Perhaps you have heard that lifestyle changes can have a big impact on your health, but are wondering exactly what “lifestyle” means.
Many health organizations support lifestyle changes for their positive health benefits. The American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and the American Diabetes Association all suggest that lifestyle factors may be responsible for more than a 60 percent reduction in chronic diseases. [i],[ii],[iii]
A 60 percent reduction in disease is impressive and by changing a few things in your life, you can dramatically reduce your risk of disease.
What is Lifestyle?
What exactly are lifestyle changes? “Lifestyle” is the term used that encompasses the collection of your daily habits: What you eat (or don’t eat), what you drink, if you smoke, how well you sleep, how much exercise you get, how you handle the stress in your life, and other factors. The good news is that you have the power to make changes in certain habits which can positively affect your health.
Lifestyle Factors that Count
The number one most significant lifestyle choice is smoking. If you smoke, use any resource at your disposal to stop.
Beyond smoking, here are the most important lifestyle changes you can make.
- Control Excesses: Drinking alcohol, eating fast food, and spending time in the sun are all examples of activities that can be okay in moderation, but become harmful when they are excessive. Even normally healthy activities like exercise and sleep can become harmful when overdone. Take a look at your day to day life and see where you may be able to make improvements.
- Eat Right: You might be confused by the sometimes contradictory dietary recommendations you hear and read. Eating right doesn’t have to be that complicated: Eat a variety of foods and focus on fresh, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Buy organic produce and dairy when at all possible. Choose dark whole grain breads, cereals and pastas over white flour options. Fill up your lunch and dinner plates with a colorful array of produce—vegetables are generally lower calorie choices than fruit. Try out meatless entrees and experience how tasty, filling and healthy beans and legumes can be! When choosing meat, go for lean options such as skinless chicken breast or lean red meat options. Limit oils, butter and salt. Explore herbs, spices, and healthier condiments such as mustard and salsa.
- Manage Weight: Every pound you add over your ideal body mass index places you at higher risk for future health issues—and obesity is the single-most important determinant of health risk after smoking. The importance of maintaining a healthy weight cannot be overemphasized. Find a program for weight loss that works for you and stick with it. Look for a program that is focused on nutrition, changing habits, and based on solid science rather than fads or gimmicks.
- Exercise More: Your body loves to move and when you don’t your health may suffer. Exercise impacts many aspects of our health including cardiovascular health, mental health, improving blood sugar control, and helping us feel our best. Choose an exercise program that is both fun and something you can commit to. Push yourself from time to time. If you don’t currently exercise much or if you have any physical limitations, we recommend that you discuss your exercise plans with your physician.
- Manage Stress: We all have stress in our lives, but it is how we learn to manage that stress that determines its impact. The first step is to identify your stressors as well as triggers for your feelings of stress. Knowing what is causing stress can help lessen feeling overwhelmed and lead you to find solutions. Exercise is one of the most well-studied ways to reduce stress. Walking, listening to music, deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can all help. Even art or talking with a close friend can help.
- Sleep well: Getting enough sleep can sometimes be difficult because of our fast-paced lives. Poor sleep is closely tied to mood, overall energy, and productivity. Keep a regular sleep schedule as best you can. Try to avoid naps that last longer than 20 minutes. Avoid screens (TV, computer, phone) at least one hour (if not more!) before bed. Caffeine should be avoided after 2pm. Try getting sunlight exposure in the daytime, and exercise.
- Cultivate relationships: Friends, family, and other social connections are important to your health. Volunteer, join community activities, take classes, or find other ways to involve yourself socially.
Lifestyle choices are many and varied. You have the power to significantly impact your health by making more healthy choices day in and day out. So find ways to be more active, take time to relax, eat more vegetables, and surround yourself with positive people – these lifestyle choices will help you live healthier longer.
[i] Chiasson JL. Prevention of Type 2 diabetes: fact or fiction? Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2007 Dec;8(18):3147-58
[ii] American Cancer Society: Risk Factors for Cancer. Accessed 6/9/2016. http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk
[iii] American Heart Association: Diet and Lifestyle Recomendations. Accessed on 10/26/2009. http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=851