Being healthy has gotten a bad rap. Part of that unearned reputation comes from the company it keeps. Too often healthy living advice comes from people and organizations with an agenda. TV is flooded with ads for medications being pushed by big pharma as if being healthy comes out of a pill bottle. Then there are people with 2% body fat at the gym telling you that you need to exercise more but the kind of exercise they do looks more like forced labor at a Siberian concentration camp. Your personal physician, Dr. Buzzkill, tells you to cut down on virtually everything that’s fun. All that doesn’t even get to the vegetarian crusaders, the meditators, bendy yoga instructors and the companies pushing nutritional supplements, 90% of which are a waste of money. It can all get pretty annoying in the aggregate.
The tough part is they’re all right in some ways; a fact that does nothing to make them any less annoying. To separate out the politics and competing agendas, we looked at the healthy living advice that hospitals and health research organizations give their own employees. These are organizations that give people advice on health as a profession and these are the highlights of their own dog food, so to speak. It’s enlightening in where it differs from the stock advice you find in the popular media.
Be Physically Active
This is the one common one across all the recommendations that health professionals give one another. Note the scrupulous avoidance of the word “exercise” is not an accident. Being active includes exercise but it shouldn’t be a drudge duty. You can walk, run, ride bike, take a spin class, kayak, hike or play tennis. That’s quite a list to pick from and it’s most definitely not boring or a chore. Exercise is important because it goes to the root of human evolution as our ancestors evolved chasing food. Now that we don’t have to do that anymore it’s important to replace that with some other form of outdoor activity. The more varied and fun it is, the more likely we are to engage in it regularly.
The world we live in is increasingly competitive and stressful. We turn on the news and find organizations that make a living keeping their viewers stirred up with the outrage of the day. Between traffic, a competitive work environment, family life and dealing with added stress of bills and life it can all add up to a huge amount of stress. A little stress is good, chronic stress is a subtle evil that robs your life of joy and makes your days a parade of endless agitation. It’s also been scientifically proven to shorten your lifespan.
Pursue Human Contact
It’s no coincidence that the healthiest people among us tend to be those who have a lot of interaction with their fellow man. It’s in isolation that we become susceptible to the whispers of suspicion about our neighbors. In that contact with other human beings we find out that they’re really not so bad and that we actually agree on quite a lot. Our differences become less drastic and our behaviors less extreme. Statistically, the more friends you have, the longer you’ll live.
Eat a Varied Diet
The meat bashers do have a point and the statistical evidence backing up those claims is fairly compelling. That doesn’t mean you should stop eating meat. Perhaps a better strategy is to eat a widely varied diet that’s high in greens and grains and cut out as much sugar as possible. Sugar provides calories with little nutrition. Meat provides a lot of nutrition but is also packed with calories. By going easy on the high calorie foods you can maintain a better quality of life without being one of those annoying diet extremists.
Get Enough Sleep
To make up for not getting enough sleep people tend to rely on caffeine and artificial stimulants. Drink enough coffee during the day and you will start sleeping poorly at night, setting up a cycle of chronic sleeplessness that has been tied to a bewildering host of medical illnesses. If you find yourself turning to caffeine more than twice a day you may not be getting enough rest. Ignore the motivational people who claim they can get by on three or four hours sleep a night. For one thing they’re probably lying and everyone’s sleep needs are different. Maybe you need six hours or ten. Instead of fighting your genetics, learn your numbers and go with it.
None of these suggestions are extreme or difficult and all avoid the stigma of “healthy living.” You’ll feel better, look better and have more fun in life and how can that be a bad thing?