It's the little things that you do each day that add up to being healthy and fit. While we do what we can to be as health-conscious as we can, it is always a work in progress since there are many elements to a healthy lifestyle. Use these tips as a guide on your journey on the path to good health.
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Well, some of them at least. The other ones you might just be able to cut back on. Habits in the "quit" category would be smoking, drugs, unsafe sex and other unhealthy addictions. There's just no way to do any of these in a "healthy" way. It might take some time, but it's worth it if you want to lead a healthy lifestyle. On the other hand, there are some habits that are not so bad, but can easily become a problem if taken too far. These include alcohol, sugar, caffeine and junk food. These things in moderation or on a "once-in-a-while" basis are doable, as long as the majority of your choices are mindful and healthful.
Get to your doctor for your annual physical just to make sure everything is as it should be. If you have insurance, usually these services are covered, so take full advantage of your benefits. That being said, know your own body so that you are aware when something seems awry. Do breast or testicular self-exams, and get suspicious moles checked out. Get exams regularly even if you are healthy, so that if and when something is abnormal, you know about it and can take action, in conjunction with your doctor.
Sleep affects our physical and mental health tremendously, and many of us do not get enough. Lack of sleep adversely affects metabolism, mood, concentration, memory, motor skills, stress hormones and even the immune system and cardiovascular health. Sleep allows the body to heal, repair and rejuvenate itself in a way it simply cannot when a person is awake.
Even if you just get out for a walk a few times a week, exercise is important for being fit and healthy. Cardiovascular exercise helps to strengthen the heart and lungs, strength training helps to strengthen the muscles and stretching helps to reduce the risk of injury by increasing flexibility. Exercise also improves circulation and body awareness, and regular exercise can help combat depression.
Get as many fresh fruits, vegetables,and whole grains into your diet as possible and make them the main part of your overall diet. Include lean sources of protein such as poultry, fish, tofu and beans. Eat balanced meals and do not overeat. Stop eating before you become completely full and give yourself a chance to digest your food. Snack on whole foods such as fruit, vegetables and nuts. Avoid highly processed foods that contain artificial sweeteners or colors, hidden sugars or excessive fat.
A healthy breakfast starts your day off right. It sets you up so that you have energy and fuel for optimal mental and physical performance. Eating breakfast helps to maintain stable blood sugar levels and a healthy weight because you are less likely to overindulge later in the day.
Our bodies are made mostly of water. Most fluids and foods contain water that will help to keep our bodies hydrated, but fresh, clean, plain water is still the best and healthiest beverage for maintaining a healthy body. It is the most natural cleanser for our organs and digestive system. Being hydrated is crucial for the brain as well as for helping to flush toxins out through the skin (perspiration) and urine.
Stress can cause a myriad of problems, from heart trouble to digestive problems. This should not come as a surprise. What many people do not know is what to do about it, how to manage their stress. Exercise, meditation, doing what you love, appropriate boundaries, spirituality, being in nature, and enjoyable hobbies all help alleviate the harmful effects of stress on the body. Don't overwork. Take breaks (vacations, mini-vacations, days off) and surround yourself with people who support you.
Keeping emotions bottled up inside can cause mental and emotional stress as well as physical symptoms. Unexpressed feelings can lead to depression, sleep problems, eating disorders, and even physical pain. Learn to talk about your feelings, or express them through some sort of art. Even writing thoughts and feelings down is a good way to express things you find hard to say.
In order to maintain a healthy and fit lifestyle, it's important to have some sort of consistency when looking at the big picture result. Make changes one at a time, and don't make too many changes at once or you will risk relapsing into old habits. Making these choices a part of your daily life will help you to reach your health goals. Avoid extremes in any capacity. Exercise moderation when it comes to fitness, food and fun.
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We all know that exercise is important in our daily lives, but we may not know why or what exercise can do for us.
It’s important to remember that we have evolved from nomadic ancestors who spent all their time moving around in search of food and shelter, travelling large distances on a daily basis. Our bodies are designed and have evolved to be regularly active.
In the same way that a sports car is designed to go fast, we are designed to move. If the sports car is taken out once a week for a 3 mile round trip through a town centre then it would probably develop engine problems fairly quickly.
Over time people too develop problems if they sit down all day at a desk or in front of the TV and minimise the amount of exercise they do.
The Benefits of Exercise
There are many benefits of regular exercise and maintaining fitness and these include:
Exercise increases energy levels
Exercise improves both the strength and the efficiency of your cardiovascular system to get the oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. When your cardiovascular system works better everything seems easier and you have more energy for the fun stuff in life.
Exercise improves muscle strength
Staying active keeps muscles strong and joints, tendons and ligaments flexible, allowing you to move more easily and avoid injury. Strong muscles and ligaments reduce your risk of joint and lower back pain by keeping joints in proper alignment. They also improve coordination and balance.
Exercise can help you to maintain a healthy weight
See our page: Dieting and Weight Loss for more information.
The more you exercise, the more calories you burn. In addition, the more muscle you develop, the higher your metabolic rate becomes, so you burn more calories even when you’re not exercising. The result? You may lose weight and look better physically which will boost your self-esteem.
Exercise improves brain function
Exercise increases blood flow and oxygen levels in the brain. It also encourages the release of the brain chemicals (hormones) that are responsible for the production of cells in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory and learning. This, in turn, boosts concentration levels and cognitive ability, and helps reduce the risk of cognitive degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
See our pages: Keeping your Mind Healthy and Memory Skills for more information.
There is overwhelming evidence that people who lead active lifestyles are less likely to suffer from illness and more likely to live longer.
Exercise is good for your heart
Exercise reduces LDL cholesterol (the type that clogs your arteries), increases HDL (the good cholesterol) and reduces blood pressure so it lowers the stress on your heart. Added to this, it also strengthens your heart muscle. Combined with a healthy diet, exercise lowers the risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Regular exercise lowers your risk of developing type 2 diabetes
Regular exercise helps to control blood glucose levels, which helps to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. Additionally exercise helps to prevent obesity, which is a primary factor in the development of type 2 diabetes.
Exercise enhances your immune system
Exercise improves your body’s ability to pump the oxygen and nutrients around your body that are required to fuel the cells that fight bacteria and viruses.
Staying active reduces the likelihood of developing some degenerative bone diseases
Weight bearing exercise such as running, walking or weight training lowers your risk of both osteoarthritis and osteoporosis – the adage of “use it or lose it” really does apply to bones.
Exercise may help to reduce the risk of certain cancers
Being fit may mean that the risks of colon cancer, breast cancer and possibly also lung and endometrial cancers are reduced. Studies by the Seattle Cancer Research Centre have suggested that 35% of all cancer deaths are linked to being overweight and sedentary.
Exercise not only makes you physically fitter but it also improves your mental health and general sense of well-being.
Active people tend to sleep better
Physical activity makes you more tired so you’re more ready to sleep. Good quality sleep helps improve overall wellness and can reduce stress.
See our page The Importance of Sleep for more information.
Exercise improves your mood and gives you an improved sense of well-being
Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins which make you feel better and more relaxed. These in turn improve your mood and lower your stress levels.
Exercise can help prevent and treat mental illnesses like depression
Physical activity can help you meet people, reduce stress levels, cope with frustration, give you a sense of achievement, and provide some important “me time”, all of which help with depression.
Keeping fit can reduce some of the effects of aging
Exercise can be fun!
Getting fit is not just about running on a treadmill for hours in your local gym, it can be a dance class or a new hobby like fencing or mountain biking. It could be a group or team activity like football or a karate class.
Whatever form of exercise you choose, you’ll almost certainly meet new people and may make new friends.
How Much Should you Exercise?
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, current guidelines suggest that to stay healthy, adults between 19 and 64 should try to be active daily and follow these recommendations:
Cardiorespiratory exercise, often abbreviated to 'cardio', is any exercise that increases the heartbeat and breathing rate.
Such exercises include walking, running, swimming, cycling, dancing and team sports such as football, hockey, basketball etc.
You should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
These recommendations can be achieved through 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (five times a week) or 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (three times a week) or a combination of both types.
One continuous session combined with multiple shorter sessions (of at least 10 minutes) is also acceptable.
For those starting out, gradual progression of exercise time, frequency and intensity is recommended. You are more likely to stay on track and avoid injury if you start gently.
Even if you can't reach these minimum targets you can still benefit from some activity.
Resistance exercise is concerned with working the bodies muscle groups and building strength.
It is recommended that adults train each major muscle group two or three days each week using a variety of exercises and equipment.
Very light or light intensity resistance training is best for older persons or previously sedentary adults new to exercise
- Two to four sets of each exercise will help adults improve strength and power.
- For each exercise, 8-12 repetitions improve strength and power, 10-15 repetitions improve strength in middle-age and older persons starting exercise, while 15-20 repetitions improve muscular endurance.
It is recommended that adults should wait at least 48 hours between resistance training sessions.
Moderate vs Vigorous Intensity
There are a number of different ways to classify the intensity of any exercise, some based on heart rate, some on perceived exertion and some on how the exercise affects your metabolic rate.
Moderate-intensity activity should raise your heart rate, make you breathe faster and make you feel warm enough to start to sweat.
Vigorous intensity exercise will make you breathe hard, increase your heart rate significantly and make you hot enough to sweat profusely.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggests that moderate-intensity activity allows you to talk but not to sing, whereas more vigorous activity results in an inability to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.
Examples of moderate intensity exercise include:
- Brisk walking (100 steps/minute)
- Swimming or aqua aerobics
- Gentle cycling (5-9mph)
- Badminton or doubles tennis
Examples of vigorous intensity exercise include:
- Power walking at 5mph or more, or walking uphill briskly
- Cycling faster than 10mph
- Martial arts
- Competitive sports (football, basketball, rugby etc.)
- Skipping/jump rope
Overall though, any activity that gets you moving, gets your heart rate up and gives you enough pleasure to do it regularly and often is good for you in almost every way.
Have fun, be healthy and feel good!
Further Reading from Skills You Need
The SkillsYouNeed Guide to Stress and Stress Management
Understand and Manage Stress in Your Life
Learn more about the nature of stress and how you can effectively cope with stress at work, at home and in life generally. The Skills You Need Guide to Stress and Stress Management eBook covers all you need to know to help you through those stressful times and become more resilient.