Modern society has embraced a number of myths about avoiding or solving health problems. The first is that if you exercise regularly and intensively enough you can eat whatever you like and live a “wild” or stressed lifestyle and still be healthy in the long term (the implication being that one right makes up for a wrong !). The second is that if you have a health problem it only takes a medication or surgery to solve it (with the implication of not having to bother making lifestyle changes). The final myth is that developing a serious health problem such as cancer is just a matter of bad luck or fate (the implication being that you are powerless).
Your body can be viewed as a very complex set of interconnected systems. If any of these systems or the links between them are not functioning correctly the whole body will be adversely affected. Such systems require multi-faceted solutions to keep them healthy and exercise alone is not enough. Sooner rather than later an unhealthy lifestyle will catch up with you ! Unnatural approaches such a stomach stapling surgery will always come with very high costs (and I am not just talking about money) even if it might be justified in extreme (only) life or death obesity cases. The fantastic news is that you are not powerless – you and you alone determine the state of your future health (not withstanding accidents or other acts of God !).
So the message is that it is your responsibility to do everything in your power to avoid serious health problems and do not believe for one moment that medical solutions will save the day. You have the power to live a healthier lifestyle and massively reduce the risk of serious health problems !
The next question is what is a healthy lifestyle ? Of course there are different degrees of how healthy a lifestyle is but to keep things simple and achievable for the average person there are well proven guidelines that include:
Increase your activity:
Every day reserve at least 30 minutes for doing activities that raise your heartbeat and you enjoy. This can be anything from a brisk walk in the park to a hot and sweaty romp in bed with the girlfriend – whatever turns you on !
2 to 3 times a week reserve at least 30 to 60 minutes to do specific exercise training e.g. in the gym, with a personal trainer, in an aerobics or yoga class.
In all your daily chores try to be more physically active e.g. walk to the shops or park the car a little further away, take the stairs instead of the lift, vigorously clean the house instead of watching a TV program and say yes to playing with the kids! The benefits of these small changes will add up.
Carefully choose what you eat and drink:
Eat as many fresh (not pre-packed) vegetables as possible and a variety of fruit (e.g. mango, papaya, melon, pears, lemons), preferably organic (they are less toxic and more nutritious).
Increase you intake of unsaturated fats such as Omega 3 found in for example, fish, avocado, olive oil, walnuts and eggs. Decrease your intake of saturated fats in for example, red meat, crisps, cheese and sweet pastries.
Eat more low Glycemic Index foods (e.g. apples, sweet potato, almonds and brazil nuts, quinoa, wild rice, beans, lentils, oils) and less high GI foods (e.g. bread, wholemeal or otherwise, white potatoes, red meat, cashews, citrus fruit, any type of sugar, full fat dairy products, any processed foods such as chocolate, crisps, any type of snack bars, pastries, sweets and biscuits).
Reduce your intake of processed sugar and man made sugar substitutes (e.g. aspartame) by reading the labelling of products ! Choose 70% to 85% or higher cocoa content dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, cut down on how much sugar you add to anything, limit fizzy pop drinks to special occasions only, beware of so called healthy breakfast cereals (e.g. Special K) ….
Drink at least 2 to 3 litres of filtered or bottled mineral water every day and limit your alcohol intake to 10 units a week for men and 6 units a week for women.
Enjoy your life! :
Studies have shown that people that have strong friendship networks and spend more time socialising in clubs and societies are more likely to lead longer and happier lives.
Other studies have also shown that people with a mission or clear purpose in their lives (e.g. in a church) also lead longer and happier lives.
Choose to focus on the great things in your life and be grateful for them.
Reserve 20 minutes, preferably daily, to take time out and be by yourself and your thoughts. You might like to put some headphones on and lock yourself away in a room or simply go somewhere quiet in the countryside (or even your back garden !) and simply listen to the sounds of nature. Ideally, learn how to meditate.
Try to expand your comfort zone and keep your routines flexible by taking one new approach to doing things every day. For example, take a different route home, try a new type of food and visit a new park or beach.
Spend more time bringing out your child side – doing things just for fun, flirting, playing and laughing. Spend less time being an adult – criticising, judging, evaluating and being serious!
Finally, after spending your day being active you need to have some quality sleep. For most people this means 8 hours of deep slumber. It is easier to achieve this if you make sure that your bedroom is kept in total darkness (if necessary purchase some exterior blinds), your caffeine drink intake is limited to 2 cups a day, you finish your last meal at least 2 hours before going to bed and you chill out before going to bed (e.g. read a good story book or relax to some music but do not watch the TV news !).
Being more active means finding activities that you enjoy (e.g. cycling) and reserving time to do them or incorporating them into existing activities (e.g. playing with your children in the park). It also might mean doing activities that you do not initially enjoy but over time they grow on you as they become part of your routine ! (just like brushing your teeth felt when you were a child). In both cases it is your responsibility to prioritise your time appropriately and communicate your priorities to everyone affected (e.g the family). There is no point in using the excuse that your family needs you to be available around the clock because what will they do if the long term stress you suffer leads to cancer ?
The key point about healthier eating and drinking is to make small but regular healthier choices. You might start by for example only using 1 teaspoon of sugar in your coffee instead of 2 or have a glass of water instead of soda pop. Lots of seemingly small changes will add up over a period of time and before you know it you will be much more careful about what you choose to buy in the supermarket!
Enjoying your life is just like happiness because both involve choices. You alone can choose to enjoy your life no matter what happens all around you. If you think that your life is fantastic it is ! (and conversely if you think it sucks it probably does). This attitude explains why some people in even the most dreadful conditions you could ever imagine (such as Nazi concentration camps) still remained happy. It will be easier to choose to be happy if you follow some of my suggestions.