Dauphin Clinic Pharmacys Myles Haverluck on the Importance of a Healthy Lifestyle
Mar 25, 2015
A Healthy Lifestyle: The Best Investment You Can Make
Youve probably heard that being concerned with and strategic about your health is a good idea, and youve probably made various goals at various times in your life to get healthier or make health a bigger priority. But goals arent always reached, and thinking about the importance of health in an abstract way isnt always the best way to get motivated.
Why should you care about a healthy lifestyle? Simply put, living a healthy lifestyle is the simplest and most effective way to improve your health in general, and to prevent disease and injury in the future. Think of a healthy lifestyle as an investment: by putting in the effort to stay healthy today, you wont have to rely on expensive and unpleasant medications in the future, wont be as likely to have major health complications in your later year, and will be more likely to live longer and have a better quality of life overall. This guide is all about making that investment. Read on for everything you need to know to get started in living a healthier lifestyle, and reaping the returns on the best investment you can make.
What Does it Mean to be Healthy?
Its pretty easy to recognize unhealthy behaviors and unhealthy people. That friend who eats fast food for lunch every day? Unhealthy. Your family member who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day? Unhealthy. The last time you suffered from a cold, you were unhealthy too: unhealthiness can be recognized and defined as the absence of full health.
But how do we define healthy? Is it just the converse of unhealthiness, just the absence of sickness or unhealthy habits? According to the World Health Organization, health is a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being, and NOT merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Living a healthy lifestyle then is not simply about avoiding sickness and unhealthy habits. Its clear that there is something more to this whole health business than common sense, starting with the very definition of what it means to be healthy.
The Livestrong Foundation claims that living a healthy lifestyle is all about the choices you make about your daily habits. Learning about what is healthy is the process of learning about how to make these decisions in an informed and strategic way. And being healthy is about the whole person: about making the right combination of decision and choices to achieve the WHOs complete state...of well being. In a big way, thats what this guide is all about: if you read through to the end of this resource, we will reveal the simplest, and most effective ways to better your health by making smart and healthy choices.
And why should you care? If you arent feeling sick today, or you dont feel like your habits are really having a negative impact on your personal health, why should you worry about the broad definition of health above? Why should anyone worry about the whole person instead of just focusing on avoiding things that we can all recognize as unhealthy?
First off, if you arent concerned with a holistic view of staying healthy, it is easy to take your health for granted. By not worrying about being healthy until you get sick, you set yourself up for much more serious and threatening illness down the line. Even if you feel fine today, your physical, mental, and social well being is fluid, and you wont feel fine forever if you take health for granted.
Second, by taking your health for granted and continuing to engage in unhealthy habits that may not have any noticeable effects in the present, you can easily shorten not only the quality but also the duration of your life. Being healthy leads to living longer and living happier in the long run. And by making simple changes and avoiding bad habits, and treating your health as a holistic pursuit rather than just the avoidance of unhealthy things, you increase your chance of leading a long and healthy life.
And finally, you should care about living a healthy lifestyle and thinking about health in a holistic way because it is never too late to start getting healthier. With the right knowledge, its possible for anyone to start making changes that will last, and will have a positive impact on health for years to come. Whether you dont exercise enough, want to quit smoking (one of the biggest things that you can do to pursue a healthy lifestyle,) or simply need to start taking your vitamins, its not too late.
In this guide, we will provide you with a comprehensive overview of what it means to live a healthy lifestyle, and detail ways in which you can make smart health decisions to be the best version of yourself that you can be. In the resource below, you will find a huge vault of unbiased and straightforward information that has the potential to change the way you see health and pursue a healthy lifestyle.
We will talk about healthy eating, and the importance of diet to overall health. Well speak in depth about nutrition and nutritional supplements that can help contribute to your health. Well talk about what it takes to quit smoking, and why putting down cigarettes can be one of the most important decisions you make in your pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. Well touch on the importance of maintaining the health of your major organs to keep your body running smoothly. And finally, well talk about the importance of exercise and keeping your body in motion, and make it clear how vital it is to stay active.
Read on for all the information you need on all of these topics and more, and use the information below to start living your life with better health starting today!
Part 1: Improve Your Eating Habits
Almost everyone knows its important to eat healthy, but what exactly does that mean? With even the so called experts constantly changing their ideas about what constitutes healthy eating, it can be hard to keep a pulse on what a good diet looks like. Which is why we at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy try to avoid the trendy changes in dietary thought, and instead focus on long standing tried and true ideas. You dont have to be a dietician or nutritionist, and we arent either, in order to improve your eating habits. Instead, follow these two easy to understand principles: eat a balanced diet, and eat real food.
First, the importance of a well balanced and varied diet can not be stressed enough. While the food pyramid that many of us learned about in some version is now considered to be dated in many ways, the idea behind it is sound. We should all be eating a variety of things, from different food groups or categories, and making sure that we keep a good balance in mind. But what exactly is a good balance?"
Again, the answer to this question is a contentious and changing, but there are some things that everyone can agree on. A balanced diet includes large amounts of fruits and vegetables, preferably fresh and served raw or cooked in a manner that avoids oil and sugar. Grains are an important part of a balanced diet, but you should be careful to eat mostly whole grains and not over indulge. Importantly, eating a balanced diet means being aware of how much sugar, bad fats, and salt you are consuming, and trying to limit your intake of foods high in these.
Still confused about what you are eating? You arent alone: while eating a balanced diet is a vitally important principle in theory, in practice it can still be confusing. Which is why we are big proponents of eating real food, a concept made popular by renowned common sense health authority and best selling author Michael Pollan. By real food, Pollan means a wholesome, simple cuisine that isnt saturated with industrially engineered and unrecognizable ingredients. Here are Pollans 7 rules to eating healthy, based on his real food principle.
Rule 1: Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
Michael Pollan, like many other food authorities, is concerned with the highly processed and engineered edible food like substances which dominate grocery store aisles. Which is why his first rule for healthy eating is so important, and is fairly intuitive to get a handle on. If it wasnt around one hundred years ago when your great grandmother was browsing the grocery aisles, it probably isnt real food, and should be avoided.
Rule 2: Dont eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce.
Diacetyl? Butylated hydroxyanisole? Castoreum? What are these ingredients? If you cant pronounce it, theres a good chance it was cooked up in a lab somewhere, and flies in the face of Pollans real food definition. And the kinds of foods with long ingredient lists packed full of these unpronounceable parts are the worst offenders, so stay away from foods with more than five ingredients.
Rule 3: Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store.
In his research, Pollan discovered a striking relationship between how real a food is and where it is located in grocery stores, and following this guideline will help you identify good things to eat. The perimeter of grocery stores is where the freshest food, that needs to be restocked the most often, is usually located. Fresh eggs and unpackaged meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, and fresh breads and cheeses are all found on the outskirts of supermarkets, and are all great things to reach for.
Rule 4: Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot.
If it can sit on a shelf for years and years without spoiling, it probably shouldnt be headed to your stomach. Things like twinkies, fast food french fries, and pre-packaged dry instant meals dont rot like real food should. So avoid them. Pollan notes some exceptions, like honey, but in general, real food should not be able to last you forever.
Rule 5: It is not just what you eat but how you eat.
Pollan notes that our food culture can be as damaging to overall health as the things we eat. The North American tradition of eating until you cant eat anymore can be very damaging, and its important to always leave the table a little hungry. Since your body takes time to catch up and process the fact that you are full, eating until you feel absolutely satisfied means you are probably often over eating.
Rule 6: Enjoy meals with the people you love.
When families typically dined together for every major meal, many of our unhealthy eating habits were no where to be seen. Again, this speaks to food culture. When we are in the habit of eating communally, and dont snack or eat a lot outside of mealtimes, it is easier to eat healthy. Pollan begs us to ask ourselves: "Remember when eating between meals felt wrong?"
Rule 7: Don't buy food where you buy your gasoline.
According to Pollans research, 20% of food eaten in the U.S. is consumed in cars. When you rely on grabbing snacks at the gas station or on the go, you are more likely to pick up something that is highly processed and strays from the real food philosophy. So take the time to eat real meals at home instead.
From Seven Rules to Seven Words: Improving Your Eating Habits the Simple Way
The seven rules above are fairly straightforward, but to some readers they may still feel complicated or like a lot of information for something that should be easy. But dont worry, Pollan breaks down his philosophy even further, and has an easy way to remember how to eat better in just seven words. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
If you follow those seven words as best you can, and refer to the seven rules above to help define what real food is, youre probably eating healthier than most people who obsess over confusing and constantly changing dietary science. Of course, there are some other things you can keep in mind to help improve your habits.
Other Considerations to Improve Your Eating Habits
First, almost everyone should be drinking more water. The benefits of proper hydration are wide ranging and impressive, and include clearer skin and better digestion. In general, everything in your body runs better if you drink enough water and other hydrating fluids.
Dehydration, which occurs when you havent consumed enough fluids, can be extremely dangerous, and has a number of negative unhealthy side effects. Even mild dehydration can cause headaches, indigestion, fatigue, dizziness, and low blood pressure. And the negative health implications get a lot more serious as dehydration progresses into major stages. Organ damage, delirium, unconsciousness, and more can result from extreme dehydration cases.
The age old 8 cups of water per day rule is a good place to start, but for many individuals more than 8 cups of fluids is probably better. For active men, 13 cups of water is recommended by the Mayo Clinic, with 9 cups for women. Larger or more active individuals should probably drink even more. And there are plenty of healthy things you can drink other than straight water to stay hydrated: unsweetened tea, water flavored with lemon or orange slices, and milk are all considered healthy, hydrating options to plain old H20.
Besides drinking more water, those hoping to improve their eating habits should pay attention to how many sweets they are eating, even if you satisfy your sweet tooth with something other than sugar. Artificial sweeteners like Splenda and aspartame have recently generated some negative press for their potential dangers, and should probably be avoided anyways based on Pollans real food principles. Of course they have their place, and are a smart alternative for diabetics for example.
Another sweetener that has received a lot of criticism based on its danger is corn syrup, with high fructose corn syrup getting blamed for a host of health problems. In general, high fructose corn syrup has many of the same negative effects on the body that excessive sugar produces, and can cause diabetes, lead to obesity, and damage the body in a myriad of ways. And again, this sweetener fails Pollans real food test, as it is a newly synthesized product. As a rule of thumb, watch your consumption of sweets, no matter whether or not sugar or another culprit is the main sweetening ingredient.
A third area that can offer benefits in improving your eating habits is in considering shopping for organic foods. In order to be labeled organic, crops must be grown in safe soil, have no modifications, be free of synthetic pesticides and petroleum-based fertilizers, and organic meat must be fed organic feed and remain free of most added hormones. The verdict is still out about whether or not organic foods are more nutritious than conventionally produced foods, but proponents argue that the absence of pesticides and other chemicals makes organic eating the smart choice.
Of course, eating organic can be much more expensive, and even pro-organic activists recognize that in the case of some products, the organic version isnt any better than the non-organic version. So consider the pros and cons of eating organic, but dont stress too much if organic products are outside of your budget or not available in your area, as the concrete benefits of eating organic are still being debated.
The considerations above, from staying hydrated to avoiding sweets to considering eating primarily organic, are all important things to keep in mind. But remember: if you are looking for the most essential things you need to keep in mind to improve eating habits and make sure that what you eat is contributing to your good health rather than pushing you in an unhealthy direction, start with Pollans seven rules and seven words. And your best approach to healthy eating comes down to two things: keeping a balance, and eating real food.
Part 2: Getting the Vitamins and Nutrients Your Body Needs
Vitamins and minerals are both example of micronutrients, or substances required by your body in small quantities in order for your body to function properly. While the fact that micronutrients are only needed in small amounts, might make you think they arent important, nothing could be further from the case: getting the right amounts of the right vitamins and minerals is absolutely essential in assuring the maintenance of good health overall.
For most people, it is possible to get all of the vitamins and minerals you need from a well balanced diet, and experts agree this is the best way to maintain the right micronutrient levels in most cases. The key to getting all of the vitamins you need from diet is in eating a balance of different nutrient rich foods, as noted in our break down of healthy eating habits above. A well balanced diet tailored to insure that you are getting the right nutrients starts with lots of fruits and vegetables, and here is a quick list of some of the most nutritious plants you can pick up in your grocery aisle to start on the right foot:
- Mushrooms, especially shitake and crimini
- Sweet potatoes
- Berries of all kinds
- Peas, especially the in shell variety
- Brussel sprouts
- Bell peppers
- Nuts, especially almonds and cashews
After starting with some of the plant based, nutrient rich items on the list above, round out your balanced diet with sources of lean protein. For those who choose to eat animal products, there are some very smart choices available in the meat aisle, from chicken and turkey to lean lamb and beef. Fish has also been long noted for its nutritional advantages over other animal products, so pick up some salmon or halibut to help round out your nutrient rich diet. Again, the secret here isnt really a big secret: if you are eating a well balanced diet, with foods that are nutrient rich, you probably will be getting all of the vitamins and minerals you need.
But of course there are exceptions to this rule. Some individuals may live in areas where it is hard to obtain fruits and vegetables, making a nutritionally balanced diet hard to achieve. For individuals in specific demographics, such as pregnant or postpartum women, some micro nutrients are deemed so essential that it is a smart idea to supplement a well balanced diet with stand alone vitamin and mineral supplements.
One of the most common and popular supplements taken in the pursuit of better health is the ubiquitous multivitamin, are consumed by a large percentage of the population, but their benefits are surprisingly controversial. The basic premise behind multivitamins makes a lot of sense: lots of people dont have the best eating habits and miss out on vital nutrients, so a one size fits all kind of solution that offers the most essential vitamins is an easy and smart fix. But studies have shown that this logic isnt necessary as sound as common sense dictates, and that modern diets do a fairly good job of providing almost everyone with the micronutrients they need.
But while the jury is still out on multivitamins, and evidence is mounting that a lot of the claims made about their use are exaggerated, many health professionals still recommend their use for two main reasons. First, while it is true that the vast majority of people can get all they need from a balanced diet, there are still micro-nutritional deficiencies in others. Even if a multivitamin probably isnt needed, sometimes they do some small amount of good. Second, there isnt much to suggest that multivitamins do any harm, even when they arent needed. At worst, taking a multivitamin probably will have no effect or a very minimal positive one for most users, so they are recommended as an insurance policy against micro-nutritional deficiencies.
And the same general logic goes for most supplements as applies to multivitamins: while there are a million different vitamins and minerals you can take, from iron to vitamin C, most experts agree that nutritional supplements arent needed if a balanced, nutrient rich diet is maintained. So, why is there information in this guide at all about vitamin and mineral supplements, if most people dont really need them? In some cases and for some people, vitamin and mineral supplements are a good idea, even though they might not be necessary in the general population.
For pregnant or nursing women, certain supplements can be very beneficial in improving mother and child health. Especially in the prenatal stages, most doctors recommend that women take an iron supplement, as the minerals effects are so important. Getting enough iron helps pregnant women keep their blood rich in hemoglobin, which in turn prevents anemia and other complications. Additionally, a folic acid supplement is a good idea for most pregnant women, again because of the vital role the micronutrient plays in the pregnancy process. Getting enough folic acid helps keep the placenta healthy, and protects against neural tube defects. So for almost all pregnant women, taking iron and folic acid supplements is a good idea.
And pregnant women arent the only people who can benefit from strategic supplement use. A small percentage of the population suffers from malabsorption disorders that make it hard for the body to process the micronutrients found in food, meaning that vitamin deficiencies can easily arise without proper attention. Additionally individuals who live in northern climates may suffer from vitamin deficiencies in the winter months, as the seasonal lack of sunlight can cause vitamin D shortages, and the absence of locally grown fruits and vegetables in cold winter months can make it harder to eat a well rounded diet.
Above, we have presented you with something of a paradox. For most individuals, a well balanced diet is perfectly adequate to insure that vitamin and mineral deficiencies dont arise, but in some cases supplements and multivitamins can be beneficial. So how do you know if you are an individual that could benefit from supplementing your diet? Here are three of the most common vitamin deficiencies, along with the symptoms they can cause:
The body regulates vitamin D levels based mostly on exposure to the sun, with UV rays telling the body to do everything it can to up vitamin D levels in the blood. Therefore, vitamin D deficiencies occur when individuals dont get enough sunlight. Lack of exercise, poor diet, and other factors like genetics and skin tone can contribute to vitamin D deficiencies as well, and the biggest symptom of this nutritional shortcoming is general fatigue.
Magnesium works closely with calcium to carry out several bone and tissue related functions in the body, so a deficiency in this nutrient is particularly serious since it will limit the ability of your body to use calcium effectively as well. People who eat highly processed diets are at risk of magnesium deficiencies, as many real foods like nuts and fish are high in the nutrient. Symptoms range from sleep loss to muscle cramping, and can manifest themselves in a variety of ways based on the fact that magnesium is present in so many bodily functions.
This nutritional deficiency has a more scary and more recognizable name in its most extreme forms: anemia. As noted above, iron plays a crucial role in helping the bodys blood carry oxygen and feed the major organs, and an iron deficiency fundamentally affects the ability of your red blood cells to do their job. Vegans and vegetarians can be susceptible to this deficiency, as red meat especially but animal products more generally can be rich in iron. Fatigue is the most common symptom, though shortness of breath and an inability to focus can develop as well.
So what should you do if it sounds like you are at risk of one of the nutritional deficiencies above, or if you recognize some of the symptoms cited? First, the foolproof answer to any and all questions related to your health is that you can visit your doctor. Quick and mostly painless blood tests can quickly inform you if you are receiving enough vitamins and minerals. Following a test, you and your doctor can talk about any areas where you could or should be supplementing your diet.
Remember whenever dealing with multivitamins and other nutritional supplements though that no pill, powder, or concoction is a good substitute for a well balanced, nutritious diet. Taking a multivitamin probably wont hurt you, but if your diet is good and you are eating nutritious food, thats usually enough for the majority of the population. So approach supplements with a sceptical eye, and keep in mind that the quality and variety of your diet is the most important thing to be concerned about when thinking about nutrients and vitamins.
Part 3: Quit Smoking! It is the number one thing you can do to improve your health.
Remember at the start of this guide, when we encourage you to think about health holistically and strive for overall healthy habits rather than avoiding certain constantly changing unhealthy taboos? Smoking is an exception. The negative effects of smoking cigarettes are so profound that for those that are regular smokers, quitting is the number one thing you can do to improve your overall health.
First, a look at some of the biggest reasons why smoking is so bad for you. Smoking is the number 1 cause of premature death in North America. From your lungs to your heart toy our skin, smoking can have a major negative effect on every organ system in the body. The more you smoke, the more likely you are to develop cataracts, which in turn can lead to blindness or expensive eye surgeries. Smoking causes cancer, not just in the lungs but in the mouth, and in many other organ systems as well. Heavy smokers are much more likely to develop stomach ulcers than non-smokers, and ulcers that do occur are prone to healing slower.
Many of these reasons are well known, but they are all worth restating just to drive the point home: in more ways than we can count, smoking is bad for you. Which in itself is an important reasons to quit. However, for those who dont think quitting is important, here are four more lesser known reasons to put down cigarettes in addition to the negative effects of smoking on overall health.
Recent studies have shown that smoking speeds up the natural mental decline in elders by up to a factor of five. In addition, individuals who are in the early stages of developing alzheimers and dementia are particularly affected by this correlation, as regular smoking causes aggressiveness in the onset of these diseases. While this correlation is recently discovered and still being studied, it appears that the effect that smoking has on arterial function and overall health translates directly into mental decline in elders.
The old cliche linking cigarettes and sexuality is probably best forgotten, as research shows
that regular cigarette smoking has a negative effect on male sexual performance. By decreasing your bloods ability to travel around your body efficiently, as smoking damages arterial function and causes plaque buildup in the circulatory system, cigarette use increases the chances of erectile dysfunction in males.
Amongst heavy smokers, the negative effects of cigarette use on the respiratory system in general can translate in to snoring. By increasing the chances of chronic congestion and decreasing the ability of your airways to repair themselves efficiently, smoking enhances all of the natural causes of snoring with heavy use.
According to a study published in the Journal of Arthritis & Rheumatism, genetically vulnerable smokers can be nearly 16 times more likely to develop the disease than nonsmokers without key genetic vulnerability indicators. Once arthritis develops, it is a life changing affliction that limits the physical ability of sufferers along a wide variety of metrics, so those with family histories of arthritis should be especially wary of developing a smoking habit.
If the information above is compelling, and you are a smoker ready to give up on cigarettes for good, you are making one of the most important choices you can to improve your overall health. But how exactly can you give up such an addicting and debilitating habit? Here is a quick list of three of the biggest you can do in order to make it easier to quit the smoking habit:
The habit of putting a cigarette in your mouth when you are stressed or under pressure can quickly develop into unhealthy eating habits amongst those who try to quit cigarettes for good, and can cause those who are on the quitting path to go back to smoking instead of face weight gain. So find a healthy snack that you enjoy to fulfill snacking urges cutting yourself some vegetables, like carrots and celery, is a great way to have a healthy snack on hand that wont contribute to fast weight gain.
If you have a friend group of mostly smokers, be very careful about associating with this group, especially when you are first trying to quit. For many tobacco users, smoking may have started as a social habit, so putting yourself back into this comfortable situation where it is easy to justify picking up a cigarette is very dangerous. Make an effort to spend more time with friends and connections that dont smoke, and be honest with yourself about how social situations will affect your choice to quit.
Have you always wanted to run a marathon? Quit for your future self, who will be proud when you cross that finish line with healthy, smoke free lungs. Do you have a child or grandchild? Quit for them, so you can spend more time in their life and serve as a role model of healthy habits. Do you want more money? Quitting smoking can save you thousands of dollars a year! By picking something or someone to quit for, you can put a positive spin on the situation, and turn your effort to stop smoking into a goal of something you can achieve rather than a goal of something you shouldnt do. This positive mentality will be helpful when you want to go back to smoking, as you can remind yourself of who you are stopping for.
But of course if it were as easy as those three steps, everyone who wanted to quit could. But the numbers paint a different story: only around 10% of people who try to quit smoking cold turkey on their own will succeed. As anyone who has tried to quit smoking can tell you, its hard for a number of reasons. Physical dependency can make quitting have a huge impact on all aspects of your life in the short term. Social triggers can make it hard to stay strong in the long run, even if you get through the short to medium term physical challenges.
So what other resources do you have? If quitting is so important to overall health, but so challenging to tackle alone, where can you turn? Start with a healthcare professional: data shows that 20% of smokers will successfully kick the habit if they use a medication and a detailed smoking cessation plan worked out with an expert. And look no further than Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy, for the kind expert designed smoking cessation program that you need.
To learn more about our program, come into our clinic in person or give us a call and ask about our smoking cessation program. The program will cost you only $99 dollar, money that you can save quickly by not buying cigarettes. We start with a questionnaire, which will help your healthcare professional learn more about you as a smoker and about what will be most effective in helping you quit.
After our initial questionnaire, you will be asked to come back and visit the clinic 4-6 more times, where a pharmacist will assign you homework to help you in getting started thinking about why you smoke, how often, and under what circumstances. After your assignments are completed, you will book a one on one more in depth consultation with your pharmacist, who will discuss with you how to approach breaking your smoking habits and talk over potential medications that will help you break smokings physical dependency.
You and your pharmacist will determine what medication, prescription or otherwise, is best for you and will be the most likely to result in you quitting for good. The most popular is a prescription pill called Champix or varenicline, which works well and has the added benefit of being covered by pharmacare. A wide variety of patches, gums, and alternative prescription pills are available as well. And if you are looking for something really different, we offer nicotine lollipops, which are a re-usable option which also helps combat the oral habits associated with smoking.
And remember as well that there is a lot at stake when you decide to quit smoking. You are taking the most important single step that you can to improve your overall health, potentially adding years to your life and definitely improving the quality of your life overall, and taking control of your wellness. Whether you are trying to quit for the first time, and plan on relying on some of the tips we shared above, or if you have tried before and would benefit from our professional cessation assistance program, giving up cigarettes is the single most impactful thing you can do to improve your health.
Part 4: Maintain Major Organ Health
In the information above, we shared some of our most important insights into maintaining your overall health, and approaching a healthy lifestyle holistically. In this section, we will focus more specifically on some of the biggest things you can do to maintain the health of your major organs and different organ systems. As we break down each of the specific organ systems below though, remember that the best thing you can do for any one of your organs is treat your whole body right, and focusing on holistic health is of the utmost importance.
Your skeletal systems health will have a large impact on the health of your body overall. Your bones protect other vital organs, allow for mobility by bearing the load of your bodys weight during physical activity, and anchor your muscles in place. Bone health is measured in bone mass, with denser bones signifying a healthier skeleton and peak bone mass referring to the peak genetic potential of your skeletal system. And generally, your peak bone mass will occur while you are in your early twenties, and as you age further your bone mass will fall as your bones become less dense.
To some degree this loss of bone mass is completely natural, and will occur due to the fact that your body gets worse at repairing all of your organs when you age. But when bone mass gets too low, or drops too quickly, a dangerous disease called osteoporosis. Individuals with osteoporosis suffer from bones that are so fragile, that a minor fall can result in serious and life threatening breaks and injury.
While osteoporosis is in some ways an extension of the natural process of your bones getting less dense, it does have some specific causes, which when addressed will make an individual less likely to develop the affliction. Most commonly, osteoporosis is cause by a lack of calcium, as your bones need a large amount of this material to repair themselves and keep their density. Additionally, fluctuations in hormone levels can attribute to the disease's onset, making elderly women who have gone through menopause and are lacking natural sources of estrogen one of the groups most likely to suffer.
The list of potential causes goes on, and ranges from genetics to complications of medications. But instead of worrying too much about some of the less common ones, start taking initiative to maintain your bone health by doing the following:
- Get enough calcium. Check the recommended intake levels for your age and gender, and eat calcium rich foods like dairy products and leafy greens.
- Exercise. By engaging in weight bearing exercises like hiking, yoga, and more, you will help keep your bones strong by stressing them enough to simulate growth. Just choose an exercise that is safe for you.
- Get enough vitamin D. The vitamin works closely with calcium to ensure bone health. Check above for tips on avoiding vitamin D deficiency.
If you are an older woman, and if osteoporosis runs in your family, you should also consult your doctor in addition taking the steps above. Your physician can help you figure out what supplements and exercises are best to help you maintain your bone health, given your family history and the current density of your bones.
Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bone itself is getting thinner and weaker. Arthritis damages the joints in between the bones that allow us to mover. There are over 100 different types of arthritis. Some are more common than others. Two common forms are Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis. In Osteoarthritis, bone ends grind against one another when cartilage at the end of your bones deteriorate due to age or injury, which results in pain and immobility. In Rheumatoid arthritis, your body's immune system attacks the lining of the joint capsule, a tough membrane enclosing your joints parts. Again, Rheumatoid arthritis results in pain and immobility, and can lead to more serious joint and bone damage.
If you are experiencing prolonged and serious pain in your joints, you should visit your doctor and ask about the possibility that you have developed arthritis. Risk factors include primarily age and genetics, though obesity can be a contributing risk factor as well. If you are diagnosed with arthritis, you and your doctor can talk about medication to reduce damages and pain. One easy lifestyle change you can make in addition to your doctors recommendations in avoiding certain foods which have been shown to increase joint inflammation and lead to more serious and painful arthritis cases.
As the center of the cardiovascular and circulatory systems, the heart is vitally important to many of your bodys important functions. Most notably, a healthy heart pumps blood throughout the body to deliver oxygen to all of your organs and remove waste from cellular processes. But unfortunately, heart disease is incredibly common, and is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. However, with some smart lifestyle choices, there is a lot you can do to decrease your chances of suffering from heart disease and its at times deadly effects.
First, quit smoking if you are a cigarette user, and dont pick up tobacco products if you arent. When you smoke, the chemicals in present in tobacco damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to the narrowing of your arteries and an increased chance of heart attack and other problems down the road. As soon as you stop smoking, your heart disease risk will decrease, and within five years of quitting, your risk will have dropped to a similar level of a non-smoker.
Second, you can help prevent heart disease with a balanced diet that is low in trans and saturated fats and sugars. We talked a lot about improving your eating habits above, but in this context it is important to note that your genetics will have a big effect on how diet contributes to heart disease, but no matter the frequency of heart disease in your family you are better off with a heart healthy diet. Do your best to skip or limit your consumption of fatty red meats, dairy, oils and deep fried foods, bakery products, prepackaged snacks, and butter and margarine in order to get your heart healthy diet on track.
Third, get some exercise. 30 minutes a day on the majority of the days of the week. We will talk a lot more about exercise soon, but by staying active you strengthen your heart and increase its ability to pump blood around your body. Other things you can do to improve your heart health are get adequate sleep and maintain a healthy weight. And even if you are doing all of the things above, remember to get regular screenings from a health professional to insure that your heart is remaining healthy.
When most people think heart health they think heart attacks and clogged arteries, but high blood pressure is an aspect of cardio wellness as well in a big way, and blood pressure is something that should be addressed when talking about overall heart health. In general, you can lower your chance of suffering high blood pressure through many of the same techniques that heart health is addressed in general: namely, getting exercise, eating a heart healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight.
But there are some specific things you should keep in mind when considering high blood pressure. Try to limit your salt intake, and keep alcohol consumption low or non-existent. And do everything you can to lower stress levels in your life, as the physiological effect of stress works to raise blood pressure. If you are at risk of high blood pressure and heart disease in general, you should be sure to speak to your doctor about what you can do to limit your risks and always get regular screenings. But you can greatly reduce your chances of ever being at risk by exercising, eating a heart healthy diet, putting down cigarettes, and maintaining a healthy weight.
Nervous System Health
Turning all the way back to our original World Health Organization of a healthy life, its important to maintain your mental health as well as your physical. Partially because the two are so often linked, since high stress levels and mental health issues like depression can have a huge impact on your physical state. And partially because if you dont maintain your mental health, a holistically healthy life will be impossible to achieve.
There are a handful of things you can do to try to keep mentally healthy. Importantly, you should do what you can to feel connected to others. Maintaining relationships with friends and family will naturally make you happy, and give you someone to reach out to when you are having a crisis or are buried in stress. Speaking of stress, make sure that you make time in your schedule to relax and enjoy yourself, as rest is one of the most important principles in lowering stress and maintaining good mental health overall.
Maintaining mental health is largely something that will vary from person to person, but one thing that is universal in people with healthy mental states is they have things in their life that make them happy. Find activities you are interested in and can invest time into, especially if you are feeling aimless or like you need direction. Keep in contact with people who bring you joy, and make a point of seeing them often. And make sure to give yourself credit for your successes, and find joy in the everyday things that you do well.
When talking about maintaining mental health, maybe the most important point that needs to be made is that there is nothing wrong with reaching out for help. Reach out to people when you need them, whether consulting in a close friend or a mental health professional. And realize that when your mental health declines, it isnt necessarily your fault. Even if you are doing everything you should to maintain mental health, depression and other afflictions can be genetic, or strike for reasons completely out of your control. So do what you can to maintain mental health, starting with the ideas above, but reach out when you need to and dont blame yourself if your maintenance efforts arent successful.
Aside from maintaining mental health though, there are a handful of other areas surrounding the health of your nervous system that you should be aware of. Neuropathy, which simply means nerve damage, can manifest in a number of ways, but the most common symptoms are a numbness or burning sensation in the extremities.
Diabetic neuropathy, one of the most common types which results from blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes, is an especially serious condition as it can lead to the eventual necessity for foot or leg amputation. Neuropathy in diabetics occurs when, over long periods of time, excess glucose levels cause damage to blood vessels, especially likely in the feet and legs. As neuropathy sets in, the loss of feeling combines with poor circulation which also results from diabetes, and leads to ulcers developing in the feet and legs. To compound the issue, lack of sensation means that diabetic patients may not notice ulcers or take them seriously until serious infection sets in and amputation is the only viable option.
To prevent this serious escalation, it is very important for sufferers of diabetes to always monitor their glucose levels closely, even if neuropathy hasnt begun to develop. Once neuropathy does begin to set in, diabetes patients will need to take extra care to always keep their feet clean and sanitary, and take any foot injury very seriously. Close monitoring of glucose levels, combined with close attention to any damage or injury to the feet and legs, can prevent the need for amputation. But when diabetic neuropathy sets in and leads to ulcers, things can quickly escalate, so it is best to fight the potential need for amputation through the above mentioned preventative means.
You skin serves a very important role in protecting the internals of your body from foreign objects, sun rays,and other potentially damaging materials, so keeping it healthy should be a priority. There is a lot of information out there about how to keep your skin healthy, and more products that cater to good skin than the health of any other major organ system. But of course not all of that information is very reliable or useful. Here are our most important dos and donts for skin care.
Do stay hydrated: how much water you consume has a huge impact on your skins health. When you drink a lot of water, your skin will remain more elastic and repair faster, two factors in assuring your skin stays health. Do wear sunscreen when you spend time outside: not doing so can cause skin cancer, even if you dont receive a sunburn and feel like the sun isnt causing your skin any damage. Do keep your skin clean with a non-abrasive, non-irritating soap. Making sure that excess dirt and dead skin doesnt get the chance to build up on your skin will help you be sure that your skin is staying healthy.
Dont apply too much foundation or makeup: the less cosmetics you layer on your skin, the easier you can keep it clean, and the less likely you are to clog your pores and produce acne and other painful and embarrassing skin afflictions. Dont pick: even if your pimples itch or are bothering you, leaving surface skin conditions alone to dissolve on their own rather than picking at blemishes will assure that minor issues dont get worse. Dont overwash: your skin should be kept cleaning, but excessively washing, more than once or twice a day, strips away layers of your skin that you arent ready to shed yet, and can cause a host of issues.
In your quest to maintain the health of all of your major organs, remember some of the principles we have stressed throughout this guide. A holistic approach, including a balanced diet, ample exercise, and proper weight maintenance, is the best thing you can do for your organ health. If you smoke, stop. Stop as soon as you can. Cigarettes are incredibly damaging to every organ system. And if you are having concerns about the health of any of your organ systems, dont try to self diagnose your issues based on this guide or any other information you find on the internet. Instead, go see a doctor, and be sure that you are doing everything you should be to take care of yourself with your specific history, limitations, and needs.
Part 5: A Body in Motion
Alongside improving your eating habits, where this guide got its start, getting enough exercise is one of the most important things you can do improving your overall health. Before starting any new exercise program, always consult with your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough to exercise. So many of the other things we touched on in this guide, from improving your organ health to maintaining your mental health, is heavily influenced by leading an active lifestyle.
The right way to exercise for you will depend a lot on your goals, your ability, and your limitations, and to determine the most appropriate exercise plan you should consider visiting a personal trainer or physical therapist before embarking on a vigorous routine. While we arent trainers or physical therapists, there are some essential components of good exercise that we can share.
Before jumping into your routine, make sure you are prepared. Wear comfortable clothes that breathe, and shoes that will give you good support. And make sure that you bring a water bottle and are prepared to stay hydrated throughout your workout. Once you have all the things you need gathered, perform a brief warm-up to get your blood flowing. Whatever exercise you are performing, start with a less intense version. Less weight if you are strength training, a brisk walk before your run: adapt your warm up to prepare you for the routine you will embark upon.
When you are jumping into an exercise session, consider the different types of exercise that you can incorporate into your routine. Endurance exercises are those that increase your heart rate through prolonged activity, and will help keep your heart, lungs, and circulatory system healthy and improve your overall fitness. Good examples are dancing, brisk walking, or jogging. Strength exercises are focused on increasing your muscles ability to lift and move weight or react to resistance how you want them to, and can help you perform everyday tasks that wear you out. Strength exercises can be performed with weight sets, your body weight, or resistance bands. Balance exercises will help you stay stable as you move, and are good to incorporate especially as you get older and need to avoid the risk of falling injuries. Tai-chi, yoga, and dancing are all good examples. And finally, flexibility exercises will help you stay limber and make it easier for you to move freely, and are epitomized by basic stretches as well as more advanced yoga poses.
Just like your diet, your exercise routine should be balanced, and will ideally include some elements of the four types of exercises listed above. Which types you will incorporate more or less depends on your goals and your abilities, and the best way to make sure that your routine is right for you is to consult first with a trainer and then with your doctor to make sure that all exercises are a good fit your your current health and ability level.
One variety of exercise that is unique enough to warrant a further breakdown is yoga, because it can help with strength training, balance, and flexibility