We all know that a healthy lifestyle can prevent chronic diseases and long-term illnesses, and boost mental health. But with so much information available, and so many passing health fads (hello, celery juice!), it can sometimes feel difficult to determine exactly which healthy habits are worth investing in if we want to live longer and healthier lives.
If you’ve been struggling to get into a new and healthy routine in 2020, you’re not alone. When we feel stressed or overwhelmed, we often start to neglect our basic needs, whether that means sleeping less or eating more junk food than usual. If this sounds like you, it might be time to go back to basics, whether that is drinking more water or exercising more.
We spoke to our resident GP Dr Roger Henderson to get his advice on the healthy lifestyle choices that will have a big difference on our health:
1. Drink more water
When we’re born, almost 97 per cent of our body is made up of water. As adults, this figure falls slightly but still sits somewhere around 75 per cent. The vast majority of our brain cells are simply water, and even our teeth have 10 per cent water content. Every single cellular function in our body is in some way linked to our fluid levels: blood and cancer-fighting immune systems require water to flush out waste products away from cells and to transport nutrients and vital amino acids into them. Healthy cells work by absorbing nutrients from the water that bathes them, and even 2 per cent body dehydration is said to cause energy levels to drop by one fifth! Pay attention and notice your thirst – drink water (ideally, although tea and coffee is fine) on and off throughout the day to help keep your body at an optimum hydration level.
2. Prioritise sleep
Although there’s no simple answer as to what’s the ‘normal’ amount of sleep, most adults should aim for between seven and nine hours a night. It’s during sleep that your body restores, heals and strengthens itself both physically and mentally and a good sleep routine is important for good health.
3. Eat a balanced diet
A balanced diet doesn’t need to be difficult or complicated – the general key is to eat the right number of calories for how active you are. If you eat or drink too much, you’ll put on weight. If you eat and drink too little, you’ll lose weight. The average man needs around 2,500 calories a day and the average woman needs 2,000. Eat a wide range of foods to ensure you’re getting balanced nutrition.
4. Maintain a healthy weight
If you need to lose weight, do it. The UK is fast becoming the most obese country in Europe, thanks to poor diets and lack of exercise. Eating a healthy, balanced diet plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy weight, which is an important part of overall good health. Being overweight or obese can lead to health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease, and stroke.
5. Exercise more (and smarter)
Physical activity can help you to maintain weight loss or be a healthy weight but being active doesn’t have to mean spending hours at the gym: try getting off the bus one stop early on the way home from work and walking, or taking the stairs at work rather than the elevator. Just find something active you enjoy doing – whether it’s cycling, running, dancing or gardening – and do more of it.
6. Stop smoking
Giving up smoking is probably the greatest single step you can take to improve your health. About half of all smokers die from smoking-related diseases. If you are a long-term smoker, on average, your life expectancy is about 10 years less than a non-smoker and only about half of long-term smokers live past 70. The younger you are when you start smoking, the more likely you are to smoke for longer and to die early from smoking. Smokers who quit before the age of 45 have a life expectancy close to that of people who have never smoked. For people above this age, the gap widens, but smokers who quit over the age of 45 still enjoy considerable health benefits over people who continue to smoke.
7. Take your medication correctly
Medication non-compliance – the failure to take drugs on time in the dosages prescribed – is a huge problem both in the UK and other countries. Although hard facts are a little tricky to come by for obvious reasons, it has been estimated that at least 50 per cent of patients fail to comply with long term drug therapy, leading to poor control of their medical conditions and all the associated risks that go with that. You always need to take medications as instructed by your doctor – even if your symptoms subside. If you have any concerns about why you’re taking a certain medication, don’t stop taking it but talk your concerns over with your doctor.
8. Wash your hands
Washing your hands is one of the most effective contributions you can make to public health – second only to vaccination in terms of effectiveness at reducing infection. Use hot water and soap (or an alcohol hand cleaning gel if this is impractical) to wash your hands after preparing food, going to the toilet, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing into your hands, after handling household waste, before preparing food or eating, when caring for a sick person, or when inserting or removing contact lenses.
9. Cover up in the sun
People used to associate a deep tan with good health, but it’s actually a sign of serious skin damage. The rising numbers of skin cancer cases in the UK – especially in the young – show the price that can be paid. Using tanning beds further increases this risk. People most at risk include those with fair skin (especially people with blonde or red hair with freckles) and those who have been sunburnt in the past (especially with blisters, and even if this happened many years previously). If you have more than ten moles, your risk increases as does using sun beds – or if there is a history of skin cancer in your family.
We all get stressed from time to time, but chronic stress is not only bad for your health in general, it can prevent you from relaxing even when you have the chance to. Using relaxation techniques can help relieve the symptoms of stress as well as helping to defuse stressful situations, allowing you to take charge of your emotions and clear your head. All relaxation techniques combine breathing techniques along with muscle relaxation and it can take time to learn these skills – don’t worry if it seems strange at the start. Keep practising and it will come. Some people find that going to yoga or tai chi classes are a good way of improving both breathing and relaxation.
Last updated: 13-08-2020
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