We all want to be healthy and to stay healthy. Anyone who has been sick for any length of time knows how much it can affect your everyday life. It usually takes us getting sick or being around loved ones who are sick before we realize how much we take being healthy and fit on a daily basis for granted.
So, what do you think of when you hear ‘good health’? Often times, ‘good health’ is associated with having the best doctor, living close to a large clinic, and being able to afford the most modern diagnostic and treatment procedures. But, these things alone do not make up your entire health or guarantee ‘good health’.
Besides your genetics, how you live you everyday life is most important. What does that mean? Well, it means developing specific habits and creating a daily, long-term routine.
Where do you start? Let’s look at these 11 tips for your health and see how you can incorporate them into your lifestyle. Applying these tips could help you achieve more for your current and future health than you may think. These 11 tips are:
- stress management
- protection from sun and dehydration
- healthy workplace
- our environment
- smoking and alcohol
- social environment
- finding purpose
- managing change.
1. How much does a good night’s sleep affect your health?
Having a sleepless night can lead to short-term effects on your body, but it’s also important to note that consistent sleep problems can impact your general health in the long term.ref1 ref2 ref3 ref4 ref5
In medicine, there is a distinction made between difficulties falling asleep and difficulties staying asleep – which can also occur in combination. In addition to lack of sleep, there can also be a reduced quality of sleep – which is where the important ‘slow-wave sleep’ phases are absent. Insufficient sleep has a long-term negative effect on your health. Depression and cardiovascular diseases, a weakened immune system, accidents, and workplace errors can occur.ref1 ref2 ref3 ref4 ref5
There are a few factors that can cause sleep problems, such as: stress levels, uncomfortable sleep conditions, and shift work.ref3
How can you improve your sleep quality?
There are some quick changes you can make to your sleeping environment and adjustments to your day that can help you catch some much needed Zs. These include:
- Darker room, deeper sleep. If possible, try to make your bedroom darker, cooler, and quieter. Find some curtains or blinds that block out light as much as possible. Your body's day-night rhythm, as well as its metabolism, highly depend on environmental light as an internal clock. For people with sleeping problems, it can be helpful to find curtains or blinds. You can also try to keep the room temperature at night around 18°C/64°F. Reducing background noise as much as possible is also helpful. Also, do you think too much in bed? If so, put a ‘brooding chair’ next to your bed and only allow your mind to ponder there rather than in bed.ref2 ref3
- Break out your stretchy pants. Exercise during the day can also help you sleep at night as well. If you have an office job or a daily routine that does not include much movement, try to get creative – stand at your desk, go for a walk to break up your day, get out a stop or two earlier and walk home.
- If possible with your schedule, do not eat large meals or drink caffeinated drinks before going to bed. You should also avoid stressful activities, such as checking emails or watching action films before going to bed. This may be controversial in 2020, but banish your smartphone from the bedroom or at least switch it to flight mode. Instead of hitting the snooze button multiple times, get up on time in the morning – even if you're still tired. As magical as naps are, avoid long ones. Rather than taking a nap when you’re tired in the evening, just go to bed immediately.ref2 ref3
2. How does nutrition and daily diet play a role in your health?
The topic of nutrition is a hot debate today. It’s hard not fall into the trendy traps of fad diets or latest dietary reports. But, it’s important to recognize that what you eat and put into your body does have a big impact on your health, while also understanding nutritional values found in foods and how to balance your daily intake.
Something to always keep in mind – discussing nutrition does not equal food deprivation. We don’t want to take away the joys of eating and tasting delicious foods. We also can’t predict which current trend may be confirmed by future studies. But, what we can do is introduce some findings that have been repeatedly proven in large studies. One being that in most countries, people die from the consequences of overnutrition – such as heart attacks, stroke, and diabetes – rather than malnutrition. This means your daily calorie intake should be about the same as your daily requirement (which is the daily amount of calories your body requires).ref6 ref7 ref8 ref9 ref10 ref11
Healthcare professionals agree that a balanced diet is crucial. No single food-type alone provides all the nutrients you need. The more variety you bring into your diet, the better.
- whole grains – can be found in certain types of bread, pasta, and granola
- fiber – can be found in vegetables, legumes, nuts, dried fruits, and in certain types of bread and cereals
- numerous nutrients and vitamins – can be found in fruits and vegetables.
- sugar – never underestimate the amount of sugar content found in drinks
- salt – highly processed products (such as chips, frozen pizza, or any ready-made meals) have a very high salt content
- animal fats – rich, unsaturated fatty acids (found in olive oil, rapeseed oil, and nuts) are significantly healthier than food rich in saturated fatty acids (found in butter, cream, and meat)
- meat – if you’re on a vegetarian or vegan diet, vitamin and mineral intake should be well planned (e.g. vitamin B12, iron, and others).
3. How does stress impact your general health and how can you manage it?
Over thousands of years, the human body has evolved to release stress hormones in emergency situations that were life or death. It was essential for survival to have an adequate stress response in these situations.
For example, if there was a lion attack, only those people with high levels of stress would survive. The cortisol and adrenaline levels would rise (cortisol increasing the blood sugar, adrenaline increasing the heartbeat/blood pressure) and provide energy to successfully run away. This stress response is still part of our genes today, but the difference now is that we don't face lions anymore (well usually). Instead of a lion, we have chronic stress – which can be heightened during a pandemic.
The stress we are exposed to in modern times is less life-threatening but it happens more regularly and sometimes even daily. That ultimately damages our overall health and can contribute to cardiovascular diseases.ref12 ref13 ref14 ref15
Factors that cause stress usually differ from person to person and can depend on your assessment of the situation. Maybe ask yourself these questions when in a stressful situation: Have you already experienced a similar experience in the past? If so, was it good or bad? Have you developed skills that will successfully help you cope with the situation? Can you manage the stress triggers and control the situation yourself? Do you have a limit on how long you can handle the stress?ref12 ref14 ref15
If symptoms occur and continue to persist, you should seek professional help to manage it. The spectrum ranges from leisure time compensation and relaxation techniques to certain behavioral techniques.ref12 ref13 ref14 ref15
4. How and why should you protect yourself from the sun and dehydration?
Sunlight intensity depends on the following:ref16
- Season: During the summer months, the sun is higher in the sky and therefore stronger.
- Latitude: The closer you are to the equator, the more intense the solar radiation is.
- Time of day: Solar radiation is strongest from 9am–3pm.
- Duration of sun exposure: The longer the sun shines directly on your skin, the more intense is its effect.
- Skin type: Particularly people with skin type I (usually with physical traits like freckles and red hair) and skin type II (usually with physical traits like blonde hair and blue eyes) react more sensitively to sunlight.
- Altitude: In the mountains, solar radiation is increased.
If you can’t manage to stay in the shade during the hot months, you can still effectively protect yourself from the sun by wearing clothing, headgear, sunglasses, and sunscreen. When applying sunscreen, make sure you apply enough cream, wait at least 15 minutes before getting in the water, apply it regularly, and then adjust the sun protection factor if necessary.ref16
The best way to prevent sunstroke, heat stroke, or dehydration (other than staying in the shade) is to drink plenty of water on hot days, wear headgear in the sun, and cool your skin with cold water if necessary.ref17
5. How can your workplace affect your health, and what are ergonomics?
Unlike the past, most of us are rarely exposed to hard physical work, but a large number of sick leaves can still be traced back to our workplace conditions. Particularly computer work – which dominates our working environment and can affect our health for years to come.
With office work, we often remain in the same sitting position for most of the day or even sink into a chair over time. In addition, there is the constant arm posture, the monotonous clicking and typing, and continuous staring at the monitor.
So, what are ergonomics? Ergonomics is about the optimal adaptation between us humans and our working environment. In terms of your health, the question is: How can you design your workplace in such a way that your health does not suffer from work?
- Your soles should lie flat on the floor when working.
- Your knees and hips should both be at right angles when seated.
- Your arms should be able to hang freely from your shoulders and should also be bent at right angles to your elbows.
- Your chair and table should be adjustable in height.
- Your screen should be about 60-90 cm away, parallel to your shoulders, and with the top of the screen just below your eyes.
- Your wrists should not bend permanently when using the mouse and keyboard – documents or an ergonomic mouse or keyboard can help here.
- Add as much variety as possible to your working day – standing, walking, and loosening up in between.
6. How does our environment (nature, air quality, and noise) affect our health?
Being outside in nature promotes our wellbeing, especially when it comes to children. Each day, our brain has to constantly pay attention and react to distractions. But, when you’re in nature, your brain can switch off and finally relax. Many of us now spend a large part of our day indoors. It’s important and an extremely healthy balance to escape from the stuffy, inside air and to get out and stretch your legs in an open space.ref23 ref24
Depending on where you live, you could be exposed to air pollution – especially in large cities. This has a proven negative impact on our health. Even slight increases in pollutant levels can significantly increase our risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Children are particularly sensitive to air pollution.ref23 ref25
The situation is similar with increased noise levels. These cannot only annoy us, but can also significantly increase our risk of cardiovascular disease. This is especially true if you are exposed to noise in the long term. If you live next to a main road, a construction site, a noisy bar or an intersection, it is worth taking the volume into consideration and to take countermeasures.ref26
7. How does exercise, sports, and other physical activities affect your health?
Regular physical activity has a positive effect on your current and long-term health. For example, you can achieve a lasting effect with just 30 minutes per day. Whatever type of exercise you choose – whether it’s a brisk walk, riding your bike to work, or any other physical activity – is not as important as the regularity. If you make exercise an integral part of your day, then your body will thank you for it. An ordinary day with at least 30 minutes of movement should be the rule and not the exception.ref27 ref28 ref29 ref30 ref31 ref32 ref33
Increased regular physical exercise will lead to the body adapting to this demanding and exhausting stimulus. It leads to the production of more red blood cells, which supply your body with oxygen. Your muscles become stronger and your endurance increases. Your tendons, ligaments, and bones become more robust. Your heart increases its pumping capacity. Your blood pressure drops in the long run. Your susceptibility to injuries and infections decreases overall. Your ability to concentrate improves. Accumulated tension can be effectively reduced again. It’s safe to say exercise influences your health in many positive ways.ref27 ref28 ref29 ref30 ref31 ref32 ref33
8. How harmful is smoking and drinking alcohol to your health?
Alcohol and smoking are usually the center of attention in most social gatherings and are an integral part of culture and social life in many countries. Thankfully, ‘dry January’ is a trending norm but giving up smoking and drinking for the entire year isn’t the most realistic option for most people. However, it is important to mention the effect of these stimulants on one's own health and how it has been extensively researched and shared in public domains. To help you weigh the pros and cons, below is a brief overview of the most important recommendations.
- Women should only drink a maximum of one alcoholic beverage per day and men two alcoholic beverages per day.
- The following groups of people should not drink alcohol at all: pregnant women, people with an alcohol addiction, and people with liver or pancreas conditions.
- If people generally drink more than the recommended amounts, then this can have a negative effect on their health – such as dying at young age and certain conditions like liver cirrhosis and gastrointestinal tract cancer.
- Tobacco smoke contains over 70 substances that have been shown to cause cancer.
- It increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks, stroke, and high blood pressure.The risk increases with each cigarette and decreases significantly with each further month without smoking.Passive smoking also significantly increases the risk.
- The risk increases with each cigarette and decreases significantly with each further month without smoking.
- Passive smoking also significantly increases the risk.
- The effect of e-cigarettes on health is still being extensively researched and has not yet been conclusively confirmed.
9. How does a social environment and loneliness affect your health?
When people think about their own health, they often do not think about their social environment. What is a ‘social environment’? This refers to the people in your everyday life, who surround you and give you support. This includes friends and family as well as a good relationship with a neighbor, a colleague, or even an acquaintance at the gym.
However, research is continuously pointing to the fact that hardly any other factor has a greater impact on our health. A good social environment benefits your health while loneliness can make you sick. It is important to differentiate between the two. A person who draws strength from spending time alone does not automatically suffer from loneliness. Instead, loneliness is always a purely subjective feeling. You can feel lonely even when surrounded by people. Even a relationship does not automatically guarantee better health. Good relationships can positively affect your health while bad relationships can make you sick. There is no set rule about the number of friends you should have but it is important to have close contacts in your life who can listen and lend a supportive hand in tough moments. It’s incredibly important to your mental and physical health.ref42 ref43 ref44 ref45
Loneliness also increasingly affects elderly people. With widows, it’s common that their deaths follow shortly after they lose their long-term partner. Also, the increasing loss of mobility in old age does not make things any easier.ref46
Life in big cities is also often accompanied by loneliness. Despite all the advantages that city life may bring with it, there’s also the risk of drowning in the anonymity of a big city. Maintaining close contact with all the people you care about is always a good investment in your health.ref45
10. How does religion, spirituality, and finding purpose in life play a role in your health?
Finding a purpose in life is quite the task for many. Many of us find meaning in completely different areas of life. For one person, work might be the most meaningful thing in life. For another, raising children might feel like their purpose in life, and for another, it could be their spirituality.
Research increasingly suggests that a clear meaning in life and spirituality have a very positive effect on your health. Spirituality can give you enormous support and significantly lower your stress level, especially during times of serious illnesses and/or stays in intensive care. Family members who are seriously ill can also find comfort and strength more easily.ref14 ref47
11. How do changes and life events affect your health?
We live in an age of change. In the past, it took many generations before people's lifestyles changed from those of their ancestors, but now the pace is accelerating. The only thing that remains certain is change, and sometimes, change can have a noticeable impact on our mental health.
In addition to social developments, personal experiences can also have a drastic effect on your well-being. But, these are not necessarily traumatic experiences. Even ‘normal’ events – such as the birth of your own child, marriage, or retirement – can sometimes knock you out of balance more than you'd like.ref48 ref49
If global trends or personal life events stress you out noticeably, it is important to talk to a trusted person. If you can't find a healthy way to cope with it, it makes sense to seek professional help. Figuring out how to best cope with stressful life events can be an ongoing process. Sometimes it can take years to find the right balance between taking on new challenges and maintaining healthy boundaries.
Often, this process needs to be repeated as there is always another life event waiting around the corner. Support from close friends or family and sometimes even professional help can greatly assist you in not only overcoming specific obstacles but also in helping boost your confidence when managing future hurdles.
Each day, you make countless small decisions and most of these decisions have a direct impact on your health. But now, you’re equipped with the 11 golden tips and can apply them when making decisions about your health. Of course, the results may vary depending on a person's overall health and pre-existing medical conditions. But the good thing is, these tips require no money, no miraculous cures, and no fancy spas. Instead, for most of us, good health means just a series of small behavioral changes. Day in, day out. We all know this is sometimes difficult on its own, but luckily, every small success makes us even stronger.
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