If you’ve been bombarded by fad diets and fad programs on how to lose weight or maintain a healthy lifestyle, then managing your weight and your health can seem challenging. But it doesn’t have to be when you approach your health with consistency and balance. Good old-fashioned advice follows three simple rules: eat well, exercise and get enough sleep.
Following these three basic tenants can ward off a slew of health problems and keep your healthcare costs low. How? A balanced diet means keeping diseases like diabetes at bay, a consistent exercise routine means keeping your weight in check and getting enough shut-eye means your immune system stays strong. Combined, this trifecta of basic health advice forms a powerful shield against high healthcare costs and poor quality of life.
Eating well is a lot less complicated than fad diets make it out to be. No single diet works for every person – some cultures thrive on a high-carb diet while others eat mainly protein, all with good results – but the basics of good nutrition depend on getting plenty of plants and veggies, good sources of protein and sustainable energy (read: sugar from fruits, not cookies).
- Load up on produce: Try to make leafy green vegetables a main staple of your diet. (And when we say “diet,” we mean the way you eat, not a specific food plan.) Besides being a good source of fiber, vegetables pack a punch when it comes to vitamins, too. Fruit contains lots of sugar, but the fiber and water content of most fruits help balance out the fructose so that your body gets the right dose of energy without the crash that comes from added sugar. As an added bonus, you can eat a lot of vegetables for very few calories, which means you’ll get fuller on the good stuff and not indulge as much on the not-so-good stuff.
- Choose fat carefully: Not all fats are created equal. Old diets promoted a fat-free approach as a way to get heart diseases under control, and the American Heart Association still recommends a low-fat diet for people with heart problems. But not all fats are bad. In fact, we need a certain amount of fat in our diets for our bodies to function properly. Just make sure it’s the good kind of fat. Nuts, avocados and salmon, for instance, are full of fat and full of nutrients. Just avoid the obvious sources of bad fat, like cheeseburgers and deep fried anything, and choose lower-fat dairy if heart health is a concern for you.
- Limit sugar – by a lot: The American Heart Association recommends keeping your sugar intake to less than 25 grams a day for women, which is about six teaspoons. As a frame of reference, one 12 oz. can of soda can contain about twice that. Added sugar is any form of sugar – natural or processed – that doesn’t occur naturally in a food. That includes high-fructose corn syrup as well as agave nectar and honey. Fruits are okay (as long as you’re not diabetic), as are foods with naturally occurring sugar, like dairy products. Added sugar lurks in a variety of products, so get smart about reading labels if you want to cut the sweet stuff. Limiting added sugar offers plenty of positive side effects, including less water retention, more energy (because you’ll get energy from natural foods) and reduced risk of developing serious health issues, such as obesity and diabetes.
These simple rules will give you more energy and could lead to a more productive life. Eating a balanced diet that’s heavy on fruits and veggies contributes to your mental stability, as well. Too much caffeine, for example, can contribute to panic attacks and eating too much sugar can contribute to depression.
Staying fit doesn’t mean you have to overdo it at the gym or put in an hour of strenuous activity every day. Your workout routine can be rather basic. Even a brisk walk for an hour, three times a week is a good exercise routine. Or you could break that up to 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week. What you want to aim for is 150 minutes of exercise per week, and your workouts don’t have to be fancy.
You also don’t need expensive equipment. Although you may want to invest in a treadmill or some kind of workout machine, you don’t have to. There are plenty of exercises and activities that you can do without spending much money, if any. Walking, jogging and hiking, for example, require little upfront investment aside from a pair of supportive shoes. If you’re looking for some variety, biking and swimming burn calories and offer great workouts. What’s important with your exercise routine is that you stay consistent. Set aside time to burn some calories during the week, and find an activity you like so that you’ll be motivated to keep doing it.
One of the most overlooked elements in having a healthy lifestyle is sleep. Getting enough sleep shouldn’t be an afterthought. Your productivity levels plummet when you haven’t had enough sleep, and lack of sleep can lead to a whole host of health issues. For one thing, your body is weaker and more prone to attack from viruses. Even the common cold can knock you over when your immune system has been compromised with too little shut-eye. You’ll also take longer to recover.
When you sleep, your body uses this time to heal, not only from ailments but also physical injuries, too. Denying your body this essential time means denying your body time to heal from chronic pain or minor injuries. Being tired also puts you in a bad mood, and this kind of mental fatigue can lead to emotional and mental issues further down the line. It might be tempting to skip sleep in favor of getting work done or bingeing the latest TV drama, but you’ll do your body big favors by opting for a healthy sleep schedule instead.
Taking care of yourself is critical at any age. Whether you’re in your early twenties or your late seventies, you can always benefit from a nutritious diet, a regular exercise regime and seven to nine hours of sleep. Perfecting this trifecta could mean fewer visits with your doctor for avoidable problems, not to mention a healthier lifespan.