Every time you’ve stressed over work issues, skipped out on needed exercise or simply pushed your vegetables to the side of the plate, your body has been busy remembering and making you pay for it ever since. Hypertension, adult-onset diabetes, cancer, heart disease and most other major diseases are more the result of how you have treated yourself in the past more than genetics, says Pamela M. Peeke, M.D., M.P.H., assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Here are seven surprisingly simple changes that you can make right now, and any single one can improve your health significantly without requiring as much effort as you would expect. If you’re ready to change your life for the better, these easy-to-follow tips may be your best approach.
1. Get one more hour of sleep.
“Studies have suggested that sleep deprivation can affect every aspect of how the body functions, from the ability to memorize and logically reason to the repair of neurons and development of muscle,” says Paul T. Gross, M.D., director of the sleep disorders center at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass. Finding time for an extra hour or two of sleep a day can decrease your risk of being affected.
2. Drink three more glasses of water a day.
“By the time you get thirsty, your body is already about two percent low on water. Losing just one- to two percent of your body weight in fluid can lower your physical and mental performance by up to 20 percent.” This syndrome, known as chronic mild dehydration, can negatively affect every function of the body. All biochemical connections throughout the body either occur in water or use water as a conduit. If you are not well hydrated, everything from joint lubrication, digestion and reproduction to breathing can be compromised.
3. Eat a few extra vegetables.
“Packed with fiber, vitamins and anti-oxidative phytochemicals, vegetables can make a profound difference in decreasing your risk of obesity, certain types of cancer, gastrointestinal problems and a host of other diseases,” says Joy Bauer, M.S., R.D., author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Smart, (Alpha Books, 1997). But most people get only about half as many vegetable servings as they should each day.
4. Add resistance exercise to your regular routine.
“By the time you’re 25, a sedentary life works against you,” says Heather Dillinger, national certification specialist for the Aerobic and Fitness Association of America. That’s because the average person’s metabolism begins to slow down in their late 20s to early 30s, due to a loss of about one-half to one pound of muscle (which burns 35 to 50 calories a day) every year. This translates into a slowed metabolism, which increases body fat. Compensating for these natural changes just takes incorporating regular resistance training into your week. To keep those unwanted pounds off for good, add a few extra minutes to your usual cardio routine, a small addition that can even extend your life.
5. Let go of stressful things each week.
Unrelieved stress affects almost every function of the body, causing insomnia, high blood pressure, constipation, depression and an assortment of anxiety-driven aches and pains. Left untreated, the long-term effects of stress are much more serious, contributing to heart disease, ulcers, immune-system deficiencies and hypertension.
6. Lose a few pounds.
If you’re overweight, dropping just five to 10 percent of your total body weight can have a profound effect on reducing your chances of many cardiovascular and arterial complications, as well as a variety of weight-induced diseases. Regular exercise and a proper diet that derives less than 30 percent of its calories from fat can help, but shaving additional calories can take a few tweaks in what you’re used to.
7. Get an annual medical exam.
Many of the health issues that affect people, as they get older actually start showing up in their late teens and early 20s. Your family doctor has the means to perform lab tests such as cholesterol screening and checking skin growths that should be monitored regularly. To get the best of both worlds, pick a physician who’s either an internist or family practitioner to perform your annual checkup.
Your age and existing health conditions are factors of the cost of your life and health insurance premiums. Your other cost involves out-of-pocket costs for treatment, loss of pay, additional medical appliances and prescriptions when you get sick. Doesn’t it make sense to try to live a healthy lifestyle to reduce those costs and keep more of your money for things you enjoy?
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