Exploring the Healthiest Lifestyle.
By exploring 3 Simple Questions, we will set a solid foundation for a better understanding of how our health is related to our lifestyle.
1-How important is a healthy lifestyle?
Watch this video, “Turning Back the Clock 14 Years”, from Dr Michael Greger’s website NutritionFacts.org and see if you can pick out what four simple health behaviors (lifestyles) may cut our risk of chronic disease by nearly 80%, and potentially drop our risk of dying equivalent to that of being 14 years younger. This is a great introduction to the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
Did you catch the four simple health behaviors?
-Not being obese
-A half-hour of exercise a day
-Eating healthier (more fruits, veggies, whole grains, less meat)
There is much more to the healthiest lifestyle, but the important point to realize here is just how powerful the effect of our lifestyle is. It can effect the risk of our most common chronic diseases by 80%!
And did you catch how much are our genes are responsible? Just 10-20%. That’s great news for those worried that we are destined to follow into the same illnesses of our parents or other relatives.
This next video “Eliminating 90% of Heart Disease”, shows that preventing and treating chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke with diet and lifestyle changes is not only safer but may be dramatically more effective. Notice how effective these actions can be compared to treatment with commonly used medications.
Did you notice that according to the INTERHEART study, 9 potentially modifiable factors like diet, exercise, and smoking, accounted for >90% of the proportion of the risk of having a heart attack. The same for diabetes (91%), and up to 80% of strokes.
And did you notice how changing our lifestyle compares to taking prescription drugs?
Pharmacological therapies, including cholesterol lowering statin drugs and blood pressure pills, typically only reduce cardiovascular disease risk only by 20% to 30%. So, even with medications, 70 to 80% of heart attacks still occur. Again, that’s compared to a potential 90% reduction in risks simply by following a healthy lifestyle!
Never the less, treating our risks with medications when lifestyle changes do not accomplish the goals is still very helpful and important.
The American Heart Association came up with Seven Simple Lifestyle Goals to combat the leading killer of men and women: heart disease. How many people actually meet these goals? Find out in the video below:
So, how important is it for us to make our lifestyle a priority? Very important!
Let’s move onto our next question.
2-What are the key ingredients of the healthiest lifestyle?
From the INTERHEART study mentioned above, the full list of modifiable factors (found within the article itself) included abnormal lipids (high cholesterol), smoking, hypertension, diabetes, abdominal obesity, psychosocial factors, consumption of fruits, vegetables, and alcohol, and regular physical activity.
Notice that some of the listed “modifiable factors” are lifestyle actions themselves (smoking, consumption of fruits and vegetables, alcohol and regular physical activity), while others listed are the results our lifestyle (abnormal lipids, hypertension, and abdominal obesity).
So let’s start our list of key ingredients of the healthiest lifestyle:
-A healthy diet
-Not being overweight
-Psychosocial factors (having a healthy social connections, emotional balance)
Now let’s explore these parts of our lifestyle some more, as well as think of a few more.
First, let’s consider exercise. Watch the video “Longer Life Within Walking Distance” and pay attention to which chronic diseases regular physical activity helps to prevent.
The benefits of exercise include decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, obesity, depression and osteoporosis, as well as premature death.
Social networks can be important similar to diet and exercise according to this article: Social Relationships and Physiologic Determinants.
To summarize the article, the more social ties people have at an early age, the better their health is at the beginnings and ends of their lives. This was determined by measuring things such as abdominal obesity, inflammation, and high blood pressure, all of which can lead to long-term health problems, including heart disease, stroke and cancer. The study builds on previous research that shows that aging adults live longer if they have more social connections. Also, in middle adulthood, what social connections provided in terms of social support or strain mattered the most, not so much the number of social connections.
So, the relationship between health and the degree to which people are integrated in large social networks is strongest at the beginning and at the end of life, and not so important in middle adulthood, when the quality, not the quantity, of social relationships matters.
How about sleep? As you watch this video “Sleep 101”, from lifestylefacts.org pay attention to how many issues, both physical and mental, are effected by sleep.
So, Sleep can effect both our mental and emotional health as well as our physical health in very important ways:
-Coping with stress
-Risk for depression and anxiety
-Learning and the brain’s ability to turn information into memory
-How well we get along with other people
-Problems with attention
-High blood pressure
(Although not mentioned in the video, there is growing evidence that sleep problems are also associated with Alzheimer’s disease.)
What effect does faith and spirituality have on our health?
In this article, The Important Relationship Between Faith and Longevity, the author refers to several studies that indicate that people with strong religious and spiritual beliefs heal faster from surgery, are less anxious and depressed, have lower blood pressure, and cope better with chronic illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and spinal cord injury.
So our list of key ingredients of the healthiest lifestyle continues to grow.
What about alcohol? Try to pick out the different types of cancer that can be related to alcohol consumption in this next video
“Can Alcohol Cause Cancer?”
Alcohol drinking increases risk many cancers such as mouth cancer, throat cancer, esophageal cancer, colon and rectal cancer, liver cancer, and breast cancer, and is also most likely associated with pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, and melanoma.
How about the effects of stress on our health and the effects that activities such as meditation may have on the aging process? Watch this video, “Does Meditation Affect Cellular Aging?” and consider the possibilities.
If you want to watch the video about the effects of diet and exercise on cellular aging, here it is:
Let’s now make a more complete list of the things we should keep in mind when trying to live a healthy lifestyle.
Key Ingredients of the Healthiest Lifestyle:
-Healthy Social Connections
-Daily Physical Activity
-Whole Foods Plant Based Diet
-Attention to Safety (including smoking and alcohol use)
-Daily Mental Engagement
-A Strong Spiritual Connection
Obviously, we need to spend some more time detailing what is meant by the items in the above list, especially when it come to the healthiest diet (which we will do on the next page). And most likely there will always be some debate about these things as well. For example, some would propose light consumption of alcohol as a healthy behavior, others would say any amount is counterproductive, but both would agree that heavy use is a significant risk to our health.
Even though our knowledge of the healthiest lifestyle will never be perfect, we should not let that keep us from acting to the best of our ability on what we do understand at this time.
Let’s move onto the third, and final, part of our discussion.
3-How can we incorporate healthy lifestyle steps into our daily routines and encourage our friends and family to join along?
Even though the healthiest lifestyle for all of us is becoming better understood, the lifestyle steps we each take should be more personal. That is to say that the overall goals may be similar, but the specific actions may differ for each person, family, or community.
The reason for this is threefold. Since each person, family, and community is unique, we all have different needs, desires, and abilities. Let’s consider each of these briefly.
NEEDS: What issues seem to be holding you back from having a full and meaningful life each day? Are there medical diagnoses that have become disruptive? Or perhaps there are certain physical or emotional symptoms or feelings that are not well defined yet are quite bothersome. Some issues may be widespread within your family or community. Some may not be obvious and require thoughtful inquiring or testing to reveal. Take some time to consider how life could be better.
DESIRES: What are the most important aspects of your life? What really gives each day the most joy and meaning? Who are the people closest to you? What goals do you have for the upcoming days, weeks, months and years? Do you have a sense for what really motivates you the most? Why do you and the people around you decide to do what you do? Think about what really matters most.
Many of the choices we make, often without much thought, are simply done to avoid temporary stress or to feel a bit of short term pleasure. Even though these rewards control much of our lives, they too often get us into a rut of habits that are not healthy for us in the long term. An example may be grabbing a quick snack loaded with fat and sugar when we feel tired and stressed in the middle of a busy day.
There is a whole other set of rewards or feelings that we are wired to respond to that more often lead us to healthy long term solutions. Not just in terms of our physical and emotional health, but in other ways as well such as social and financial stability. These longer term rewards are based on what we find give our lives deeper purpose and meaning. An example may be setting aside time to spend with a young child or an aging parent knowing the importance of nurturing these relationships while we have the chance.
It is important to keep both types of internal rewards in mind when we are contemplating changes we may want to try to make in our lifestyle. Otherwise we may find we actually are setting ourselves up for unnecessary stress rather than the joy we all deserve to experience each day.
ABILITIES: We all have a variety of resources available to us. Personal abilities such as physical strength, mental sharpness, and emotional balance vary for us all, both from person to person and day to day. And as communities, we have different resources as well. Different customs and expectations, financial and natural resources, and governmental structures can effect how we can respond to the problems we identify. Know your strengths and weaknesses.
So, here are a few things to keep in mind as we seek to
incorporate healthy lifestyle steps into our daily routines:
-Be Proactive: Don’t wait for someone else to tell you it’s time to make a change.
-Be Personal: Take the steps that are most important for you and the people you care about.
-Be Positive: Make sure that the changes you are making are ones you feel confident in.
And how do we encourage our friends and family to join along?
-Work together as much as possible when deciding what issues need to be addressed and how best to do that.
-Ask that others be supportive of the steps you are taking, even if they are not interested in joining you in making lifestyle changes at this time.
-The actions you model will inspire those around you, so go ahead and work at this by yourself if needed.
Hopefully, keeping in mind the importance of a healthy lifestyle, knowing the key ingredients, and understanding how to begin to incorporate them into our days, will guide us to take the most meaningful and successful lifestyle steps.
To watch a series of videos that will shed light on how to determine what the healthiest diet might be, spend some time on the next page, The Healthiest Diet.
Click to get back to Know the Facts page.