Living a healthy lifestyle may mean something different from one person to the next. For some, health is defined by living a disease-free life. For others, healthy is being able to play with grandchildren or perhaps adhering to a weekly exercise schedule. Though the definition of healthy may differ between people, living a healthy lifestyle is a fundamental component to achieving your optimal mental and physical well-being.
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According to the authors of a March 2003 study published in "Age and Ageing," people who engage in unhealthy habits -- such as smoking, a poor quality diet, and physical inactivity -- are at increased risk for premature health decline and death. Though many factors contribute to your overall health, diet and physical activity are leading determinants of your level of health and quality of life. A nutritious diet of whole grains, lean meats, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats is necessary for weight management. A balanced diet also helps maintain energy levels throughout the day. Regular physical activity, which includes a variety of aerobic and strength-building exercises, prevents weight gain that can lead to a plethora of chronic conditions. Additionally, lifestyle habits -- such as not smoking and limiting alcohol intake -- contribute to a healthy life. Allowing your body to rest each day by getting a proper amount of sleep is also important to achieving a healthy lifestyle.
An inactive lifestyle is a prominent cause for chronic diseases. Fortunately, many of these conditions are manageable and can be prevented by engaging in physical activity most days of the week and by being mindful of your food and lifestyle choices. Your diet also impacts your risk of developing diabetes. In a hallmark 16-year study published in March 2001 by "The New England Journal of Medicine," participants who maintained a body mass index of 25 or less were found to have a significantly lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes compared to people with higher BMIs. Diets high in saturated fat, sugar and processed foods will quickly lead to added pounds. Being overweight increases your risk for high blood pressure, arthritis and certain forms of cancer.
Focusing on a healthy lifestyle not only improves your quality of life, but it may add years as well. Authors of a June 2002 article published by the "American Journal of Public Health" concluded that smoking cessation before age 35 adds 6 to 8 years of life, while quitting at age 65 still adds 1 to 4 years of life expectancy. Being mindful of your diet, physical activity and stress levels allows you to effectively balance all aspects of your life and might increase your life span. Maintaining regular physical examinations aids with early detection and treatment of medical conditions. In addition, your doctor can recommend lifestyle habits that contribute to a longer and healthier life.
Learning how to effectively deal with stress plays a significant role in maintaining your health. In a September 2012 article published by "Computational and Mathematical Methods in Medicine," the authors concluded that leading a healthy lifestyle by engaging in regular physical activity and eating a balanced diet promotes low levels of stress, especially in women. Finding ways to release anxiety and handle daily pressures can keep stress levels low. Some people find participating in yoga or breathing techniques each morning helps them mentally prepare for the day ahead. Spending a few minutes in thoughtful reflection before going to bed may help improve your quality of sleep. And regular exercise increases your brain's ability to memorize and learn.
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The impact of good health
You know that healthy habits, such as eating well, exercising, and avoiding harmful substances, make sense, but did you ever stop to think about why you practice them? A healthy habit is any behavior that benefits your physical, mental, and emotional health. These habits improve your overall well-being and make you feel good.
Healthy habits are hard to develop and often require changing your mindset. But if you’re willing to make sacrifices to better your health, the impact can be far-reaching, regardless of your age, sex, or physical ability. Here are five benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
Eating right and exercising regularly can help you avoid excess weight gain and maintain a healthy weight. According to the Mayo Clinic, being physically active is essential to reaching your weight-loss goals. Even if you’re not trying to lose weight, regular exercise can improve cardiovascular health, boost your immune system, and increase your energy level.
Plan for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week. If you can’t devote this amount of time to exercise, look for simple ways to increase activity throughout the day. For example, try walking instead of driving, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or pace while you’re talking on the phone.
Eating a balanced, calorie-managed diet can also help control weight. When you start the day with a healthy breakfast, you avoid becoming overly hungry later, which could send you running to get fast food before lunch.
Additionally, skipping breakfast can raise your blood sugar, which increases fat storage. Incorporate at least five servings of fruits and vegetables into your diet per day. These foods, which are low in calories and high in nutrients, help with weight control. Limit consumption of sugary beverages, such as sodas and fruit juices, and choose lean meats like fish and turkey.
Doing right by your body pays off for your mind as well. The Mayo Clinic notes that physical activity stimulates the production of endorphins. Endorphins are brain chemicals that leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Eating a healthy diet as well as exercising can lead to a better physique. You’ll feel better about your appearance, which can boost your confidence and self-esteem. Short-term benefits of exercise include decreased stress and improved cognitive function.
It’s not just diet and exercise that lead to improved mood. Another healthy habit that leads to better mental health is making social connections. Whether it’s volunteering, joining a club, or attending a movie, communal activities help improve mood and mental functioning by keeping the mind active and serotonin levels balanced. Don’t isolate yourself. Spend time with family or friends on a regular basis, if not every day. If there’s physical distance between you and loved ones, use technology to stay connected. Pick up the phone or start a video chat.
Healthy habits help prevent certain health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. If you take care of yourself, you can keep your cholesterol and blood pressure within a safe range. This keeps your blood flowing smoothly, decreasing your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Regular physical activity and proper diet can also prevent or help you manage a wide range of health problems, including:
Make sure you schedule a physical exam every year. Your doctor will check your weight, heartbeat, and blood pressure, as well as take a urine and blood sample. This appointment can reveal a lot about your health. It’s important to follow up with your doctor and listen to any recommendations to improve your health.
We’ve all experienced a lethargic feeling after eating too much unhealthy food. When you eat a balanced diet your body receives the fuel it needs to manage your energy level. A healthy diet includes:
- whole grains
- lean meats
- low-fat dairy products
Regular physical exercise also improves muscle strength and boosts endurance, giving you more energy, says the Mayo Clinic. Exercise helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and gets your cardiovascular system working more efficiently so that you have more energy to go about your daily activities. It also helps boost energy by promoting better sleep. This helps you fall asleep faster and get deeper sleep.
Insufficient sleep can trigger a variety of problems. Aside from feeling tired and sluggish, you may also feel irritable and moody if you don’t get enough sleep. What’s more, poor sleep quality may be responsible for high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease, and it can also lower your life expectancy. To improve sleep quality, stick to a schedule where you wake up and go to bed at the same time every night. Reduce your caffeine intake, limit napping, and create a comfortable sleep environment. Turn off lights and the television, and maintain a cool room temperature.
When you practice healthy habits, you boost your chances of a longer life. The American Council on Exercise reported on an eight-year study of 13,000 people. The study showed that those who walked just 30 minutes each day significantly reduced their chances of dying prematurely, compared with those who exercised infrequently. Looking forward to more time with loved ones is reason enough to keep walking. Start with short five-minute walks and gradually increase the time until you’re up to 30 minutes.
Bad habits are hard to break, but once you adopt a healthier lifestyle, you won’t regret this decision. Healthy habits reduce the risk of certain diseases, improve your physical appearance and mental health, and give your energy level a much needed boost. You won’t change your mindset and behavior overnight, so be patient and take it one day at a time.