A lot of factors play a role in staying healthy. In turn, good health can decrease your risk of developing certain conditions. These include heart disease, stroke, some cancers, and injuries. Learn what you can do to maintain your and your family’s health.
Path to improved health
What you eat is closely linked to your health. Balanced nutrition has many benefits. By making healthier food choices, you can prevent or treat some conditions. These include heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. A healthy diet can help you lose weight and lower your cholesterol, as well.
Get regular exercise.
Exercise can help prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and colon cancer. It can help treat depression, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure. People who exercise also get injured less often. Routine exercise can make you feel better and keep your weight under control. Try to be active for 30 to 60 minutes about 5 times a week. Remember, any amount of exercise is better than none.
Lose weight if you’re overweight.
Many Americans are overweight. Carrying too much weight increases your risk for several health conditions. These include:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- type 2 diabetes
- heart disease
- some cancers
- gallbladder disease.
Being overweight also can lead to weight-related injuries. A common problem is arthritis in the weight-bearing joints, such as your spine, hips, or knees. There are several things you can try to help you lose weight and keep it off.
Protect your skin.
Sun exposure is linked to skin cancer. This is the most common type of cancer in the United States. It’s best to limit your time spent in the sun. Be sure to wear protective clothing and hats when you are outside. Use sunscreen year-round on exposed skin, like your face and hands. It protects your skin and helps prevent skin cancer. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. It should be at least an SPF 15. Do not sunbathe or use tanning booths.
Practice safe sex.
Safe sex is good for your emotional and physical health. The safest form of sex is between 2 people who only have sex with each other. Use protection to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Condoms are the most effective form of prevention. Talk to your doctor if you need to be tested for STDs.
Don’t smoke or use tobacco.
Smoking and tobacco use are harmful habits. They can cause heart disease and mouth, throat, or lung cancer. They also are leading factors of emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The sooner you quit, the better.
Limit how much alcohol you drink.
Men should have no more than 2 drinks a day. Women should have no more than 1 drink a day. One drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. Too much alcohol can damage your liver. It can cause some cancers, such as throat, liver, or pancreas cancer. Alcohol abuse also contributes to deaths from car wrecks, murders, and suicides.
Things to consider
In addition to the factors listed above, you should make time for whole body health. Visit your doctors for regular checkups. This includes your primary doctor, as well as your dentist and eye doctor. Let your health benefits and preventive care services work for you. Make sure you know what your health insurance plan involves. Preventive care can detect disease or prevent illness before they start. This includes certain doctor visits and screenings.
You need to make time for breast health. Breast cancer is a leading cause of death for women. Men can get breast cancer, too. Talk to your doctor about when you should start getting mammograms. You may need to start screening early if you have risk factors, such as family history. One way to detect breast cancer is to do a monthly self-exam.
Women should get routine pap smears, as well. Women ages 21 to 65 should get tested every 3 years. This may differ if you have certain conditions or have had your cervix removed.
Ask your doctor about other cancer screenings. Adults should get screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 50. Your doctor may want to check for other types of cancer. This will depend on your risk factors and family history.
Keep a list of current medicines you take. You also should stay up to date on shots, including getting an annual flu shot. Adults need a Td booster every 10 years. Your doctor may substitute it with Tdap. This also protects against whooping cough (pertussis). Women who are pregnant need the Tdap vaccine. People who are in close contact with babies should get it, as well.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How many calories should I eat and how often should I exercise to maintain my current weight?
- Should I have a yearly physical exam?
- What types of preventive care does my insurance cover?
- When should I start getting screened for certain cancers and conditions?
American Cancer Society, Stay Healthy
National Institute on Aging, Health and Aging
Physical activity and exercise
Physical activity and exercise is a major contributor to a healthy lifestyle; people are made to use their bodies, and disuse leads to unhealthy living. Unhealthy living may manifest itself in obesity, weakness, lack of endurance, and overall poor health that may foster disease development.
- Regular exercise can prevent and reverse age-related decreases in muscle mass and strength, improve balance, flexibility, and endurance, and decrease the risk of falls in the elderly. Regular exercise can help prevent coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. Regular, weight-bearing exercise can also help prevent osteoporosis by building bone strength.
- Regular exercise can help chronic arthritis sufferers improve their capacity to perform daily activities such as driving, climbing stairs, and opening jars.
- Regular exercise can help increase self-esteem and self-confidence, decrease stress and anxiety, enhance mood, and improve general mental health.
- Regular exercise can help control weight gain and in some people cause loss of fat.
- Thirty minutes of modest exercise (walking is OK) at least three to five days a week is recommended, but the greatest health benefits come from exercising most days of the week.
- Exercise can be broken up into smaller 10-minute sessions.
- Start slowly and progress gradually to avoid injury or excessive soreness or fatigue. Over time, build up to 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day.
- People are never too old to start exercising. Even frail, elderly individuals (70-90 years of age) can improve their strength and balance with exercise.
- Almost any type of exercise (resistance, water aerobics, walking, swimming, weights, yoga, and many others) is helpful for everybody.
- Children need exercise; play outside of the home is a good beginning.
- Sports for children may provide excellent opportunities for exercise, but care must be taken not to overdo certain exercises (for example, throwing too many pitches in baseball may harm a joint like the elbow or shoulder).
- Exertion during strenuous exercise may make a person tired and sore, but if pain occurs, stop the exercise until the pain source is discovered; the person may need to seek medical help and advice about continuation of such exercise.
Most individuals can begin moderate exercise, such as walking, without a medical examination. The following people, however, should consult a doctor before beginning more vigorous exercise:
- Men over age 40 or women over age 50
- Individuals with heart or lung disease, asthma, arthritis, or osteoporosis
- Individuals who experience chest pressure or pain with exertion, or who develop fatigue or shortness of breath easily
- Individuals with conditions that increase their risks of developing coronary heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cigarettesmoking, high blood cholesterol, or having family members who had early onset heart attacks and coronary heart disease
- Individuals who are morbidly obese
Consequences of physical inactivity and lack of exercise:
- Physical inactivity and lack of exercise are associated with heart disease and some cancers.
- Physical inactivity and lack of exercise are associated with type II diabetes mellitus (also known as maturity or adult-onset, non-insulin-dependent diabetes).
- Physical inactivity and lack of exercise contribute to weight gain.
Healthy living involves more than physical health, it also includes emotional or mental health. The following are some ways people can support their mental health and well-being.
- Get enough sleep daily; the CDC recommends the following by age group (naps inclusive); 12-18 hours from birth to 2 months, 14-15 hours from 3-11 months of age, 12-18 hours for 1-3 years of age, 11-13 hours for 3-5 years of age, 10-11 hours for 5-10 years of age, eight and a half to nine and a half hours for 10-17 years of age and those 18 and above need seven to nine hours of sleep. Elderly people need about seven to nine hours but do not sleep as deeply and may awaken at night or wake early, so naps (like kids need) allow them to accumulate the total of seven to nine hours of sleep.
- Take a walk and reflect on what you see and hear at least several times per week.
- Try something new and often (eat a new food, try a different route to work, go to a new museum display).
- Do some mind exercises (read, do a puzzle occasionally during the week).
- Try to focus on a process intensely and complete a segment of it over one to several hours, then take a break and do something relaxing (walk, exercise, short nap).
- Plan to spend some time talking with other people about different subjects.
- Try to make some leisure time to do some things that interest you every week (hobby, sport).
- Learn ways to say "no" when something occurs that you do not want to do or be involved with.
- Have fun (go on a trip with someone you love, go shopping, go fishing; do not let vacation time slip away).
- Let yourself be pleased with your achievements, both big and small (develop contentment).
- Have a network of friends; those with strong social support systems lead healthier lives.
- Seek help and advice early if you feel depressed, have suicidal thoughts, or consider harming yourself or others.
- People taking medicine for mental-health problems should not stop taking these medications, no matter how "well" they feel, until they have discussed their situation with their prescribing doctor(s).
Avoidance behavior is another key to healthy living. Below are described some of the major items to avoid if a person is seeking a healthy lifestyle.