The 6 most important things you can do for your health

We all want to be healthy.  But there is so much information out there when it comes to your health that it’s hard to know what to focus on. Routine doctor visits are important, but only account for 10 percent of what determines your health.  Social and environmental factors are twice as important at 20 percent.  And genetics (what you inherit from your family) comes in at 30 percent.  The biggest factor, at 40 percent, is your health habits and behaviors.

Here are six of the most important things you can do for good health, according to our experts.

  • Be physically active. Exercise for at least 20 minutes, three times a week. Cardio is the most important type of exercise you can do. But it’s also important to incorporate resistance training, like weight lifting, into your routine.  People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, live longer, have less joint pain, are in a better mood, and are at less risk for cancer. Find an activity you can enjoy. This gives you the best chance to keep it going over time.
  • Don’t smoke. Life is hard enough when you’re doing everything right.  Smoking harms almost every organ in your body.  Smoking causes cancer, and it can also cause heart disease, osteoporosis, cataracts, and even increases your chance of becoming diabetic.
  • Don’t drink alcohol to excess. Moderate drinking is one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.  Excessive drinking causes liver disease, high blood pressure, many types of cancer, and the empty calories increase your risk of obesity.
  • Eat multiple servings of fruits and vegetables each day. This means about two cups of fruit and two cups of vegetables.  The vitamins, minerals and fiber they provide reduce blood pressure and cholesterol as well as diseases of the intestines. They also help you repair injured tissues, reducing your risk of some cancers.
  • Wear seatbelts. Your injuries from a car crash will be worse without a seatbelt. And not wearing one during a car crash can be fatal. More than half of people ages 13 to 44 who die in car accidents don’t have on seatbelts.
  • Achieve a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of disease, most notably diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, arthritis, and many types of cancer.  Being underweight is also a risk factor for disease.  Ask your doctor about your BMI (your measure of body fat based on height and weight). A BMI of 19 to 25 is healthy.

These six health habits may not seem all that difficult, but only three percent of Americans do them all.  Talk with your doctor about your challenges.  Write down your goals and post them where you can see them every day.  If you achieve all six, you will have more energy, feel more focused and motivated, handle stress better, and have the best possible quality of life.

Originally published June 12, 2017. Last updated Sept. 8, 2020.

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