As a doctor, I know frightening health statistics are everywhere. We’re all getting fatter (obesity), developing chronic diseases (diabetes) and succumbing to potential pandemics (coronavirus). It’s all pretty scary.
So how can we improve our health? Yes, we want longevity—but we want quality of life as well. Are there any top tips to keep us healthy, and help us live the best life it can be? Read on and find out…
Keep Your Hands Clean
Soap and water are best in terms of getting rid of bacteria. However, if this isn’t practicable, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is still very effective. Regular hand washing is highly recommended by the WHO at present, especially to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Use Less Social Media
There is a growing body of evidence that social media can negatively affect your health. Psychologists warn that too much time spent online means not enough proper social contact with friends and family, plus not enough physical exercise. The bullying and harassment so frequently encountered on social media can have very severe consequences leading to anxiety, depression and even suicide.
Try to limit your time online, and focus on the other aspects of your life. Don’t let social media take over!
Look After Your Skin
Your skin is the largest organ of the human body! It has vital functions—to stop invading organisms like bacteria and viruses from entering the body, and also to help control your body temperature. You lose water through your skin.
Keeping your skin clean, supple, and well hydrated and very important for good health. Your skin ages as you grow older. Good skin care and good nutrition are important to minimize skin damage. It’s important to eat a diet full of antioxidants (fruit and vegetables), to get enough sleep, to use skin protection creams against sun damage, and to keep your skin moisturized.
Make Your Bed in the Morning
Many experts suggest that making your bed every morning is a good thing to do. This is because you start the day as you mean to go on—by accomplishing tasks. Each achievement helps lower stress. It’s an exercise in self-discipline and time management. Plus, it’s part of your adopting a sensible sleep routine.
Think Yourself Healthy
The link between mind and body is well proven. Optimism is associated with significant benefits to physical and mental health. Studies have shown for example that optimistic menopausal women have slower rates of progression of atherosclerosis in their carotid arteries than those who are pessimists. Cancer survival is lower in pessimists than optimists.
C’mon, Get Happy
It’s official—happy people live longer! A 2015 United States survey linked the General Social Survey-National Death Index (GSS-NDI) dataset to mortality information from the NDI. They found that, compared to those who were very happy, the risk of death was 6% higher in those who were only pretty happy, and 14% higher in those who were frankly unhappy. Happiness is now said to be a stand-alone risk factor for physical wellbeing. You can choose to be happy—it’s really just a state of mind!
Make Small Changes to Your Lifestyle
It may seem overwhelming, knowing where to start making changes to your health. But you can take small steps—you don’t have to do it all at once. What are your priorities? Which bad habit or poorer aspect of your life should, or could you, tackle first? Set yourself small goals. Reward yourself when you get there. It doesn’t have to take a huge amount of time or cost a whole load of money either.
Increased levels of exercise have been shown to increase life expectancy by 25-30%. Exercise not only benefits the heart, lowers blood pressure and stimulates your metabolism, it releases powerful endorphins which elevate mood and improve wellbeing. Exercise can be viewed as a drug for longevity. Have you had your daily fix today? 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise are recommended per week. This doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym! The world is a gym! Climb the stairs; don’t use the escalator. Get off the bus one or two stops early and walk briskly home. Park as far as you can from the shops and walk into town. Leave your computer once an hour and run up and down the stairs 5 times! Incorporate exercise into every day!
Your health is intimately associated with your weight. 93 million US citizens were classified as obese in 2015/16. That is 39% of the US population! Are you one of these? Why not weigh yourself, work out your BMI and find out. Don’t be despondent. You really can sort this out. Even small amounts of weight loss can have major benefits to your health. A weight loss of 5-10% of your body weight has been shown to result in significant improvements in your cardiac function. It can also reverse your risk of diabetes.
Make your mind up, set a date and get started. Losing weight is a long-term process. It doesn’t happen overnight.
You are what you eat. Never was a truer word spoken. Your body is a machine. It only functions properly if you put the right ingredients into it. Much has been written about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. This is a diet rich in unsaturated fats, and high in vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, fish and white meat, but low in red meat and processed foods. Your body also needs a high intake of fiber.
Drink Less Alcohol
Whatever has been written about alcohol and health, remember alcohol is a carcinogen. It causes 7 different types of cancer—including, mouth, breast and bowel cancer. Life expectancy is reduced by 24-28 years in people diagnosed with an alcohol disorder.
Drink More Water
90% of your blood is made up of water! Water is vital for health for every cell in our body. Very often we mistake thirst for hunger and eat when we are actually thirsty. Drinking more water can speed weight loss. Make sure you drink at least 2L (8 glasses) every day. This can be tap water and does not need to be expensive bottled water.
Eat Less Salt
High levels of sat in the diet can elevate your blood pressure. Higher blood pressure is associated with a reduced life expectancy. Choose low salt options in restaurants and supermarkets. Avoid adding salt to food. Use garlic and herbs instead.
Kindness is indeed next to godliness! Being reduces stress, anxiety, and depression, lowers blood pressure and helps relive pain. One study showed people aged over 50 who volunteer twice a week have a 44% reduced risk of dying early. And yes: You can teach people to be kind! (Including yourself.)
Don’t Be Lonely
Loneliness is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, dementia and premature death. It is also linked to a weakened immune system, making you more prone to infectious diseases. Tackling loneliness is now a major health priority. If you are lonely try and engage with neighbors, friends and local events in the community.
If you are not lonely, can you help someone who is?
See the Dentist
The health of your mouth says a lot about your body. Don’t neglect this! Your mouth and the rest of your body are closely connected. Make sure you have regular dental check-ups. Clean your teeth twice a day and floss regularly. Bad breath and stained cracked teeth are a sign of overall poor health—don’t let this be you.
Have an Eye Test
Your eyes really are the window of the body. Your sight is so precious. Don’t risk losing your sight or having an accident due to poor vision. Have an eye test! Eye tests are recommended every year or two years. This is especially important for driving.
Check Your Hearing
You are recommended to have a hearing test every 3 to 5 years. Just like the rest of you, loss of hearing may be the first sign something is wrong. People who can’t hear are more likely to fall. Loss of hearing increases our risk of social isolation and of dementia.
Learn to Relax
The interplay between mind, emotion and body have long been recognized. There are now many relaxation techniques that can be taught, which have been shown to help relieve stress, reduce blood pressure and reduce numerous physical complaints. These include breathing exercises, as well as yoga, meditation, aromatherapy and hydrotherapy to name a few.
Being outdoors and close to nature has significant health benefits. A 2018 research study run by the university of East Anglia using data from around the world involving 290 million people, revealed that people who live near green spaces have healthier lives and live longer.
For example, they have lower risks of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Stress levels are reduced, and they have better quality sleep. The study also showed that those living near green spaces, had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva.
Have you heard of the Japanese art of forest bathing? That’s right—time to get out and hug a few trees!
Keep a Diary
Psychologists believe that keeping a diary is beneficial for health. Those who keep a diary are more organized, manage their lives better, and have lower stress levels and better sleep. Keeping a diary is a form of stress management. It has been suggested this has a positive effect on your immune system. Maybe Bridget Jones got it right!
Manage Your Time
Using time productively will enable you to use the day more efficiently. This means you will be able to accomplish more work-related tasks, but also fit in more recreation and relaxation. Try writing down how your day is spent. Then look critically to see what you can prioritize and what you can leave for later. You must schedule regular breaks and have some time for you! Caring for yourself is very important.
Getting enough sleep is vital for health. While we are asleep our bodies are undergoing a process of repair and regeneration. Getting enough good quality sleep is essential for good physical and mental health. Adults are recommended 7-9 hours sleep per night. Have you had yours? If not, you could improve your health by working on this.
Time for a new bed? And to develop good sleep habits—known as sleep hygiene. If you have sleep disorders (for example, insomnia, restless legs, sleep apnea), go and discuss these with your doctor.
Have Your Health Checked
Prevention is always better than cure. At your yearly physical, you will have your height, weight and BMI worked out, your blood pressure and any cardiovascular risk factors checked. Don’t miss out either on your screening tests—cervical smears, mammograms, bowel, and aortic aneurysm screening. These tests can save your life.
Have a Medication Review
It’s now well accepted that having a review of your medication is beneficial. It’s easy to end up with boxes of tablets and you can’t remember why you needed them. It can be dangerous to stop and start and nix certain combinations of drugs. Take your meds in to the pharmacy and discuss them with a pharmacist. This can avoid potentially dangerous drug interactions and make sure you get the optimum benefit from what you are taking.
Get a Dog
There are many ways having a pet such as a dog improves your health. Stroking a dog has been shown to relieve stress. Regular walks are so beneficial for your health too. The dog gives friendship, and love and can help combat loneliness. However, having a dog is a big commitment so do think carefully before you do this—however, it can have a very positive outcome on your health.
Have you considered taking an omega-3 supplement? These are polyunsaturated fatty acids, which have been found to be vital for many cell- signaling and repair mechanisms in the body. They have a hugely important role in immune function, blood clotting and have strong anti-inflammatory effects. Reduced levels of omega-3 have been found in people with dementia. Although not conclusive, studies suggest increasing intake of omega-3 may help protect you.
If you’re a smoker and you just saw this, I bet you looked away and don’t want to read it! Now come on! If you are reading this at all I can tell you do want to improve your health. Stopping smoking is the single very best thing you can do for yourself. You CAN do it! First don’t bury your head in the sand—read the horrible facts about smoking and disease. This will motivate you to stop. Then think how you can do it. You are four times more likely to quit if you seek help rather than going it alone!
So…If you’ve read through this list, it’s time to take some action! A lot of the suggestions here are fairly simple and inexpensive. By managing time, keeping a diary, and getting enough sleep, things should start to improve. With more energy you can start to tackle the more difficult things on the list. Your life is precious. Your body deserves to be in the best condition it can be! Why not get started on some simple health improvement tips today?
Dr. Deborah Lee is a medical writer at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.
And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don’t miss these 70 Things You Should Never Do For Your Health.