What does ‘healthy lifestyle’ really mean?
Everywhere you turn lately it seems you’re told to lead a healthy lifestyle. But what does that really mean?
If you’re thinking, “eat right and exercise,” you’re partly right. Physical activity and the right diet are a big part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, Karen Basen-Engquist, director of the Center for Energy Balance in Cancer Prevention and Survivorship at MD Anderson Cancer Center, said in an interview.
But it’s more than that. Living healthy includes these six steps:
1. Maintain a healthy weight. What matters about your weight is the amount of body fat you’re carrying. A higher percentage of fat puts you at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer. What contributes to your weight? Several factors, including diet, activity levels, genetics and age. Here are ways to stay lean:
- Move. Aim for at least two-and-a-half hours of moderate aerobic exercise—or an hour and 15 minutes of strenuous physical activity—each week. Mix it up with strength training at least two days a week.
- Avoid too much sitting. Even if you get in a 30-minute workout before heading to work in the morning, sitting at a desk the rest of the day can pose health risks. Recent research has linked a sedentary lifestyle to diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer. Break up your work day by taking a five-minute walk each hour.
- Eat healthy foods. Lots of fruits and vegetables is key to living healthy, so try to fill two-thirds of your plate with produce. You should also limit red meat, skip sugary drinks, avoid processed meats, avoid processed foods and drink lots of water.
2. Get your beauty rest. We can’t live or function well without sleep, and numerous studies show a lack of it leads to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and other health problems, including cancer. Most adults should get seven to eight hour of sleep every night. Having trouble sleeping? These good sleep habits can help.
3. Stay away from tobacco. Research shows tobacco use causes 25 percent to 30 percent of cancer deaths. Despite the risks, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says roughly one in five adults still smokes. Here’s what you should know: All tobacco products, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes included, contain cancer-causing chemicals. Using tobacco in any form circumvents a healthy lifestyle. You should also stay away from secondhand smoke. It has been associated with asthma, heart disease and causes lung cancer in non-smokers.
4. Be sun smart. We can’t stress enough the importance of using sunscreen to avoid skin cancer. Still, most people, especially those of us with a little melanin in our skin, skip sunscreen. Even when we do use it, we don’t apply enough, don’t reapply it often enough and forego it completely during the cold months. These are all mistakes. To protect your skin, apply a generous amount of sunscreen on every part of your body exposed to the sun. Reapply it liberally every two hours (more often if you’re sweating or swimming). Avoid direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s UV rays are most powerful. Wear protective clothing, such as a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
5. Drink alcohol in moderation. Excess alcohol consumption has been linked to several cancers, including breast cancer and esophageal cancer. If you don’t drink, don’t start. If you do, stick to one drink a day for women or two for men.
6. Get screened. Cancer screening exams, medical tests done when you don’t have any signs of illness, can help detect cancer early, when the chances for successful treatment are greatest. Talk to your doctor about which exams are right for you.
Sound overwhelming? No worries. You don’t have to make all of these changes overnight. Start with just one or two of these healthy habits. Then gradually add the others, and before you know it, you’re living healthy.