For some, living a healthier lifestyle may mean increasing weekly exercise. For others, improving their sleep habits or nutrition may be the priority. Whether you're at day one or 100, healthy choices are part of a lifelong journey — not a quick fix.
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When you exercise regularly, sleep well and make informed eating choices, your body and brain function at their highest capacity. By making smart decisions, you can make the most out of your day-to-day life and reap the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle.
Read more: What to Eat to Feel Better — Inside and Out
1. Healthy Weight Loss or Maintenance
Among the primary benefits of a healthy lifestyle is weight loss or maintenance. And while healthy living can help transform your physique, weight loss is beneficial beyond physical appearance. Even moderate weight loss can improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While both exercise and healthy eating can create weight loss, a combination of the two is most effective, according to an October 2012 study published in Obesity. After 439 overweight women were treated with either diet, exercise or a combination, researchers found that pairing better nutrition with regular workouts promoted the best results.
2. Enhanced Sleep and Increased Energy Levels
A good night of rest determines your energy levels for the next day, yet 35 percent of U.S. adults get insufficient sleep each night (less than seven hours), according to the CDC. Those who get inadequate shut-eye not only feel dips in their energy throughout the day but are at greater risk of developing chronic disease, according to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Sleep is part of a healthy lifestyle and can be improved through exercise and healthy eating. Regular physical activity results in longer, better quality sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. As little as 10 minutes of added aerobic exercise during the day will help you slumber better at night. Those who work out regularly also lower their risk of developing sleep disorders like insomnia, a growing problem in America at the moment, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association.
Your sleep quality and energy levels can also be improved with a wholesome diet, another primary element of a healthy lifestyle. Foods low on the glycemic index — which measures how much a food raises your blood sugar — can help prevent your energy from fluctuating throughout the day, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Limiting your caffeine can also help improve the hours you spend sleeping.
3. Improved Mental Health
In addition to benefitting your physical health, a healthy lifestyle can also improve your mental wellbeing. Exercise and healthy eating are tools that can help you manage stress, in turn improving your mood (and your sleep, which also often affects your mood).
When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, according to the Mayo Clinic. Endorphins are molecules produced by the brain that make you feel good. These molecules are so powerful that they may even help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Healthy eating can also help improve your mental health and boost your mood, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Like a car, the brain needs to be filled with premium fuel to function properly. A diet rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods results in the best and highest brain function. A diet full of highly processed foods, though, may leave you feeling more foggy and sluggish.
4. Prevention of Disease and Injury
Practicing a healthy lifestyle may also help prevent the development of chronic disease and injury. Choosing not to smoke, eating healthfully and exercising regularly may help offset the genetic risk of dementia, according to a July 2019 study published in JAMA that included 196,383 older adults.
Plus, practicing those same healthy lifestyle factors in middle age, coupled with drinking in moderation and maintaining a healthy weight, may help you live a longer life free from disease, according to a January 2020 study in The BMJ. The study followed more than 100,000 people for more than 20 years and concluded that men who live healthfully enjoy 7.6 more disease-free years, and women enjoy 10.
What's more, the longer you lead a healthy lifestyle in midlife, the less likely you are to develop diseases like hypertension, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease in later life, according to a study published March 2020 in JAMA Cardiology. The study observed people over a period of about 16 years and defined a healthy lifestyle as not smoking, eating healthy, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and maintaining healthy blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Read more: 11 Simple Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy and Strong
Indeed, those who have overweight or obesity are at greater risk for developing health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, among others, per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Regular exercise can promote weight loss, which in turn can help prevent chronic disease and help manage symptoms of current illnesses, according to the Mayo Clinic. Aerobic exercise (you should be getting at least 150 minutes per week, according to the American Heart Association) boosts your heart health and aids weight loss.
By strengthening your muscles, weight-training exercise can slow the progress of disease-related muscle decline, according to the Mayo Clinic. Also, by developing your muscle and joint strength and flexibility, exercise can help prevent injuries, especially in older adults who are more prone to falling.
Your diet is just as important. Eating foods low in saturated fats and trans fats can help prevent high cholesterol, according to the CDC. You can also lower your blood sugar by limiting your sugar intake, which can help prevent or control diabetes. Poor nutrition can contribute to risk factors for obesity, stroke and type 2 diabetes, according to the CDC.
- CDC: "Losing Weight"
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Aim For A Healthy Weight"
- American Sleep Apnea Association: "The State of Sleep Health in America"
- National Sleep Foundation: "How Exercise Affects Sleep"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "9 tips to boost your energy — naturally"
- Mayo Clinic: "Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress"
- Mayo Clinic: "Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food"
- JAMA: "Association of Lifestyle and Genetic Risk With Incidence of Dementia"
- American Heart Association: "American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids"
- CDC: "Preventing Heart Disease: Healthy Living Habits"
- CDC: "Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity At A Glance"
- Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School: "Sleep and Disease Risk"
- Obesity: "Effect of Diet and Exercise, Alone or Combined, on Weight and Body Composition in Overweight‐to‐Obese Postmenopausal Women"
- The BMJ: "Healthy lifestyle and life expectancy free of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: prospective cohort study"
- CDC: "Prevalence of Healthy Sleep Duration among Adults — United States, 2014"
- JAMA Cardiology: "Association of the Duration of Ideal Cardiovascular Health Through Adulthood With Cardiometabolic Outcomes and Mortality in the Framingham Offspring Study"