You may have heard it said that there are three keys to good health, and the first one is diet, of course. But the second key to good health might surprise you, because it’s not what you eat or even how much you exercise–it’s getting enough sleep. The third key to good health may also surprise you because it’s physical activity again; but not just any kind of physical activity, but Vitamin V, or vigorous physical activity that gets your heart pumping at around 80 percent of its maximum capacity.
Healthy eating habits can add years to your life, while poor eating habits can cut them short. If you’re trying to live a healthier lifestyle, it’s important that you learn how to eat right. Focus on whole foods like fruits and vegetables, lean meats and low-fat dairy. Balance is key here; there’s no need for super-restrictive diets like juicing or veganism (though both have their merits). As far as quantity goes, you’ll have to find what works best for your body. Track your calories for a few days and then start experimenting with cuts—remembering that too little is just as unhealthy as too much. You should aim for 1,200-1,500 calories a day from fruits and veggies alone.
There is a lot of information out there about exercise, but research shows that two things are important: consistency and exercise intensity. Do your best to keep it up—some exercise is always better than none. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity activity like walking, swimming or cycling or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity such as running, playing racquetball or basketball, soccer and so on. Make an effort every day if you can—even 10 minutes walking around at lunch counts toward your daily goal.
Americans are sleeping less than ever, with some studies putting the average at less than 6 hours a night. Sleep deprivation can lead to serious health issues, from heart problems and high blood pressure to diabetes and anxiety disorders. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night—most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night. And while coffee is often considered a substitute for sleep, it doesn’t actually help you catch up on missed shut-eye; too much caffeine can even make matters worse by disrupting your circadian rhythm (aka your body clock). Drinking several cups of coffee when you don’t have time for restful sleep can increase stress levels and send adrenaline coursing through your veins all day long.
If you’re trying to improve your health and fitness, consistency is everything. Even a little exercise every day can have huge benefits. It’s important to build regular, routine exercise into your schedule. That way you don’t have to carve out large chunks of time for specific workouts or exercises; you can just do them whenever you have a few minutes in between other tasks. Exercising regularly will help keep your muscles toned and make your heart healthy, among many other benefits for your overall health. It’s never too late to start improving your health and fitness—whether it’s starting small or jumping right in—the more consistent you are, the better off you’ll be in terms of overall wellness.
If you think exercise is a waste of time, you’re wrong. Many studies show that exercise has a powerful impact on our physical and mental health, lowering stress and helping us live longer. The important thing isn’t how much you move, but what kind of movement it is. Consider walking as an example: It’s better than no activity at all, but not nearly as good for you as yoga or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Experts say any activity should be intense enough that it leaves you out of breath by the end of your session. It’s also important to have variety in your workout routine. If all you do is run marathons every week, experts say your body will quickly adapt—and boredom can lead to injury or overtraining syndrome.
Most of us are terrible at managing our stress. We’re either stressed about too much work, not enough money, or something bad that happened yesterday. The problem is that in today’s world, stress can be perpetual, with no break from it. A recent study from Stanford University found that women who suffer from chronic stress have a 40% increased risk of heart disease. To make matters worse, we’re poor at dealing with it because our minds respond to it by triggering physical changes: blood pressure and heart rate go up; blood flow constricts; oxygen-rich blood diverts away from our limbs and internal organs to other muscle groups (including arms and fists), giving us a feeling of power over a stressful situation.