Healthier Choices - Healthier Lives
Fads, fiction, or fact? Opinions on the best ways to prevent disease are everywhere.
The bottom line is that healthy choices give benefits that can last a lifetime, going as far as slowing or even reversing chronic diseases as serious as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure or cholesterol.
About 80 percent of these chronic diseases, known to be the leading causes of death worldwide, are caused by poor lifestyle choices. The changes needed to ward off chronic disease are a move back to basics.
Diets are key when it comes to good health and simplicity is the answer. Plant-based foods are known to reduce diabetes, heart disease, and cancer risks and should be eaten in their most unrefined forms. The well-known Mediterranean diet is filled with fruit and vegetables, legumes and whole grains, fish, olive oil and nuts, and considered helpful in warding off cardiovascular disease.
Another widely recommended menu, also based on whole foods with the popular features of the Mediterranean diet, but without meat, dairy, and eggs, can even reverse advanced heart disease.
It is considered that the best way for anyone to drastically change dietary habits is to make slow and determined changes to achieve a healthy eating goal, possibly including one new plant-based meal a week and definitely steering away from refined and processed foods.
2. Physical Activity
Physical activity is necessary to activate every system in the body, with experts advising about 150 minutes of moderate activity every week.
Again, lifestyle changes can start slowly, with a ten-minute walk repeated two or three times throughout the day. Walks should increase in speed, incorporating a flight of stairs, or other more intense activity as fitness levels improve, with the goal of spending more time moving and less time sitting down.
As much as bodies need to be active, they also need to rest for good health. The optimum goal for a restful night is seven to nine hours of sleep, but some sleep goals are not that easily achieved.
If sleep is evasive, a consistent bedtime and wakeup call can help. Physical activity throughout the day is a definite boon when it comes to relaxing at night, paired with a cool and dark place to rest. And alcohol, caffeine, and digital devices near bedtime are known enemies of a good night’s sleep.
Chronic stress is another lifestyle issue that can contribute to disease. Meditation, mindfulness, and an attitude of gratitude are known to relieve stress and improve overall health, while self medicating by overeating or using substances to relax can increase the likelihood of disease.
Meditation, for anyone new to the practice, is simple to start by using the box method for only five minutes each session for three times a week, building up to twenty minutes a day.
In a quiet and comfortable location, a beginning practitioner can sit up straight while breathing out slowly, releasing all the air from the lungs. For a count of four, the lungs can be filled with air by breathing through the nose. The breath should be held for a count of four or less at a more comfortable count. The breath can be exhaled for another count of four and then inhaled again for a count of four, with the pattern repeating for the desired length of the meditation.
Mindfulness is simply learning to be more aware of senses, feelings, and experiences, and the practice is known to be a good stress reducer.
Daily mindfulness is best when scheduled for a quiet place. Practitioners observe their body movements during breathing, particularly the way the air moves through the nostrils and the abdomen rises and falls, and with no attempt to change the normal flow. Beginners should start with five minutes of mindfulness a day, working up to twenty minutes.
Being present in the moment is also key to mindfulness, with more focus addressed to any simple activities throughout the day, from washing the dishes to brushing teeth, or waiting for a traffic light to change to green.
Experiencing more gratitude for the gifts of every day is another way to reduce stress. People tend to focus on the negative throughout their weeks, rather than take the time to appreciate the good moments. Studies showed that healthcare workers suffering from burnout felt better after intentionally feeling gratitude by remembering three positive things in their lives or writing gratitude letters.
8. Being Social
Remaining socially connected with friends and loved ones keeps people both physically and emotionally healthy. Even virtual connections can help if physical connections are impossible, so a phone call or an email with a positive message can even make a difference.
Making significant changes toward more healthy habits may seem simple, but there could be roadblocks along the way.
Healthy options may not be as easy to find as the cheaper temptations of fast food and sedentary entertainment and today’s advertising commonly shows attractive people making unhealthy choices.
The frustration of taking weeks and months to form healthy habits while being surrounded by unhealthy messages can try anyone’s patience.
Making healthy habits a permanent part of a life less threatened by chronic disease starts with taking small steps toward success.
Choosing achievable goals, whether they are replacing an extra meal each week with a plant based menu, increasing meditation by another five minutes, or learning the science behind making better choices, will pave the way for real lifestyle changes.