When it comes to living a healthier lifestyle, small changes add up to big benefits.
Adults need an average of just over eight hours of sleep each night, but many adults routinely get fewer than six. Inadequate sleep depresses immune function, impairs healthy blood sugar regulation, reduces cognitive function, and often results in higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked to increased abdominal fat as well as increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Regular cardiovascular exercise like walking, running, swimming, and dancing improves heart health, lowers the risk of anxiety and depression disorders, and helps maintain healthy body weight.
Strength training improves bone density and reduces your risk of injury during day-to-day activities. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous cardiovascular exercise at least five days per week and strength and balance training at least two to three days per week.
Eat More Produce, Especially Vegetables
An adult eating a 1,500-calorie diet needs at least 2 cups of vegetables and 1.5 cups of fruit each day, and a 2,000-calorie diet needs 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit.
Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of vitamins and anti-oxidants and most are low-calorie, high-fiber additions to your diet. Filling up on vegetables means you’ll get more nutrients for far fewer calories than you would with junk food and other convenience foods.
Drinking water throughout the day keeps you hydrated and cuts down on inappropriate snacking that can result from thirst. Make a point of keeping a glass or bottle of water with you at all times and reach for it first – before you go in search of food.
Cut Back on Alcohol and other Calorie-Containing Beverages
Drinking any beverage that contains calories means that your daily calorie count will be higher, but alcoholic beverages do even more damage than adding calories – they actually depress your body’s ability to metabolize fat.
Limit Sugar to 10 Percent of Calories
Sugar provides simple energy – no nutrients. On one hand, eating a lot of sugary foods and maintaining your normal calorie level (and body weight) means that you’ll be depriving yourself of the nutrients you would have gotten from the healthy foods that were displaced. On the other hand, most people who indulge in sugary foods regularly don’t maintain a normal calorie level. These foods often lead to overeating and weight gain.
Make at least ½ of Your Grains Whole Grains
Whole grains contain fiber and B-vitamins discarded during the refining process. Refined grains and sugar are the reason that carbs have a bad rap. Choose 100-percent whole-grain bread, brown rice, and whole-wheat pasta in place of white bread, white rice, pastries, and white pasta.
Whether you run, garden, swim, walk your dog or toss around a ball with the kids, fresh air and sunshine provide a healthy boost. During the summer, as little as 10 minutes of the face and arm exposure is enough to fulfill your daily requirement of Vitamin D, which has been linked to improved mood, bone density, immune function, and weight maintenance.
Take a few minutes each day to spend in quiet reflection, whether it is time spent journaling, praying, or simply sitting alone for a moment of contemplation. Setting aside time – no matter how brief – for intentional reflection helps relieve stress, which is a vital part of protecting yourself against heart disease.
Support groups have long adopted the Serenity Prayer as a mantra.
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Allowing yourself to feel constant stress and anxiety about things you cannot change can lead to long-term health problems. Practice letting go of those things over which you have no control, and see how much lighter you can be and how much energy you have leftover to take on those things you can actually change for the better.