While virtually everyone would like to have good health, far too often we treat our health as something that just happens to us. We react to emergencies, but usually underestimate our potential to impact our own future well-being.
Some of the circumstances that impact health are out of our control. However, following are three key factors to promote good health that we can proactively work on to improve our chances for a healthy life.
The food we consume plays an enormous role in our overall health. Consider the immediate effects of eating a piece of fruit when you are feeling sluggish, or the stomachache that might occur if you eat 5 cheeseburgers instead. The impact of nutrition on our long-term health may be less obvious, however it is just as true.
Good Nutrition Helps Prevent Health Problems
- Brain function – Consuming too much sugar can lead to
poor concentration, impaired memory, excessive tiredness, and irritability. Make sure your diet includes food with omega-3 fatty acids (like wild caught salmon) which are essential for healthy brain function and help reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure, two risk factors for heart disease.
- Chronic diseases – Diets lacking in vegetables, fruits and whole grains lead to an increased risk for a variety of chronic conditions including cancer, diabetes, kidney failure, obesity, gout, heart disease and high blood pressure. Studies have shown that high fiber diets, rich in whole grains have reduced risk of certain cancers, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Obesity – Lack of exercise combined with over-consumption of trans fats, sugar and simple carbs often leads to obesity, which is a risk factor for many health concerns.
- Inflammation – Consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids like those found in corn and soybean oils may lead to inflammation which is believed to contribute to variety of health problems including asthma, diabetes and some chronic diseases.
Water is essential for not only for good health, but for maintaining life itself. You may know that up to 60 % of the average adult body and approximately 75% of the brain is comprised of water. However, many people do not realize that staying hydrated is also vital to maintain heart health.
Aim for eight glasses of water per day. If you are engaged in a lot of physical activity, are pregnant, have certain medical conditions or if temperatures are high, you may need more water. Be careful not to solely rely on feeling thirsty to determine when you need more water. Sometimes thirst is mistaken for hunger. Consider drinking a glass of water before you give in to a snack craving and wait for five to ten minutes to see if you still feel hungry. Also, a glass of water before meals can help prevent overeating.
Did you know that one way to assess how hydrated you are is to pay attention to the color of your urine? Pale to clear urine usually means you are well hydrated. Please note that clear urine can also occur when someone has consumed too much water resulting in an imbalance in electrolytes. If it is dark, this is likely a sign that you are not drinking enough water.
Although not a substitute for water itself, following are some great food options that have high water content. You can include these in your diet to supplement your water intake.
- Citrus fruits
Staying Properly Hydrated Has Many Health Benefits
- Prevents constipation, bloating, gas, ulcers, IBS, acid reflux and other digestive disorders
- Aides in bladder and kidney function and prevents kidney stones, bladder, kidney and urinary tract infections
- Boosts metabolism
- Helps prevent headaches – dehydration may trigger migraines in some people
- Reduces high blood pressure
- Prevents high cholesterol – dehydration causes the body to produce more cholesterol to support cell function
- Combats nasal congestion
- Prevents weight gain
- Slows the aging process
- Aids brain function and concentration
- Keeps joints and cartilages lubricated
Let me be the first to admit saying all too frequently, “I should get more exercise”. Perhaps like I once did, you believe exercise is something that would be a nice “plus”, something that would enhance your overall well-being and fitness level. Perhaps also like me, you have never considered that it was just as essential to your life as staying hydrated and eating properly and that not exercising is harmful to good health. Guess what I learned? Exercise is vital to maintain your health. Further, physical inactivity is a major cause of chronic diseases. Wow.
According to an article published by the National Institutes of Health, lack of exercise is a primary cause of most chronic diseases.
“A sedentary lifestyle over several years is associated with increased risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature mortality. What is much less appreciated is the high cost of physical inactivity even in the short term. Booth et al. have been drawing attention for years to the societal and individual burden of inactivity-related chronic diseases. They remind us that while exercise is a treatment to prevent many chronic diseases, it is the lack of regular exercise or physical inactivity that is one of the actual causes of many of these diseases”. (Slentz)
While we’ve all heard about the benefits of exercise, and all too often decided to forgo it anyway as nonessential, below is a list of some of the potential effects of not getting enough physical exercise.
- Cardiac problems – physical inactivity can cause cholesterol (LDL or “bad cholesterol” which are fatty deposits our bodies make for important functions) to build up in and around your heart and arteries possibly leading to coronary heart disease or heart failure. Regular exercise makes more good cholesterol (HDL) which decreases the plaque buildup, stops cholesterol from attaching to the artery walls and collects cholesterol from different parts of our bodies and sends it to the liver for removal.
- Lack of sexual desire
- Loss of muscle tone
- Loss of muscle mass which leads to slower metabolism and weight gain
- Slower digestion, constipation
- Increased risk of colorectal cancer
- High blood pressure
- Stiff joints
- Decreased bone density
- Poor posture
Exercise is recommended as “primary prevention” against 35 chronic conditions including insulin resistance, deep vein thrombosis, depression and anxiety, gestational diabetes, erectile dysfunction, constipation and gallbladder diseases. For any of us who haven’t already, we must recognize physical exercise as an important part of the way that we take care of our personal health and the health of the ones we love.
While there are other important factors, including maintaining healthy relationships and getting adequate rest, nutrition, hydration and physical exercise are essential to promoting long term good health.
- Livestrong.com: What Happens to Your Body When You Don’t Exercise
- NCBI: Lack of Exercise is a Major Cause of Chronic Diseases
- Naturalsociety.com: Ten Essential Benefits of Drinking Water, Staying Hydrated
Slentz CA, Houmard JA, Kraus WE. Exercise, abdominal obesity, skeletal muscle, and metabolic risk: evidence for a dose response. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2009;17(Suppl 3):S27–33.