If you’re wondering how to stay healthy and live longer, health expert Dr Sayyada Mawji, brand ambassador for AI-based training app Freeletics, has seven highly effective health habits, backed by science, that have been shown to prolong the lives of men and women that you can start now.
1. Get moving
Research shows that getting just 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day (such as a brisk walk) reduces our risk of heart disease, stroke, improves our metabolism, helps us maintain a healthy weight, increases our bone strength, boosts our mood and lengthens our life expectancy.
Dr Mawji said: “With so many benefits, try to fit some regular exercise into your day, and if your routine’s tight, use alternatives to being still where you can – take the stairs instead of the lift, walk to the shops instead of taking the car or get off a stop earlier on your commute and walk the extra distance.
“If you find yourself struggling to have time for exercise, fitness apps like Freeletics (www.freeletics.com) provide you with a flexible fitness routine which fits around your life and goals. Joining a group or sports team is a good evidence-backed way to keep you motivated and committed to exercising, whilst improving your social life and skill level.”
2. Optimise your sleep quality
Sleep is a time for our bodies and brains to repair and recover, and a good night’s sleep boosts our mental wellbeing, improves fertility, boosts immunity and helps us to maintain a healthy weight. Poor sleep regularly can increase our risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression and some cancers.
Dr Mawji advised: “On average we need six to nine hours/night to sleep, so start by working out what is best for you by monitoring your sleep pattern and wellbeing.
“Sleep hygiene tips to improve the quality of your sleep include having a bedtime routine, having a consistent sleep schedule so that you are sleeping and waking at the same time, avoiding any stimulants like caffeine, phones and laptops close to bedtime so your mind can fully switch off, and in the daytime getting lots of natural sunlight to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.”
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3. Limit alcohol intake
Drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week – that’s six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine – can damage our health.
Dr Mawji explained: “New evidence shows that alcohol isn’t as protective to the heart as thought, and drinking more than 14 units a week is linked to cancers, stroke, heart disease, liver disease and brain disease. In fact, there’s no “safe” level of drinking anymore, and it can even impact your physical and mental health.”
Cutting down doesn’t have to be a struggle though. Dr Mawji’s tips include:
- Setting a limit on how much you’re going to drink before going out
- Only taking a fixed amount of money to spend on alcohol
- Get support from friends and family by letting them know you’re going to cut down
- Reduce the size of the drink or try a lower-strength drink
- Drinking other drinks to stay hydrated and fuller, like non-alcoholic options or water
- Book in drink-free days each week
She continued: “Though these are small changes, they can make a huge impact, including feeling better in the mornings, being less tired during the day, better looking skin, increased energy and most importantly long term health benefits such as reduced risk of stroke, high blood pressure, cancer and liver disease.”
4. Eat well
The key to a healthy diet is to eat a wide range of foods to make sure you’re getting a balanced diet and your body is receiving all the nutrients it needs, said Dr Mawji.
“Ensuring you consume the right amount of calories for how active you are also balances the energy you use – if you eat or drink more than your body needs, you’ll put on weight and the unused energy is stored as fat. If you eat or drink too little, you’ll lose weight. Studies of nutrition are challenging because of the other factors involved like exercise, stress and the environment, and we know that we’re generally not great at reporting our eating habits.”
But there’s good evidence to show that poor diets have a negative impact on various factors like our blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. So how can we eat well? Dr Mawji has a few pointers on what makes a good diet:
- Base one third of your meals on starchy carbohydrates like potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and cereals and aim for wholegrain or high in fibre carbohydrates. They’ll keep you fuller for longer and help you cut down on cravings or snacking.
- Get your five fruits or veg a day. It doesn’t matter how – they can be frozen, canned, dried or juiced and it’s easier than you think – add a piece of fruit or veg as part of a snack between meals and you’ll soon reach your daily goal.
- Aim to have at least two portions of fish in your diet a week, particularly oily fish. Fish contains proteins, vitamins and minerals and oily fish contains omega-3 oils that can help prevent heart disease.
- Cut down on saturated fat found in processed food like butter, sausages, and cakes, and try to choose foods with unsaturated fats like vegetable oils, spreads and avocados. Avoiding sugar in juices or smoothies is also recommended, and you should limit your salt intake to less than 6g/day to prevent heart disease and high blood pressure.
- Stay hydrated – water is essential for our bodies functioning, so aim to drink six to eight glasses a day. Fill up a flask at the beginning of the day that helps you stay on track.
5. Quit smoking or vaping
Smoking and vaping both impact our health negatively, including our physical and mental health, as well as being linked to various cancers, said Dr Mawji.
“The decline in smoking has been a big reason that life expectancy is improving, and E-cigarettes, nicotine replacement therapy or prescribable medications can help you quit, so speak to your doctor.”
6. Stay social
If the Covid pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we are social beings that thrive in the company of others.
Dr Mawji said: “Nurturing our social connections improves our mental health significantly, with loneliness and social isolation well-established risk factors for poor health. Studies also demonstrate that loneliness can impact our physical health, increasing our risk of heart disease and stroke. After the pandemic, it can be anxiety-provoking to get in touch with old friends so start with scheduling time for a call with friends or family a few times a week and build up from there. As your confidence increases, why not try to widen your social circle through social groups or volunteering in your local community?”
7. Get into nature
Research shows us that our environment can increase or reduce our stress, which in turn impacts our bodies.
Dr Mawji said: “What you are seeing, hearing, or experiencing at any moment is changing not only your mood but also how your nervous, endocrine, and immune systems are working. An unpleasant environment can cause you anxiety, sadness or helplessness, raising your blood pressure and muscle tension, and suppressing your immune system – a pleasing environment reverses that. Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature reduces anger, fear and stress, whilst increasing pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature doesn’t just make you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing too, reducing blood pressure, relaxing muscles and increasing the production of happy hormones.
“All of these changes lead us to feel better, happier and live longer. So get a natural dose of wellbeing by getting out into nature.”