The term healthy lifestyle gets bandied around quite a bit nowadays, but what does it really mean? Different sources have different meanings for the term, but generally it can be boiled down to “How we should live if we want to get the healthiest body we can – one that looks and feels good.”
But if you survey people on the street and ask them what living a healthy lifestyle means to them, most will answer eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise. And while those are two components of how to live a healthier lifestyle, it can (and should) be much more than that – which is what this guide is all about!
Eating a Healthy Diet
Fact: 1 in 3 Americans are overweight; 40% of them are classified as obese. In general, people in developed countries are eating too much unhealthy food. Their pear and apple body shapes visibly show they are not eating a healthy diet. But just what is a “healthy” diet?
It is one that starts with adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to their diet each day. By doing so, they are also adding fiber to their diet which has been shown to slow down the digestion process and keeps one feeling fuller longer. This in turn reduces the urge to snack between meals on unhealthy foods and reduces the number of calories consumed per day. Also, many of the vegetables are very low in calories. Some require more calories to digest them than what they contained in the first place.
Other aspects of a healthy diet include reducing the amount of salt and added sugar found in most processed foods. If it comes in a package or you buy it already prepared, it most likely is not good for you. Instead, focus on adding more lean meat, fish and whole grain to your diet.
Getting Enough Exercise
Most people view exercise as a way to burn calories and lose weight. While exercising does burn calories, if losing weight is the goal, 80% of the weight loss will be from the type and quantity of food consumed and 20% will be from exercising.
Exercise has more to do with building a strong body inside and out than it does with burning calories. When you do cardio training, you are increasing your heart rate and breathing rate. This in turn means you are drawing in more oxygen into your lungs.
That oxygen enters your blood stream and because your heart is working faster, it is delivering more oxygen-rich blood to the cells so they can provide more energy to power your body systems and muscles. An increased breathing and heart rate improves the lungs and heart. After all the heart is just a muscle; work it like other muscles, and it will get stronger (along with the rest of your cardiovascular system.)
The American Heart Association recommends getting 150 minutes of vigorous activity each week. This should be a combination of both cardio and strength training.
Getting Enough Quality Sleep
During the night when you are sleeping, your body is working to repair itself along with accomplishing several other “housekeeping” activities. So, it stands to reason that if you are not getting enough sleep, your body can’t perform all of its activities that it normally would do over the course of 7 to 8 hours of sleep.
There can be several reasons why you are not getting enough sleep. It could be that you are overly stressed thinking about all the work you must do tomorrow.
Or it could be environmental reasons, like your bedroom is too warm, too much light is shining in, your mattress is uncomfortable, there is too much noise outside, etc. Each of these can be corrected to give you more and a better night’s sleep.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight (for You)
As stated earlier, 1 in 3 Americans are overweight. And while they may know they are carrying more weight than they should, do they know how much should they weigh? It is a fairly simple process to determine ideal weight and figuring out how many calories one burns during the course of a day if part of the process.
The first part involves figuring your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and Active Metabolic Rate (AMR). With a little searching on the Internet, it is easy to find a calculator where you plug in your height, weight, age and gender, and the number of minutes you exercise each day, along with your level of exercise, and it will give you the number of calories you should be consuming each day to maintain your current weight. For example, a 30-year-old male weighing 150 pounds that is 5’7” tall and exercises at a moderate level of activity for 30 minutes per day, needs 1,773.4 calories per day to stay at his current weight.
But to lose weight, he must reduce his recommended calorie intake by at least 500 calories per day. That can be done either through diet or exercise, however, the best combination is to reduce the diet by 250 calories and burn 250 more calories per day through exercising. Over the course of a week, he will lose one pound.
The newest disease of today is not caused by a bacteria or virus; it is caused by too much sitting! Coined the “sitting disease”, it is a degradation of health usually caused by sitting for hours on end. It could be from watching too much T.V, or sitting behind a desk or steering wheel of a vehicle. Symptoms can range from obesity, to an increase in blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess belly fat (the worse kind because it goes deep into your organs), and high cholesterol levels.
The “cure” is not with medication, but getting moving more. For each hour of sitting, get up and move at least 5 minutes. Some of the tactics used are instead of sending a colleague that is in the same building an email, print it out and walk it over to their desk. Get up to get a drink of water each hour; most of us don’t drink enough water anyway.
One great way to move more is to walk at lunch time and then eat your healthy brown bag lunch you brought from home before going back to work.
Curbing Unhealthy Habits
Eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, minimizing sitting and maintaining your weight are all well and good, but then many people sabotage their efforts by clinging to their unhealthy habits. Two of the worst are smoking and drinking alcohol to excess.
Not only does smoking damage your lungs, but it can affect your eyesight, bones, immune system and your heart. And of course, it has been linked to lung cancer for a number of years… yet people continue to do it in spite of the known risks. The bottom line is if you are really serious about living a healthier lifestyle, you must quit smoking. There are a number of resources to help you quit. Find one that works for you – period.
Drinking to excess
Not only do many of the drinks contain large amounts of calories, but when done in excess, drinking can lead to eating unhealthy food which in turn raises your daily caloric intake. If those calories are not offset with exercise, it can lead to weight gain. And too much alcohol in general is not good for you.
Studies shown it can damage the brain, heart, liver, weaken your immune system and of course when combined with driving lead to car crashes resulting in death. Men should limit themselves to no more than two drinks per day; women only one drink per day.
Stress is a normal part of life; as a matter of fact, we need some stress to survive. But when it becomes excessive over a long period of time – chronic stress – it begins to cause health problems.
If you frequently get unexplained headaches, or an upset stomach, have high blood pressure, occasional chest pain, problems sleeping, or are gaining weight but you are not really doing anything differently, you may be experiencing the effects of chronic stress.
The main reason behind these health-related symptoms is a hormone called cortisol that is released when we are stressed. Evolutionary-wise, it was meant to get our ancient ancestors out of an occasional “fight-or-flight” situation. However today it is commonplace to always have our system overloaded with it and to suffer its effects.
Notice how stress can cause trouble sleeping. Reduce the stress and maybe you’ll sleep better. This gives your body time to repair itself.
Eat healthier and get more exercise and you’ll start to lose weight. If you include some weight training as part of your exercise program, you will tone and build muscle. Because muscle burns more calories than fat, the number of calories you burn per day will go up.
Avoid sitting too long and kicking your unhealthy habits to the curb will increase the status of your health too. Are you starting to see a pattern of how all these little things all lead to living a healthier lifestyle? And these are just the physical benefits you can gain!
You will also feel better emotionally and mentally, which reduces the risk of depression, anxiety and in some extreme cases, suicide. All of a sudden, you are happier, and life seems like it is worth living again. And who knows where that will lead!
Implement these 5 lifestyle choices into your life and see just what a difference it can make. You’ll never go back once you do!