Currently, in the US, heart disease, lower respiratory infections, and stroke are the top 3 biggest causes of death regardless of age. Additionally, the risk of dying from cancer and Alzheimer’s disease increases as we age. These diseases can start to become a bigger problem in our 50’s, 60’s and 70’s when we still have control over their prevention. Medical professionals and researchers have found that the way we eat, exercise, sleep, experience stress, and consume certain types of drugs can impact how long we are able to lead a healthy and functional life.
But having the tools to actually carry out all of this well-intentioned advice can be harder than it looks! It’s important that we create manageable routines that make it easy for us to build long-term healthy habits that don’t overwhelm us at first. Holding ourselves to very high standards when we know our lives need a healthier shift makes us more likely to “relapse” into bad habits. So here are our top 5 recommendations to take care of our bodies in small ways to prevent long-term illness.
Reduce substance abuse
First and foremost, consuming an excessive amount of alcohol, smoking cigarettes, taking illegal drugs, or overusing prescription medication has an immediate cause and effect on our health. It is one of the few unhealthy habits that allow us to see and feel the negative effects on our bodies very quickly. Long-term abuse of substances has the highest percentage of lung cancer, and liver and kidney failure. However, many of us use substance abuse to handle mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or trauma, and quitting these coping mechanisms without a plan for our mental health won’t be particularly successful.
Seeking help via therapy or psychiatry to find the root causes of the abuse issues is absolutely crucial to being able to make the necessary health changes. After successfully reducing usage, our bodies are able to get more restful sleep, our energy increases and we feel a bit more motivated to take the next steps that we need to!
There is a lot of information (and misinformation) floating around about dieting, counting calories, and “natural” foods. The science, however, points more towards “all things in moderation”. Our kidneys and liver can handle a lot of different chemicals – in very small doses. Treating ourselves to fast food a few times a month will not have any long-term effects on our health, however, consuming them every day can kill us. The best way to keep our bodies healthy is to adhere to a very varied diet. We need to consume a lot of different types of vegetables, sources of protein, fats and complex carbohydrates to make sure our bodies are getting all of the types of vitamins it needs to keep working for us! We want to be careful that we don’t turn our diets into an eating disorder – obsessively counting a 1200 calorie diet and depriving ourselves of food does more harm than good in the long run. Remember, we change our diets for our health – not to look slim!
The number one most important thing we can do for long-term mobility is exercise – but we don’t need to be avid gym-goers to reach our goals. In a recent study, the British Medical Journal followed 27,738 people from age 40-79 over a 13 year period. They found that those who walked at a brisk pace longer than an hour per day (or 100 steps per minute) had a longer life expectancy than those who did not. The study also found that those who walked more than an hour a day required a lower lifetime medical expenditure and stayed mobile much later in their lives.
Exercise doesn’t have to be boring! Exploring sporty activities such as a casual group sport, kayaking, mountain climbing, hiking, or any number of outdoor adventures can make exercise feel like a life well-lived rather than a chore of going to the gym. The important thing is to start slow and work ourselves up. Starting with 15-minute walks, 10 minutes of yoga, or a short cycle around the neighborhood helps us build up the muscle strength and stamina to help us go further, for longer.
Practice good hygiene and habits
Even in our youth, we can’t avoid our regular check-ups. Problems we ignore in our 30’s can become life-threatening or cancer-causing in our 50’s. Maintaining good cholesterol, getting cancer screenings, getting our vaccinations, regularly maintaining good hygiene, sexual health habits, applying sunscreen, and keeping our homes clean can stave off all sorts of bacterial and viral infections and prevent ovarian, breast, and prostate cancers.
Additionally, prioritizing a good night’s sleep will help our bodies heal and build our immune health overnight. Creating a daily nightly routine that teaches our body when to start “shutting down” can help us maintain the full 7-8 hours of sleep that the average adult needs to function. For the serious insomniacs among us, seeking help from a psychiatrist might be the first step when all of the typical sleep advice fails.
Easier said than done, but anxiety and high stress have a bigger impact on our longevity and likelihood for stroke and heart attacks than any other part of our lifestyle. Putting ourselves under constant pressure with worry and fear for our futures can become a self-fulfilling prophecy! Meditation, mindfulness, and yoga can help us take some time during our day to promote calm and ground us in the “here and now”. Taking our vacations when we can, “signing off” of work when we get home, and making time to spend with friends and family can help remind us about what we’re actually working for! A healthy work-life balance is absolutely key to keeping our mind and body working for us for as long as possible.