of them may be out of our control, including hormones, medications, environment and genetics. But what you eat, how much you sleep and other daily decisions are important for keeping top-notch tresses.

Sleep: It really does matter how much sleep you get. Your hair is finely tuned to changes in your body and it knows when you’ve been skimping on your z’s! Ideally, strive for six and a half to eight hours a night. While you’re sleeping, your hair has time to repair itself from the damage done by wind, sun and your trusty straightening iron.

Exercise: We all know that exercising regularly is good for us and makes us feel better inside and out, right? But did you know that while you’re helping your body by exercising, your helping your hair, too? Exercise increases circulation, including to your hair follicles. Better blood flow means more oxygen and nutrients reach your scalp and hair follicles.

Smoking: In addition to all the damage it does to your organs, smoking harms your hair. Nicotine constricts blood vessels, which in turn can imperil the health of your hair follicles. Spend a lot of time around smokers? Secondhand smoke is bad news, too. (Plus you’ll have to wash more to get that smell out.)

Diet: We know that fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and less sugar keep our insides strong. (Who doesn’t want cardio-protection, strong bones, decreased cancer risk and improved moods?) What women often don’t recognize is that many of these same foods are known to help keep your hair strong.

  • Iron: A common cause of thinning hair in women is anemia and having adequate dietary iron can help to offset this. Eggs and lots of dark, leafy greens are rich in iron. Egg white omelette with spinach, anyone?
  • Protein: Keep your hair shaft strong with protein, be it lean cuts of meat, fish or soy protein.
  • Vitamin C: All of the beta-carotene nutrients help split ends. Foods such as sweet potatoes, red peppers, pumpkin and squash are rich in these anti-oxidants.

There are many other nutrients that are also important for maintaining your hair’s strength, thickness and sheen. These include, but are not limited to, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and copper, and folate. Work each of these into your meals and snacks with foods such as salmon, nuts and dairy products (respectively).All these positive choices will help you lead a healthier, fuller life—with a healthy, full head of hair to match.

QUIZ: Is Your Hair Aging Faster Than You Are?