What does being Healthy really mean?

I saw my doctor the other day for my annual physical. As always, we talked “health” and compared notes. One thing I was surprised to hear her say was some patients don’t see a correlation between being overweight, getting sick and quality of life — “sick” meaning taking multiple medications, getting a chronic disease or simply not feeling their best overall.  She said too many people don’t see the connection between their weight and their health. They think that allowing themselves to become overweight means they aren’t vain; that losing pounds has little or nothing to do with health, only appearance.
She said she is concerned about how our health system can continue to bear the brunt of people not taking care of themselves.  How can it be that the U.S. sends the most money on health care yet has the lowest life expectancy rate of all developed nations? This is especially troublesome when many things that lead to poor health are not genetic; that they are in each individual’s control.

What exactly is a healthy lifestyle?

Prior research shows repeatedly there are five areas that have a major impact on health, quality of life and longevity. They are:

Healthy diet: This requires regular consumption of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids, and limiting intake of unhealthy foods, including red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat and salt.

Healthy physical activity level: This is measured by at least 30 minutes per day, five days a week of moderate to vigorous activity.

Healthy body weight: Defined as a normal body weight and body mass index (BMI) of between 18.5 and 24.9.

Smoking:  Healthy here means, ideally, never having smoked.  Or, if you did smoke, you no longer do so. The federal Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services note that one year after quitting smoking, your risk for a heart attack drops sharply. From two to five years after quitting, the risk for stroke can drop to that of a nonsmoker. If you quit smoking, risk for cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder drops by half within five years. Ten years after you quit smoking, risk of lung cancer falls by half.

Moderate alcohol intake: This means one drink per day for women, two drinks per day for men. The size of the drink is important: one 12 oz. regular beer, five ounces of wine and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

So, if healthy habits and lifestyle are critical for good health, why aren’t we practicing them? Because in the U.S. we tend to spend lots of money developing drugs and other treatments for diseases rather than encouraging people to develop healthy lifestyle habits that prevent them. We need to do a better job of educating people through public health-awareness efforts and policy changes. Indeed, some progress along these lines has already been made with trans-fat and tobacco legislation.

But promoting health guidelines and laws that help people live better lives often does not sit well with companies that sell fast food, chips, colas and processed foods. Their advertising far exceeds those that are produced as a public service. Thus, each of us needs to take matters into his or her own hands. Quality of life for yourself and for those you love depends on it.

If you have decided now is the time to improve your quality of life, click here to book a one- on-one coaching call with me.

Lisa Burbage

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