How to Stay Healthy?
Being healthy and staying healthy is a lifelong journey — you need to adopt good habits and stick with these all your life. Based on what I have learned and experienced during the last 6 decades, the following habits may help you become and stay healthy.
1. Be physically active, at least 150–300 minutes a week
2. Meditate for mental health
3. Eat natural, unprocessed and mostly vegetarian food
4. Don’t be obese or overweight
5. Don’t smoke
6. Avoid drinking alcohol or keep it to the minimum
7. Sleep well
Let me talk about the above points in some detail.
Be Physically Active
The first point, “Be physically active,” is the most important. When you are physically active, your body needs more energy and oxygen, thus requiring your heart to pump more blood, making your heart strong and increasing blood circulation, thus reducing heart disease and stroke. (Coronary heart disease and stroke are the leading cause of death in almost all countries). Physical activity also reduces the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, mental disorders and some cancers while improving the immune system, thinking/learning, making bones & joints stronger, reducing chances of fall and helping you sleep well. In simple words, physical activity is the most critical factor to be healthy!
Okay, so what do we need to be “Physically Active”? Any activity that increases heartbeat by about 50% or more is a good physical activity. Let us keep it less technical — moderate to brisk walking, jogging/running, biking, swimming, stairs climbing, and most sports and Gym activities fall under “Physical Activities” that are good for our health. Being physically active, preferably 60 minutes a day, will go a long way in keeping you healthy. While you may go to Gym for physical activities, it is not essential. Instead, it is beneficial if you are active outside in nature. When I run in my neighbourhood, which is my favourite activity, I enjoy the fresh air and beautiful flowers in the parks and gardens. In addition to exercising the body, outdoor running also exercises the brain as it needs to watch all the objects and obstacles on and around my way. If you pay a little attention around you, you can easily complete your daily 60 minutes of physical activity, e.g. take stairs instead of an elevator if you work or live in a high rise building, walk your child to the school, get down a stop or two before your destination on bus/subway and walk the last mile, do gardening, and so on.
You can take the help of a wearable device or app to track your physical activates. Some of the apps I have tried are Runkeeper, Nike Run, Strava and Google Fit; may favourite one is Google Fit. Unlike other apps, which require you to open the app and manually start recording the activity, Google Fit automatically records all physical activities on your smartphone, without any action on your part. You can download Google Fit for your iPhone as well as Android phone.
Meditation is a kind of exercise or food for the mind. It helps to reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep and keep the mind calm, which in turn helps us to stay healthy. Meditation can be done any time of the day; however, doing it in the morning will be more beneficial.
Food plays a vital role in keeping us healthy, and if we eat the wrong type of food, it can make us unhealthy or even sick. People eat different kinds of food based on their culture, lifestyle and ease of availability. After reading lots of material on this subject and my personal experience, I believe that for a healthy body,
- Eat primarily vegetarian natural food with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid processed food (made in factories), e.g. cookies, cereal, ketchup, granola bars, fried snacks, sweets, cake, instant noodles, ice cream, flavoured yogurt, etc.
- Don’t eat too much.
- Limit the use of sugar and salt in food.
- Avoid or limit trans fats and saturated fats, while increase good (healthy) fats. Examples of good fats include olive, canola and peanut oil, nuts, avocado, olives, tofu, soya milk and flaxseed. On the other hand, avoid or limit food containing hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or vegetable shortening , fried food, cakes, pastries, donuts, cookies, etc.
- Drink lots of fluids, preferably water.
Don’t be Obese or Overweight
Obese and overweight people may get several diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart problems, high cholesterol, diabetes, joint and body pain, breathing difficulties, gallbladder disease, etc. as they grow old. To reduce and maintain weight, you need to be physically active and eat the right kind and amount of food. (See Physical Activity and Food above.)
Be proactive, buy a weighing machine and regularly check your weight. As soon as you notice that your weight has increased by 1 kg (2 pounds), take immediate corrective action, e.g. reduce the amount of food you consume, reduce food with high caloric value in your meals, skip a meal, increase physical activity, and so on.
Smoking and Alcohol
It is a well-known fact that smoking causes several diseases, such as lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and increases the risk of several other conditions. Similarly, excessive alcohol use can lead to several diseases, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, digestive problems, some forms of cancer, besides social problems and injuries due to road accidents. If you smoke or consume excessive amounts of alcohol, you need to stop that to be healthy.
Sleep is essential for the body, even more necessary than food. When you sleep, the body repairs itself. During sleep, the brain processes the events that took place during the day and consolidates and rearranges them in memory. Of course, sleep relaxes the body and mind and prepares itself for the next day. Experts believe that an adult needs 7–9 hours of sleep a day, and if you get less than 7 hours of sleep (including naps) in a day, try to increase the sleep duration or see a medical professional, if required.
Making changes to physical activity, food, alcohol consumption, etc., is not easy — it needs a lifestyle change. See Lifestyle Changes for Health for more information.
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