You can’t change your genes, or even much of the environment around you, but there are lifestyle choices you can make to boost your health. Being informed and intentional about diet, activity, sleep, or smoking can reduce your health risks and potentially add years to your life.
This article looks at 3 types lifestyle that are backed by the best evidence when it comes to your health over the long run. It shows you why they matter and how to begin making positive changes.
1. Getting the Right Amount of Sleep
Getting the right amount of sleep, and doing so regularly, is first on our list. It’s often missed because people focus on diet and exercise, but the link between sleep and life expectancy is supported by research. What surprises some people is that the relationship is a U-shaped curve. Too little and too much sleep affect your lifespan.
A good night’s sleep is important to recharge both the body and mind. It helps the body repair cells and get rid of wastes. It also is important in making memories, and sleep deprivation leads to forgetfulness.
Even if you intend to sleep well, health issues can disrupt your plan. Sleep apnea, for example, can greatly increase health risks.
Sleep apnea affects millions of people, but it’s believed that many cases are being missed. Part of the reason is that symptoms like snoring, or waking up gasping for air, don’t happen in every case. Sleep apnea can present with a number of surprising signs and symptoms.
If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor about a sleep study. There are treatments, like CPAP, that lower your risk and improve your quality of life. Changes in your sleep patterns can signal other health issues too, so see your doctor for a checkup if anything changes.
2. Eating Well-Balanced Meals
A healthy diet gives you energy and lowers your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other diseases. Some of them have proven links to food and nutrition, as is the case with red meat and colorectal cancer.
Taking steps toward a lifelong change in diet will help more than jumping on the latest fad diet does. You may have heard author Michael Pollan’s signature phrase: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Of those plants, choose a rainbow of colors to make sure you get all the nutrients you need.
One place to begin is with the well-regarded Mediterranean diet. It’s rich in many of the healthiest foods and naturally limits less healthy choices. The more you follow the Mediterranean diet, the lower your risk of a host of diseases.
The Mediterranean diet has a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, “good” oils, and plenty of herbs and spices. It doesn’t have highly processed foods, refined grains, or added sugar.
3. Limiting or Avoiding Alcohol
Despite the hype over red wine and longevity, alcohol should be used only in moderation, and for many people, not at all. Red wine has been found to offer protective health effects, but you don’t need to drink red wine to get these benefits.
Red wine is rich in flavonoids, particularly the nutrient resveratrol. Resveratrol, however, is also found in red grapes themselves, in red grape juice, and even peanuts.
Moderate alcohol consumption (one drink for women, two for men) may lower heart disease. Yet a link between alcohol and breast cancer suggests that even this amount should be used with caution. Women who have three drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer and the risk goes up another 10% for every additional drink they have each day.
Higher levels of alcohol can lead to health and broader life problems, including a greater risk for:
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- some cancers
Moderate intake of alcohol may be part of a healthy lifestyle in special moments. That assumes no personal or family problems with alcohol abuse. As long as everyone understands the risks, there are times you may drink a toast to your good health!
These 3 types of lifestyle can go a long way in boosting the odds that you will live a long, healthy life. They may seem like a part of the common-sense advice you’ve heard many times, but there’s a reason for that. These lifestyle choices are all backed by data, and new medical research continues to point in the same healthy direction.