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December 2, 2018

The 7 Habits to Achieve Better Physical Health

When it comes to achieving better physical health stick to time-tested basic fundamentals. These fundamentals to achieve good health are as old as time. You don’t need to start the newest fad diet or exercise program to become healthy. So what are these fundamentals that pave the way to better physical health and mental health?

If you follow the seven health habits below you can on average add 11 years to your life span if you’re a man and seven years if you are a woman. Eleven years and seven years! That’s impressive.

better physical health
Image: CC0 Creative Commons, marianazmeirelles, via Pixabay

The 7 Habits to Achieve Better Physical Health

In a 10-year survey of 6,928 Californians these seven habits were associated with fewer deaths. The more habits that were followed the lower the death rates were. For instance, men who followed no more than three or four of the habits were three times more likely to die than men who followed six or seven of the habits. This study was conducted by Lester Breslow and James Enstrom of the UCLA School of Public Health in 1980.

Here are the seven health habits.

  • Do not smoke cigarettes.
  • Exercise regularly (most days of week).
  • Use alcohol moderately, or not at all.
  • Get seven to eight hours of sleep nightly.
  • Maintain a proper weight.
  • Eat breakfast.
  • Do not eat between meals.

Let’s talk about these seven habits in more detail. We do think there is some wiggle room with the last two habits/recommendations which relate to dietary practices as there is much individual variation in how people respond to food. It seems pretty clear that there is not a one-diet/nutrition plan that is universally effective – otherwise we would not have the obesity epidemic we have.

If we were to prioritize these habits from most important to least important we would start with SLEEP and go down the list in the following order.

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Maintain proper weight.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • None or moderate alcohol use.
  • Eat breakfast.
  • No snacking between meals.

better physical healthSleep

The day actually starts with sleep. The day begins with night when you think about it. The day changes to a new day when that first second after midnight occurs when a vast majority of us are asleep. In fact, the day is six to eight hours long by the time most of wake up to “begin the day”.

If you struggle with your sleep here our 10 tips for better sleep to help you start your day off right. Though your body is resting during sleep it is still very active especially your brain. Sleep is when the body repairs and replenish itself. Physiologically the body is quite active. Hormones that set our daily (circadian rhythm are released during sleep. Growth factors that repair the body are released.

Information learned through the day is processed and filed in its appropriate locations within the brain for later recall. You may be asleep but your body is far from doing nothing.

Poor sleep can have a dramatic adverse effect on how well the body functions which is why we put the importance of sleep at the top of the list. Don’t we feel great after a great night of sleep? That should be the routine not the exception.

Maintain Proper Weight

The importance of maintaining a proper weight needs to emphasized early in life because losing weight to get back to a proper weight is extremely difficult for most of the population. This is a nice way to say don’t allow yourself to get fat.

Maintaining proper weight is most determined by your nutrition and to a much lesser degree your activity level. As men and women approach middle age hormonal declines make maintaining a proper weight more challenging.
You cannot allow yourself to routinely consume more calories than you burn. But not all calories are the same as we discussed in Not All Calories the Same When it Comes to Weight Loss.  Avoid calories that cause a rapid rise in insulin – eat low glycemic foods.

Do Not Smoke

There are no benefits to smoking. Smoking a pack of cigarettes per day for 40 years will take 7.4 years off you life. We wrote about this in a tongue-in-cheek article called, How to Age Faster and Die Younger.

If you smoke, you need to quit. It’s that simple. Here are tips on quitting smoking.

better physical healthExercise Regularly

No medication has the benefits that exercise does. And, exercise comes with so few “side effects”.  Exercise works on all body systems especially the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and …. even the brain and nervous system having been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Your exercise routine should include aerobics (here are tips) and resistance training.

None or Moderate Alcohol Use

Ok, what does moderate alcohol use mean? Good question, don’t you think? Moderate alcohol consumption is usually defined as two alcohol servings per day for men and one serving per day for women. A serving of alcohol is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and a 1.5 ounces of liqueurs.

Beyond that you are asking for health issues. And, avoid binge drinking. Having 14 beers in one day (2 beers per day per week) does not count as moderate alcohol consumption. You are only fooling yourself if you think it does, but your liver will know the difference.

To understand then next two recommendations you need to know how insulin works. Here are two articles we wrote on insulin. Insulin: The Key to Weight Loss and Why High Insulin Levels Are Dangerous

Eat Breakfast

Historically breakfast was the biggest meal of the day, lunch the second biggest, and dinner the smallest meal of the day. If you follow that tradition than eating breakfast has advantages that we discussed in Why You Should Eat BreakfastHowever, nowadays in our fast paced world breakfast is a packaged convenient meal typically filled with unhealthy carbs that spikes insulin levels which many times remain elevated throughout the day due to our the meals. You cannot achieve a proper weight in the presence of elevated insulin levels. Avoid these breakfast foods. Get up extra early and prepare yourself a really healthy breakfast if you plan on eating breakfast – one that contains protein, healthy fats and low glycemic carbs.

Do Not Eat Between Meals

Not everybody agrees with this recommendation. We have recommend three square meals with two or three snacks between meals. This will work if every meal or snack is healthy. But it has one drawback. The more times you eat a day, the more likely you are to consume some unhealthy foods which are so readily available and present. If you let your insulin levels go up everything you eat after that is getting stored as fast until the insulin levels come down. You can minimize from happening by not snacking between meals. This is a major premise behind intermittent fasting – keep insulin low by eating less.

There you have it – the basic fundamentals to achieve better physical health. Nothing earth shattering.

Sleep, eat well, move your body, and don’t pollute your body. It took 1177 words to say that.

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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