What's the secret to a long and healthy life? While genes play a role, your lifestyle has the biggest effect on how healthy you are and how long you live. That includes what you eat and drink, how active you are, whether you smoke, and how you handle stress.
After smoking, lack of physical activity, along with poor eating habits, is the largest underlying cause of death in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health.
A little physical activity goes a long way. At least 30 minutes of activity five or more days a week can improve your overall health. Researchers continue to uncover health benefits from being physically active. Some of these include:
- Weight control
- Better sleep
- More energy
- Relief from depression
Better ability to fight off colds and other illness
Stronger bones and muscles, which can prevent falls and bone loss disease
Lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and blood pressure, and colon cancer
People who are physically active also tend to have healthier diets, which is also very important for good health.
Free Health Insurance
Physical activity is a kind of health insurance, only you don't have to buy it. By staying active, you're taking steps to protect yourself against disease, disability, and death.
If you already have a health condition or illness, physical activity can relieve or help you better manage symptoms. For instance, physical activity can help people with diabetes lower and control their blood sugar levels. It also protects them against heart disease, the leading killer of people with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Active at Any Age
If you aren't active or haven't done any physical activity in a while, don't worry — it's never too late to start. Even people in their 90s can benefit from physical activity. The more active you are, the more health benefits you'll enjoy. Here are some tips to get you started or keep you going in the right direction:
- Pump yourself up. Keep reminding yourself of all the good things that come with physical activity. Make a list, post it where it's obvious, and review it every day.
- Do what feels good. Choose an activity you like. That way, you're more likely to stick with it. Try combining exercise with another activity: lift weights or do sit-ups while you're watching television; take a walk with your grandchild while you're babysitting.
- Don't sweat it. If you're pressed for time, don't add to your stress. Divide your daily activity into small sessions. Take a 10-minute walk at lunch, another one after dinner; pull weeds for 10 or 15 minutes.
- Ease into it. Don't try to do too much at once, especially if you have a health problem. Start slowly. If you want to jog, start out by walking. If walking for an hour seems too hard, try walking for 30 minutes first.
Eat well. Diet and exercise go hand in hand. Good food gives your body the fuel it needs to stay active and function at its best. Choose foods wisely and try to pack in as many nutrients as you can.
There are no guarantees in life — staying active doesn't mean you'll automatically live to 100 and never be sick. But with regular physical activity, you'll increase your chances of living a longer, healthier, and more independent life.