12 Lifestyle Habits that Improve Health & Extend Life

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I couldn’t help but laugh at how simple and unsurprising this list is, and yet how difficult it is to do almost each and every one of these. Why? Many reasons. Most are within your control, some are not, and almost all of them are just tough to do. It takes work, ugh. But that is no excuse…nothing good comes easy.

I will dole out a morsel of sympathy, and acknowledge that our environment makes it really hard to do these things, even when you do your best to be mindful and intentional about incorporating healthy habits into your life. Stuff happens, goals change, the environment changes, you change.

I proactively do my best to check-off items on this list (except for #12), but like everything else, I have to prioritize certain things over others depending on the moment, day, week, or month.

Print it, post it, and see if you can check-off at least a few of these each day or month 🙂

And I’m out,
Peace sign
Ida

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Stand up…right now…no, really, get up!

As I STOOD to read for one of my classes, I felt compelled to share what I came across. I try to keep things short, but get excited and right more than I intend to. Sorry peeps…

New research indicates that excessive sitting throughout most days of the week is a “deadly proposition.” People who spend most of the day sitting are cancelling out the health benefits obtained through physical activity and exercise. Oh shizzz…this means if you are not active, not moving or working, and you are partaking in inactive actions for most of the day, then you are at a deficit, and swiftly decreasing your lifespan. Sorry, I know it’s morbid, but it’s the truth. The more you sit the greater death debt you collect…not good.

Even worse, there is now a disease name for this way of life. It is called hypokinetic disease, and it is becoming an increasingly greater cause of death and illness in the US. Hypokinetic disease refers to physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyle. So now we not only have an obesity epidemic, but also a sedentary epidemic. Wonderful.

So what’s the solution? It’s no secret, and you’ve heard it more times than you care to – you have to be active and exercise. I admit it does require effort and energy, and it is much easier said than done. Many of us can’t find the motivation to exercise, or have almost no time to fit in a workout, or would rather prioritize sleep over working out. Trust me, I get it. I have been exercising my entire life, and do so almost every morning, and still feel as if someone threw a rock at my face when I get up for my workout. I just tell myself to get out of bed, put on my gym clothes, and do what I can for the day, even if it’s no more than a 5 minutes walk or jog. 99% of the time I end up going from 5 to 20+ minutes of cardio. For me, the hardest part is starting.

Overtime, I have come to realize that people put a lot of pressure on themselves when it comes to exercise. We tend to discount the advantages of doing a few minutes of activity throughout the day. Yes, more is better, and research shows how beneficial moderate to intense activity and exercise (i.e., activities that really get your heart pounding) is for the human brain and body, BUT I would argue that doing nothing at all is far worse than doing something, even if it does end up being a 5 minute walk.

What happened? How did we get here? Well, the human body was created for movement and activity, and back in the hunter-gatherer days this wasn’t really an issue. Throughout time we have turned into a sitting society. It’s a result of several things, which I won’t get into, but here we are today. Americans spend half their waking hours sitting. Think about it for a minute – we sit at home; we sit while driving to and from work; we sit at the office and in meetings; we sit at dinner; we sit while watching TV; and then we sit to sleep. Sleep is more of a lay than a sit I suppose, unless you find yourself catching z’s in a plane, train, or car; all of which actually happen to be popular sleep spots for many of us nowadays.

There is some good news to balance out this disappointing information…THINGS ARE SLOWLY CHANGING. As we learn more, and recognize the adverse affects of seemingly harmless day-to-day actions, new ideas and innovations have entered our world from workplace contraptions (e.g., standing desks) to “walk and talk” meetings. However, none of these are replacements for moderate to intense physical activity. You’ve got to get that heart rate up! Maybe take the stairs more often? Or sprint from the parking lot to your desk? I joke, but this is actually a serious issue. It’s so important for humans to be active, exercise, and move. Here are a few facts and figures for those of you who are more data-driven:

  • Studies indicate that people who spend most of their day sitting have as much as a 50% greater risk of dying prematurely from all causes and an 80% greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
  • Data further indicate that death rates are still high for people who spend most of their day sitting, even though they meet the current minimum moderate-physical activity recommendation (30 minutes, at least 5 times per week).
  • Excessive sitting leads to weak muscles, a sluggish central nervous system, increased fatigue, decreased insulin sensitivity, higher blood pressure, decreased activity of lipoprotein lipase (an enzyme that breaks down fats in the blood), and increased cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.
  • A major contributor to back pain is excessive sitting, which causes back muscles to shorten, stiffen, and become weaker.

I am notoriously known for my incessant standing. I actually started standing because my legs cramped one day at work, and I just couldn’t handle sitting any longer. Now, I know the health benefits too, which is even greater incentive for me to stand. I never intended on becoming a professional stander, but it happened, and I quickly noticed that I felt better and more alert when I stood or paced around. It also improved my concentration and work productivity. I can’t sit still for long as it is, and standing not only calms me, but also helps me stay focused.

Last tid bit…Want to know something neat? There is actually a term for daily activities that expend energy not related to exercise and the acronym is called NEAT (stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis). There are many good, easily doable recommendations, from standing while working and talking on the phone, to taking a 10-minute break every hour to stretch and walk around, to parking further away. Find whatever works for you, but do something that gets you up more during the day.

And I’m out,
Peace sign
Ida

Go DARK with your chocolate.

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This month, definitely go dark when it comes to your chocolate. Dark chocolate is made from plants, which means that it contains many of the health benefits of dark vegetables. Who would have thought?! These benefits include flavonoids, which act as antioxidants and help protect the body from free radicals that prevent aging and heart disease. So when it comes to choosing the best box of chocolates for colleagues, friends, family or that special someone, go with the darkest option.

Did you know dark chocolate has nearly 8X the number of antioxidants compared to this fruit? Hard to believe something so good, could also be so good for you…in proper quantities at least 🙂

And I’m out,
Peace sign
Ida

How often are you in the sun? You neeD to know.

Upon returning to the east coast, I knew an inevitable problem was awaiting my welcome. While the rest of the world was freezing and worried about travel to and from work, frozen crops, impacts on the economy, and so forth, I sat contemplating about what I was going to do without my precious sunshine.  I’m not that obsessed with the sun, but there is a very particular reason why I happened to care now more than I ever. Recently, there’s been a lot in the news / media regarding people’s deficiency of a certain vitamin. Can you guess which one? Obviously, it’s linked to the sun. Okay, fine I will tell you. It’s called Vitamin D. It’s pretty much the only vitamin I know of that you can get for free. How? By simply exposing your skin to the sun!!! Before you get too excited, getting the necessary sun time isn’t as easy as it sounds, hence my concern.

Yes, you heard correctly, the basis of my worries was my intake of Vitamin D. Some of you don’t even know whether you get the proper amount of Vitamin C let alone Vitamin D, and that’s okay. But now it is time to pay attention because Vitamin D can be just as detrimental to your immune system and health as Vitamin C.

Sunlight is the cheapest form of this crucial vitamin, and it’s the best, most natural source of it too (as opposed to taking it through a pill for example). That said, sunlight in moderation people…this is not a good excuse to layout for hours. You only need about 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight exposure about 3 times a week (unless you are darker skinned, in which case you need 2-3x more…sorry). By direct exposure, I mean there can be nothing coming in between your skin and the sun – no windows, no sunscreen, no clothes, no people, etc. So pick a body spot (e.g., legs) and let the exposure begin!

Why my sudden attention to Vitamin D? I didn’t care much until moving to the east coast, and became particularly intrigued after a conversation with one of my close friends here. I was feeling a bit un-Ida-like (i.e., not quite myself) for some reason, and she asked me about my Vitamin D intake. I looked at her and said, “Whatchyu talkin bout girl?” I’m usually the nutrition freak of the two of us, so I was a bit surprised when she asked me this. Long story short, apparently there is a link to sunlight, vitamin D, and mood. So when your Vitamin D levels are down, you may be too, or you may be up and down. For those of you thinking…wait, is that really true?!? Well, the verdict’s still out on this one, but a ton of research is being done, and studies are showing some pretty convincing evidence. Here’s a recent article I read regarding VD and mood linkage.

Why should you care about Vitamin D? For those of you who prefer weak bones, a poor immune system, frequent colds, higher risk of cancer, and getting older faster, then perhaps you shouldn’t care, and you may want to stop reading here. For everyone else, below are just a few of the wonderful health benefits, and nice video to really scare you into taking Vitamin D 😉

Vitamin D Health Benefits:

  • Builds strong bones and prevents osteoporosis
  • Boosts immune function and fights off colds
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Promotes healthy neuro-muscular function
  • Protects against colon, prostate, breast, and endometrial cancers
  • Slows the aging process

Where does one acquire Vitamin D? There are 3 primary sources: sun, food, and pill. For more information on sources, I am going to point you to my friend’s blog, but before doing so, I’d like you to read on.

How much do you need? For those of you who like to see exact numbers click here. Notice calcium intake requirements are listed too. I will talk more about why this is important at the end. Basically, you need about 1,000 IU a day, but as always it depends on other factors too. It’s confusing, I know, but I would just aim for 1,000 IU or more per day to be safe. That said, I’m not a doctor, so consult with yours to determine the right amount for you.

Did you say IOU or IU? I said IU. How are you to understand and calculate IU’s? It’s a bit annoying, agreed, but put in a little effort, and in no time it will be easy peasy. Here are some helpful options to make the process as painless as possible. I usually rely on the % listed on the ingredients label and try to hit 100% for the day. I found the chart below, and it provides a great guide and example for those of you looking for specific food examples. With supplements, you can usually follow the recommended intake on the back of the bottle (e.g., 1 capsule with food 1-2 times daily), or match your required IU intake with the IU amount per capsule on the bottle. Finally, when it comes to Vitamin D from the sun, I already told you (so scroll up and read again).

VDfood

What’s my go-to-source? Well, sun is obviously number 1 on my list, but that’s clearly not always an option. At the moment my sources are:

  • Fortified Tofu – gotta read the label to be sure it is fortified with Vitamin D though, because not all tofu are created equal
  • Salmon
  • Mushrooms bathed in the sun – again, you have to check to see if the mushrooms have been exposed to the sun, otherwise they may have no or very little Vitamin D
  • Vitamin D3 supplements – the pill is pretty much my primary right now, as it’s easy to carry around and swallow when I’m on the go. I am not a fan of supplements, but in this case, it’s better than no Vitamin D at all.

Alright, at this point you are likely thoroughly overwhelmed, but I must leave you with two last things…

First, you need be sure to balance Vitamin D with Calcium – both of these suckers are critical to strong bones. They are one another’s yin and yang. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium in order to build and maintain our bones.

Second, the salmon you are eating may not be a good source of Vitamin D. There is some debate, and a lot of research out there regarding this question. Ultimately, the answer relies on how the fish is caught, fed, and raised. Wild caught salmon is the best (that goes for any fish really), but other kinds may have very little Vitamin D. That all said, I would totally eat salmon, regardless of its Vitamin D levels, because it has a whole host of other mind-boggling health benefits, but I’ll save that discussion for another time.

Should you desire more depth and detail, please visit my friend’s blog. He’s got the science behind a lot of this, as well as more information on Vitamin D sources and how Vitamin D can improve athletic performance.

For the first time I think I may understand why they decided to call SunnyD, SunnyD.

And I’m out,
Peace sign
Ida