There seems to always be a mad dash toward the next new thing when it comes to nutrition and fitness, whether it’s the latest exercise craze, super food or diet regimen. But leaping from fad to fad isn’t a strategy for improving one’s health.
If your objective is to live a longer, healthier life, a new study conducted by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health lays out five practices that can help you do that.
The study, which appeared in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation, analyzed data on more than 100,000 people, who were followed for up to 34 years. Researchers concluded that, if practiced together, the five low-risk lifestyle factors could increase life span quite significantly, an average of 14 years for women and 12 years for men. The five low-risk factors are:
1. Avoid smoking. Low risk is defined as never smoking.
2. Maintain a healthy weight. Low risk is defined as a Body Mass Index in the range of 18½ to 24.9. BMI is a ratio of weight to height. Although it’s an imperfect measurement, it offers a quick and easy assessment of weight status.
3. Exercise regularly. Low risk is defined as moderate or vigorous exercise for 30 or more minutes a day.
4. Consume moderate amounts of alcohol. Low risk is defined as one-half to one drink per day for women and one-half to two drinks per day for men.
5. Maintain an overall healthy diet. Low risk is defined as a diet with high intakes of vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, polyunsaturated fatty acids and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, and low intakes of red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat and sodium.
How to take action: Begin by making an honest assessment of how you rate. For example, say you don’t smoke, exercise regularly, but you drink more than two drinks a day, have an elevated BMI and a not-so-healthy diet, you have plenty of room for improvement.
Once you get an idea of where you stand, choose just one area to focus on. We often jump in and try to fix everything at once, but success usually comes when we set small, clearly defined goals and achieve them one by one. For example, if you know you’re drinking more than is recommended, cut out drinking at home.
Keep track of how you’re doing and check in weekly to stay accountable.
As one healthier habit becomes part of your regular routine, add another one. When you hit a bump in the road, remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing: You’re taking steps to create habits that could lead to a longer, healthier life.