Importance of healthy lifestyle habits
When you hear the phrase “healthy lifestyle habits,” it can mean a number of things. Odds are diet and exercise come to mind…perhaps sleep and stress management also pop into your head. These aspects are all connected to healthy living, but why does it matter? The importance of a healthy lifestyle is related to several aspects of our lives, and this article explores the why, what, and how.
Healthy lifestyle and chronic disease
As of 2020, in the United States, multiple conditions within the top 10 causes of death can be linked to lifestyle habits. They include heart disease, cancer (specific type not listed), stroke, and diabetes (1).
We cannot decipher how much of an outcome is due to genetics, lifestyle, or environment. However, making changes in certain areas could potentially turn your health around. Because some things are uncontrollable, it is crucial to take advantage of opportunities to improve your health wherever possible.
Every day you do various activities, often not even realizing it is part of the daily routine. Pay attention to the little things within your day. From there, you can make changes where needed to improve your health on a regular basis.
Working on overall wellbeing will allow you to not only achieve better health in your own life, but you can then do more for others. Improvement in diet, sleep, physical activity, and more lay the groundwork for success at work, in family life, and with personal endeavors.
Reduced healthcare costs
Nowadays, spending a significant chunk of money on health insurance, doctor visits, and medications is not uncommon. There are insurance plans..within plans…within plans. Deductibles, co-pays, and expensive medications that might not have a generic option are all parts of healthcare costs.
Leading a healthy lifestyle can reduce health-related expenses in the following ways:
- Less frequent medical appointments and blood work
- Reducing/eliminating medications you have to take (including ones for pre-diabetes, diabetes, high cholesterol, or blood pressure)
- Insurance reimbursement – check if your plan provides money towards weight loss tools or gym memberships; I know someone who once got a free food scale!
Additionally, if life insurance is warranted at this time, healthy living can help reduce these costs.
Components of a healthy lifestyle
Following a balanced diet
One of the most important components of a healthy lifestyle is having a balanced diet. Being aware of what you eat has a major impact on your health.
Genetics, medications, and other factors out of your control can influence blood pressure, blood sugars, cholesterol levels, hormones, gut health, and more. Diet also affects these, but it is a factor that is manageable.
Having a balanced diet does not mean you need to give up the foods you enjoy. However, consuming healthy foods the majority of the time will increase nutrition and ultimately help lead to better outcomes.
Healthy food choices include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables (these all provide fiber), lean proteins and plant-based proteins, unsaturated fats, and low-fat dairy products. Choosing more of these nutrient-dense foods helps promote better health overall.
Foods with more calories and fewer nutrients often contain a lot of added sugars, salt, and/or high amounts of saturated fats, which are less beneficial to your health. These are called calorie-dense foods.
According to the Dietary Guidelines, 2020-2025, it is recommended to limit the following on a daily basis:
- added sugars – less than 10%
- saturated fats – less than 10%
- sodium – less than 2300 milligrams
Alcohol use in moderation
Alcohol is another aspect of the diet that should be limited. If you take medication, it is important to check with your doctor first regarding any potential interactions with use.
Consuming alcohol in moderation means limiting intake to the equivalent of one drink in a day for women and two drinks in a day for men. The following are equivalents of 1 drink (2):
- a 5-ounce glass of wine with 12% alcohol content
- 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits/liquor that is 80-proof
- a 12-ounce beer with 5% alcohol content
- an 8-ounce malt liquor with 7% alcohol content
Excessive alcohol intake not only causes immediate impairments after consumption but can also lead to long-term problems such as cardiac or liver disease, digestive issues, certain types of cancer, as well as increasing the likelihood of becoming sick. Additionally, alcohol abuse, mental and social disorders may result due to excessive use (2).
Physical activity is another healthy lifestyle habit that is vital to good health. It improves cardiovascular health, helps you lose/maintain weight, and is a great way to relieve stress.
Incorporating a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise is recommended. Double these amounts if you want to lose more weight. In addition, including at least two days of resistance exercises helps maintain muscle mass or increase it depending on your goal.
Do you need to join a gym or workout program? Nope! Informal exercise is just as effective. These days there are many options available, whether it is a video to follow at home, using water bottles or bean bags instead of weights, or simply taking the stairs versus an elevator.
The Mayo Clinic recommends discussing a new exercise regimen with your doctor prior to starting, especially if you have a history of cardiac issues, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or arthritis. If you have any other concerns or have not exercised for a while, it is best to speak with your doctor first (3).
Getting adequate sleep
Another aspect of a healthy lifestyle is what most of us feel we need more of…sleep! People who do not get enough can experience problems because sleep is essential to most of our functions as human beings (4).
Early on, inadequate sleep means poor concentration and performance during your day, as well as a possible overall reduction in quality of life. In the long-term, problems resulting from too little sleep include abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, weight gain, as well as gastrointestinal problems (4).
With lack of sleep, poor diet, and not enough physical activity, stress can result from an imbalance within the body. Nowadays, stress comes in all forms – financial, issues with family members, problems at work, and more. Forming healthy lifestyle habits and maintaining them is directly related to stress management.
Diet matters. Too much added sugar, fried foods, or large portions at meals can lead to feeling tired and unwell afterward. Having healthier meals provides energy and the nutrition to sustain that energy throughout the day. As a result, you would ultimately be able to deal with things more effectively.
Exercise also helps with stress management. With regular activity, there are changes in hormone levels that provide benefits to our mental wellbeing. Adrenaline and cortisol are both stress hormones, and they decrease as a result of exercise. Also, stress-relieving hormones such as endorphins and serotonin are released within the body (5).
Other ways to manage stress include anything that gives you time to focus on yourself and your thoughts. Whether you are speaking with a family member or friend, listening to music, writing in a journal, or meditating, giving yourself the mental space to relax and unwind is essential.
So you understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle, now what?
Make a plan
Planning ahead is a key component of a healthy lifestyle. Mapping out ideas, goals, and even obstacles ahead of time helps you make sense of the next thing to do.
When you are ready to go out there and start doing things to improve your health, it is especially important to focus on details. If you set goals such as “I want to lose weight” or “I want to get more sleep,” it is hard to stay focused due to a lack of specifics. On the other hand, having goals like “I want to lose 10 pounds in six weeks” or “I want to sleep for at least seven hours per night” is more helpful.
Goals should be SMART. That is, specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timed. A SMART goal makes it easier to achieve what you want because it is focused.
Conclusion – Finding the why for a healthy lifestyle
Whatever your reason for making a change, keep it front and center. Understanding the importance of a healthy lifestyle and how it can benefit you in the short and long term will help you stick with a plan and reach your goals.
Is the goal to have more energy, sleep better, or lower liver enzymes? Want to lose 10 more pounds or decrease blood sugar levels? Whatever the goal, truly think about why. The “why” will ultimately keep you motivated and contribute to a more satisfying achievement as you integrate healthier lifestyle habits.
Reflecting on the importance of a healthy lifestyle and components that factor in will hopefully be motivating to you on the journey towards wellness and better health!