In recent years you may have heard the term “self-care” frequently. Far from pampering yourself, self-care is a holistic approach to better health based on adopting healthy lifestyle habits.
Americans are far less healthy than they could be or have been in the past and these poor habits are putting us at risk at younger and younger ages. Six out of every 10 people live with a least one chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes, according to the CDC. Four in 10 people have two or more conditions. These diseases are responsible for seven out of ten deaths in the United States.
The good news is these diseases are largely preventable. Researchers from Harvard’s School of Public Health analyzed data from long term studies, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up study. They found that people who practiced five specific lifestyle habits dramatically reduced their risks of heart disease and cancer, compared with those who did none of these things.
Those lifestyle habits are:
- Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unsaturated fatty acids, and low in red and processed meats, sugary drinks, trans fats, and sodium.
- Not smoking
- Getting at least 3 ½ hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week.
- Drinking only moderate amounts of alcohol (no more than one drink per day for women and two or less per day for men).
- Maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) in the range of 18.5 to 24.9.
How effective are these measures? The researchers found that practicing all 5 habits from age 50 onward extended life by more than a decade compared with practicing none of them. Women who didn’t adopt any of the habits lived on average to age 79, while those that did all 5 lived to 93. Similarly, men who did not practice these 5 habits lived to 75 on average, while those that did lived to nearly 88.
When it comes to self-care, habits that foster a healthy body are a good place to start. But scientists have also learned over time that the mind and body are inextricably linked. Thoughts and emotions influence health in many ways. With this knowledge it is important to not just practice healthy habits for the body but also the mind.