Healthy is really a funny word, since until very recently it simply meant “without sickness or injury.” With such a definition, I could list 1000+ different ways to live that wouldn’t result in sickness. To fill the hole in this definition, we will be using a more differential definition: healthy is the optimal configuation of the human body that is not only “without sickness,” but extends into a joyous existence.
1. Be thankful where you can while not dwelling on problems, but instead solutions.
It’s no secret that stress weakens your immune system and that chronic stress can tax a number of bodily functions such as wound healing and endurance.
Studies, among those by Barbara Frederickson, show that the proportion of positive experience we have relative to negative experiences has an impact on average levels of neurotransmitters and one’s ability to deal with stress. Therefor, the way in which we interact with and reflect on our reality have an impact on our future experience: we should be thankful for what we do have, focus on developing strategies for fixing what is wrong (focusing attention onto problem solving instead of woe), and making sure we don’t tax ourselves too much.
2. Reduce your sugar intake. Unless you are already paying attention to this, you are likely consuming too much.
The average American fills about 25% of their daily calories with sugar, which is more than double what the WHO says is safe. This contributes to more problems than obesity (partly due to the fact that glucose triggers triacylglyceride formation) and diabetes.
High sugar/fat diets appeared to be linked to changes in symbiotic bacteria in mice, which led to a decrease in cognitive functioning. So although sugar can boost cognitive performance short term, chronic overuse may run hand in hand with reduced cognitive abilities. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that most people don’t understand the facts about sugar, and even consider honey to be drastically better than high fructose corn syrup.
3. Don’t smoke: smoking is one of the most damaging habits you can have.
Aside from the fact that you are directly inhaling carbon monoxide (CO-), you are also breathing in any number of different chemicals and secondary products created by burning. Even if it was just carbon monoxide, which it’s not, CO- binds (reversibly) 350x better with your oxygen transport system (hemoglobin) than oxygen does and thus depletes your blood of oxygen short term. Unfortunately, smoke doesn’t just contain carbon monoxide, but also other combustion products and small particles.
These problems are universally connected to smoking, but the number of reasons to quit are even more numerous if you are a cigarette smoker.
4. Eat enough raw fruits and vegetables.
This might be something a lot of people say “duh” to, but the truth is that we can get a lot more vitamins from an uncooked piece of fruit than a cooked one because heat denatures several vitamins (include C). Not everything is edible before cooking (for instance, you shouldn’t eat raw potatoes), but you can save energy and improve your health by eating many things (like tomatoes and peppers) raw.
5. Routinely check your health: precaution is better than emergency treatment.
Early detection of serious problems is an easy way to prevent them from becoming life threatening or disabling. Whether this means regular checkups, sequencing your own genome to detect predispositions, or both/neither, the choice is up to you. The price of not participating in early detection is the possibility of a serious problem rearing its head at an inopportune time, or only showing its teeth when it is beyond treatment.
6. Don’t listen to fad-health crazes, ever. If you just eat one type of food, you won’t be healthy.
Any diet that suggests you limit your food intake to one, or two, staples is giving you horrible advice. There is “miracle” cure for anything, and the best food can offer you is a basis with which your body can help repair itself. Contrary to popular myth, the best way to stay healthy is to eat a diverse variety of food that covers all the different vitamins and minerals that you need.
Always read into the science of whatever health-food statements are made, and figure out if the studies really support the suggestions being made by the seller. As in the case of “wine being good for your heart” argument: the study the statement is based on had little to do with wine.
7. Make sure your concerns about the future are grounded: don’t worry about fake problems.
There are enough real problems, that need real work, in the world. Distracting yourself worrying about, or fighting, against non-existent problems is an embarassing way to reduce your own health. If you consider yourself an activist, make sure you understand what you are trying to achieve.
If you are unsure if your struggle is grounded in reality not, an attempt to debunk or disprove it is probably a good start. If you worry about fake health problems, you are ironically making your real health problems worse.
8. Get enough exercise, fresh air, and movement.
Part of keeping your body, and mind, healthy is that they need regular exercise. What you don’t use is slowly disassembled and recycled by your body, be this in regard to muscles or brain cells.
Since human evolution has been largely independant of chairs and sofas, sitting around for hours at a time come with a negative health cost that appears strangely independant of physical exercise levels.
Moving around, and spending time outside, are good for both your body and your mind.
9. Spend time with your friends.
Several studies have found a direct correlation between good health, a long life, and social interaction. There are dramatic short and long term effects from social interaction, which underline the fact that social isolation in prison doesn’t help anyone rehabilitate or resocialize. We don’t live in cities and towns just due to a division of labor, but instead because closeness to other humans (specifically family and friends) has a positive effect on us both mentally and physically.
10. Find meaning and never give up hope, but don’t hope blindly.
Blind hope is a surefire way to stagnation, but holding onto hope and meaning in your life are keys to staying healthy in hard times. One common theme in the stories of successful survivors of everything from abuse, kidnapping, to the holocaust is the continued will to understand current context as part of an overarching movement and to not interpret negative events personally.
This was first identified by Aaron Antonovsky, who in his survey of holocaust survivors was surprised to find 29% of them in good emotional and physical health. Looking at why lead him to his “turning point,” and the identification of meaning as a central figure in staying mentally healthy in the face of trauma or crisis.
As a female friend of mine who survived sexual assault said “most people hang on to their problems, take them too seriously. The problems are serious, but it’s solving them, and not focusing on them, that is important. There is always room to grow and something to learn from everything, and it’s important to never lose sight of that”.