Today is World Health Day 2021. This year’s theme is all about Prevention. Let’s talk about crucial habits that will help you prevent disease and lead a long and healthy life.
These six health habits have been proven to be effective in preventing chronic disease and illness:
1. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
Let’s talk about the two types of inflammation, acute and chronic.
Acute inflammation is a vital part of our body’s healing response. You can see it in action when you get a cut. The resulting inflammation of redness and swelling around the cut is your body’s fighters coming to kill bacteria, prevent infection, and start healing the wound.
However, when inflammation becomes constant and your body is continuously exposed to the offender, the inflammation has become chronic. This chronic inflammation leads to damage in the body, and if not managed/reversed, ultimately leads to illness and disease.
So what triggers inflammation to be chronic?
Many lifestyle factors impact chronic inflammation, including long-term exposure to irritants, such as industrial chemicals or polluted air, stress, and lack of exercise.
Experts have found that this chronic inflammation is THE root cause of almost all illnesses and diseases.
One key area that I see with individuals that want to work with me is that their diet is causing inflammation in their body. They see this chronic inflammation reflected in their symptoms and complaints of bloating, gassiness, brain fog, joint pain, headaches, etc.
To reduce their chronic inflammation, I have my clients slowly switch their food choices to ones that are not causing this inflammation and stress on their bodies.
The Power of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Here are the basics of following an anti-inflammatory diet:
Start by eating more plants. Whole plant foods have the anti-inflammatory nutrients that your body needs. Variety is essential, so opt for a rainbow of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and legumes.
The more colorful your foods, the more antioxidants you’ll be getting.
Antioxidants help prevent, delay, or repair some types of cell and tissue damage. Berries, leafy greens, beets, and avocados, as well as beans and lentils, whole grains, ginger, turmeric, and green tea, are abundant in antioxidants.
Omega-3 fatty acids play a significant role in regulating your body’s inflammatory process. Opt for salmon, tuna, and mackerel to increase your intake of these healthy fats.
When following anti-inflammatory eating, there are also many foods to consider minimizing or, if possible, avoiding altogether.
Red meat can be pro-inflammatory, for example, especially processed meat such as sausages and hot dogs. Limit your intake by substituting with fish, nuts, or plant-based protein.
Processed foods, sugar-sweetened cereals and drinks, anything deep-fried, and pastries are also pro-inflammatory as well. With a bit of meal prep, you can avoid these inflammation-inducing foods with fresh plant-based options.
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2. Get moving.
We all know we should be exercising more, so why don’t we?
Even when we have the best intentions, we struggle to motivate ourselves to work out. Let’s face it; there’s almost always a more powerful temptation to do something— anything—other than a workout.
Before getting down on yourself, let’s understand why this happens.
Is Evolution to Blame?
From an evolutionary perspective, we are predisposed to want to conserve energy. Our ancestors exerted so much energy hunting and gathering that they needed intentional rest in between. Because of this, it’s not our natural inclination to exercise for health alone. Our ancestors needed to conserve their energy when they could because they lacked enough food to make up for the calories they burned tracking down that food.
Our instincts are to save energy; however, this is no longer serving us as we’re experiencing an overabundance of calories.
We live in a world that encourages inactivity. Consider how much time you spend sitting in a vehicle getting to and from places. We sit while working and eating. Our downtime is often centered around watching TV or playing video games, which also encourages sitting.
So don’t be too hard on yourself for not wanting to exercise. It’s not our natural instinct to do so. However, physical activity is an essential part of preventing disease.
Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce morbidity and mortality of many chronic diseases.
For starters, consider that exercise can be anything you do that isn’t just sitting or lying down. Movement is exercise.
From doing chores around the house to walking around the block, any type of movement you do is helpful. Therefore, you don’t have to go to the gym for physical activity. You don’t have to do CrossFit or spend an hour on the treadmill.
You already know the importance of exercising for your health. The key is finding something you enjoy doing and do it every day. Gardening, dancing, nature walks, swimming, bike riding—the options are endless!
So here are a few tips to help you be more active:
- park further away from your destination
- jump in on the fun and play with the kids in your life
- stand while you’re on the phone
- stretch while watching TV
- take the stairs
Instead of setting unrealistic fitness goals, make it a priority to get up and move around every hour.
3. Take care of You.
Let’s move on to disease prevention and mental health. Many people don’t realize there is a connection between mental and physical health – but they are so interconnected it’s hard to ignore!
In any given year, one in five adults will experience a mental health condition, spanning from ones that affect mood to those that affect thinking or behavior. Some examples of common mental health conditions include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, bipolar depression, addictive behaviors.
When we experience poor mental health, our ability to make healthy decisions can be reduced.
According to experts, neglecting your mental health can lead to more serious health complications such as heart disease, high blood pressure, weakened immunity, asthma, obesity, and premature death.
A governmental study of over 15,000 retirees reported some interesting results about poor mental health’s physical health impacts.
According to the study, those living with high levels of anxiety and depression were 65% more likely to develop a heart condition, 64% more likely to have a stroke, 50% more likely to develop high blood pressure, and 87% more likely to have arthritis than people who did not have anxiety or depression.
Preventing and reducing poor mental health can have a significant impact on overall health.
According to HealthyPeople.gov, researchers now know that the prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders is inherently interdisciplinary and draws on various strategies.
Strategies include improving diet and physical activity levels, strengthening community networks, and reducing the harm from addictive substances.
This is good news because we’ve already mentioned two of these strategies for preventing chronic conditions: diet and exercise.
To reduce the risk of compromised mental health, avoid a diet loaded with processed, high-calorie, and low-nutrient foods. Such eating habits have been linked to increased depression and anxiety.
Additionally, exercise can release feel-good brain chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that can ease depression and anxiety. Again, any activity will do. The key is sticking to it.
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4. Improve your sleep quality.
Another crucial aspect of disease prevention is sleep.
Sleep deprivation is linked with:
- memory issues
- trouble concentrating
- mood changes
- weakened immunity
- high blood pressure
- weight gain
- increased risk of diabetes and heart disease
And some psychological risks of inadequate sleep include:
- increased impulsive behavior
- suicidal thoughts
What does a healthy sleep schedule look like?
Getting less than 7 hours of sleep can lead to any of the above conditions. Your body needs adequate sleep to heal and restore itself. Here are some tips to help you maintain a healthy sleep schedule:
Try to limit caffeine past noon.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time each night and morning.
Stick to your bedtime routine as best as possible on the weekends and holidays.
An hour before bedtime, create a calming routine. Some relaxing activities include reading, meditating, or taking a bath. Try to refrain from using electronic devices as well about an hour before going to bed.
Take advantage of “night mode” settings on your devices. This helps limit the blue light you’re being exposed to that can interfere with your circadian rhythm.
Exercise regularly, but not too close to bedtime.
5. Surround yourself with positive people.
Did you know the strength of your relationships affects your mental and physical wellbeing?
Here are some noted benefits of strong relationships:
- lower rates of anxiety and depression
- higher self-esteem
- greater empathy
- faster recovery from disease
- a healthier, longer life
In contrast, loneliness can lead to disrupted sleep patterns, elevated blood pressure, and increased stress. Loneliness can also negatively affect your immune system, decrease your overall sense of contentment, and increase the risk of antisocial behavior, depression, and suicide.
The connections we develop with others can be put into three different categories.
1. Intimate connections are those with people who love and care for you, such as family and friends.
2. Relational connections involve people you see regularly and share an interest with, such as workmates or those who serve your morning coffee.
3. Collective connections describe the people who share a group membership or an affiliation with you, such as people who vote as you do or people who have the same faith.
The best way to strive for connection is to foster meaningful relationships amongst each of the three groups.
Start by reaching out to people you already know, such as co-workers, family, school friends, or neighbors. Think about the interests you share and arrange to meet up or connect over them, either virtually or in person.
You can also begin developing new relationships with people you encounter frequently but may not know very well. Perhaps you see the same people in your morning spin class, or you bump into a familiar face at your local bookstore often. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and start a conversation. You never know what else you may have in common.
Having strong social ties not only improves your own health but also extends to broader society —people who spend more time with each other forge happy, productive communities.
Who can you forge a deeper connection with?
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6. Just start! Small habits lead to big results.
As you can see, there are many aspects to preventative health. When things get challenging, remind yourself it’s much easier to prevent disease than treating or managing it.
Every measure you take to prevent disease helps you achieve optimal health and wellness.
Creating habits that serve your body and prevent illness doesn’t need to be this big, audacious thing. Instead, think small. What small tweaks can you start making now to your current habits to make them healthier? I hope you got some inspiration from this article. But if still needing inspiration for healthy habits that you can implement, then download my Healthy Habits Action Guide over here.
I am passionate about helping others achieve optimal wellness through the power of micro-habits, and prevention has a significant role to play. Please share your questions in the comments below.
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