Not a week goes by without a media report on some new research which shows that something is bad for us (or that last week’s research is out of date and the something is now good for us). How are we to know what we should or should not be doing? Are there any foolproof ways to improve our health?
It is a constantly changing picture, but there are a number of well-established recommendations for habits to avoid. Here are some of the main ones.
1. Stop Smoking
This has been for many years the most effective way for smokers to improve their chances of a longer and healthier life. Tobacco smoke is still responsible for millions of deaths a year, as well as causing the lung and heart problems that blight countless lives.
As one of the most addictive substances known, nicotine is hard to give up, but e-cigarettes have been shown to be effective in reducing the harmful effects of tar, and can help people to stop smoking.
2. Drink Less Alcohol
Government recommends that moderate drinking is no more than 1 standard drink (0.6 oz alcohol) a day for women, or 2 drinks for men, and have at least two alcohol free days a week.
It is not that difficult with some simple math to keep track of your drinks. If you cannot work out how many you have had today it may be time to stop!
Researchers are divided on whether we should all drink more water. Many health workers insist on a minimum amount per day, others believe that the thirst reflex is a trustworthy indicator of our need. But note that thirst becomes a less reliable guide as we get older.
3. Eat the Right Things
Balance is the key to what we should eat. Infants are remarkably good at adapting to a range of healthy foods. But adults seem to lose that ability, and have a habit of indulging in favorite foods to the exclusion of others.
Very few foods are bad in themselves, but for many people a healthy balance would mean eating more fruit and vegetables and less red (and especially processed) meats, and less sugar. Oily fish is highly recommended at least once a week.
4. Eat the Right Way
It is hard to steer a course through the plethora of advice available, but here are some of the consistent elements that stand the test of time.
Don’t binge, especially in the evening. Try to keep to a regular pattern of meals, and eat most of it in the first half of the day.
Don’t skip breakfast. Your body and brain both really need the boost at the start of the day.
Don’t eat too fast. The digestion process starts in your mouth, and the teeth and saliva need to do their job.
5. Get Enough Sleep and Exercise
The right amount of sleep varies from person to person, but adults generally function best on somewhere around 8 hours per night. Sleep is needed for both brain and body, though we still don’t know exactly why.
There can be various reasons for not sleeping well. One is that too much TV and screen time before and in bed can interfere with our sleep patterns, so that may be something to change.
Exercise is also important, and the indications are that most of us do not get enough. Many people attempt punishing regimes and give up when it all gets too hard. But any exercise is good, so start small with a program you can stick to, then build up.
Outdoor exercise is important because our skin needs exposure to sunlight to boost our vital vitamin D, but of course too much sun can damage our skin.
Make Haste Slowly
This list is not exhaustive, and there are more intangible factors that affect our health, like the quality of our relationships and the stress we live with. But the advantage of the above things is that many can be tackled by deciding to do something about it.
Don’t try to do everything at once. Hit on one thing you can start on this week, and make it part of your way of life before you try another. As they say, most people overestimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a lifetime.
Alexandra Frost is in her 30s and works as a life coach, inspiring people to go grab their dreams and live the best life possible. A keen writer she also enjoys walks on the beach and spending quality time with friends and family.