Get your head out of the gutter folks! Below was a question my professor asked in my anatomy/physiology course. I thought it was worth sharing.
What are some lifestyle changes a person can make to help to improve overall health? List at least 3 and describe the benefits of each.
In my opinion, the 3 very important factors for a positive lifestyle change in an individual to improve overall health is, weight loss, coronary artery disease, and stress. What you will probably notice is that the three components actually overlap with one another in some capacity to help in the overall health improvement in the individual suffering from one, two, or all three of these symptoms.
First we’ll discuss weight loss. One of the most important things one can do to achieve long-term weight loss and management is to set realistic goals. “It may seem obvious to set realistic weight-loss goals. But do you really know what’s realistic? Over the long term, it’s best to aim for losing 1 to 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kilogram) a week, although initially you might lose weight more quickly than that if you make significant changes — just be sure the changes are health supporting. To lose 1 to 2 pounds a week, you need to burn 500 to 1,000 calories more than you consume each day, through a lower calorie diet and regular exercise. When you’re setting goals, think about both process and outcome goals. “Exercise regularly” is an example of a process goal, while “Lose 30 pounds” is an example of an outcome goal. It isn’t essential that you have an outcome goal, but you should set process goals because changing your processes — your habits — is a key to weight loss. Also make sure that your goals are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-limited. An example of a SMART goal is aiming to walk for 30 minutes a day, five days a week for the next three months, and logging your results” (Mayo clinic staff 2010).
Some of the health benefits that come with reducing one’s weight are increased energy levels, lower cholesterol levels (LDL, VLDL), improved breathing, improved mobility, reduced aches and pains in joints, improve sleep, decreased risk of “coronary artery disease”, reduce or eliminate diabetes, reduce “stress” physically, emotionally, and mentally. This can be achieved by following two simple guidelines, eating healthier foods, getting and staying active.
“Adopting a new eating style that promotes weight loss must include lowering your total calorie intake. But decreasing calories need not mean giving up taste, satisfaction or even ease of meal preparation. One way you can lower your calorie intake is by eating more plant-based foods — fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Strive for variety to help you achieve your goals without giving up taste or nutrition.
In particular, get your weight loss started by eating a healthy breakfast every day; eating at least four servings of vegetables and three servings of fruits daily; and using healthy fats, such as olive oil, vegetable oils and nut butters. In addition, cut back on sugar, choose low-fat dairy products and keep meat consumption to a 3-ounce portion (about the size of a deck of cards).
While you can lose weight without exercise, exercise plus calorie restriction can help give you the weight-loss edge. Exercise can help burn off the excess calories you can’t cut through diet alone. Exercise also offers numerous health benefits, including boosting your mood, strengthening your cardiovascular system and reducing your blood pressure. Exercise can also help in maintaining weight loss. Studies show that people who maintain their weight loss over the long term get regular physical activity” (Mayo clinic staff 2010).
Second we have coronary artery disease (CAD). The thing with CAD as with weight management is that we as individuals make the choices that affect our lives in either a positive or negative way. By making a conscious decision to make a positive change, all you ‘ll need to do to succeed is to implement it. With CAD, there are some things that we are either born with or just develop with time. We can’t choose to change it, but we can manage them i.e. age, sex, and family history. Some of the changes that we can make are sometimes the things we’re already doing to cause them such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity, high stress, and lack of sleep. With the exception of smoking and sleeping, everything else can be controlled and managed to some extent by following the guidelines from the weight loss section. Annual check ups with your physician is all a choice you can implement to monitor your heart’s health.
“Lifestyle changes can help you prevent or slow the progression of coronary artery disease.
- Stop smoking. Smoking is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease. Nicotine constricts blood vessels and forces your heart to work harder, and carbon monoxide reduces oxygen in your blood and damages the lining of your blood vessels. If you smoke, quitting is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of a heart attack.
- Control your blood pressure. Ask your doctor for a blood pressure measurement at least every two years. He or she may recommend more frequent measurements if your blood pressure is higher than normal or you have a history of heart disease. The ideal blood pressure is below 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, as measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
- Check your cholesterol. Ask your doctor for a baseline cholesterol test when you’re in your 20s and then at least every five years. If your test results aren’t within desirable ranges, your doctor may recommend more frequent measurements. Most people should aim for an LDL level below 130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or 3.4 millimoles per liter (mmol/L). If you have other risk factors for heart disease, your target LDL may be below 100 mg/dL (2.6 mmol/L).
- Keep diabetes under control. If you have diabetes, tight blood sugar control can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Get moving. Exercise helps you achieve and maintain a healthy weight and control diabetes, elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure — all risk factors for coronary artery disease. With your doctor’s OK, aim for 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity most or all days of the week.
- Eat healthy foods. A heart-healthy diet based on fruits, vegetables and whole grains — and low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium — can help you control your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. Eating one or two servings of fish a week also is beneficial.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk of coronary artery disease. Weight loss is especially important for people who have large waist measurements — more than 40 inches (102 centimeters) for men and more than 35 inches (89 centimeters) for women — because people with this body shape are more likely to develop diabetes and heart disease.
- Manage stress. Reduce stress as much as possible. Practice healthy techniques for managing stress, such as muscle relaxation and deep breathing.
In addition to healthy lifestyle changes, remember the importance of regular medical checkups. Some of the main risk factors for coronary artery disease — high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes — have no symptoms in the early stages. Early detection and treatment can set the stage for a lifetime of better heart health” (Mayo clinic staff 2010).
Last but not least we have stress management. I look as stress as a major component and precursor to a lot diseases and conditions we contract in our lives. If you click on this link: http://www.stress.org/topic-effects.htm, you’ll see the effects of stress on the human body both physically and emotionally. “There are numerous emotional and physical disorders that have been linked to stress including depression, anxiety, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, immune system disturbances that increase susceptibility to infections, a host of viral linked disorders ranging from the common cold and herpes to AIDS and certain cancers, as well as autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. In addition stress can have direct effects on the skin (rashes, hives, atopic dermatitis, the gastrointestinal system (GERD, peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis) and can contribute to insomnia and degenerative neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease. In fact, it’s hard to think of any disease in which stress cannot play an aggravating role or any part of the body that is not affected (see stress effects on the body stress diagram) or. This list will undoubtedly grow as the extensive ramifications of stress are increasingly being appreciated” (AIS 2009).
There are many ways to reduce stress, weight management and exercise can help reduce and control stress levels. Those are but only two, and I mentioned them specifically because like my intro, I stated that “What you will probably notice is that the three components actually overlap with one another in some capacity to help in the overall health improvement in the individual suffering from one, two, or all three of these symptoms” (Hsu 2011).
There are also what I consider active and passive treatments to stress. Active is physically doing something to reduce stress levels, while passive is having an external component aiding in the reduction of stress. One is not necessarily better, it’s just options that suits the individual best. “Just as stress is different for each of us there is no stress reduction strategy that is a panacea. Jogging and other aerobic exercises, different types of meditation, prayer, yoga and tai chi are great for many people but when arbitrarily imposed on others, prove dull, boring and stressful. There is certainly no shortage of stress relievers and in addition to the above, various progressive muscular relaxation exercises, autogenic training, deep breathing, massage therapies, visual imagery and self hypnosis practices are popular. There are also acupuncture, acupressure, biofeedback, Alexander, Reiki, Feldenkrais and other bodywork and postural techniques. Some people find that listening to music, hobbies, volunteer work, keeping a daily journal of events and how they feel, laughter, playing with pets, taking short breaks or shopping help them to relax. Others find relief for their stress related symptoms from aromatherapy, nutritional supplements like chamomile, spearmint, kava kava, adaptogens and St. John’s wort or even sitting under a pyramid. There are also prescription tranquilizers, sedatives, hypnotics, antidepressants and beta-blockers for specific complaints. In addition, a variety of cranioelectromagnetic stimulation devices have been found to be effective and safe for anxiety, insomnia and drug resistant depression. Strong emotional support from group therapy, family or friends is a powerful stress buster” (AIS 2009).
Mayo Clinic staff. (2010 December, 18) Weight Loss: 6 strategies for success. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/weight-loss/HQ01625
Mayo Clinic staff. (2010 July, 2) Coronary Artery Disease. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/coronary-artery-disease/DS00064/DSECTION=lifestyle%2Dand%2Dhome%2Dremedies
The American Institute of Stress. (2009) Effects of Stress. AIS. http://www.stress.org/topic-effects.htm
The American Institute of Stress. (2009) Stress reduction, Stress relievers. AIS. http://www.stress.org/topic-reduction.htm