The impact of good health
You know that healthy habits, such as eating well, exercising, and avoiding harmful substances, make sense, but did you ever stop to think about why you practice them? A healthy habit is any behavior that benefits your physical, mental, and emotional health. These habits improve your overall well-being and make you feel good.
Healthy habits are hard to develop and often require changing your mindset. But if you’re willing to make sacrifices to better your health, the impact can be far-reaching, regardless of your age, sex, or physical ability. Here are five benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
Eating right and exercising regularly can help you avoid excess weight gain and maintain a healthy weight. According to the Mayo Clinic, being physically active is essential to reaching your weight-loss goals. Even if you’re not trying to lose weight, regular exercise can improve cardiovascular health, boost your immune system, and increase your energy level.
Plan for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week. If you can’t devote this amount of time to exercise, look for simple ways to increase activity throughout the day. For example, try walking instead of driving, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or pace while you’re talking on the phone.
Eating a balanced, calorie-managed diet can also help control weight. When you start the day with a healthy breakfast, you avoid becoming overly hungry later, which could send you running to get fast food before lunch.
Additionally, skipping breakfast can raise your blood sugar, which increases fat storage. Incorporate at least five servings of fruits and vegetables into your diet per day. These foods, which are low in calories and high in nutrients, help with weight control. Limit consumption of sugary beverages, such as sodas and fruit juices, and choose lean meats like fish and turkey.
Doing right by your body pays off for your mind as well. The Mayo Clinic notes that physical activity stimulates the production of endorphins. Endorphins are brain chemicals that leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Eating a healthy diet as well as exercising can lead to a better physique. You’ll feel better about your appearance, which can boost your confidence and self-esteem. Short-term benefits of exercise include decreased stress and improved cognitive function.
It’s not just diet and exercise that lead to improved mood. Another healthy habit that leads to better mental health is making social connections. Whether it’s volunteering, joining a club, or attending a movie, communal activities help improve mood and mental functioning by keeping the mind active and serotonin levels balanced. Don’t isolate yourself. Spend time with family or friends on a regular basis, if not every day. If there’s physical distance between you and loved ones, use technology to stay connected. Pick up the phone or start a video chat.
Healthy habits help prevent certain health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. If you take care of yourself, you can keep your cholesterol and blood pressure within a safe range. This keeps your blood flowing smoothly, decreasing your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Regular physical activity and proper diet can also prevent or help you manage a wide range of health problems, including:
Make sure you schedule a physical exam every year. Your doctor will check your weight, heartbeat, and blood pressure, as well as take a urine and blood sample. This appointment can reveal a lot about your health. It’s important to follow up with your doctor and listen to any recommendations to improve your health.
We’ve all experienced a lethargic feeling after eating too much unhealthy food. When you eat a balanced diet your body receives the fuel it needs to manage your energy level. A healthy diet includes:
- whole grains
- lean meats
- low-fat dairy products
Regular physical exercise also improves muscle strength and boosts endurance, giving you more energy, says the Mayo Clinic. Exercise helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and gets your cardiovascular system working more efficiently so that you have more energy to go about your daily activities. It also helps boost energy by promoting better sleep. This helps you fall asleep faster and get deeper sleep.
Insufficient sleep can trigger a variety of problems. Aside from feeling tired and sluggish, you may also feel irritable and moody if you don’t get enough sleep. What’s more, poor sleep quality may be responsible for high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease, and it can also lower your life expectancy. To improve sleep quality, stick to a schedule where you wake up and go to bed at the same time every night. Reduce your caffeine intake, limit napping, and create a comfortable sleep environment. Turn off lights and the television, and maintain a cool room temperature.
When you practice healthy habits, you boost your chances of a longer life. The American Council on Exercise reported on an eight-year study of 13,000 people. The study showed that those who walked just 30 minutes each day significantly reduced their chances of dying prematurely, compared with those who exercised infrequently. Looking forward to more time with loved ones is reason enough to keep walking. Start with short five-minute walks and gradually increase the time until you’re up to 30 minutes.
Bad habits are hard to break, but once you adopt a healthier lifestyle, you won’t regret this decision. Healthy habits reduce the risk of certain diseases, improve your physical appearance and mental health, and give your energy level a much needed boost. You won’t change your mindset and behavior overnight, so be patient and take it one day at a time.
Eating healthy isn’t always easy, but committing to a healthy diet can be one of the smartest decisions you ever make. Why? Not only can eating well make you look and feel better, it can also save you money on future health costs.
But even if you intend to “eat healthy,” knowing exactly what that means can be challenging. “Following a healthy diet includes choosing plenty of lean meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, whole grain and dairy products,” says Debra Nessel, a registered dietitian with Torrance Memorial Medical Center in Torrance, California.
Eating well also means leaving out or only rarely consuming foods that are high in added sugar, saturated fat and sodium. That includes most fast food, full-calorie sodas, processed snacks like chips and crackers, and anything with more milligrams of sodium than there are calories in a serving.
If you need some help getting motivated, here are the top reasons to sneak a few more nutrient-packed foods into your diet.
1. Increase productivity
Like a car, your brain needs quality fuel to run efficiently. When it comes to your job, working more efficiently can help you earn more, since high achievers are usually first in line for promotions and raises. Nessel says her clients frequently experience increased focus shortly after improving their diets.
How much can eating healthy help? One 2012 study published by Population Health Management found that eating an unhealthy diet puts you at a 66% increased risk of productivity loss. Another study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that an unhealthy diet represented the highest risk for low productivity out of 19 possible risk factors, including lack of exercise, chronic pain and financial instability.
2. Save money on life insurance
Health insurance premiums cannot be based on health factors, since everyone is required to have health coverage. However, life insurance rates are largely based on age and health.
If you’re shopping for life insurance, the life insurer will likely ask for permission to get your medical records, and may require a life insurance medical exam. You could face double the life insurance cost if you’re obese. Switching to a healthier diet and maintaining a good weight before you apply for a policy could significantly lower your costs.
3. Enhance mood
What you eat has an impact on your brain, including the parts that regulate mood. Although there’s no single food that acts as a proven antidepressant, maintaining stable blood sugar through regular, proper nutrition will help you feel better overall on most days. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals, such as fruits, whole grains and vegetables, have been associated with an overall lower risk of depression, as have foods rich in omega-3 fats, such as nuts, salmon and other fatty fish.
True happiness isn’t just about the absence of depression; it also includes general well-being. “I frequently hear clients rave about their increased energy, more stable moods, better sleep, decreased joint pain” and greater ability to focus their thoughts after switching to a healthier eating pattern, Nessel says.
Eating healthy can reduce stress too. When your body is in a chronic state of stress, it breaks down protein to prepare for battle, but certain foods have the ability to moderate the body’s level of cortisol, the stress hormone. Some studies have found that consuming foods with omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium may help reduce cortisol levels. Eating a protein-rich diet, including fish and dairy, can help replenish protein stores and keep cortisol levels low.
4. Regulate weight
Most people know this one, but it still deserves a place on this list since more than half of Americans are overweight or obese, and obesity contributes to nearly 1 in 5 American deaths. Even if it’s only by 5-10%, reducing your body weight can lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes, according to the Obesity Action Coalition.
Simple healthy choices such as replacing soda with water, choosing veggies instead of chips, and ordering a side salad in place of fries not only will help you lose weight, it also can help you save money. The average obese person spends $2,741 more on health care per year than a normal-weight counterpart, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of Health Economics that looked at data from 2000-2005.
5. Be healthier
Not everybody who is thin is healthy, and not everyone who is overweight is unhealthy, but eating right can improve health for even thin people who are junk food junkies. You can think of junk food as anything that’s high in calories and low in micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. This includes potato chips, greasy foods like french fries, and soda.
If you miss out on too much of the vitamins and minerals that your body needs, you could put yourself at risk for early death. A 2014 study published in the British Medical Journal found that eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day was associated with lower risk of dying from any health-related cause.
6. Live longer
The same diseases that make you feel bad and cost a lot of money may also lower your life expectancy. A diet of fruit and vegetables, in combination with exercise, was associated with extended life expectancy for women in their 70s, according to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Other studies have shown similar associations between a long life and calorie restriction or consumption of a Mediterranean diet, which includes lots of fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fats from fish and olive oil. No matter how you cut it, a healthy diet can play an important role in how long you’ll live.
Tips for eating healthy
If switching to a healthy diet were easy, everyone would do it. So what should you do if you’re having a hard time choosing the right foods and sticking to a healthful eating pattern?
“Small changes over time result in big payoffs,” Nessel says. That means setting small, attainable goals each day that will translate into long-term results. Here are some of her tips:
- Stay hydrated. This will help you reduce cravings and feel fuller.
- Don’t skip meals. Eat at about the same time each day, if you can.
- Get active. Just increasing activity a little bit may create a mindset to eat better too.
- Preplan around cravings. If you always get hungry for salt at 3 p.m. or sugar after dinner, have a healthier alternative ready to go.
- Forgive yourself when you slip up. Beating yourself up after a slip-up tends to unravel all of your goals; picking back up as though you didn’t make a misstep is a better option.
Keep in mind that good choices, like eating a healthy diet, happen one at a time. A few small changes in the right direction can help improve your life now, and they may fatten your wallet too.
This post has been updated.
Lacie Glover is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @LacieWrites.