It seems like every time you turn on the television, open your internet browser or peruse a magazine, you’re being told to eat less, drink less, weigh less, spend less…well, we’re here to tell you that less isn’t always more when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. Healthy lifestyle’s aren’t about fad diets and exercise crazes; they’re about finding a balance that you can maintain consistently.
We all want to live healthier, longer lives but we don’t want to sacrifice the pleasures that make life worth living. However, there are small and large changes we can all make to help us achieve healthy lifestyles that will, hopefully, lead to us enjoying longer, happier lives.
Although we can’t control all aspects of our health, we can make choices that decrease our risk of developing ongoing health issues in the future. Healthy eating, moderate exercise and consistent sleep are all factors that we can control that will help us to lead healthier lives.
Look – this is an obvious one and we wanted to get it out of the way early. 15,000 Australians are killed every year by smoking related diseases and, sadly, most of these diseases are preventable if you don’t smoke. In slightly smaller print but no less important – don’t abuse drugs (prescription or illegal). There’s a reason that they are regulated or banned – they aren’t good for you and may severely affect your health and, in some cases, may cause death.
Every person’s metabolism is different; age and lifestyle factors all contribute to a body’s ability to metabolise calories which is why different ‘diets’ work for different people; however, instead of focusing on crash/fad dieting (which can be detrimental in the long term), look at ways to eat a more balanced, healthy diet that you can consistently maintain. Understanding calories and recommended calorie intakes can be a helpful guide to get you started. To determine what your recommended calorie intake is, try this calculator.
Remember the food pyramid from school? Here’s a refresher. Cutting out carbs and fats will not help you to maintain a healthy lifestyle in the long term; instead, develop a manageable, balanced approached to meals that include all the food groups in the right proportion and quantity. Make sure your diet is high in fibre; fibre can be found in fruit, vegetables and many whole grains. Choose snacks wisely – almonds are a handy, delicious, high protein snack proven to lower cholesterol. Make sure you eat enough dairy; although dairy has recently been the chubby scapegoat of many crash diets, dairy is an important source of calcium. Adequate calcium intake is vital to skeletal health and for preventing osteoporosis.
Water that is – your body is comprised of 60% water so it should go without saying that drinking water is one of the most important things you can do maintain a healthy body and lifestyle. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand just how important it is to stay properly hydrated. Digestion, nutrient absorption and circulation are all driven by the fluids in your body; dehydration causes these fundamental processes to slow down and become less efficient.
When you’re dehydrated your body sends messages to your brain and triggers your thirst mechanism. Unfortunately, that thirst mechanism doesn’t specify ‘water’ as its priority desire, so you will just feel thirsty and will often quench that thirst with whatever beverage is at hand – juice, soft drink, coffee or alcohol. However, most of those beverages are actually dehydrating. The sugars in juice, soft drink and alcohol will actually dehydrate you and caffeine (in coffee and most soft drinks) is a diuretic (which means it draws fluid out of your system, making you go to the toilet more often.)
Water, on the other hand, quenches your thirst without any nasty side effects and may help you to curb your calorie intake. Water can act as a natural appetite suppressant; it also helps the body metabolise stored fat. Substituting water for any drink with a calorie content (e.g. coffee, soft drink etc) will reduce your calorie intake.
Exercise not only makes you feel better in the short term, thanks to all those endorphins flowing around your circulatory system but it is also linked to extending life expectancy. Researchers in the United States found that, on average, study participants who undertook consistent leisure time physical activity increased their life expectancy by four and half years, on average. In Australia, the Federal government recently doubled its recommended physical activity guidelines; it is now recommended that adults participate in an accumulated 150 – 300 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 – 150 minutes vigorous intensity physical activity each week. They also recommended being active on most, preferably all days of the week and undertaking strength training activities at least twice a week.
This may seem like a lot of exercise but you can easily fit this into your busy schedule with a few small changes. For example, climb the stairs instead of taking the lift to your office. Take a fifteen minute walk on your lunch break five times a week; that’s 130 minutes a week covered!
Sign up for some group fitness classes – they’re a great way to stay fit and active and there usually fun too! Try Zumba, Body Pump, Boxing, Tai Chi, Yoga or Pilates. Combine two one hour classes a week with your daily lunchtime walks and you’ve smashed your recommended physical activity target! Challenge your competitive side and join an amateur sports team, between training and games/matches you’ll have your have your physical activity requirements covered.
Get a dog- having a pet not only lowers blood pressure and lessens anxiety but canine pets are also a built in exercise inducer. Walking your dog for ten minutes twice a day, seven days a week will bring you up to your recommended physical activity target; not only will you be keeping man’s best friend happy but you’ll be keeping yourself healthy too.
Following the old adage ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ may actually lead you to an early grave. Studies in the US and UK have found that sleeping at least 7 hours per night may lead to increased longevity. Although some of the results are contested from the original study, 30 out of 30 additional research studies validated the original study’s findings.
This makes sense because sleep is your body’s chance to perform routine repairs and necessary maintenance without the added burden of your awakened consciousness getting in the way. Sleep is critical to the way our metabolism functions, our ability to learn and retain information and establish our immunity. According to the Harvard School of Medicine, sleep deprivation has been linked to increased risk of developing chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, mood disorders and compromised immune function. Their data suggests that people getting less than five hours of sleep a night increase their mortality risk (risk of dying) by 15%!
The Final Word
We want to spend a long, healthy and happy life with our loved ones and friends but despite our best intentions and sometimes the healthiest of lifestyles, we can’t control everything. Unfortunately, serious injury and death do occur and it’s best to be prepared if tragedy strikes. While we can’t protect ourselves from everything, we can protect our families in the event of our death or permanent disability through Life Insurance.
Although Life Insurance may seem like an indulgence and added expense (particularly when you’re younger), the earlier you take out life insurance, the less expensive it will be as there will be fewer lifestyle factors to account for in your premium. Life Insurance premiums are calculated based on a variety of indicators, including your age, gender, occupation and lifestyle choices, so making healthy choices (like not smoking) early can’t hurt! There are lots of different Life Insurance products on the market so it’s important to compare them to find the one that fits you the best.
We can all make simple, smart lifestyle choices. Remember – eat better, drink more water and get enough sleep! For more information on lifestyle tips to help you lead a healthy, stronger, longer life, visit Shape Up Australia.