Most common chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many cancers are linked to health habits such as smoking, what you eat and how active you are. Changing these behaviors can have an impact on your health and feelings of well-being. There is no one set of recommendations to be healthy, but there are some habits common among healthy people. Here are seven habits of highly healthy people.
1. Don’t smoke
There is no way around this one – quit! Ask your doctor about prescription and over-the-counter medications that can make quitting easier. Ultimately, though, quitting smoking is a behavior change that takes motivation, willpower and time.
2. Sit less
Prolonged sitting has been linked to negative health effects that are similar to those of not exercising. The good news is you can offset the health effects of sitting too much by taking short breaks, at work and at home, to get up and move.
3. Move more
You should strive to be as active as possible throughout the dat. At a minimum, aim for 30 minutes of activity each day, but more is better. You can meet this goal by taking the dog for a walk, playing with your kids (or grandkids), and doing housework or yard work. Even using the stairs instead of the elevator or parking farther away and walking to your destination are good ways to make activity a habit.
4. Get regular exercise
While being active on a daily basis is a good goal, there are additional benefits of doing structured exercise. This could include walking, running, or cycling outdoors, visiting a fitness center, a group exercise class, or a doing exercise at home. In addition to improving endurance, strength, and flexibility, regular exercise helps with weight control, lowers blood pressure, and prevents and treats diabetes.
5. Eat smart
Healthy eating isn't necessarily about eating less or avoiding certain foods, it's about making smart choices when you shop, cook or eat out. Eating fresh and minimally-processed foods, more fruits and vegetables, and less added sugar and salt are good ways to eat smart. And learning about the food you eat and cooking meals at home more often is a frequent recommendation.
6. Chill out
Chronic stress can have serious emotional, psychological and physiological effects that lead to or exacerbate many health problems. While it is impossible to avoid all stress in life, minimizing stressors and managing the way you respond to stress can have important benefits. Regular exercise, including yoga, managing time better, and getting enough sleep, can help with minimizing your feelings of stress as well as the effects it has on your body.
7. Monitor your health
Keeping track of your health status and habits can help you set goals, evaluate your progress, and prevent surprises, like “sudden” weight gain. Some of these are measurements your doctor will make including blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose. Others you can complete yourself like your weight, what you eat, and what you do for activity. It works, too. Research shows that people who weigh themselves regularly are better able to maintain weight loss.
Adopting these seven habits can help you prevent and treat many chronic diseases. Some of these behaviors may be difficult to change. But keep in mind that you don't have to be perfect – even small changes in your diet and activity can have big health benefits!
Brian Parr, Ph.D., is an associate professor at USC Aiken where he teaches courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and health behavior.