There comes a point in our lives when we wake up and realize it’s time to take charge of our own health. The problem is, we don’t often reach that point until an underlying ailment creeps up on us. However, it’s understandable. When we’re young, we tend to take our strong knees, sharp memory, slim waists and general health for granted. If we only knew then what we know now, right? Well, it’s never too late (or too early) to take charge of your own health. So, here are seven ways to get you started.
Limit fast food, cook at home instead
If you eat highly processed food, fast food or other nutrient void food as little as three times a week for several years, you might develop chronic health problems such as obesity, diabetes or hypertension.
Making a conscious effort to eat whole, preservative-free foods that are low in sugar and refined salt is a great way to take charge of your health. Preparing your own food at home is really the best way to control your intake of salt, sugar and unhealthy fats.
You can find recipes readily available on the Internet that contain healthy, nutrient-dense ingredients. They are as easy as one-click away. Take some time to scour the web to find some of your favorites and print them off.
Ditch the soda, drink more water
No matter what you call it, soda, pop or cola, when it comes to its sugar content, it’s downright loaded. The high amounts of sugar in soda definitely contribute to obesity since sugar and high fructose corn syrup rapidly absorb into the bloodstream, leading to weight gain and metabolic syndrome.
Let’s face it, soda is refreshing as an occasional treat, but some people choose to consume soda daily, and that can be dangerous for your health. Heavy soda consumption is also linked to diabetes and osteoporosis. Since soda is so sugary and acidic, it can also cause tooth decay.
Some sodas contain upwards of 40 grams of sugar per 12-ounce serving, which is equivalent to approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar and 200 or more calories. A calorie is still a calorie, and when you’re consuming two to three sodas a day, that can significantly increase your caloric intake. Don’t switch to diet soda either. Research shows that artificially sweetened soda also contributes to weight gain — among other ailments. A two-year prospective study that involved 166 schoolchildren found that increased diet soda consumption was linked to weight gain. Instead of a sugary soda, choose soda water and just a splash of fresh juice — or fresh water.
Take a holistic approach
“The doctor of the future will give no medicine,” Thomas Edison once said, “but will interest patients in the maintenance of the human frame, in diet, and in the prevention of disease.”
Taking charge of your health means knowing how to prevent disease rather than just popping a pill for an ailment. Enlisting a naturopathic doctor in your health-care regime is a great way to incorporate a more holistic approach. Naturopathic medicine blends modern science with traditional and natural forms of medicine.
Through naturopathic medicine, specific weaknesses or dysfunctions can be identified before taking a toll on overall health. Naturopathic physicians can educate, empower and motivate you to take personal responsibility for your health by showing you how to adopt a healthier lifestyle, diet and attitude.
Find a naturopathic physician through the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. They maintain a national database of naturopathic doctors for patient referrals. You can also visit local health-food stores for naturopathic practitioners in your community.
Improve your gut health
Poor gut bacteria impacts more than you may realize. Gut health covers many aspects of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, such as digestion and absorption of food, good GI health, normal and stable intestinal microbiota, effective immune status and a general state of well-being. Any impairment to your GI can increase your risk of developing infectious and inflammatory diseases, and intestinal diseases such as metabolic disorders.
The best way to improve your gut health is by creating a stable environment in your gut for beneficial microflora to grow. When eaten regularly, traditional fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut can enhance and improve gut flora. Traditional fermented foods are rich sources of beneficial lactic acid-producing bacteria. These bacteria are what naturally sour dairy products and cause vegetables to ferment. In the digestive tract, these bacteria also help ferment carbohydrates that we can’t digest.
Get enough sleep
Sleep is vital for long-term good health and well-being. It protects your mental health, physical health and quality of life, suggests the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. When you sleep, your body works to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. For children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development. Being sleep deprived can raise your risk for certain chronic health problems. It may also affect how well you think, react, work, learn and socialize.
While sleeping, the body works to heal and repair the heart and blood vessels. That’s why ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. It is also linked to an increased risk of obesity. Therefore, staying up late or simply not getting enough quality sleep not only harms you on a personal level, but may also cause large-scale damage to your health.
Exercise daily — even if you only have half an hour
We all need regular physical activity to improve our overall health and fitness. However, you may not need as much as you think to take charge of your overall health. In fact, exercising for just 30 minutes each day is enough to dramatically improve your well-being and lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes, according to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
Even if you’re not currently active, starting a routine of 30 minutes a day can go a long way to improve your overall health, suggests Harvard School of Public Health. That means a daily 30-minute brisk walk is really all you need.
It’s not always easy incorporating exercise into a busy schedule. But if you exercise the same time each day, it will become part of your regular lifestyle. Start slow and gradually build up to 30 minutes of activity. Make it a habit, but be flexible. If you miss your opportunity to exercise, simply work another activity into your day, such as taking the stairs or parking your car at the other end of the parking lot.
Stay informed about your health
According to an article that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), “Ultimately, patients are the largest health care workforce available.” This means that although your doctor and other health-care professionals can offer advice and treatments to keep disease at bay, ultimately you are the one who can make sure their advice works.
Most of us only spend a few hours of direct contact with our doctors each year. That means between visits you need to take charge of your own health. The Web is an excellent resource for health-related information — from researching illnesses and medicine to learning what health-care benefits you’re eligible for. With keyword searches, you can find many quality sites, like The Alternative Daily, that provide accurate information and cite reputable sources, such as universities, medical studies, and government or state agencies.
While you don’t have to be a “Google doctor,” you can certainly arm yourself with valuable information about your health — information that you can later discuss with your medical or naturopathic doctor.
If taking charge of your health seems overwhelming at first, begin with a single health goal and go from there. Whether it’s weight loss, stress reduction or a need to control your blood pressure, the simple act of creating a plan can shift your mind in the right direction — the rest will fall into place.
Katherine Marko is a freelance writer, author and blog creator. Her areas of expertise include food, health, style, beauty, business and nutrition. Marko holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, a diploma in photography, graphic design and marketing, and certification in esthetics.