How to be more healthy
Having a healthy body and mind indicates you are functioning as you are supposed to. Being healthy usually means you look better, have more energy, are happier and could live longer. In this article I will explain some of the ways you can start providing your body with the loving care it needs. It is broken down into 4 sections – Diet, Exercise, Mental health and Your body.
“You are what you eat” – I’m sure you have heard this saying many times before. What enters your mouth on a daily basis has a tremendous effect on how healthy you are, both now and in the future. Providing your body with the correct nutrition will mean better health, more energy and possibly a longer lifespan.
1. Drink more water
Your body is 60 – 70% water, your brain an incredible 80%. Every single cell in your body also requires water in order to function optimally. If you suffer from regular headaches, wake up feeling tired, have skin outbreaks or constantly have yellow coloured urine, chances are you are dehydrated.
It is recommended that you consume at least 1.5 – 2 litres of water every day; this varies from person to person. Your body is the perfect indicator – when you feel thirsty you should drink! If you don’t like the taste of water, add some lemon, orange or cucumber slices to infuse some flavour. Drinking more water brings with it a number of health benefits including:
- Helps to detox the body – the more water you drink, the more you sweat and urinate. This helps purge toxins from your body and keeps your kidneys in tip top condition.
- Glowing skin – water hydrates your skin cells making them plump and healthy, giving you a radiant complexion.
- More energy and better concentration – because water makes up such a large part of your body, drinking more of it helps your brain and muscles perform better than they would if you are dehydrated.
- Aids digestion and bowel movements – water is needed to produce digestive juices in your body such as the hydrochloric acid in your stomach and bile in your liver, which are used to break down the food you eat. Being well hydrated also means you are less likely to get constipated.
- Reduces hunger and helps weight loss – drinking water makes you fuller which means you eat less. Additionally it has no calories, so it does not add on weight to your body. Instead it increases your metabolism meaning you burn more fat, helping you to lose weight.
Try to gradually reduce the amount of soft and processed drinks you consume and replace them with pure water. You will be surprised at the huge number of health benefits you attain as a result!
2. Make sure you have breakfast
I am sure you have also heard someone say ‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ – that’s because it is. Eating breakfast can be the difference between having a good or bad day. That being said, what you have for breakfast is equally important – you should aim for something high in fibre (such as fruit) with an adequate amount of lean protein (eggs are a perfect source) and good carbohydrates (e.g. oatmeal, to provide energy).
Here are some reasons why you should not miss breakfast:
- Provides energy – breakfast provides you with a source of energy which you need in order to be productive throughout the day. Skipping breakfast will most likely leave you tired and groggy within a few hours of waking up. Breakfast also gives you the vitamins and nutrients needed for your body to function optimally.
- Break your fast – ever wonder where the word breakfast comes from? You’ve just spent 7 – 9 hours without any food or water, meaning your metabolism has slowed down greatly. Having a bite to eat brings your metabolic rate back up, helping you burn calories throughout the day.
- Snack less on junk – if you have a good breakfast, you will be fuller for longer and so be less likely to have hunger pangs. This helps control both your weight and blood sugar levels.
3. Have at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables everyday
Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals & fibre and are mainly made up of water – all of them are extremely beneficial to your overall health. Whether eaten in raw or cooked form, there is always something to gain by incorporating more of these natural foods into your diet.
You should aim to consume a variety, including leafy greens (spinach), coloured vegetables (beetroots), citrus fruits (oranges) and those rich in antioxidants (blueberries). An ideal option would be to mix various fruits and veg into a delicious juice or smoothie (e.g. using a NUTRiBullet) for easier consumption. Some of the advantages of eating more fruit and veg include:
- Antioxidants – they are abundant in antioxidants like vitamin C and beta-carotene. Consuming them helps boost your immune system, making your body better able to fend off diseases such as certain types of cancer.
- Fibre – they provide a lot of fibre which helps keep your lower digestive system in check.
- Fewer calories – vegetables are generally much lower in calories than other types of food, due to their low sugar and high fiber content. If you are trying to lose weight, incorporate more raw and steamed vegetables into your diet.
- Prevent disease – studies have shown that fruits and vegetables lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
4. Eat 5 – 6 smaller meals per day
Most people are used to eating 3 – 4 times per day, however having 5 – 6 smaller meals per day may be more beneficial. Eating more meals does not increase your metabolism but it may help prevent you from over eating. The logic behind this is that the longer you wait in between your main meals, the hungrier you get.
This means you tend to eat more and snack on junk in between meals. Breaking up main your meals into 5 or 6 portions keeps your stomach satisfied for a longer period of time.
5. Avoid fat, sugar and salt.
Junk and fast food is mainly made up of these 3 ingredients, which is why they are not recommended if you are trying to have a more healthy lifestyle. Foods high in sugar affect your insulin levels and make you put on fat, whereas those high in salt can worsen high blood pressure. Instead, you should opt for a diet that consists of lean protein, whole grains and low fat dairy. These types of foods have the following benefits:
- Build muscle not fat – lean protein together with adequate exercise helps you build muscle. Muscles consume calories so the more muscle you have the more calories you burn. Additionally, protein helps you feel fuller for longer. You can obtain lean protein from chicken, fish and tofu.
- A healthier gut – whole grains help reduce constipation due to their high fiber content, regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol and like protein, keep you fuller for longer.
- Healthy bones – low fat dairy mainly in the form of milk, yogurt and cottage cheese are high in calcium, which keeps your bones healthy and lower the risk of osteoporosis. However be sure to keep clear of dairy products that are full of sugar and avoid them entirely if you are lactose intolerant.
6. Control alcohol intake
Regular binge drinking has a detrimental effect to your body, negatively affecting major organs such as your liver, heart and kidneys. The recommended amount of alcohol is no more than 21 units / week for men and 14 units / week for women. 1 unit of alcohol can be found in about half a pint of beer.
If you do drink, try to avoid coloured spirits and stick to clear ones – the hangover will be less painful! On the flip side, having a glass of red wine every now and then is actually good for the heart – just don’t chug down an entire bottle!
7. Fast or go on a detox diet once in a while
A recent study showed that fasting for 3 days can regenerate your entire immune system.
Putting your body in starvation mode makes it produce new white blood cells which then fight off pathogens and infection.
Fasting has been done for centuries and various religions such as Islam and Hinduism recommend it.
If you are unable to fast without food, then going on a detox diet can be equally beneficial – this involves consuming fresh organic fruits and vegetables, herbal teas and homemade soups.
A detox diet does not have to be unpleasant – as seen in the movie ‘Fat, sick and nearly dead’, a 3 to 10 day juice fast can have an extraordinary effect on your body, helping you to lose weight, alleviate migraines and gain more energy.
Before going on a fast or detox diet, always consult your doctor to make sure they think its OK for you to do so.
8. Chew your food better
Many people gulp down their food without properly chewing it. This can cause a variety of problems such as bloating, constipation and lower energy levels.
It is recommended that you chew each bite until the food mixes with saliva in your mouth and becomes a liquid consistency. Here are a few reasons to chew your food more:
- Better absorption of nutrients – chewing breaks down food into smaller particles which can then be much more easily digested. As a result your gut can better absorb nutrients – the same amount of food chewed for a longer period would therefore provide more energy.
- Maintain a healthy weight – eating slowly may mean you eat less food as it takes a bit of time for your brain to tell your stomach you are full. Therefore you eat less than you would if you were to chew faster, reducing the number of calories you consume.
- Reduce bloating and help digestion – swallowing large pieces of food cause bacteria in your intestines to break more of it down, rather than the saliva in your mouth. The longer you chew, the longer the food is in contact with saliva which contains enzymes to help break it down. However if you chew less, bacteria near your lower end will have to do most of the work – they release methane as a by product, leaving you gassy, bloated and with abdominal pain.
Exercise is the miracle drug that gives you more energy, prevents numerous diseases and may also help increase your lifespan. Most types of exercise are beneficial to the entire body (your mind included) and regular exercise is equally as important as a healthy diet.
A lot of people are discouraged by exercise because they feel they do not have enough time – an hour in the gym may seem too long. There’s good news though, short bursts of exercise throughout the day can be equally as effective. So whether you plan on a long or short session, there is no doubt that you should go for it!
Just 30 minutes in total per day is enough to have dramatic effects on a various aspects of your life. Here are some of the top reasons for you to exercise regularly:
- Control your weight – when you exercise, your muscles burn calories. These calories are obtained from the food you eat and fat stores around your body. To reap the benefits, you don’t need to have an intense workout – simply climbing some stairs or going for a light jog will get your muscles hungry. As long as you’re sweating you’re burning calories, and that’s a good thing; if you use more calories than you consume, you will end up losing weight.
- Helps prevent many diseases – exercise has been scientifically proven to have an astounding effect on the number of diseases it can prevent. It reduces your risk of coronary heart disease by up to 35%, diabetes by 50%, colon cancer by 50% and osteoarthritis by 83%. To gain these benefits make sure you exercise at least 3 – 4 times a week (for at least 150 minutes in total a week) and do some form of activity that gets your heart pumping, making you sweat.
- Makes you breath better – cardiovascular exercise helps tone your lungs, making them better able to pull in and push out air. This means as you get older, you are much less likely to be short of breath than someone who doesn’t exercise. Just be sure not to negatively affect this benefit by smoking!
- Better sleep – if you are unable to fall asleep within a few minutes at night, exercise could be the answer. Exercising in the morning or afternoon is much more recommended than exercising at night (which can give you more energy rather than making you tired). By doing so, you help control your circadian rhythm, also known as your body clock. Getting a good nights sleep has a noticeable effect on your overall mood and energy levels the next day.
- Makes you happier – physical activity causes the release of endorphins in your body, which are the chemicals that make you feel good! The ‘runner’s high’ is a common phrase used to describe this, a euphoric feeling that runners get after pushing themselves. You don’t need drugs to make you happy, just go out for a jog and see how great it makes you feel.
What exercise should I do?
Choosing an appropriate exercise will depend on how fit you are to begin with. As mentioned above, all forms of exercises have some kind of positive effect on your body, however below is a list of the most recommend ones that can be done by anyone:
- Walking and jogging – you can pretty much do these two anywhere and at anytime, be it on a treadmill in the gym or out in a park. Put on a good pair of trainers and you’re good to go. If you’re not used to this form of exercise, build up your endurance gradually rather than pushing yourself to exhaustion the first few times. If you make it a regular habit you will reap benefits such as weight loss, a toned body and better posture.
- Lifting weights – you should choose the amount of weight depending on how strong and experienced you are. If just starting out, choose a weight that you feel you will be able to do 10 reps of a given exercise without injuring or straining yourself. Different movements target different parts of the body, so look around for a routine based on the muscles you are trying to target. Lifting weights together with a diet high in lean protein and good carbohydrates will help you put on muscle – this will make you stronger and help burn off fat.
- Swimming – by swimming intensely, you can burn between 400 and 700 calories per hour. The world champion Michael Phelps would consume an unimaginable 12000 calories per day (the average human consumes 2500), because he needed the energy for his long training hours. Swimming makes you less prone to injury than other types of land based aerobic exercise, tones your muscles, improves flexibility and gives you a healthier heart.
- Calisthenics – don’t want to use fancy machines and weights? Then give calisthenics a try; this form of exercise works out your body without having to use any equipment. Examples of calisthenic exercises are squats, crunches, push ups and burpees. Some benefits of calisthenics are they strengthen the whole body, make you more flexible and help you develop physical endurance.
- Yoga – an ancient form of exercise which is known to calm the mind and improve flexibility, breathing & posture. Anyone, even people in their 70’s can start practicing yoga, both in the comfort of their homes or in one of many public or private classes available worldwide. If you are trying to lose weight, combine yoga with one of the other options listed above as it is not as intense a form of exercise.
If you have a sedentary lifestyle, start exercising slowly and you will notice the vast health benefits it brings your way. If you are already relatively active, try push yourself just a little bit harder and you will be surprised what you can accomplish within a few months.
However, whatever your level of experience always be sure to be careful in whatever exercise you do so as to prevent serious injury. As an example, seniors might want to consider using a recumbent bike rather than an ordinary one as it is easier to use and reduces the chances of injury greatly.
Having a healthy mind is probably the most important factor when it comes to assessing a persons well being. Your mindset will most likely affect both your diet and how much you exercise (both listed above as important factors for overall health).
People who have a positive outlook on life tend to take better care of themselves than those who do not. A person with good mental health can express a range of emotions, maintain positive relationships with others, be able to better manage stress and is generally more happy.
Of course, there are factors out of our control that can negatively affect our mental health such as experiencing some kind of loss, money problems or troublesome relationships. Here are a few ways you can try to improve your mental health on a daily basis:
Better manage stress
Modern life demands a lot from us – we have deadlines, bills and relationship issues.
Stress is not always a negative thing, small amounts of it can help you to try work harder and improve performance in order to get a certain task completed.
Stress causes your body to release various hormones into your blood stream, one of them being adrenaline, which gives you more energy. The hormones are meant to assist in dealing with threats or pressure, also know as the ‘fight or flight‘ response.
However if stress becomes a major day to day occurrence, it can have a negative effect on both your body and mind.
Too much stress increases the chance of various health problems such as high blood pressure and psychological problems like anxiety.
There are a number of ways you can better control how stressed you get, which will prevent you from resorting to unhealthy habits such as drinking or smoking:
- Exercise – as mentioned earlier in this article, exercise has a large number of benefits and one of them is it helps control stress. Exercising does not make the stress go away, however it does assist in calming down your mind, making you better able to think about and deal with the problems causing you stress.
- Have a journal – a stress journal can help you determine the main factors that cause stress in your life and how you cope with them. Every time you feel stressed, make a note in the journal – doing this on a daily basis will give you an idea of the major stress initiators. You can then try to confront whatever it is that is putting pressure on you.
- Don’t try change things you cannot control – a lot of things in our life are out of our control, one of the main ones is the thoughts and behaviour of other people. Instead of stressing about what they say or do, try focus on the way you react to them. This in itself could be a great stress reliever.
- Talk to someone – be it a friend, a loved one or a professional counselor – if something is constantly bugging you, try open up to someone you can trust. They may be able to provide a solution to your problems or give some kind of positive advise.
- Make time to wind down – take a little while every day to do the things you love, things that make you happy. This could be playing with a pet, watching a sitcom or having a bath. Whatever it may be, have some quality ‘me’ time on a regular basis and notice how much better you feel.
Mindfulness is about being present in the current moment, a type of meditation that has only recently become a part of Western culture. There may have been times when you are driving home and your mind wanders away – suddenly you are home without remembering most of the journey!
This is an example of mindlessness. Another example is having a meal but at the same time watching TV, talking to someone on the phone or doing some work. Yes, you know you are eating but you’re not completely aware of what the food tastes like and all the emotional sensations it is giving you. Why should you be mindful? Here are just a few reasons:
- Its good for your body – a study found that after practicing mindfulness for 8 weeks, your body’s immune system gains the ability to fight off various types of illness.
- It helps you focus – through mindfulness, people are better able to cut out distractions, making them have a better memory and attention.
- It helps control weight – mindful eating results in better eating habits which in turn assist in controlling and losing weight.
Mindfulness is an extremely broad topic and does take some time to master. There are plenty of extremely helpful resources available that can teach you how to be more mindful. Here are some general tips (more reading on the topic will better help you understand how to be truly mindful):
- Concentrate on your breathing – be aware of every breath you take in and take out. This is used as the main point of focus in most forms of meditation – it is what brings you back to the present moment when your thoughts begin to wander.
- Thoughts are short lived – realize that the many thoughts you have come and go and are very short lived, therefore they do not define you. This can help reduce the number of negative thoughts you have and increase positive ones.
- Focus on what you are feeling – at any given moment, look deep into what you are feeling – sounds, sights and smells which you would ordinarily ignore and consider unimportant.
Some other things you can do for better mental health:
Laugh – ‘laughter is the best medicine‘ and is one of the fastest ways to make you feel better. It has the benefits of lowering stress hormones, boosting immunity, reducing pain and relieving anxiety. So the next time you are feeling down in the dumps, watch a funny movie, invite over some close friends or do something silly – anything to make you chuckle.
Take a vacation – having a much needed break every once in a while helps your entire body relax and prevents work overload. Whenever you feel things are getting a bit too much, try book a vacation to some place you know you will enjoy.
Volunteer and be productive – this makes you feel like you have assisted someone and achieved something at the end of the day. Your life has purpose, and that’s a good thing. Try be as productive as you can on a daily basis, being sure to help both yourself and others whilst you do so.
Mind exercises – games such as Scrabble and Sudoku help keep your mind active so try incorporate them into your lifestyle now and again. Other ways to exercise your mind include reading, writing, learning a new language and socializing.
Keep good company – having a good group of friends who motivate you, a loving relationship and supportive co workers can make all the difference in how you feel about yourself. So wherever possible, try be around people who bring out the good in you rather than the bad.
Don’t compare yourself to others – a lot of the time we are constantly comparing ourselves to other people. This can have a negative effect on our minds; not everyone’s circumstances are the same, each person has had their own journey through life. Instead, compare yourself to the person you were yesterday and try and be a bit better today.
Accomplish small things – we all have goals we need to accomplish. Trying to do so in smaller steps rather than all at once keeps you motivated and prevents you from giving up. So break down goals into segments and try manage each segment one at a time.
To conclude, try be positive and have an optimistic outlook on life. Life is hard but being positive will mean better mental health and a happier lifestyle.
Having a healthy diet and exercising regularly are a great way to take care of your body. In this section of the article, I will describe some other good habits you should try and keep.
‘Your body is the only place you have to live, so take care of it and it will take care of you.‘
Get enough sleep
Each individual will be unique in the amount of sleep they need, however in general it is recommended you get at least 7.5 – 9 hours per night. The best way to determine how much sleep you need is to fall asleep naturally (i.e. when you are completely tired) and also wake up naturally (without an alarm clock).
This will indicate the number of hours of sleep you need per night. Getting fewer hours than this for an extended period of time can have negative effects on a number of aspects of your health. Here are some benefits of getting enough sleep per night:
- Better memory – while you sleep, your brain enhances memories making it easier for you to remember things you learned during the day. This is why it is important for anyone trying to learn something new to get enough sleep – a lot of the memory process occurs while you snooze!
- Better performance – it goes without saying, sleep is needed in order to help heal the body and restore energy. However missing out on just an hour of sleep can impair performance and concentration the next day by a noticeable amount.
- Better immune system – lack of sleep has a negative effect on your immune system, making it more susceptible to infection. A study carried out in 2009 found that people who slept for less than 7 hours a night were 3 times more likely to catch a cold than those who slept for 8+ hours per night.
If you find it difficult to fall asleep at a decent hour or get enough sleep per night, try these tips:
- Be regular – try go to sleep at the same time every night, even on weekends. In doing so, you regulate your body clock so that it knows what time you should start feeling tired. If you want to change the time you go to sleep, do so in 10 – 20 minute increments so as to not greatly affect your circadian rhythm. By being regular, you should be able to wake up without an alarm clock, feeling fully rested. If you still require an alarm clock, try go to bed even earlier than you did previously.
- Have a good sleep environment – your bedroom should be quiet, cool and and pitch black when you go to sleep. Consider wearing some ear plugs and an eye mask to block out external distractions that are out of your control. Additionally have a good quality mattress as it makes all the difference.
- Diet and exercise – avoid caffeinated drinks, alcohol and heavy meals at night. These make it harder for you to fall asleep; instead drink plenty of water to keep you hydrated and have a meal rich in lean protein, good carbohydrates and vegetables. As for exercise, try do most of it in the morning or afternoon so as to allow your body to wind down at night.
- Have a routine – create a bedtime routine so that your body accustoms it to sleep. If possible, keep away from bright screens one hour before you want to sleep. Instead read a book or have a hot bath to help you relax.
If you don’t already smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quit. Smoking is by far one of the most damaging things you can do to your health, each cigarette reducing your life span by 10 minutes! I know smoking is very addictive, but the dangers of it far out weigh any benefits (there are non really) that you may think it brings to you. Here are some of the main reasons not to smoke:
- Causes irreparable damage to your lungs – every cigarette you smoke causes damage to tissues inside your lungs. Initially you may feel fine, but carry on smoking and the chances of bronchitis, lung cancer, emphysema and other breathing problems multiply drastically.
- 50% of smokers die from smoking related issues – almost 50% of everyone who smokes ends up dying due to a smoking related illness, including various cancers, heart attacks and strokes. On average, smokers tend to die 8 years earlier than those who do not.
- Smoking affects others – passive smoke from your cigarette affects people around you whether they are aware of it or not. Not only does it irritate their eyes, nose and throat but also increases their chances of contracting a fatal disease.
Quitting smoking may be hard, but there are a number of ways to increase your chances:
- Get rid of all smoking paraphernalia – this includes cigarettes, rolling tobacco, rolling paper, ashtrays and lighters. If they are not around you, you will feel less tempted to smoke.
- Speak to your doctor or pharmacist – there are a variety of products you can use to help you quit smoking such as patches, lozenges and nasal sprays. These products provide a regular dose of nicotine, the main ingredient in cigarettes that give you that oh so familiar rush.
- Books and apps – try Allen Carr’s book ‘Easy way to stop smoking‘ or Jason Vale’s app ‘Stop smoking in 2 hours‘. At the end of the day quitting is mainly a mental battle; convincing yourself that you do not need cigarettes to function optimally or make you happy.
Remember to exercise and drink plenty of water once you quit – this will flush out all the toxins smoking helped your body accumulate over the years.
Get a medical examination
If you are healthy and under the age of 35, then having a full body check up every 2 – 3 years is a good idea. Additionally, you should visit your dentist every six months. Visiting your doctor will allow them to check your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels to make sure your system is running smoothly.
If you ever do notice anything irregular with your body such as excessive tiredness, persistent headaches or a strange looking mole, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. It is easier to prevent and control a variety of illnesses if they are detected early.
Being hygienic is important if you want to maintain good health and prevent illness. Some ways to be hygienic include:
- Wash your body and brush your teeth daily – this not only gets rid of bacteria on your body and in your mouth but also leaves you feeling clean and fresh. You should use a good body wash, shampoo and toothpaste.
- Regularly wash your clothes and bed sheets – sweat is a haven for all kinds of pathogens. Be sure to clean all fabrics you come into contact with in warm water mixed with an enzyme containing detergent
- Always wash your hands – this should be done regularly but especially after using the bathroom or handling meat. There are millions of harmful bacteria present on your hands after these two activities; washing your hands helps prevent transmission of these bacteria to other people and keeps you from getting ill.
- Nuke that dish sponge – a study found that dish sponges contain some of the highest numbers of bacteria in a household. If you use one, consider microwaving it for a few minutes or placing it in boiling water. Even better, use a new dish sponge on a regular basis.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being underweight is equally as unhealthy as being overweight. If you are over, you should try losing some weight by consuming fewer calories than you expend on a daily basis. This can be achieved by following a good diet and exercise program as explained at the top of this article.
On the other hand, if you are underweight, you need to consume more calories than you burn. However, make sure these calories come from good foods rather than those that contain large amounts of sugar, salt and fat.
Always speak to your doctor before starting a diet plan, so that they can confirm you are healthy enough to do so.
Have safe sex
Having sexual intercourse is recommended by health professionals as it has a positive effect on your body. However always remember to protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases by using a condom and limiting the number of sexual partners you have. If you do have a lot of partners, get tested regularly – many STD’s can be cured if caught earlier on.
Avoid unnecessary medication
If you get a flu for example, there is no need to take an antibiotic. The flu is caused by a virus, whereas antibiotics are used to target and kill bacteria in your body. Taking an antibiotic when it is not needed could mean that if you catch a bacterial infection in the future, it would not respond well to antibiotic treatment.
Always ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain why you are taking any medication they prescribe. This helps keep you better informed of what is going into your body.
I hope this article gave you some insight into how to have a healthier lifestyle. I am sure you follow a lot of the points already and may already be looking into improving on some of the others. Here’s to your good health!