What Does A Healthy Lifestyle Look Like?
There is so much talk about healthy lifestyle, lifestyle modification, and lifestyle medicine these days that I wonder if we all agree on the meaning behind such terms. What connotes a healthy lifestyle for one person may not “raise the bar” high enough for another. Some healthy habits taken to the extreme can become unhealthy. Are you confused yet? Let’s break down some of the key components of a healthy lifestyle and look at how they can be applied.
First, we need to think of our food as fuel. The word diet actually comes from the Greek word, dieita, meaning way of life. You diet is about much more than just the food you eat. It is about timing, digestion, metabolism, absorption, and portion control. What and how much you eat can have a strong effect on your energy level, your emotions, and your life expectancy.
Of course the recipe for nutritional success is found in the proper balance of the key ingredients: protein, carbohydrate, fat, and fiber. Creating “balance” with your eating is the key to living and creating optimum wellness. Achieving balance with the right types and amounts of carbohydrates, proteins and fats is our goal. Too much or too little of the wrong types of carbohydrates, proteins, or fats can cause health problems. By eating a balance of high fiber, low glycemic carbohydrates, you slow your sugar absorption and cushion your insulin, thus encouraging your metabolic best. Additionally, fiber supplies the bulk in your diet, and can aid in lowering cholesterol levels and preventing constipation, hemorrhoids, high blood pressure, colon cancer, and heart disease.
Protein means “to come first.” The main function of protein is to act as the building block for muscle tissue. Protein is also vital for our immune function, proper hormone and enzyme synthesis and function in our bodies. High quality proteins come from many sources including animal (lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, yogurt) or through vegetable sources (tofu, soy protein powders, and tempeh). It is important to know that other vegetarian-based proteins such as legumes and beans are decent protein sources – but also contain significant levels of carbohydrates which could offset the balance of carbohydrate and proteins. I believe that all proteins are not created equal in terms of health. Leaner proteins such as fish, skinless poultry, and lean game meats like buffalo, as well as soy tofu, are less dramatic on the body than heavy steaks and pork. Be careful not to overdo your protein consumption. The average American consumes too much of the higher drama proteins which can lead to digestive complications, increase disease risk, and increase your risk for many types of cancer. Excess proteins can also burden our organ systems and increase aging and degeneration – including osteoporosis.
Choose complex carbohydrates for their slow-burning and sustaining energy quality. Complex carbohydrates come in many delicious forms – vegetables, legumes, fruits and whole grains. These provide our bodies with fuel in the form of blood sugar for energy-burning brain and muscle activity. These carbohydrates should make up 40 to 50% of each of our meals. You need these “healthy” carbohydrates for energy and to support the healthy release of a brain chemical called serotonin, which supports a healthy mood and sleep patterns. The other reason we want complex carbohydrates is that they breakdown slower in the body, which in turn causes a slower release of another chemical called insulin. Insulin is a hormone your pancreas produces in response to our ingesting carbohydrates. When you eat sugar and simple carbohydrates insulin is released causing your body to “shut down” your fat-burning systems, depressing the release of your muscle-building hormones, as well as depressing your immune system and raising cholesterol.
Fat is involved in nearly every bodily process – energy and metabolism, hormone production, inflammation and anti-inflammatory responses, and proper heart function. To simplify, we need to consume three basic types of fat in the proper balance to maintain optimum wellness: omega 6, saturated, and omega 3. These fats are critical to our health, and this is precisely why the American Heart Association recommends that we consume up to 30% of our total calories from fat. Of course there are many other types of fat, but if you remember the basic three, you should do great. When looking for omega 6 fatty acids, consider vegetable sources like safflower, canola, and olive oils. Omega 3 fats come from fish, flaxseeds, almonds, and walnuts. Omega 3′s are especially beneficial in supporting our cardiovascular system, preventing blood clotting, repairing arterial damage, and lowering triglycerides and blood pressure. A study of middle-aged men that was done over 35 years, showed that those men who ate the most fish (at least an ounce per day on average) were 38% less likely to die from heart disease and 44% less likely to die from a heart attack. The fats too avoid are the hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils. These fats are devastating to our heart. They raise our bad (LDL/triglycerides) cholesterol and lower our good (HDL) cholesterol. These fats are found in practically all processed foods — from baked goods, biscuits, muffins, cakes, pies, and doughnuts to the phenomenon called margarine. A small amount of trans-fat is worse than larger amounts of saturated fats. For example, a small increase in dietary saturated fat may result in a 17% increase in coronary or artery disease. A small increase in the consumption of trans-fats may result in a 93% increase! Try to avoid fried foods as well. The fat from fried food are free radical nightmares that cause major cellular damage, especially to the circulatory walls where fat deposits will build – which is precisely why heavy “fried” diets lead to greater heart disease.
Some final words (and numbers) on diet. Complex carbohydrates should make up 40 to 55% of your diet. Protein should make up 25 to 30%. Fat should comprise 20 to 30% of your diet. Aim for 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily. Most of us tend to get about half this amount. Calorie needs vary greatly between individuals and depend largely on your exercise habits. Talk to your doctor about your specific caloric needs. Try to eat small meals throughout the day (every two to three hours) instead of 2 or 3 large meals. Avoid eating sweets after about 3pm and try to stop eating by 7pm (or at least a few hours before bedtime).
No question about it, regular exercise promotes happiness, improved self-esteem and optimism. When we exercise our bodies naturally produce chemicals that counter negative feelings and emotions such as, depression and anxiety. New guidelines from the United States Surgeon’s General report recommends that we all get 30 to 90 minutes of exercise every day. Take that to mean that we all need that baseline of at least thirty minutes daily. Thirty minutes of movement everyday is not going to burn us out. On the other hand if you did 90 minutes of heavy weight lifting everyday, that may eventually backfire on you leading to possible injury, muscle strain or sprain, and stress on your overall immune system. The key is balance. Thirty minutes of cardiovascular exercise (brisk walking, cycling, in-line skating, running, swimming, etc.) four days a week and three days of 30 minutes of weight training is a great place to start. It is okay to take a day off every week. Likewise, it is okay, and even recommended to double up on both weights and cardio on the same day. If you are pressed for time, try doing one in the morning and the other in the evening. Research even supports breaking your exercise routine into 10 minute segments throughout the day. If 10 minutes is all that you have then make the most of it while you have it and try to fit in three 10-minute sessions and you’ll do great.
First, the definition: one alcoholic drink equals 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor (either straight or in a mixed drink).
A little may be good for our health and a lot – well, not so good. I’m not a huge fan of the word moderation because I believe many people use that word as an excuse to indulge in poor habits. Still, most studies show that drinking alcohol “in moderation” may actually be good for our health. For most people this means one alcoholic drink per day. For larger individuals it could mean two. Regardless, for those with a history of alcohol addiction, the number of drinks allowed per day is none. Alcoholism is a very serious disease and anyone with a family history or personal history with alcoholism should seek medical and social support.
That having said, the current research indicates that individuals who consume “moderate amounts” of alcohol have fewer heart attacks and strokes, are generally less likely to suffer hypertension or high blood pressure, peripheral artery disease, Alzheimer’s disease and the common cold. Studies have suggested that moderate alcohol consumption can increase insulin sensitivity, which can reduce the risk of diabetes, protect against some types of cancer, and prevent bone loss. Moderate drinking may also help prevent kidney stones, digestive ailments, stress and depression, poor cognition and memory, Parkinson’s disease, hepatitis A and angina pectoris. The general recommendation is one drink per day for women and one to two for men. Please talk to your primary care physician to determine what is good for you.
Don’t start. Quit now. Smoking is NEVER a good idea. There are no positive benefits to smoking. I cringe when I drive by a group of high school students standing around smoking. I think to myself, why? What made them start and do they have any idea how hard it is to stop? It is just so sad. If you are a smoker, seek help in quitting. You deserve a healthier life.
Many people claim not to have faith because they are not religious. Spirituality is an instinct we are all born with and express in many ways. I don’t believe it’s possible to lose faith, but it is possible to stifle it. Taking care of yourself is the first step toward reviving and expressing your faith in life.
Know that you have the nutritional, physical, and spiritual resources to deal with whatever comes your way. Begin the day with walking or doing yoga and follow that with eating a balanced breakfast in the morning. This should be non-negotiable. When you begin a day this way, you will begin to make inspired healthy choices. When you move and eat well, you think well. When you think well, you move out of negative thinking and into optimistic consciousness. All of a sudden, life is possible again. When you connect to a sense of life that is bigger than you or anything you can imagine, you can put your trust in that vast greatness and know that you can accomplish your dreams..
Eventually chronic stress can adversely affect your heart, your nervous system, and your immune system. It can lead to high blood pressure, depression, heart disease, asthma, memory loss, and weight gain.
Meditation brings the focus to the here and now, and encourages truth, accuracy and acceptance. Present-moment awareness is one of the best ways to retrain thought processes. A focus on the breath, or on one thought or image can interrupt negative patterns by making you aware of them. It imparts a sense of control to that moment. One of the greatest stressors is the scary feeling that you are out of control, or that a situation is out of your control. Taking time to control your breath and discipline your mind reinforces that, in fact, you are managing a situation, you do have options, and you will find a solution.
Check your busy schedule and see where you have room to create time to nurture yourself with a walk, a relaxed meal, a warm bath, a quiet meditation, a yoga class, a cooking class, a nap or a good book. Slowing down, checking in with yourself is going to help manage stress and reprioritize your life.
As you become able to manage stress, you will thrive. Optimists live longer and have greater cardiovascular health, reduced risk of cancer and other diseases, lower rates of depression, anxiety, and obesity, and stronger immune systems. You have the power to change your mindset. Being consciously aware of your reaction to challenges can stop the pessimistic reaction before it starts.