Being healthy and fit isn’t a fad or a trend. Instead, it is a “lifestyle.” When you look around today, it is evident that many of us are not on the correct path to achieving health and fitness. It is a well known fact that a healthy and fit lifestyle leaves one more energetic and at a reduced risk for disease. Such a lifestyle is based on the choices one makes about their daily habits and behaviors. It’s no secret. But just what constitutes a healthy and fit lifestyle?
First, one has to look at the word “healthy.” If one looks in a dictionary for the definition, it’s not much help. It states, “in good health.” There are similar words such as well, fine, fit, in good trim, in good shape, and the picture of health that helps one understand the meaning of healthy. However, it does not answer the “nuts and bolts” of being healthy and fit. To me, a healthy and fit lifestyle addresses how one choses to eat, hold themself, sleep, and reduces stress.
As the old saying goes, “you are what you eat” is the notion that to be healthy and fit, one needs to eat good and nutritious food. The various bodily systems including the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and immune systems to name just a few rely on the continual supply of nutrients to feed cell growth and metabolism. To get the multiple and essential forms of protein, vitamins, carbohydrates, minerals, and fats it is advised to eat a well balanced and varied diet. According to guidelines by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, such a diet should contain mostly whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Also, one should consume lean meats such as chicken and turkey, along with legumes, eggs, and healthy nuts.
Another important detail to living a healthy and fit lifestyle especially as one ages is to keep an eye on the portion size at every meal. It is the simplest way to control weight and reduce the risk for cardiovascular and other diseases. The FDA chose a nice, round number of 2000 calories for the average American to consume on a daily basis. On average, it has been found that American’s consume 2500 calories a day. Keep this in mind only as a starting point when trying to make changes.
Yet another important detail related to diet is hydration, especially for many of us who live in the Southwest. It is a known fact that the body is two-thirds water, so it is vital to stay hydrated. Everything that one drinks contributes to their hydration level to a greater or lesser degree. Even the food one eats hydrates.
Of course, the first thing that one thinks of when speaking of hydration is water. Drinks other than water often contain undesirables such as calories, sugars, and/or caffeine. These ingredients can impact one’s health in other ways such as contributing to weight gain and damaging teeth. Therefore, water is undoubtedly the best drink for hydration. Water is all one needs to maintain a healthy level of hydration. One only needs to to consider energy drinks or other specialty drinks if one does a particularly strenuous activity for a long period of time. Water is perfect for hydration purposes during normal exercise and daily routines. To prevent hydration, health experts feel one should drink eight 8oz. glasses or two liters or a half gallon of water a day.
Surprisingly, researchers have found milk either full fat or semi-skimmed to be very good in hydrating. Milk is better at hydrating than water because it is retained in the body for longer periods. It also provides essential nutrients including calcium, protein, and B vitamins. However, it has a higher caloric content. Like milk, fruit juices and smoothies have a higher hydrating factor, but again have a higher caloric content. In addition, they have a higher sugar content.
Yes, carbonated soft drinks that are so popular in our country are hydrating. But many of these options too contain high calories and even higher levels of sugar that can have a negative effect on one’s health. Therefore, moderation is again the key when consuming these types of beverages for hydration. That is not as easy at it sounds since the servings at most restaurants are a large. For example, a large Coca-cola at a popular, national fast food chain contains 310 calories. Just keep in mind that water has 0 calories.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention alcoholic drinks. Alcohol is one of those drinks that causes the most confusion when it comes to hydration. All alcoholic drinks contain water, so they are hydrating. However, drinks with a higher alcohol content have increased diuretic effects (produce urine) so their impact on hydration is seen as limited. That includes spirits and wines. Also, don’t forget alcoholic drinks are high in caloric content and high in sugar.
Remember, all drinks hydrate because they contain water. For example, full fat milk is 88% water. They can, therefore, be part of a moderated diet but with water at the centre of the hydration efforts.
Calories have already been mentioned because they accompany nutrition in what one eats and drinks. It is a known fact that if one doesn’t expend all the calories that are consumed, weight gain will surely occur. Studies have shown that carrying extra weight increases the risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Therefore, ones lifestyle should support a constant healthy weight with the key being active on a daily basis to burn calories. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services which outlined the Physical Fitness Guidelines for Americans, it suggests 150 hours of exercise a week that includes muscle strengthening and aerobic exercise. However, they have left out another important aspect of exercise, a stretching program.
But the question remains, “How does exercise benefit ones health?” Researchers are still in the discovery mode of the ways exercise benefits ones health. Below are just a few ways one may benefit from exercise:
•Reduces risk of heart disease-A 15 year study found replacing sedentary activity with just 30 minute a day of high activity reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. It reduces blood pressure and improves muscle function and strength including the heart muscle.
•Helps insulin sensitivity-Research has found those with diabetes and low-cardiorespiratory fitness are at increased risk for overall illness and death; exercise helps protect against that by improving insulin sensitivity.
•Improves mood-Physical activity may effectively prevent depression and enhance ones mood and lifts ones spirits.
•Improves cognitive skills-Regular activity increases the size of the brain’s hippocampus, the area responsible for verbal memory and learning.
•Affects mitochondria biogenesis-Mitochondrial function is vital to ones overall health. Exercise enhances mitochondrial biogenesis in skeletal muscle and brain.
•Strengthens bones and muscles-Weight bearing activities makes bones and muscles stronger, reducing the potential of “osteoporosis.”
•Improves sleep-It has been found sleep and exercise are interrelated as one exerted a positive effect on the other; and moderate exercise may increase the amount of deep sleep one can enjoy.
•Reduces stress-Researchers have demonstrated exercise does reduce anxiety and stress, potentially in part from enjoying a “time out” from daily worries.
•Improves digestion-Researchers have found exercise to contribute to positive changes in gut microbiota, which may provide benefits to ones health and help in the prevention of disease.
•Get an energy boost-As little as 20 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week over six weeks may help improve ones energy levels and help one feel less tired.
•Reduces overall risk of death-Data has confirmed that regular exercise is effective in the prevention of chronic disease and premature death.
•Raise self-esteem-In a study of 264 adults, researchers found physical activity was directly and indirectly associated with self-esteem.
•Reduces the risk of falls and disability-Falls are a significant cause of disability in the elderly, and exercise plays an important role in prevention.
Another important detail of a healthy and fit lifestyle that is often overlooked is “posture.” Most of us have heard the timeless advice, “Sit/stand up straight!” These words are worth heeding. Good posture is the foundation of ones skeletal and structural balance. By sitting and standing up straight, it enables one to get the center of gravity (COG) for the body closer to the ideal. This helps one to maintain correct structural biomechanics while moving and exercising resulting in fewer injuries and greater physical gains.
Poor postural habits can lead to back, neck, and other musculoskeletal conditions. As already mentioned, it can lead to poor structural balance increasing the risk of falls especially as one gets older. However, there is one aspect of poor posture that has become more prevalent today which involves breathing. I specialize in postural and movement dysfunction and I know that the first movement one acquires is breathing. It is foundational to our neurophysiological development.
Researchers are also looking into whether posture affects mood, sleep, fatigue, and jaw alignment. However, there are other problems related to poor posture that may surprise many:
•Incontinence-Poor posture promotes stress incontinence. Slouching increases abdominal pressure and that pressure is transmitted to the bladder. This slouched position decreases the ability of the pelvic floor muscles to hold against that pressure that leads to bladder, bowel, and pelvic floor dysfunction.
•Constipation-Poor posture on a toilet such as hunched over with the knees lower and higher than the hips can promote constipation. Either position affects the tone of the pelvic floor muscles and muscles around the anus making it more difficult for the abdominal muscles to work in moving the feces out. Constipation is characterized by fewer than three bowel movements per week. Remember, hydration can be factor in constipation.
•Heartburn and slowed digestion-Slouched posture during or after a meal can trigger heartburn caused by acid reflux when stomach acid squirts back up into the esophagus.
Keep in mind as you get older, the most important thing is posture. It’s the way you walk, the way you stand, the way you sit that defines you. Nothing ages one faster and more than poor posture. So if you want to grow old gracefully, pay attention to posture.
Sleep is also a vital detail to a healthy and fit lifestyle. Daily metabolism perpetuates the decline and rejuvenation of cellular tissue, and the body’s self-repair takes place when one is asleep. Memory consolidation and appetite regulation also occur during this time of reduced physical activity. The National Sleep Foundation considers seven to nine hours of sleep nightly criterion for a healthy and fit lifestyle.
Finally, stress and how one handles stress has an effect on one’s health, especially over time. Ones body responds to the stress of everyday life with release of hormones that prepares one to react. If one does not relieve this constant state of reaction through relaxation, the effects build up and accumulate creating muscular pain, headaches, sleep disturbances and other symptoms.
A lifestyle that includes regular stress management breaks this cycle before it can progress to unhealthy levels. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests limiting some activities of daily living to make room for relaxation. One can achieve physical release to such stress through stretching, massage, yoga, or enjoyable and recreational exercise. Connect with friends and family to hopefully relieve mental pressures, take time out to read, and pursue a hobby or experience another activity that makes one feel good.
Living a healthy and fit lifestyle doesn’t mean following a specific diet or exercise regime, it means finding out what works best for someone and their lifestyle and making choices that helps to energize, treat ones body with respect, and fuel with correct nutrients. Being healthy means feeling fit, strong, and confident.
A healthy and fit lifestyle looks different on everybody. All of us have different things going on in our lives, so it’s important to make choices that help one live a positive life, rather than cause stress or discomfort in trying to live a certain way. Happy travels on your never ending journey to a healthy and fit lifestyle!