Quick! I don’t have much time. My life is busy. What are immediate things to increase my healthspan? Tell me more about the science of why these help in future articles.
First, take a deep breath, relax, and then prepare to spend some money. Gaining more healthy time in your life is worth it.
1. Improve the consistency and quality of your sleep.
Without proper sleep, it is hard to focus and make good decisions in your life. Lack of sleep increases impulsivity, hunger and cravings. Adjust your schedule to establish a more regular bedtime and awakening time. For example, start recording late night TV instead of watching it live. Adjust your bedroom to make it darker and to a temperature where you sleep well. Keep pets and kids from disturbing you. You can get an automatic pet feeder for 5 AM feedings. Buy sleep and fitness tracking devices. Good options include:
2. Become the person you want to see in the mirror each morning.
3. Improve your diet
Select one or more of these ideas.
- Eat twenty, instead of twenty-one meals a week. Skip one meal after you ate too much at your last meal. Go for a walk, ride or run during that mealtime to double up your benefit. Notice the extra energy you get! It feels good.
- Limit saturated fat intake to 12-16g / day. Visually, you can think of this as limiting the portion of meat to the size of a deck of cards per day.
- Swap a meal of beef or pork each week for homemade black bean soup or black bean quesadillas. Use dried beans or unsalted canned beans. Read this if you are concerned about flatulence.
- Eat vegetarian meals for lunch and dinner at least twice a week. For lunch, make a salad with ingredients like lettuce, quinoa, walnuts, carrots, tomatoes, purple cabbage, a bit of cheese and homemade salad dressing. For dinner, try homemade red lentil soup with vegetable instead of chicken broth. Both are easy to prepare.
- For snack food, keep walnuts, almonds and Brazil nuts in your home. Add a couple dark chocolate chips with each nut you eat. Make sure to refrigerate walnuts so they don’t go bad. Limit Brazil nuts to 1-2 per day.
- Limit alcohol consumption to one delicious glass of red wine or one worthy beer per day. If you are going to drink alcohol, spend extra to get the good stuff. Drink slowly. Enjoy it. Become comfortable saying “Yes, I’d like more, but I’m one and done.” Avoid these health consequences which are likely worse than you expect…
4. Limit desserts and sweets to very small portion sizes.
Do you really notice eating more than the first few bites anyway? As Psychology Today notes, “The very first bite of food has a much stronger taste and creates a stronger sensation than the one after that. And the more you eat, the less additional pleasure you get from each bite.”
5. Brush your teeth with an electric toothbrush and floss at least once per day
Periodontal disease negatively impacts the microbiome and is associated with high body mass index and old age. Evidence-based research organization Cochran, found that electric toothbrushes decrease more plaque and gingivitis than manual toothbrushes. After three months of use, plaque was reduced by 21 percent and gingivitis by 11 percent. Make sure you have a dentist that you like and see them at least twice per year for cleanings. If you are in the 20% of people who have a genetic predisposition to periodontal disease, go three times a year, paying for the extra session that insurance doesn’t cover. Your health is worth it.
6. Run, bike, swim or perform high intensity interval training 2-3 times per week
For running, warm up at a moderate pace, then focus on getting to top speed, resting and repeating. Two miles is sufficient to keep you in good shape. For riding, alternate fast and medium pace. Thirty minute rides are sufficient to keep you in good shape. Find scenic places with good air quality for your workouts. Walking backwards for 5 minutes is a great warm-down. Add ten minutes for lower body flexibility exercises afterwards. Eat a light protein snack and hydrate to finish.
7. Use proper walking technique (why don’t they teach us this in kindergarten!)
- Get custom orthotics to reduce the chance of foot, knee, hip and back injuries.
- Walk upright and have a straight leg as you land on the slight outside of your heel. Roll forward along the outside of your foot. Finish your step by pressing your toes into the ground and moving forward. This builds your calf muscles properly and avoid calf and achilles injuries. The straight leg start loosens your hamstrings.
- Use your hips and buttocks instead of your quads.
Once you adopt one or more of these ways to increase your healthspan, reward yourself by buying this creative game for your next birthday party or as a gift for a friend or family member’s upcoming party. If you have kids, consider buying a dozen as gifts for the birthday parties they attend. Lots of laughs and yes, laughter is great for health!