With a busy lifestyle, pollution, stress and the zest to do better every day, it takes more than an apple a day to keep the doctor away.
At the same time, genetics, behavior, environment, culture, and socioeconomic status may contribute to your health and well-being or hamper your journey to a healthier life.
As awareness of health issues and their consequences increases, most people are ready to make efforts and take extra steps to reduce their risk of diseases like diabetes, cancer, strokes and heart disease.
The road to staying fit and healthy is not easy, but not an impossible one. Little changes here and there in your daily routine and a commitment to follow the changes without fail can help you reach your goal. Remember, achieving a healthy life is a continuous journey.
Here are the top 10 golden rules to staying fit and healthy.
1. Eat Healthy
If there is one principal health and fitness guideline, it is definitely related to your diet. It is important to eat healthy and in moderation.
The food you eat works as the fuel for your body to function properly. What you eat and the amount you consume can directly affect your health and fitness goals. When you eat unhealthy foods, your body will be more susceptible to diseases.
- Eat two to three proper meals a day with a few snacks in between. Bear in mind that a heavy meal should keep you full for about 5 hours while a healthy snack should keep you full for about 3 hours.
- Never skip breakfast. Start your day with a healthy breakfast consisting of fruits, cereals, whole-grain bread, eggs, along with a healthy drink.
- Keep your dinner as simple and light as possible. Make sure you sleep at 2 to 3 hours after eating your dinner.
- If your health allows, try intermittent fasting to help maintain a healthy weight, improve your overall health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
- Choose your foods wisely to ensure a healthy balance of protein, vitamins, carbohydrates and healthy fats.
- Opt for colorful fruits and vegetables that pack a nutritious punch.
- Replace all ‘white’ foods with their whole-wheat counterparts. White flour offers almost no nutritional value and simply adds to empty calories.
- Protein is a major building block for the body’s muscles, and it is especially important to eat protein-rich food after a workout. Get your protein from a variety of plant and animal sources, such as beans, lentils, Greek yogurt, fermented soy products, and lean meats.
- Avoid diet foods, which often contain preservatives as well as high artificial sugar. Such foods can lead to unhealthy skin, mood swings, weight gain, increased risk of heart attacks, and diabetes.
- Avoid fried food, processed food, fatty meats, full-fat cheeses, butter and margarine.
- Choose cold-pressed olive oil or coconut oil for cooking.
- Steer clear of foods that contain a lot of salt or sugar.
- Whenever possible, opt for organic and natural products.
2. Keep Your Body Hydrated
When it comes to overall health, proper hydration is a must. To maintain proper hydration, drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day.
Water plays a key role in removal of toxins from the body, absorption and digestion of food, regulation of body temperature and maintaining healthy skin.
It also helps the body metabolize stored fat and acts as an appetite suppressant, which is important for weight loss.
A 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research reports that drinking 500 ml (a little more than 2 cups) water 30 minutes before breakfast, lunch and dinner each day for 8 weeks reduced the body mass index (BMI), body weight and body composition of 50 overweight girls.
Similarly, a 2010 study published in the American Chemical Society reported that drinking two 8-ounce glasses of water before meals enables people to shed pounds.
A 2011 study published in Nutrition Review highlighted the importance of water to our health.
- Do not drink water during or immediately after a meal as it may impair digestion.
- Try to drink water about 30 minutes before eating a meal.
- Avoid drinking regular soda, which is high in calories as well as high fructose corn syrup and prepackaged fruit juices.
- Replace your coffee or soda with green tea instead.
- Coconut water or lemon water is another good option to try.
- Fruits and vegetables rich in water content also help keep the body hydrated.
Although the general rule is to drink between 8 and 10 glasses of water per day, you may need to adjust the amount depending on your body size, the amount of daily exercise you get, exposure to the sun and your kidney health.
Always consult your doctor about how much water you should drink on a daily basis.
3. Make Exercise a Part of Life
Regular exercise is the only well-established fountain of a healthy and disease-free life. Regardless of age or fitness level, it is important to make time for exercise.
A 2006 study published in the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry highlights the health benefits from regular exercise, including improved sleep, increased interest in sex, better endurance, less stress, better mood, increased energy and stamina, increased mental alertness, weight loss, reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitness.
A 2010 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine pointed out that higher levels of physical activity help prevent late-life disability due to cognitive or physical impairment, separately or together.
Furthermore, a 2013 study published in Neurobiology of Diseases reports that regular workouts support cognitive health and prevent degeneration.
On the other hand, physical inactivity can lead to numerous age-related conditions, such as osteoarthritis, ostoporosis, risk of falls and hip fractures, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disorders, cancer, diabetes, obesity and decreased functional capacity.
So, start exercising beginning today and make it a regular part of your life. To start:
- Enjoy 30 minutes of brisk walking daily. It is one of the best forms of aerobic exercise.
- If you don’t want to walk, try other moderate-intensity exercises like swimming, stair climbing, tennis, squash or dancing.
- Even household activities, such as intense floor mopping or sweeping, gardening or anything that gets your heart pumping, is considered good exercise.
You can even join a class or work out with a friend who is a fitness freak to keep you motivated.
4. Practice Deep Breathing
Deep breathing, also known as controlled breathing, paced respiration or diaphragmatic breathing, plays an important role in making you healthy. It even helps develop a stronger body and mind connection.
Through controlled breathing, more oxygen enters the body and more carbon dioxide exits. Oxygen helps you enjoy better sleep, manage stress, reduce anxiety, ease digestive problems and improve heart health.
When the body lacks oxygen, you may feel tired and have headaches. Exhalation of carbon dioxide helps fight toxicity in the body and even purifies the body.
Deep breathing for a short duration of even a few minutes had a positive effect on lung function in healthy young volunteers, who participated in a 2011 study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology.
One year later, another study published in the same journal highlighted the influence of deep breathing exercise on spontaneous respiratory rate and heart rate variability.
Practice deep breathing for 10 minutes, 2 or 3 times daily. Controlled deep breathing usually includes three parts: deep inhaling through the nose for a count of 5 where it is essential for the abdomen to expand, holding the deep breath for a count of 5 and then exhaling completely through the mouth for a count of 7.
5. Keep a Close Eye on Your Weight
Make it a habit to get on the scale and keep a check on your weight. Being overweight or obese is something you should avoid at any cost. Even parents should make sure that their children are not gaining excess weight.
By maintaining an ideal body weight, you can help prevent obesity-related diseases, such as arthritis, high blood pressure, poor cognitive health, diabetes, and heart disease.
A 2009 study published in the Ochsner Journal throws light on the connection between obesity and increased risk of hypertension, heart failure, and coronary heart disease.
Another 2006 study published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology also highlights the impact of obesity on cardiovascular health.
Obesity is also linked to cancer. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Obesity reports that obesity causes chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, crosstalk between tumor cells and surrounding adipocytes and the functional defeat of immune function.
All these factors establish the connection between obesity and susceptibility to cancer.
Maintaining a healthy weight is an extremely important part of overall health. Your weight results from the energy you take in (through foods and beverages) and the energy your body uses (through engaging in physical activity).
To lose weight, you need to use more calories than you consume. By making changes in your daily eating pattern and physical activity, you can surely reach your goal.
6. Stop Smoking
Smoking has negative effects on your health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 5,000 chemical components found in cigarette smoke that are harmful to human health.
Some of the harmful components are 1,3-butadiene, arsenic, benzene, cadmium, chromium VI, formaldehyde, polonium-210 and tar.
A 2000 study published in the Journal of National Cancer Institute reports that people who become regular cigar smokers are at a higher risk of developing fatal cancers of the oral cavity/pharynx, lung, larynx and esophagus.
A later study from 2007, published in the International Journal of Angiology, highlights the adverse health effects of cigarette smoke and stresses taking necessary steps to control and eliminate tobacco abuse as a medical necessity.
Apart from cancer, smoking is one of the leading causes of artery disease, heart attacks, chronic lung disease and strokes.
Smoking is also linked to significantly increased risks of infection, kidney disease and intestinal disease due to improper blood flow.
Along with smokers, people exposed to tobacco smoke are also at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease.
Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the United States. Say no to cigarettes and make sure to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke as well. Your body will thank you and soon your effort will reflect on your appearance and health.
7. Drink in Moderation
Alcohol intake works both as a tonic and a poison, depending on how much you are consuming in a day.
While moderate drinking is considered good for the heart and circulatory system, and even reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes and gallstones, heavy drinking can have an adverse effect on your health.
A 2004 study published in Epidemiology reports that people following a stable pattern of light and moderate alcohol intake had the lowest all-cause mortality.
Change in alcohol intake has a direct impact on the mortality level. In this study, researchers analyzed 6,644 men and 8,010 women, ages 25 to 98 years, for five years and found that those who drank about one drink a day on average had the lowest mortality.
A later 2010 study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research also sheds light on the fact that moderate drinking seems to be associated with a decreased risk of death overall.
As long as you drink in moderation, you can enjoy the health benefits of alcohol. But when you cross the limit, drinking takes a toll on your health, especially if you are a woman.
Too much alcohol can disrupt menstrual cycles and increase the risk of infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth and premature delivery.
Heavy drinking is not good for men either, as it can cause inflammation of the liver, scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), high blood pressure and several cancers.
In the U.S., one drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1½ ounces of spirits. Each delivers about 12 to 14 grams of alcohol.
For men, 2 glasses of wine or beer a day or one glass of a drink with spirits is fine. Women should drink half of the amount recommended for men.
8. Keep a Positive Attitude
A healthy and positive attitude toward life is another secret behind a healthy life. Your thoughts and your outlook toward everything in your life have a direct impact on your overall health.
In fact, having the right attitude is even more important for your body, as it works as an essential nutrient for a fit and healthy mind and body.
A positive attitude improves immune cell function, helps you ward off illness, reduces stress levels, lowers depression, supports better psychological and physical well-being, and enhances coping skills during hardships.
On the other hand, a negative approach toward life can have an opposite effect. So, keep thinking positive to enjoy the benefits of positive thinking and optimism on health.
9. Enjoy Regular Breaks and Holidays
Each person, irrespective of age, sex and financial background, needs to relax, unwind and unplug. A break from your daily routine brings relaxation.
This in turn means bringing more balance to your life to stay healthy and enjoy life to the maximum.
A 2011 study published in the journal Cognition reports that even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for a prolonged period.
So, whether you are studying or working in an office, take regular breaks to increase your productivity and improve your physical and mental well-being.
It has also been reported that performance starts to deteriorate after 50 to 60 minutes of continuous work.
Apart from taking regular breaks from work on a daily basis, it is also important to go on a vacation from time to time.
In a 2000 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, some 13,000 middle-aged men at risk for heart disease were studied.
The study found that those who skipped vacations for five consecutive years were found to be 30 percent more likely to suffer heart attacks than those who took at least one week off each year.
Not just men, women also need regular vacation time. Vacation deprivation may be equally hazardous for women.
10. Know Your Family Medical History
It is very important to know your family medical history. A record of health information about yourself and your close relatives sheds light on the type of diseases for which you may have a higher risk.
Keeping a family medical record will help your doctor make the best decisions for your health. Your doctor can opt for DNA screening tests to get estimated lifetime and relative risks for developing certain common chronic diseases.
For instance, if your mother had breast cancer or diabetes, then regular health screenings and proper precautions can prevent you from suffering from these diseases that often run in families.
A 2002 study published in Genetics in Medicine stresses the fact that family history can be used as a tool for preventive medicine. Perhaps by knowing your family history, you can improve your health and save your life.
Genetics can affect your own health and wellness and by knowing your genes, your doctor can set up a screening guideline for you.
A complete medical record includes information from three generations of relatives, including children, siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, grandparents and even cousins.