UPDATED: Oct 19, 2019
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It is never too late to begin eating healthy and getting active at any stage in life. The best time to start is in childhood so that healthy habits are learned and continued on throughout life. The need to keep up on daily recommendations can be challenging, but it becomes easier as good habits develop over time. Although our busy lifestyles tend to cut out healthy options for “easy and fast” ones, there are still simple and healthy options available. Hopefully, our comprehensive guide gives you the inspiration to start today.
The US Department of Human Health and Services says that physical activity has decreased throughout the years. Only 1 in 3 children are physically active every day.With adults, only 5% get the recommended 30 minutes of activity a day. More than 80% of adults do not meet the minimum aerobic and muscle strengthening exercises guidelines, and this goes the same for adolescents.
The typical American diet actually exceeds the recommended limits in solid fats, sugars, refined grains, sodium, and saturated fats. About 90% of Americans eat more sodium than recommended and, if we were to cut sodium intake by 1200 milligrams, 20 billion dollars per year would be saved in medical costs. Due to the American diet, it is reported that by 2030, more than 50 percent of the adult population will be obese. Childhood obesity has increased 16% from 1970 to 2007.
You can read more statistics at the Centers for Disease Control.
The first step in becoming healthy is to eat right. While many people do have busy schedules, there are many ways we can add healthy eating habits into our day.
The Evolution of Health Nutrition
An article at Academia talks about the evolution of nutrition from our days as cavemen to now. People require about 50 essential nutrients for growth, maintenance, and bodily repair. The nutrients are classified as proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. All these nutrients were obtained through diet. Humans require an extremely high-quality diet compared to other primates due to the size of our brains.
We began obtaining nutrients from hunting and foraging. While the beginning of cooking is undetermined, the creation of fire brought a new way to process food. Paleolithic diets contained a substantial amount of animal meat. While this wasn’t typical of other groups, those groups living in the tropics consumed more wild grains than meat.
During the Ice Age, people ate more meat and less fats. Fat intake was lower due to lean game meats. Cholesterol intake was higher in ancient diets while the current trend is low cholesterol foods which can still contain high amounts of fats and calories.
The majority of calories came from vegetation in ancient diets. Current diets are the exact opposite of ancient diets where our intake of saturated fats, simple sugars, sodium, and alcohol are much higher. Instead of obtaining vitamins and minerals from our diet, we now take pills to compensate. With the invention of fast food, we are now consuming even less nutrient rich food.
While our nutritional needs have not changed, our diets have and that is giving rise to diseases that people who still hunt and forage today are less likely to have.
Vitamins, Calories, Fats, Sugars, and Salt
A typical American diet exceeds the recommendations of calories, fats, and sugars. There are ways that we can decrease our consumption of these to lead a healthier lifestyle. The University of Nebraska has a great pamphlet on valuable nutritional information.
While it is important not to completely cut fat from your diet, you need to eat the right kind of fats. Some fats that should be consumed in moderation are found in avocados, olive oil, and nuts. To decrease your unhealthy fat intake, try some of these suggestions:
- Instead of butter, margarine, and mayonnaise to flavor your food, try adding herbs, or low-fat/non-fat yogurt to salads and sandwiches.
- Select low fat or lean cuts of meat.
- Dry beans, peas, and lentils offer more protein and fiber without the cholesterol that red meat has.
- Trim the skin off chicken before cooking.
- Buy tuna packed in water.
Substituting sugar can be difficult because a lot of us have a sweet tooth. If you’re craving a sweet snack, reach for fresh or dried fruit instead. You can use a sugar substitute, eat a whole grain cereal instead of the same brand’s sugar-coated cereal, and cut back on soda.
Salt is one of the things that Americans consume in great amounts of excess. Some ways to decrease your daily sodium intake are the following:
- Before you add salt, taste first to see if your recipe needs more. However, only add a slight amount if you need it.
- Use herbs, spices, vinegar, or lemon for flavoring.
- Buy fresh food as opposed to processed or frozen food.
Harvard Medical School says that we can get all of our vitamins and minerals through a healthy diet packed with vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. While some of us doubt that we can get all of our daily nutrient needs through diet alone, we also have to be aware that not everyone needs a 2,000-calorie diet that most nutrition needs are based on.
Some foods you can eat that contain a lot of the nutrients that you need are avocados, chard, spinach, baked potatoes, cantaloupe, papaya, eggs, and lentils. The article states that most women can get most of the nutrients they need in a 1,500-calorie diet. A vitamin you may need to supplement is vitamin D.
As for daily caloric intake, everyone is different. The University of Nevada gives us a guide to determine our daily caloric needs. While this is geared towards competitive athletes, you can select the amount of movement you do in one day. Once you determine the number of calories that you personally need, you will be able to plan a diet that is right for you.
The government website, Choose My Plate, helps in finding the recommendations for your age, gender, and physical activity. Most of the recommendations are based on those who get 30 minutes of daily exercise. You can view all the recommendations with fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, dairy, and oils on their website.
Effects of Unhealthy Foods
Consuming unhealthy food and foods low in vital nutrients can cause a variety of diseases, especially in children. A study at the US National Library of Medicine shows the correlation between readily available junk food at schools and childhood obesity.
The University of Minnesota tells us how diet impacts our health. The typical American diet, being extremely high in saturated fats, partially-hydrogenated oils, refined carbohydrates, and highly processed food, can cause obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, and certain cancers.
Tips for Healthy Eating in and Outside of the Home
You might be feeling overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to get on track to a healthy lifestyle with food, but here are some tips that might make it easier.
The University of Massachusetts has some suggestions like using plant foods as the
foundation of your meals and being aware of the size of servings. Growing children, teenagers, women, and older adults have higher needs for some nutrients, so it is important to keep this in mind. Be sure to also check food labels before you make a purchase.
Making healthy choices while eating out can be an extra challenge. The LA County Public Health website makes some great suggestions:
- If you have a carb-heavy meal, trade in your French fries for a salad and drink lots of water.
- Eat slowly, as it takes your brain 20 minutes to realize your stomach is full.
- If your meal is big, eat half and take the other half home for lunch the next day.
- Order food that is easy to share.
- Eat a light snack before arriving at the This will ensure you don’t overeat.
Nutrition Calculators and Tools
You can also use some of these calculators and tools to further assist you in reaching your nutritional goals:
- Nutrition Value: Nutrition calculator
- Alliance for a Healthier Generation: Calculator
- Tufts University: Meal calculator
If you need more guidance on healthy meal planning, the following websites are great resources:
- Healthy Eating: Family meal planning
- Healthy Food, Healthy Planet: Menu planning
- Mayo Clinic: Nutrition and healthy eating
Exercise and Fitness
Eating isn’t the only key to health. Exercise is another vital aspect that we should incorporate into our lives as much as possible.
Evolution of Healthy Fitness
The University of New Mexico goes over our long history of fitness evolution. Fitness began with hunter/gatherer lifestyles, which included walking, hunting, and picking vegetation. It then evolved into military exercises around 4000 BC with horse riding, javelin throwing, and marching.
Greeks and Chinese held the physically fit body in high esteem and promoted fitness as a way to ward off illness and disease. Agriculture also provided fitness as long hours of planting and harvesting provided what was needed.
Fitness in America fell so far by the wayside that after World War I, physical education in public schools was now mandatory due to most draftees being physically unfit for combat. By the 1960’s, the father of modern fitness, Dr. Ken H. Cooper, encouraged more individuals to exercise than any other person in history. He advocated that a regular fitness routine was an important factor in disease prevention. His message, programs, and ideas have influenced all fitness programs up until today.
The recommendations for physical activity can be found on the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. For children and adolescents, they should be getting 60 minutes or more of physical activity every day. Physical activity should include aerobic, muscle, and bone strengthening.
Adults should avoid inactivity as much as possible. For health benefits, you should do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity per week. The intensity can also be interchanged. Those doing 300 minutes a week of physical activity can gain additional health benefits.
Effects of a Sedentary Lifestyle
Any activity is better than none, but when you live a lifestyle that has no physical activity whatsoever, it can be detrimental to your health. George Washington University claims that being sedentary can develop diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.
John Hopkins Medicine also advises to avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Risks that they list include type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, obesity, and certain cancers.
Tips for Staying Active
Trying to fit in the recommended amount of physical activity can also be challenging. Check out some of the tips from the American Heart Association below to make it a bit easier to fit it into a busy schedule.
- Walking is easy to start, free of charge, and safe on the body.
- Do housework yourself instead of hiring someone to do it for you.
- Work in the garden or mow the lawn.
- Walk or bike to stores that are less than a mile away.
- Stand up and talk on the phone.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Start a recreation club at work.
- If you take the bus, get off few blocks early and walk to work.
American Cancer Society: Tips for staying active at work
Now that you have started, let’s look at some motivation tips to keep your healthy lifestyle going. South University suggests psyching yourself up, setting a tangible goal, getting a work-out partner, making it fun to exercise, and rewarding yourself when you reach your goal.
For more information, visit the Breast Cancer Site: Exercise motivation tips.
Fitness Calculators and Tools
To keep on track with your weekly physical activities, try some of these tools to help you stay focused:
- Get Fit in Tennessee: Get fit tools
- American Council of Exercise: Tools and calculators
While it is important to maintain a regular fitness regime, it’s also vital to stay safe when you do exercise. Springfield Public Schools have a great pamphlet that advises on how to be safe while being physical active.
- Before taking on any new exercise, consult your physician.
- Choose the right equipment for the activity.
- Have the proper clothing and footwear for the activity.
- Make sure the place you are exercising is safe.
- Keep water with you for proper hydration and make sure to eat foods that will give you energy for the whole routine.
- Be careful when taking protein supplements.
- Do not overdo the exercise. Overtraining or pushing yourself too hard can cause fatigue or injury.
To learn more, visit Seconds Count: General safety tips for getting started with exercise.
Special Considerations for People with Special Needs
Those with disabilities or special needs can find an exercise that is right for them. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability says that those with disabilities are even more at risk of a sedentary lifestyle. Any physical activity that is safe and suggested by their physician is better than no activity at all. You can check out the link above for other tips on exercise regimes for those with disabilities or special needs.
For more information, visit Mountain State Centers for Independent Living: Special considerations.
PBS has a great article for family fitness: Encouraging family fitness.
The American Psychological Association discusses physical fitness as well as mental health The exercise effect.
Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle
Not only is eating right and having an exercise routine the best route for a healthy lifestyle, but you also need to refrain from other unhealthy choices, like smoking and alcohol. The Council for Disability Awareness recommends quitting smoking, get regular check-ups, getting cancer screenings, watching your weight, avoiding excess drinking, and cultivating your emotional and mental health.
To learn more, go to:
- Eat Right: Sticking with it! Maintaining a healthy lifestyle
- MD Anderson Cancer Center: 6 ways to live a healthy lifestyle
Health and Nutrition for All Ages
Age doesn’t have to get in the way when it comes to becoming healthier. Visit some of the resources below to learn about how your age group can benefit from a healthy lifestyle.
Kids should get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day and eat a variety of all food groups. Kids Health and the US Department of Education has some advice on how to get your children started on the right track for a healthy life.
Teens and Young Adults
The University of Rochester Medical Center suggests teens and young adults eat healthy meals and snacks, that you help them to watch their sugar intake and eat less red meats, and demonstrate healthy eating habits. Also, be sure to limit your teens TV and video time and encourage them to be physically active.
For more ideas, visit the Medical University of South Carolina: The secrets to getting teens to lose weight.
Due to an increase in studying when in college with the use of computers and tablets, inactivity can be high among this age group. The State University of New Jersey has 101 health and wellness tips for students, such as learning proper portion size, keep healthy snacks around, drinking in moderation, limiting junk food intake, using the student gym facilities, and avoiding work or study in bed.
For more information, visit the State University of New York: College students and a healthy lifestyle.
Even if you have not been as active or eating as healthy as you would like, it is still important to begin to do so now. Also, the healthy habits you adopt will be seen by your family and will encourage them to do the same.
For resources, visit:
- University of Washington: Leading a healthy life: 6 steps to living long and healthy
- National Osteoporosis Foundation: Adult guide to an active, healthy lifestyle
Older adults benefit greatly from healthy meals and physical activity. Having a daily routine not only benefits the body but also your emotional and mental health.
To learn more about what you can do for your health, visit:
- National Council of Aging: Healthy eating tips for seniors
- Kaiser Permanente Medical Group: Healthy lifestyle habits for seniors
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