Twelve Health Habits
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | December 27, 2005

The most important thing you have is not your family, your friends, your business, your money, or your retirement account. It’s your health. The problem is that most of us let life get in the way of obtaining optimal health.

As 2005 draws to a close, it’s time to set goals for 2006. For the last Newsletter of 2005, I’d like to give you 12 health habits to aim for in 2006. You may already be doing some; others may have been on your wish list. In 2006, we’re going to make these a priority to stay on the path to optimal health.

While some may argue the order of these 12 health habits, I think everyone would agree that they’re all important for optimal health. The one factor you can’t control is your genetics. We don’t get to pick our parents. But that’s okay because with the right lifestyle, you can overcome a good percentage of your genes. Here’s the countdown of Twelve Health Habits for Optimal Health:

12. Take your dietary supplements and medications consistently. If you want the desired effect of improved nutrition through supplementation, or improved health conditions if you’ve been prescribed medications, you must take them consistently for them to work. Find a way to remember to take them every day and stick to it.

11. A tie: Exercise your brain regularly, and maintain your dental health. Read books, work crossword puzzles, play cards--do anything that keeps your mind active every day. Research has shown that the more active your brain, the lower your risk of developing age-related dementia. And don’t underestimate the effect of poor dental health on your overall health. In a worst case, the bacteria from periodontal disease can cause heart disease, but even minor problems with your teeth can cause problems. For instance, dentures that don’t fit correctly, missing teeth, or sore teeth make it hard to eat enough fruits and vegetables for optimal health. At a minimum, brush twice a day, floss once, and see your dentist every six months--and do whatever else he or she tells you to do, such as wearing a bite guard at night. Noncompliance can be costly for both your health and your wallet.

10. Maintain range of motion--flexibility. This is the most overlooked part of fitness, but it becomes more important the older we get. It keeps the muscles supple and it helps you stay moving. One of the joints--actually several joints--that give most of us problems is the lower back. The pain of sciatica can be reduced by stretching the hamstrings, the quads, and the lower back. If you already have sciatica, consider getting Treat Your Own Back from our website. It’s helped me and many others.

9. Maintain strength. We lose muscle mass as we age to the tune of 1% per year after we turn 30. With most of us in sedentary jobs, strength training is the only way to sustain muscle mass in the upper body. Use your body weight, exercise tubes, free weights, or machines, but tax your muscles at least twice a week.

8. Manage stress. It isn’t going to go away while you’re on the top side of the dirt. Pray, meditate, do yoga (which can help with flexibility as well)--but do something! Manage stress or it will manage you and dictate your health.

7. Eat more polyunsaturated fats. This includes omega-3 fatty acids from cold-water fish, flax seed, and nuts or from a high-quality omega-3 supplement. It also includes high-quality omega-6 fatty acids from safflower and canola oil. These oils can reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, lower triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce depression, even improve chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and more. Make polyunsaturated fats a priority in 2006.

6. Eat less saturated fat. These fats do some of the opposite things that polyunsaturated fats do, such as increase your LDL-cholesterol--the bad one. Hydrogenated fats can be included in this category. Don’t obsess about them--eating a little sat fat now and then isn’t going to harm you. Concentrate on reducing your intake of deep-fried foods, tropical oils, which are often found in cakes and cookies, and fatty meats. Shoot for a total intake of no more than 15 grams of saturated fat per day, and lower if advised by your physician.

5. Eat less refined carbohydrate and sugar. For example, let’s take a grain like wheat, mill it to take away the fiber and wheat germ, bleach it to make it white, and strip away every nutrient, leaving only the highly refined carbohydrate. What you really have left is a form of sugar. Does that sound like something you want to eat? Further, it’s like double-dog-daring your pancreas to make enough insulin keep up--no wonder diabetes is a growing problem throughout the developed world! Replace your white breads, bagels, and pasta with whole-wheat versions and limit the sweets. It will help you lose weight and decrease digestive issues such as constipation.

4. Eat more fruits and vegetables. For years the top three fruits and vegetables consumed in the U.S. have been iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and orange juice--and while tomatoes and orange juice are nutritious, we can do better. Think red, blue, green, orange, and white. Those are the colors of the fruits and vegetables you should eat regularly. Want to keep it simple? Eat one of each color every day, and that will get you to your minimum of five fruits and vegetables per day.

3. Use aerobic exercise to train your heart and cardiovascular system. (I tend to think that this is really number one.) Aim for 30-45 minutes five days per week. You can also use interval training when you’re rushed, but you should still aim for five days per week. The Walking book and CD are great ways of getting aerobic exercise.

2. Don’t smoke cigarettes or use any tobacco product. There’s nothing good that can come from it. Smoking kills you--if not by cancer, then by heart disease, emphysema, osteoporosis, or many other diseases. It also can make the people around you sick, including those you love the most. Find a way to quit and do it.

1. Maintain a normal body weight. This is number one because if you have attained a normal body weight, you’re probably already doing many of the habits from 2 through 12. The list of benefits could fill a book. While this isn’t going to be easy, it’s the most important thing you can do to reach optimal health. Remember the secret? Eat less, exercise more, for life.

Optimal health requires that you take action and make these habits a part of your life. If you don’t, you will by default be selecting the alternative. Down that road lie illness, medications, hospitalizations, and maybe premature death. Pay now by investing in your health or pay later with death and disease--but either way, you’ll pay. The cool thing is that at this point, you get to choose which price you’d rather pay.

Here’s my challenge to you: Pick one health habit per month and work on it until it’s part of your life. Chances are you’re already doing some things right. Now it’s time to take your health to a higher level.

Best wishes to everyone for a happy, healthy 2006 from me and everyone at Better Life!
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