Some lifestyle choices can make a big difference when it comes to your mental and physical well-being and the quality of your life. Here are the top 10 tips for good health and longevity.
Staying healthy involves making certain choices. And many of those choices are in your hands. Of course, your age, family history, and genetic makeup can influence your health and make you more prone to certain conditions.
There are also many factors that you can control — many of which play a key role in keeping you healthy and helping you live a long, productive life.
Let’s look at 10 science-backed healthy choices you can make to help you thrive throughout your life.
If you want to feel healthier, more energized, or in a better mood, get moving. Regular exercise can benefit both your physical and mental health in a multitude of ways. And, you don’t need to run a half-marathon or sweat it out at the gym for hours every day to reap the rewards.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, if you’re an adult, just
That breaks down to around 22 minutes a day of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking, dancing, cycling, or even doing yard work or household chores. As long as you’re moving and not sitting still, it counts.
Regular physical activity can
- Improve your heart health: Exercise benefits your heart health, and having a stronger heart can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Boost your brain health: Regular exercise may help
improve your cognitionand reduce the risk of dementia.
- Improve your mood: Physical activity has also been shown to
reduce the riskof depression and anxiety.
- Help with weight management: When you move your body, you burn more calories than you would if you were inactive. Burning more calories each day can make it easier to lose weight and keep weight off.
- Strengthen your bones and muscles: Being physically active can keep your bones and muscles strong and make it easier to move around easily, even as you age.
- Reduce the risk of chronic diseases: Staying active may help lower your risk of developing
type 2 diabetesand several types of cancer.
Whole foods are foods that haven’t been heavily processed or altered. They don’t contain a lot of added chemicals or artificial ingredients to help them taste good or give them a long shelf-life.
In general, whole foods are healthier for you and provide your body with more vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients than processed foods. Because they are
Processed foods are often unhealthier than whole foods because they tend to be higher in certain ingredients such as:
- added sugars or artificial sweeteners
- salt (sodium)
- trans fats
- artificial colors
Whole foods vs. processed foods
Some examples of whole foods include:
- fruits and vegetables
- nuts and seeds
- legumes (beans and lentils)
- meat and poultry
- fish and seafood
- plain yogurt
- olive oil
- whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, steel-cut oatmeal, farro, bulgur)
Some examples of processed foods include:
- commercial baked goods (cakes, pies, pastries, cookies)
- chips and crackers
- processed meats (hot dogs, lunch meat, sausage)
- sugar-sweetened beverages
- boxed rice or pasta dishes
- pre-packaged microwaveable meals
- white bread, white rice
- flavored yogurts, ice cream
Eating too much processed food and not enough whole foods can be harmful to your health. That’s because you won’t be getting enough of the nutrients your body needs. Instead, you’ll be eating higher amounts of sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, or other ingredients that don’t provide much nutritional value.
According to scientific research, poor nutrition can increase your risk of:
weight gain and obesity heart disease and stroke type 2 diabetes
types of cancer, including uterine cancer, breast cancer in postmenopausal women, and colorectal cancer
Smoking is the
Smoking can damage nearly every organ in your body and significantly increases your risk of:
- Heart disease: According to
scientific evidence, tobacco is the leading cause of premature death from cardiovascular disease.
- Stroke: Smoking damages your blood vessels, making them stiffer and narrower. This not only increases your risk of a heart attack but can put you at a
higher riskof a stroke, too.
- Respiratory diseases: The damage caused by smoking to the airways and air sacs in your lungs greatly increases your risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Lung cancer and other cancers: Approximately
80%of lung cancers can be attributed to tobacco use. According to the American Cancer Society, smoking can also increase your riskof many other types of cancer, including cancer of the bladder, mouth, stomach, pancreas, and colon, among others.
What about e-cigarettes and hookah?
According to research, e-cigarettes contain a number of potentially toxic chemicals that can be harmful to your health.
Although hookah smoking is sometimes mistakenly considered to be a safer form of smoking, it actually poses many of the same risks as cigarette smoking.
If you smoke, quitting is the most important step you can take to improve your health, no matter your age or how long you’ve smoked. Quitting smoking can add years to your life, and the positive effects of quitting will continue to increase the longer you remain a nonsmoker.
Talk with your doctor about quitting. They can help set you up for success, and prescribe smoking cessation medications, if necessary, to help you quit nicotine for good.
Sleep is vital for every process in your body. Sleep is a time for your body to repair cells and restore energy. Your brain also performs many essential functions while you’re sleeping, like storing information, removing waste, and strengthening nerve cell connections.
How much sleep you need depends on your age, but for most adults, the
If you don’t get enough sleep, your body will have a harder time working properly. Sleep deprivation can
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- cardiovascular disease
- metabolic syndrome
- type 2 diabetes
- anxiety, depression, mood changes
- a weakened immune system
- some types of cancer
So, how can you ensure you get enough sleep? Some things that may help include the following:
- Create a quiet, dark, comfortable sleep environment: Use an eye mask or black-out curtains to block light, turn down the thermostat — a temperature between 60°F to 67°F (15.6°C to 9.4°C) — is best for sleeping, and make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable. Use earplugs if you need to block out noise.
- Avoid screen time before bed: Many electronic devices emit blue light that can keep your brain alert, making it harder to fall asleep. Turn off these devices at least an hour before you go to bed.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine: Instead of watching TV or working on a computer, do something to help you relax. Take a warm bath or shower, try gentle stretches, read a book (not an e-reader), or try meditation or breathing techniques.
- Limit your caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine intake: Avoid drinking alcohol or smoking within 4 hours of going to bed as both substances can negatively impact your sleep. Limit your caffeine intake to the morning hours.
- Try a natural sleep aid: If you find it difficult to switch your mind off at night, try a natural sleep aid like melatonin, valerian root, or glycine.
Drinking enough water each day is key to good health. Your body needs water for many important functions, like maintaining your body temperature, aiding digestion, keeping your organs working properly, and delivering nutrients to all your cells.
Staying hydrated also keeps your brain working well. When you don’t take in enough fluid,
How much water should you drink each day?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends:
- 9 cups of fluid per day for women
- 13 cups of fluid per day for men
You’ll typically need to increase your water intake if you:
- exercise or exert yourself
- live in a hot, dry climate
- spend time outdoors in the sun, especially in warmer weather
- have a fever or lose fluids through vomiting or diarrhea
- are pregnant, breastfeeding, or chestfeeding
Make water your go-to beverage. Avoid sodas and energy drinks which typically contain a lot of added sugars and extra calories.
To add some flavor to your water, try squeezing a lemon, lime, or orange and adding the juice to your water. You can also add a few cucumber slices, or try adding mint or basil leaves.
While an occasional alcoholic drink likely won’t affect your health, drinking too much alcohol can take a heavy toll on many of your organs.
Overconsumption of alcohol can damage your liver, brain, and heart, and also
So, at what point does drinking become harmful to your health? According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
- up to 1 standard drink per day for women
- up to 2 standard drinks per day for men
What’s a standard drink?
- 12 ounces (355 mL) of regular beer, or
- 5 ounces (150 mL) of wine, or
- 1.5 ounces (45 mL) of spirit
Preventive care is the care you get from your doctor to stay healthy. While you may typically think of your doctor as the person you see when you’re ill, your doctor also plays a key role in keeping you healthy and preventing you from getting sick or developing a chronic disease in the first place.
By being proactive and focusing on preventive care, you and your doctor are more likely to catch early warning signs of certain diseases before they become more serious. You can then take steps to address these issues when they’re easier to treat and the outcomes are more likely to be positive.
When you make an appointment to visit your doctor for an annual checkup, it may include:
- measurement of blood pressure and other heart health indicators
- blood tests for cholesterol and blood glucose
- depression screening
- obesity screening
- a Pap smear
Depending on your age, family history, and other factors, your doctor may also order specific screenings, such as:
- a mammogram, a screening for breast cancer
- a colonoscopy, a screening for colorectal cancer
- osteoporosis screening
- genetic testing for some types of cancer
- tests for some sexually transmitted diseases
One of the advantages of preventive care is that your doctor will screen you for several key measurements, including your:
- body mass index (BMI)
- blood pressure (hypertension)
- cholesterol and triglycerides
- fasting blood glucose
If any of these numbers are outside the recommended range, you and your doctor can discuss what needs to be done to address this issue. Your doctor can put together a treatment plan that’s right for you and will monitor you to ensure your numbers are moving in the right direction.
Being aware of issues related to these key metrics early on, before they cause other problems, can help you make the right lifestyle changes to improve important aspects of your health. In many cases, health conditions like hypertension or high cholesterol may not cause any symptoms until later on, when more serious — possibly life threatening issues — start to arise.
If lifestyle changes don’t help enough, your doctor may decide to prescribe medications to help reduce the risk of potential complications.
Stress is a normal part of everyday life and, when it’s short-lived, it can be useful. But, chronic stress can affect you mentally, physically, and emotionally. Research has shown that high levels of ongoing stress have been
- high blood pressure
- heart disease and stroke
- a weakened immune system
Although stress is often unavoidable, you do have a choice in how you handle it. Just as your body has a stress response, it also has a
Some types of activities that may help bring about a relaxation response involve:
- Breathing exercises: A technique called diaphragmatic breathing has been shown to help lower stress hormones, reduce blood pressure, and regulate other bodily processes.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique where you tighten and then relax each muscle group in your body, one at a time, in a specific pattern.
- Exercising: Physical activity releases endorphins in your brain, one of the feel-good hormones. These chemicals can help relieve pain and also reduce stress and boost your mood.
- Being creative: According to
research, creative arts like drawing, painting, coloring, writing, dancing, and listening to or playing music have the ability to boost your mood and ease stress and anxiety.
- Yoga or tai chi: The slow, mindful movements and stretches that are part of yoga and tai chi help relieve muscle tension while encouraging mental and physical relaxation.
- Meditation: Mindfulness meditation may help reduce the inflammatory response caused by the stress hormone, cortisol.
If you’re sexually active or have been in the past, it’s important that you’re proactive about getting screened for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Some sexually transmitted diseases don’t cause noticeable symptoms until weeks, months, or possibly even years later. By then, you may have passed it on to someone else. And, it may also be harder to treat the disease when it’s not caught early. That’s why it’s important to get tested often.
Communication is key when it comes to safe sex. Talk openly with your partner about your sexual past and any STI diagnosis you’ve had. Before having sex with a new partner, consider getting tested for STIs, along with your partner, and discuss your barrier method preferences.
To reduce the risk of contracting HIV, you may want to consider:
- pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), available as the brand name pills Truvada and Descovy, this antiretroviral medication is taken before possible HIV exposure
- post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a medication that can be taken after possible HIV exposure
You can also reduce your risk of some other STIs by getting vaccinated against:
Your health plays a crucial role in how you feel and live each day. If you’re stressed, tired, or not feeling well, it’s not easy to be the best version of yourself and to give those around you the time and attention they need.
In order to thrive and lower your risk of chronic disease and illness, there are many choices you can make today and every day to give yourself the best shot at living a long, active, and healthful life.