According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 70 percent of American adults were overweight or obese in 2010. The lifestyle practices that contribute to overweight and obesity can also cause cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, sleep apnea, and numerous other chronic conditions, says the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
This list is only a small sample of the types of health concerns in our country, which means that a healthy lifestyle is more important now than ever before. These health issues, along with other chronic diseases, which kill 7 out of 10 Americans each year, are among the most preventable conditions in the U.S., says the CDC. By following a healthier lifestyle with the tips outlined below, you can reduce your risk of these diseases and lead a happier, healthier life.
Focus on the Quality of Your Food
While the balance of energy in your body plays a main role in maintaining weight, it’s not the only factor related to health. The Harvard School of Public Health says that the quality of your food and source of your nutrients matters more than the quantity. Instead of worrying about calorie consumption, focus on incorporating whole foods into your diet, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Not only will this provide you with more nutrients, particularly chronic disease-fighting nutrients such as antioxidants, but this type of diet can help you stay fuller longer to prevent overeating.
Watch the Type of Fat You Eat
Contrary to popular belief, fat in the diet isn’t bad for you, and low-fat diets won’t necessarily contribute to your health. However, focusing on the type of fat and source of fat you eat can determine health risks. In an 8-year follow-up of the Nurse’s Health Study, results showed that total fat consumption didn’t contribute to weight gain. Results did show, however, that people who ate higher percentages of animal, saturated, and trans fats experienced a stronger association to weight gain than women who ate mostly unsaturated and plant-based fats.
Limit Your Sugar-Sweetened Beverages
One meta-analysis performed by Yale University psychologists found that people who consume sugar-sweetened beverages tend to drink less healthy fluids, such as milk. With these important nutrients missing in the diet, this lifestyle can lead to chronic conditions like diabetes. This doesn’t mean that diet beverages are necessarily a healthier option, either, since you still won’t get the essential nutrients you need. After careful inspection of several scientific studies, Purdue University researchers concluded that even consuming diet beverages regularly can lead to heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome.
Choose Alternatives to Fast Food
Researchers at the University of North Carolina found in a 2009 study that avoiding fast food may be important for preventing metabolic conditions. The study showed that people who consumed more fast food than the others in the study had larger waists, higher triglyceride levels in the blood, and lower HDL cholesterol levels. There are several ways to avoid this type of poor diet when you’re in a hurry. Some ideas include:
* If you know you’re going to be rushed for time, prepare your meal ahead of time. Perhaps pack yourself a sandwich (on whole wheat bread) with a side of fruits or vegetables.
* Stop at the grocery store and pick up some fresh fruit, a salad, nuts, fresh veggies, yogurt, or a healthy option from the deli counter. There are plenty of healthy options at the grocery store, including already prepared meals that you can easily grab and go but will provide more nutrients and benefits than a fast food meal.
* If you must go to a fast-food restaurant, opt for healthier choices by choosing “grilled” instead of “fried” and whole a wheat bun instead of a white enriched bun.
Control Your Portions
If you eat more food than you need, you not only risk gaining weight, but you could experience other complications in the body due to an imbalance of nutrients. You don’t necessarily have to set a certain limit on your food consumption, but studies have shown that people tend to eat more when served in large portions. The idea is to make sure you don’t pile your plate, but you can always go back for seconds if you’re still hungry. To keep things under control, avoid loading your plate, use smaller dishes, and only eat until you’re satisfied.
Cut Back on Sodium
Too much sodium in the diet has been linked to high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attacks. According to the CDC, Americans consume on average 3,436 mg of sodium per day (often in the form of table salt) when the recommendation sits around 1,500 mg with an Upper Tolerable Limit set at 2,300 mg per day. You can use these tips to reduce your sodium consumption:
* Avoid processed or pre-packaged foods since they tend to contain high sodium levels.
* Try slowly reducing the amount of salt you add to food.
* Cut back on salty foods such as pretzels, potato chips, or salted nuts.
* Choose your meals carefully when you eat out since restaurant items tend to contain more salt than home-cooked alternatives.
* Choose frozen veggies instead of canned vegetables.
The World Health Organization says that 31 percent of people worldwide are physically inactive and that physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor of deaths in the world. The WHO recommends that individuals ages 18-64 should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week. This can include any type of physical activity, whether you’re hitting the gym, going on a nature walk, or riding your bike to work. As long as you’re moving, you can strengthen your body and reduce your risk of stroke, diabetes, cancer, depression, and other chronic conditions.
Step Up Your Exercise Routine
While performing any type of physical activity is a great place to start with your health, studies have shown that adding more exercise to your lifestyle can help reduce your risk of gaining weight, ultimately helping you avoid chronic conditions. In a 16-year follow-up of the Nurse’s Health Study II, researchers found that women who bicycled and walked briskly, compared to slow walking, gained less weight than those who didn’t bike. You may also want to incorporate strength training into your exercise routine as this has been shown to strengthen bone and muscle and to reduce chronic conditions like arthritis.
Limit Your Sedentary Time
Simply limiting your sedentary time could have positive impacts on your health. In fact, one study found that simply reducing sedentary activity may have a more beneficial impact on weight loss than targeting increased exercise since subjects in the reduced sedentary group viewed physical activity in a better light and ate less calories. Another study by the Harvard School of Public Health found a significant correlation between sedentary lifestyles and type 2 diabetes. They suggest that you not only look toward increasing exercise activity but focus on decreasing sedentary activities.
Incorporate Vitamin C and Zinc into Your Diet
Studies have shown that both Vitamin C and Zinc contribute to a more productive immune system, but one current study from Switzerland found that a combination of the two nutrients may be more effective than one nutrient alone. The National Institutes of Health recommends 75mg of Vitamin C for women and 90mg of Vitamin C for men per day. For zinc, they recommend 8mg for women and 11mg for men each day. Many fruits and vegetables, particularly citrus fruits such as oranges, are high in Vitamin C, and seafood, red meat, beans, whole grains, and dairy products provide zinc.
Take Steps to Reduce Stress
The Harvard Medical School suggests that stress may contribute to less effective immune systems, citing mice studies that looked at the link between stress and immune system function. These studies showed that stressful situations delayed antibodies and suppressed the immune system and that social stresses contributed more than physical stresses. Some ways to reduce stress include:
* Identify the stressors in your life and determine which ones you can change, and then take action.
* Take a break and meditate to help relax your body and your mind.
* Write about your stress in a journal to help release your emotions.
* Avoid stressful situations when possible.
* Stay organized to avoid getting overwhelmed, and drop certain activities if you feel you have too many responsibilities.
Reducing stress is not only beneficial to your immune health, but it can also help boost your mood and reduce your risk of gaining weight.
Regular exercise is not only a great way to prevent weight gain, but it can also improve your mood, reduce your stress levels, prevent chronic diseases, and improve immune system function. The reasons for these benefits are not entirely understood and may intertwine, but scientists do know that people who exercise regularly tend to get sick less. In fact, a recent 2013 study showed improved immune system function in rats who underwent an 8-week exercise program compared to a sedentary group of rats.
Limit Alcohol and Cigarettes
Certain drugs, even legal ones, can have a poor effect on your immune system when abused. While moderate amounts of alcohol may have a positive effect on the immune system, overconsumption of alcoholic beverages can suppress immune system responses. The same goes for cigarettes. While the nicotine in them may have some potential as an anti-inflammatory agent, the continued use can suppress the immune system.
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– Submitted by Jonathan Fritz of Simplified Issue Life Insurance