Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is something we all know we should be doing, and something in which the impetus falls squarely on the individual. This is a message that is sometimes mixed by the media however. On the one hand we see many different images of models with six pack abs and hour glass physiques, but on the other hand we are constantly told that this image is unhealthy, leading to eating disorders and fad diets and that we should be happy with our bodies the way they are. Programs like ‘How to Look Good Naked’ instruct us on how to cover up our insecurities with clever clothes designed to distract and draw the eye away from problem areas, while other pieces of journalism explain how our overweight nation is a result of advertising and MacDonalds.
The truth of the matter though is that many people manage to avoid MacDonalds and don’t succumb to the advertising. And while the people on the front of the magazines may seem a million miles away from what we are now, they’re still real people and those physiques are still attainable. Furthermore a healthy lifestyle isn’t just about vanity and appearance, but about keeping a healthy heart, low cholesterol and strong bones. It’s about achieving things in other areas of your life, feeling confident and providing a role model for friends and family. Perhaps then what we need are fewer excuses and more information on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, more information on how to lose weight and give up drinking without falling into the trap of fad diets and eating disorders.
The real secret when wondering how to maintain a healthy lifestyle is not to isolate the various aspects of your health and to instead attack the problem with a holistic health approach; by improving one area of your health you will probably improve others, and you will have a hard time giving up smoking if you currently feel unhealthy and unhappy.
First then, consider the four facets of a healthy lifestyle: diet, exercise, behaviour and psychology. By attempting to improve all four of these at once you will stand a far better chance of success than you would if you focussed on each aspect individually.
First of all, your diet can affect your weight, your circulatory system (meaning your veins and arteries, your heart and your blood pressure and cholesterol), your skin, your bones, your nails and your energy levels. Understanding your diet then is crucial to understanding how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and it’s best understood by thinking of how we were in the wild. Here we survived largely on fruits and nuts and protein from animals we’d hunted. This means we ate little processed food, fewer carbohydrates and fewer saturated fats. It also means that we got a lot of vitamins and minerals from our fruit.
What it doesn’t mean is that we should cut fats or carbs entirely from our diet. We evolved eating those things, as omnivores, and so that is what we should be doing. Fad diets will only damage your body’s balance of minerals and put your body in a fasting mode encouraging it to store fat due to the limited supplies it’s getting – this is not how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. By not eating fat you will also damage your ability to utilise protein for building muscle and dry out your skin and hair and by leaving out carbs you will quickly feel tired and lethargic (and be far more likely to binge later). Your diet should include all food groups then, but with less fat and fewer simple carbohydrates such as cakes. At the same time, the fresher the food you eat the healthier it will be. Some easy tricks to improve your diet are to take sugar out of your tea or coffee, stop spreading butter on your bread, stop cooking with oil, stop drinking fizzy drinks (replace them with fruit drinks), replace sugary snacks with natural yogurts or dried fruits and stop adding salt to everything you eat. Quickly you’ll find you lose your sweet tooth and actually start craving fresh healthy foods instead.
Already by fixing your diet you will notice that it’s far easier to exercise and that you achieve far more noticeable results. By eating more fruits and vegetables and more complex carbs rather than simple carbs you will have more energy to use in the gym. By eating more protein and minerals your body will be able to make the most of the anabolic boost you’re giving it to repair and grow muscle.
When understanding how to maintain a healthy lifestyle through exercise, you need to consider the two main types of exercise – resistance training such as weightlifting, and cardiovascular exercise such as running, swimming or jogging.
The first of these, the weight lifting, should be performed several times a week in order to help strengthen muscles (which will prevent injury and also burns fat). At the same time you should use cardiovascular exercise such as jogging several times a week in order to help strengthen the heart, burn fat, increase your VO2 max and help keep your circulatory system healthy and clean. This can help prevent heart disease, cholesterol, heart attack or stroke.
The next aspect of how to maintain a healthy lifestyle we listed was behaviour. By this is meant things like smoking, drinking, ensuring you get lots of sunshine, getting lots of sleep and going for walks. Even if your diet and exercise regime are great it’s possible to undo a lot of good work by being idle or by chain smoking and drinking. Making lifestyle changes like this can take a lot of work, but once you’re already feeling healthier from your new diet and training you should find it a lot easier. Apart from anything else you won’t want your new regime to be in vain.
Your behaviour is also closely linked to your psychology. By this is meant your psychological health, and you can’t understand how to maintain a healthy lifestyle without it. Depression may be something that’s ‘in the mind’ but it still affects your body, your energy levels, your sleep. Furthermore if you can’t find the motivation or energy you won’t be able to make other positive changes in your life and may suffer from impaired judgement. This link again works both ways however, and by improving your diet and your fitness you should find that you start to feel more optimistic. If nothing else you will benefit from the endorphins that are released during exercise which cause the ‘runners’ high’ and have many of the same effects as recreational drugs and opiods (they also act as painkillers). Similarly, just losing weight and ‘clearing’ the system by lowering cholesterol etc can really help to improve your mood, as can getting lots of B vitamins and natural foods.
In this way then you will greatly benefit from attacking every aspect of your health at once, each will help the other and it can help you get out of a self perpetuating cycle of bad habits. That is how to maintain a healthy lifestyle!
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