There seems to always be a mad dash toward the next new thing when it comes to nutrition and fitness — whether it’s the latest exercise craze, superfood or diet regimen. But leaping from fad to fad isn’t exactly a well-reasoned strategy for improving our health. Nor is it a way to create changes that stick — which are the only ones that will have an impact.
If we’re going to generate enough motivation to create sustainable change, we need to have clear objectives and understand how and why our habits fulfill those objectives. That way, when relapses or difficult moments arise — and they always do — our deeper motivation and plan keep us anchored.
If your objective is to live a longer, healthier life, a scientific study conducted by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health lays out five practices, none of which needs to involve a fad.
The study, which appeared in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation, analysed data on more than 100,000 people, who were followed for up to 34 years. Researchers looked at life expectancy among those who engaged in five “low-risk lifestyle factors,” such as not smoking. The researchers concluded that, if practiced together, the five low-risk lifestyle factors could increase life span quite significantly, an average of 14 years for women and 12 years for men, writes Jae Berman, a registered dietician, in BigThink.
1. Avoid smoking. Low risk is defined as never smoking.
2. Maintain a healthy weight. Low risk is defined as a Body Mass Index in the range of 18.5 to 24.9.
3. Exercise regularly. Low risk is defined as moderate- or vigorous-intensity exercise for 30 or more minutes a day.
4. Consume moderate amounts of alcohol. Low risk is defined as one-half to one drink per day for women and one-half to two drinks per day for men.
5. Maintain an overall healthy diet. Low risk is defined as a diet with high intakes of vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, polyunsaturated fatty acids and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, and low intakes of red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat and sodium.
Not only is the research topic compelling because of the large participant
sample size and lengthy follow-up — documenting 42,167 deaths over 34 years — but also because it’s specifically focused on the outcome of life span. People make lifestyle choices for many reasons, but focusing on these five components can support someone who wants to increase their life –expectancy, acknowledged Bergman.
“This study underscores the importance of following healthy lifestyle habits for improving longevity in the U.S. population,” said Frank Hu, chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School.
• If decreasing alcohol consumption is your focus, consider cutting out drinking at home. Or if social drinking is your main issue, set a goal for drinks per week to keep you accountable.
• If quitting smoking is your goal, perhaps the first step is to research smoking-cessation programmes.
• If improving your diet interests you, start with adding one more vegetable and fruit to your daily diet.
• If exercise is your priority, add one 30-minute workout to your regimen to get you toward a daily routine.
• If losing weight is your focus, consider decreasing caloric intake by 250 to 500 calories per day.
Of course , we should try our best to live a longer and healthier and more fulfilled life.
(The writer is professor of science and religion and author of Death: Live it!)