Health by the numbers
What do the numbers 0, 5, 10, 25 and 30 have to do with health? It turns out that these numbers are a sort of “secret code” for good health. Using any one of these numbers by itself can reduce your health risk. Combining them will almost certainly improve your health and longevity. Today I will share that secret so you can benefit your well-being.
0No smoking. Cigarette smoking more than doubles your risk of heart disease and stroke, is by far the leading cause of lung cancer and other lung diseases and is responsible for more than 400,000 deaths per year. If you smoke, quitting now is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health. Nicotine replacement therapy in the form of gum, lozenges and patches, as well as prescription medications, can help, but quitting really does require serious dedication. It’s well worth the effort, and the benefits of quitting can be realized almost immediately.
5Eating five fruits and vegetables each day. A healthy diet is an important aspect of good health. While there is no single measure of a healthy diet, adequate fruit and vegetable consumption is considered to be essential for good health. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and fiber, and most are low in calories. At a minimum, you should eat five servings per day with an emphasis of fresh fruits and vegetables. Your real goal should be to include fruits and vegetables in all meals and snacks, but five servings per day is a good start.
1010,000 steps per day. Regular physical activity is essential for good health. Almost any activity counts, and a good goal is to be as active as possible throughout the day. You can track your physical activity using a pedometer (step counter). A goal of 10,000 steps per day is a commonly cited goal, but you should try to take as many steps as possible. You can do this by minimizing the time you spend sitting, taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking instead of driving when possible, even if you don’t get to 10,000.
25Maintaining a healthy body weight, or a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25. The BMI is a measure of weight relative to height. A BMI of 18-25 is considered healthy, 25-29 is considered overweight and 30 and higher is considered obese. The risk of health problems like diabetes, heart disease and some cancers goes up with BMI, so maintaining a healthy body weight is good for your health. If you are overweight, you should lose weight, even if you don’t achieve a BMI of less than 25.
3030 minutes of exercise per day. In addition to being as active as possible throughout the day, you should dedicate a minimum of 30 minutes for exercise or other activity. Considerable research shows that that as little as 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity leads to improved fitness and health with greater benefits coming from longer duration or higher intensity activity. This can include exercise – a brisk walk or jog, lifting weights, or other aerobic exercise – as well as other activities like housework and yard work. Your goal should be to sit as little as possible, move as much as possible, and make time each day to be active.
Now that the secret is out, you should use these numbers to improve your own health. (But don’t let anyone know I told you.)
Brian Parr, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken where he teaches courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and health behavior. He is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and is an ACSM certified clinical exercise specialist; his research focuses on physical activity in weight management and the impact of the environment on activity and diet. Parr lives in Aiken with his wife, Laura, and sons Noah, Owen and Simon.