Habits. The word alone gives way to negative connotations. Smoking, picking your nose (or worse) and my personal favorite – overeating – spring to mind! But not all habits have to be bad or unhealthy. There are many healthy habits we can adopt in our everyday life that can lead to a greater level of health and well-being; and ultimately lead to greater longevity.
Some of these healthy habits are quite obvious – but perhaps the reasoning behind them is not. In which case, I will pop my science head on and try and explain exactly “why” they are healthy. Some however, are quite “out there”. I mean, who would think that flossing could help prevent a heart attack? More on that below!
Here is my top 5 healthy habits list for greater health and well-being!
1. Get Enough (but not too much) Sleep!
Probably one of the most obvious, but also most important healthy habits on this list. However, do you know why sleep is so important? Here’s a quick list of the ways a healthy amount of sleep can benefit your life:
- Increases mood, decreases anxiety and depression
- Strengthens relationships – you’re less cranky and less likely to be a jerk
- Keeps your heart healthy – reduces stress hormones like Cortisol
- Keeps you from gaining weight – reduces ghrelin hormone responsible for appetite
- Increases memory – what you learn in the day “sinks in” while asleep
- Helps prevent headaches, including migraines [Source: NCBI]
- Less likely to get sick. Sleep strengthens your immune system
- Healthier sex life! Keeps Testosterone hormone optimal
- Increase lean muscle – your body heals, repairs, maintains and builds new muscle better while you’re asleep through optimal Testosterone production and growth hormone release
- Increases pain threshold – yup! Like a natural aspirin [Source: NCBI]
Conversely, too little sleep can lead to the opposite of the above. So what is the optimal sleep time? That depends on your day – your physical and mental output and also your age. An accepted range is anywhere between 7-9 hours per night. [Source: Sleep Foundation]
Side note: Hands up! I used to sleep 10-12 hours per day and wondered why I was always tired. Perhaps I needed more sleep? 😳 I now make sure I get no more than 8. Apart from getting to see more of the day – I also have more energy and actually can’t sleep much past 8 hours even if I try. This took about 3 weeks to get used to, but the positive changes have been dramatic!
2. Cut out the Sodas… Yes Diet Sodas too!
Sodas, of any kind, are literally the devil. Let’s start with full sugar sodas. There are many reports and studies that have been done regarding the recommended amount of sugar intake per day. I am going to reference the American Heart Associations figures – which you can read more on here. The AHA suggests a maximum of 6 teaspoons of sugar per day for women, and 9 teaspoons for men. In one can of coke, there are 8 teaspoons of sugar. Let’s be aware of just a few dangers of consuming too much sugar within our daily caloric intake:
- Higher sugar intake leads to greater risk of Diabetes [Source: NCBI]
- Weight gain, obvious. But how much weight? 1 can of coke per day could lead to 15 lbs weight gain in just one year. [Source: Jama Network]
- Sugar does little to suppress appetite, but does increase the hormone, Leptin – which increases appetite, particularly for more sugar! Very likely compounds weight gain
- Sugar is absolutely no friend to your teeth. Linked to increasing cavities [Source: NCBI]
- Increases risk of hypertension, as well as heart disease and stroke [Source: NCBI]
OK, so for a more healthy habit, the fix is to consume sugar free sodas instead? Unfortunately not. Sugar free sodas are sweetened with artificial sweeteners such as Aspartame, Sucralose and Saccharin. Unfortunately, artificial sweeteners inherit most of the negative effects that sugar does. One study suggests people that drink diet sodas every day, are 44% more likely to have their heart explode than those that don’t drink soda at all.
So… now you’re not drinking soda anymore… what should you drink? I wonder…
3. Drink More Water!
OK, I’m guessing you knew that was coming. One of the best healthy habits you can adopt is to drink at least 8 glasses of water per day (more if you exercise frequently). So why is consuming water so important to everyday health? Well first, consider the fact that up to 90% of our body weight is water [Source: USGS]. It seems pretty logical in order to maintain our health, we need to consume what we’re made of most – which is water. Here are several focused points on why water is a required part of your health:
- Hydration – Lack of water can lead to dehydration (even in winter) that can have a myriad of negative affects on your bodies organs. I have literally had a co-worker end up in hospital because of a failed liver due to dehydration while working outside
- The macro nutrients we consume are transported and metabolized using water in the blood stream. Saliva, which is mostly water, also aids digestion, breaking up foods as we eat them. Water is also responsible for moving waste out of our system
- Water is responsible for regulating the bodies natural cooling system
- Helps protect your spinal cord by acting as a lubricant that cushions your joints
- Helps you burn more fat – water provides oxygen in the blood. The more oxygen, the better your body is at burning fat
There’s more, but I think this makes a strong case for drinking water. If you substitute soda for water, you are actually compounding this healthy habit. As soda acts like a diuretic – it takes a lot of water for your body to process all those sugars, and does little for quenching your thirst!
I feel like I’m stating the obvious here, but the underlying reason we floss, is to prevent gum disease and cavities from the build up of plaque. And it’s a very important healthy habit. In fact, certain articles actually suggest it is more important to floss than to brush your teeth!
But just as many of the points on this healthy habits list, there is need to expand on the underlying reason. In this case, we need to understand gum disease a little better and how it can affect the rest of your body – not just what’s inside your mouth. For example, Doctors have been studying the relationship between gum disease and heart disease for decades, with substantial evidence linking the two [Source: WebMD]. Kinda scary to think not flossing could cause a heart attack! As if this isn’t reason enough to floss, here are some more benefits:
- Flossing can reach places your toothbrush can’t, removing a greater amount of plaque
- While in the short term you might see a little blood on the floss, long term, flossing actually helps prevent bleeding gums
- Flossing aids with bad breath – as brushing alone does not remove all the stinky particles of food in between your teeth where the brush can’t reach
- Save expensive visits to the dentist. The average adult has lost 5 teeth by the time they’re 34. and between 50 and 64, 10% have no teeth at all! Fillings, removals, bridges, false teeth – all very expensive! [Source: NIDCR]
Considering you can pick up about 165 feet of floss for under a buck at Walmart – there really is no good reason not to floss!
5. Train your Brain
Your brain is relatively important. I mean, you can lose an arm, a leg or even a Kidney and still go on. But if your brain explodes (as mine felt like it was going to during a joyous stint of Meningitis), you’re pretty much done. Your brain acts a little differently to most organs, in the sense that it can be trained, more like a muscle, to become stronger.
According to a medical journal published on PLOS, our brain starts to “slow down” from as early an age as 24. This means that cognitive functions, such as attention, reasoning, memory and language, will deteriorate from that point. Extensive cognitive deterioration has been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. So how do we keep our brain firing on all cylinders? In short, stimulation. Here are some ideas of how to effectively stimulate your brain:
- Exercise your Body – exercise has been linked to improved memory and cognitive functions. [source: NCBI]
- Exercise your Brain – stimulate your brain with new exercises! Here are 14 weird exercises to try that suggest might make you smarter!
- Eat Brain healthy foods – Such foods as Avocados, Salmon, Broccoli, Leafy Greens, Blueberries and even dark chocolate (in moderation!) have been linked to increasing brain health.
- Read more – Neuroscientists have discovered that reading a good story can actually improve brain functions. [Source: Emory University]
- Learn a new skill – As per CCSU, learning a new skill can actually increase the density of your myelin, which is the white matter in your brain. This help improve performance on a number of cognitive tasks.
- Sleep – Various studies have hypothesized that sleep is imperative for memory functions and to flush out toxins accumulated during wakeful periods. One such toxin is beta-amyloid – strongly linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. [source: NIH]