In the simplest terms, a healthy lifestyle is a way of life that reduces your risk of becoming seriously ill or reduces your life expectancy. While we cannot prevent all diseases, many serious diseases can be prevented by adopting certain types of behavior and avoiding others.
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Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide, but are convincingly linked to lifestyle factors such as obesity, physical inactivity, smoking and poor diet. Heart disease, stroke and lung cancer together account for a third of all deaths each year in high-income countries, with tobacco use touted as the greatest self-imposed health risk.
One large recent meta-analysis showed that individuals who adopt an unhealthy lifestyle, including smoking, tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, and an unhealthy diet, have a 66% higher risk of death than those who adopt at least four healthy behavior. .
However, a healthy lifestyle is not only concerned with avoiding disease and death. It is also about improving aspects of social, mental and physical well-being to enjoy more aspects of a longer life.
What are the important characteristics of a healthy lifestyle?
One large prospective cohort study conducted in the United States analyzed the health behaviors of approximately 120,000 adults over a thirty year period. It uses this information to understand how lifestyle factors affect age and risk of death from non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and cancer. They identified five characteristics of health:
Healthy eating pattern
A healthy diet involves eating a variety of foods in correct proportions and consuming a calorie intake that allows for the maintenance of a healthy weight. While this varies from person to person, as a general guide, this should include:
- At least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day should cover a third of your daily food intake. Evidence has shown that people who meet these requirements have a lower risk of developing certain types of cancer and heart disease. One meta-analysis found a dose-response relationship between fruit and vegetable intake and disease, with the risk of dying from heart disease falling by 8% per serving of fruit or vegetables consumed daily, up to ten servings, while the risk of cancer fell by 3% per serving.
- Starchy foods, especially whole grain varieties, contain more fiber and nutrients than white varieties. Whole grains have been shown to reduce the risk of several types of cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease and promote healthy gut bacteria.
- Lean protein, especially fish, eggs, and white meat, is essential for cell repair and provides a variety of vitamins and minerals.
- Dairy foods and their alternatives, which are good sources of protein and provide calcium.
- Unsaturated fats in limited quantities.
The World Health Organization recommends that all adults engage in regular physical activity, including at least thirty minutes of moderate aerobic activity each day, plus at least two sessions of weight-bearing activity per week. Being physically fit protects against diseases such as cardiovascular disease, some cancers, diabetes mellitus and osteoporosis and aids in the secondary prevention (i.e., worsening of symptoms) of these disorders.
Maintaining a healthy weight is essential for overall health and protecting against many diseases. Body mass index (BMI), an estimate of body fat calculated using height and weight, can be a useful indicator of whether a weight is healthy. A normal BMI score ranges between 18.5 and 24.9, a score of 25.0 – 29.9 indicates that a person is overweight, and a score of 30+ indicates obesity. BMI scores are positively correlated with disease risk, with higher scores indicating an increased risk of several diseases, including:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- liver disease
- Mood disorders
- Reproductive disorders
- Cancer risk
Being overweight or obese contributes to disease progression by altering hormonal and metabolic profiles and placing an increased physical burden on various sites and organs of the body.
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There is no safe level of tobacco use and smoking behavior. So the greatest health outcomes were associated with never smoking.
About eight million people per year die from smoking-related diseases, with about 70% of all lung cancer cases directly attributable to smoking. It also causes cancer in many other areas of the body, including the esophagus, mouth, throat, pancreas, stomach, and liver. Smoking damages heart tissue and circulation, increasing the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, vascular disease, and myocardial infarction.
In addition, smoking damages lung tissue, causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders and pneumonia and worsens respiratory symptoms.
Moderate alcohol intake
Moderate alcohol consumption means between one and two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Consuming alcohol above this level increases the risk of poor health outcomes. For example, excessive consumption can increase triglycerides in the blood, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. It can also cause high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, and heart arrhythmias.
Given the role of the liver in neutralizing toxic substances in the body, the liver is very susceptible to alcohol. Alcohol-related liver diseases such as fatty liver develop in most individuals who regularly consume excessive amounts of alcohol. In serious cases, liver cells become inflamed and die. This is replaced with scar tissue, leading to cirrhosis of the liver, which eventually leads to death if left untreated.
Rediscovering Healthy Living | Melanie Carvell | TEDxUMary
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