It is important to not only get those close to you thinking about their lifestyle choices and the effects of these on their longevity, but also the quality of life they experience.
The good news is that, with minimal effort, healthy living can become a way of life for all of us. The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research has an easy-to-remember formula: ‘Eat 5, Move 10, Sleep 8.’ Add to that ‘Drink 9 or 13’ and you’re on your way to improved health, more energy and a drop in health risks like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Eat: 5 servings of fruit and vegetables in a balanced diet
“Don’t worry so much about foods you shouldn’t eat. Work on getting five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day,” is the Mayo Foundation’s guideline. Healthy eating is also about being mindful of what, when and how much you eat.
Eating breakfast kick-starts your metabolism, but the momentum needs to be maintained by eating up to three balanced meals throughout the day, with healthy snacking in between. Registered dietician Rick Hall suggests focusing on variety, colour and portion size. A good guideline is to fill half your plate with fruit and veggies, one-fourth with healthy proteins (lean meats, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy, legumes and/or nuts) and the other fourth with whole grains (e.g. brown rice, pasta, or low-GI bread). Snack on fruit and raw vegetables in between.
“But be realistic,” says Laurie Stewart from Achieve Solutions. In a perfect world, we’ll only eat when hungry, never overeat and avoid junk food. But we’re not perfect. “Rather than become rigid about eating, give yourself room in your nutritional plan to be human.”
Drink: 9 cups (for women) and 13 cups (for men) of fluids
Every system in our body needs water to function properly. Water flushes out toxins, regulates body temperature, lubricates our joints, carries nutrients and oxygen to our cells, etc. Being even mildly dehydrated depletes energy levels, and has a negative impact on mental tasks, mood and memory.
Water should be the drink of choice, but it’s not the only option. The Institute of Medicine’s recommended fluid intake of 3 litres (13 cups) per day for men and 2,2 litres (9 cups) per day for women is a total count of water, other beverages and the liquids in our food. But make sure they’re natural, low fat and low in sugar.
Incorporate more fluids into your day by starting with a glass of warm water with some lemon juice, drinking a glass of water or a low-calorie juice before every meal, keeping a jug of water at your desk, and eating more fluid-rich foods like watermelon, grapes and tomatoes.
Sleep: 8 hours is still a safe average
Most people perform at their peak after eight hours of sleep. For many, 9 to 10 hours are too much, while anything less than 6 would be too little.
Adequate sleep aids the body’s restorative processes, but new research also indicates that people with poor sleeping habits run the risk of becoming overweight. One study found that a lack of sleep triggers the concentration of a hormone that increases hunger. Our brains also need sleep to learn and remember. “Most skills are tied to sleep,” says Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute. “Athletic skills, motor skills and math and word recall all seem to improve with sleep.”
If you experience difficulty in falling asleep, the Mayo Foundation suggests sticking to a consistent schedule (getting up and going to bed at the same time, weekends included), watching what you eat and drink before bedtime (avoid nicotine, caffeine, alcohol and carbohydrate-packed foods), following a bedtime ritual (dim the lights, read, listen to soothing music), and making sure you’re comfortable (a cool, dark, quiet room and comfortable bedding).
Exercise: 10 minutes make a difference
The great thing about exercise is that you don’t need a gym or fancy equipment. Just focus on doing your normal activities differently, or with greater vigour. As little as 10 minutes of physical activity a day contributes to the 60 to 90 minutes a week, which can reduce your heart disease risk by up to half. Make up those 10 minutes by walking the dog, taking the stairs, playing with the kids, sweeping the house or doing leg lifts while talking on the phone.
But keep it moderate (which means working up a slight sweat and being slightly out of breath), as more intense exercise performed too often easily leads to illness and injury.
The bottom line is that the basic principles of healthy living work together like links in a chain — one leads to the other. You just need to take that first small, yet sustainable step to start enjoying the long-term benefits.