What is the secret to a long, healthy life? Sure, genes and advances in science and medicine have a lot to do with it. But so do lifestyle, diet and other behavior-related factors.
Studies show that staying physically active and eating healthy can add years to your life. Reducing stress, not smoking and having a strong social network are important too.
Follow our tips for healthy habits that can help you live longer, feel better and enjoy life to the fullest.
Many people see their doctor only when they’re sick and need to schedule an appointment in a hurry. But the best time to schedule a visit with your doctor is well before you develop any symptoms or illness. This why an annual checkup is so important.
An annual checkup allows your doctor to get a baseline of your health and help prevent any problems. Seeing your doctor on a regular basis can also help you build a strong relationship your health care provider and that can go along way in helping you stay healthy.
“Seeing your doctor on a regular basis is important so we can check for any changes in your health and take necessary steps to prevent or manage any health problem that could get worse without medical attention,” says Farida Valji, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Oceanside.
If you keep a busy schedule, it may seem difficult to make time for health screenings, such as mammograms, colonoscopies, Pap tests, and prostate specific antigen (PSA) tests. But these tests and others are essential for detecting diseases in their early stages.
“Always remember that the sooner any disease can be diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin,” Dr. Valji says. “Ask your doctor which screenings and vaccinations you should have and make it a point to get them.”
What you eat now can have a long-term impact on how long you live and how well you age. A healthy diet can help protect you against heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and other chronic diseases.
Maintaining a healthy weight is vital. You can do this by eating fewer red and processed meats and more fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts. “Your doctor can answer questions about the healthiest diet for you and your unique needs,” Dr. Valji says.
Read the food labels on products you buy and check for fat and other nutrition information. Avoid foods with trans fats and saturated fats as much as possible. They may raise your risk of heart disease.
Work in more “good” fats into your diet, such as those found in avocados, salmon and extra virgin olive oil. Instead of red meat or processed meats, try eating fish, which provide heart-healthy fats and helps lower your risk of heart disease.
Skipping a meal, especially breakfast, is not necessarily a good way to lose weight. Indeed, it may have the opposite effect. Some studies show that people who don’t eat breakfast tend to eat more throughout the day, which may be detrimental for weight control.
Making it a point to get some protein and fiber into your body first thing in the morning can help you get going.
Regular exercise or physical activity can lower your risk of developing chronic conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, heart disease and stroke, which can affect your life expectancy.
“Exercising consistently is rewarding,” Dr. Valji says. “It helps you with weight control, and leads to a healthier heart and lungs, stronger bones, more energy and a lower risk of many diseases.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. If long workout routines can seem daunting, try breaking sessions into shorter, more manageable time frames.
“Three ten-minute sessions a day will still enable you to reap the benefits of exercise if you are not up to doing 30 minutes all at once,” Dr. Valji says.
Choose something you enjoy and will look forward to doing consistently. “Use a fitness tracker or recruit a workout partner to keep you on track,” Dr. Valji says.
Everyone experiences stress in one form or another. But too much stress can contribute to serious health issues, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
Emotional reactions often include trouble sleeping, depression, anxiety, irritability, eating too much or not enough and turning to alcohol or drugs for relief.
“When stress is affecting your overall health, it is usually time to see your doctor,” Dr. Valji says. “Make an appointment and talk to your doctor about your symptoms and a treatment plan.”
You can help yourself also by identifying situations that trigger stress, and finding calmer, healthier ways to react.
Take a stress break during the day and do something good for your health. Breathing exercises can be helpful and can be done almost anywhere. Deep, focused breathing slows your heart rate, calms the body and helps reduce stress.
People who engage in meaningful activities with others experience better moods, have a sense of purpose and tend to live longer.
Loneliness and isolation are not good for your health. They can put you at risk for health issues, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, depression and anxiety.
“Talk to your doctor if feelings of isolation or loneliness are affecting your emotional or physical health,” Dr. Valji says. “Your doctor can recommend ways to help you feel better and improve your quality of life.”
You can take steps to prevent the negative effects of loneliness or social isolation.
- Make self-care a priority, including exercise, eating well and quality sleep
- Stay connected with family or friends
- Find an activity you enjoy and can do with others
- Consider adopting a pet or pet-sitting
- Volunteer at an organization that is meaningful to you
Volunteers often benefit from “giving back” to the communities where they live or work. Volunteers are rewarded with a sense of joy doing something good for someone else. As a volunteer, you also gain valuable experience, learn new skills, make friends and meet others.
Many chronic diseases are linked to lifestyle behaviors. Cigarette smoking and alcohol list are leading lifestyle risk factors. Smoking accounts for 80 percent of all lung cancer deaths.
Quitting smoking can add years to your life and reduce the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses.
“It’s never too late to quit smoking,” Dr. Valji adds. “Quitting can reduce your risk of serious health problems.”
Excessive drinking can increase your risk of heart and liver disease, high blood pressure and certain cancers. Light or moderate drinking or not starting at all can help minimize these negative health consequences.
“Your doctor is the best source of advice on how alcohol can affect your overall health,” Dr. Valji says.
Busy schedules often leave less time for sleep and that can result in fatigue, irritability and concentration problems. Over time, it may also lead to the development of chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression.
According to the CDC, you need at least seven hours of sleep each night for optimal health.
“Just as a healthy diet and regular exercise are important for good health, so is sleep,” Dr. Valji says. “Make it a point to prioritize sleep so you can feel your best. If you have problems falling or staying asleep, talk to your doctor.”