“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” Hippocrates
The term “lifestyle” refers to the way we conduct our day-to-day lives. A healthy lifestyle includes a socially active environment, adherence to a healthy pattern of food and beverage consumption, and requisite physical activity with adequate rest, sleep and relaxation. A healthy lifestyle promotes a healthy body weight, and also helps control and prevent hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.
What is BMI? How to maintain healthy body weight?
What are ‘nutrient dense’ and ’empty calorie’ food?
What is the impact of physical exercise on body weight?
A healthy lifestyle includes:
1. Physical activity
A sedentary lifestyle has a terrible impact on our physical and mental health. Long hours spent in front of the TV and/or in bed, with little or no physical activity, can only lead to ill heath.
Physical activity fosters good physical and mental health, even into the twilight years. A healthy body is more likely to prevent diseases from developing and is better equipped to face temporary illnesses like the flu, colds and upset stomach (diarrhea).
We need to exercise everyday – it should not be a weekend affair where we hit the gym once a week for several hours. This is akin to fasting for 6 days and gluttonous gorging on food on the 7th day. This is not healthful for the body.
The recommendation is to walk at least 30 mins each day. Cycling, swimming or working out in the gym are equally good alternatives. Yoga has also been shown to be tremendously beneficial, can easily be carried out in any small space and requires no equipment at all.
A healthy lifestyle is characterised by regular, nutrient-dense meals and snacks, and the avoidance of overeating and staying away from simple and refined carbs. The opposite of this would be missed or irregular meals and snacks, punctuated by binge eating.
A healthy diet is nutrient dense and includes fruits and vegetables; legumes (dal); unprocessed whole grains and their products; soya milk, tofu; seeds and nuts; dairy products like milk, cheese, yoghurt; and eggs, fish, meat. It excludes simple carbs such as glucose and sugar; refined grains like white rice, maida (wheat flour); processed food; and sugar substitutes such as high fructose corn syrup, fructose syrup.
In the pursuit of healthy body weight, instead of just looking at the weight, it is better to keep an eye on the body mass index (BMI) which takes into account our weight and height. When the BMI is between 25 and 29, the weight is considered healthy. The BMI can be easily obtained from a BMI chart. It can also be calculated by the following formula:
BMI = Weight (kg)/ Height (m) x Height (m)
Another reliable indicator of a healthy body is the waist circumference. The waist circumference reflects the visceral adiposity – the fat deposited in the abdomen. In a normal built, healthy person the waist circumference measured just above the hip bone after full expiration (breathing out) should not exceed 40 inches (102 cms) for men and 35 (89 cms) inches for woman. For a small built person, the value is lower.
A healthy body weight can be achieved and maintained by avoiding overeating and shunning the consumption of simple and refined carbs, and by eating a nutrient dense, balanced diet. Exercise plays a minor role in managing body weight because we spend but few calories through physical activity: walking 30 mins, we spend a mere 150-200 calories, and this can be easily regained by eating just one small samosa.
4. Total cessation of tobacco
A healthy lifestyle entails total cessation of smoking, and all tobacco products such as zarda, khaini, snuff, gudka and gull. Paan masala is as bad as zarda.
If alcohol is consumed, it should be in moderation.
This means no more than 1 glass of wine for women and 2 glasses for men in a day, or equivalent quantities of beer or spirits such as whisky and brandy.
6. Social activity and friends
An active social life with family and friends is an important component of a healthy lifestyle. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that people who are socially active live longer and enjoy a healthier life compared with people who live an isolated, reclusive life. Social isolation increases the activity of genes that produce inflammation, and this is why loneliness is strongly linked to hypertension, heart attacks, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
7. Rest and relaxation
Adequate rest, relaxation and sleep are vital for a healthy life and are as important as physical activity. Sleep is an extremely important element of our life. It is during sleep that our body refreshes itself and repairs all the damage sustained through the day. Sleep deprivation leads to poor health and has been shown to promote many diseases including obesity, heart disease, hypertension, cancer and early death. Scientific studies have confirmed that meditation, even for brief periods (5 minutes, 2-3 times daily) is immensely beneficial in reducing stress, and promotes calm and happiness.
8. Healthy oral hygiene
Little attention is often paid to the maintenance of good oral hygiene. Infected and inflamed gums are quite common in people who smoke, and chew zarda and paan masala. The inflamed gums produce an abundance of free radicals and our immune system remains intensely occupied with ‘fighting this fire’, leaving the body exposed to inflammations elsewhere such as the heart and the brain. A healthy lifestyle therefore includes diligent dental and oral care with regular visits to the dentist.