Whether they are rich or poor, many people fail to see the link between their habits and their health. They may regard enjoying good health as a matter of chance or as something over which they have little control. Whatever your financial circumstances, there are basic steps you can take to protect and greatly improve your own health and that of your family. You can increase the quality of your life and avoid needlessly shortening it. By word and example, parents can teach their children to form good habits, resulting in better health.
Eat fresh foods. Concentrate on eating “real” food—whole, fresh foods that people have been enjoying for millenniums—rather than modern processed foods. Commercially prepackaged foods and fast food from chain restaurants usually contain high levels of sugar, salt, and fat, which are associated with heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other serious illnesses. When cooking, try steaming, baking, and broiling instead of frying. Try using more herbs and spices to cut down on salt. Make sure meats are properly cooked, and never eat spoiled food. Do not eat too much. The World Health Organization reports a dangerous worldwide increase in overweight and obese people, often the result of overeating. One study found that in parts of Africa, “there are more children who are overweight than malnourished.” Obese children are at risk of present as well as future health problems, including diabetes. Parents should set a good example for their children by limiting their own portions.
Eat mostly plants. A balanced plate favors a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains over meats and starches. Once or twice a week, try substituting fish for meat. Reduce refined foods such as pasta, white bread, and white rice, which have been stripped of much of their nutritional value. But avoid potentially dangerous fad diets. Parents should protect their children’s health by helping them to acquire a taste for foods that are healthful.
Drink plenty of fluids. Adults and children need to drink plenty of water and other unsweetened liquids every day. Drink more of these during hot weather and when doing heavy physical work and exercise. Such liquids aid digestion, cleanse your body of poisons, make for healthier skin, and promote weight loss. They help you to feel and look your best. Avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and too many sweetened drinks. One soft drink a day can add 15 pounds (6.8 kg) to your weight in a year.
Take Care of Basic Body Needs
Get enough rest. The demands and distractions of modern life have whittled away at the time people spend sleeping. But sleep is essential to good health. Studies show that during sleep our body and brain repair themselves, benefiting memory and mood. Sleep reinforces the immune system and reduces our risk of infection, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, cancer, obesity, depression, and perhaps even Alzheimer’s disease. Rather than artificially bypassing sleepiness—our natural “safety device”—with sweets, caffeine, or other stimulants, we should heed it and simply get some sleep. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep every night to look, feel, and perform their best. Young people need more. Sleep-deprived teens are more prone to having psychological troubles and to falling asleep when driving. Sleep is especially important when we are sick. Our body can overcome some illnesses, such as a cold, if we simply get extra sleep and drink plenty of fluids.
Take care of your teeth. Brushing your teeth and flossing them after meals, and especially before going to bed, will help ward off tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss. Without our own teeth, we may not benefit fully from the food we eat. Children who have been taught to brush and floss their teeth after eating will enjoy better health in youth and throughout life.
Go to the doctor. Some ailments call for professional medical attention. Early diagnosis usually results in a better outcome and less expense. So if you do not feel well, get help to find and eliminate the cause instead of merely seeking to relieve the symptoms. Regular checkups from accredited health care providers can head off many serious problems, as can getting professional medical attention during pregnancy.
Keep Yourself Moving
Exert yourself. Leading a physically active life can help us feel happier, think more clearly, have more energy, be more productive and, along with proper diet, control our weight. Exercise need not be painful or extreme to be effective. Regular periods of moderate exercise several times a week can be very beneficial.
Exercise is beneficial for people of all ages, and membership in a gym is not required to get it. Simply using your feet instead of a car, bus, or elevator is a good start. Parents, encourage your children to participate in physical play, outdoors whenever possible. Such activity strengthens their bodies and helps them to develop whole-body coordination in ways that sedentary entertainment, such as video games, cannot.
Protect Your Health
Keep yourself clean. “Hand washing is the single most important thing that you can do to help prevent the spread of infection and to stay healthy and well,” reports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As many as 80 percent of infections are said to be passed on by unclean hands. So wash them often throughout the day. Do so especially before eating, preparing food, or dressing or even touching a wound, and do so after touching an animal, using the toilet, or changing a baby’s diaper. Washing with soap and water is more effective than using alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Children stay healthier when parents train them to wash their hands and to keep them away from their mouth and eyes. Bathing every day and keeping your clothes and bed linens fresh and clean also contribute to better health.
Keep your home clean. Make whatever extra effort is needed to keep your home tidy and clean, inside and out. Eliminate any places where water can collect and mosquitoes can breed. Litter, filth, and uncovered foods and garbage attract insects and vermin, all of which can bring in microbes and cause disease.
Avoid injuring yourself. Obey safety laws when working, riding a bicycle or motorcycle, or driving a car. Make sure your vehicle is safe to drive. Use appropriate protective equipment and clothing, such as safety glasses, headgear, and footwear, as well as seat belts and hearing protection. Avoid excessive sun exposure, which causes cancer and premature aging of the skin. If you smoke, stop. Quitting now will significantly lower your risk of heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke.
Whatever adjustments you need to make, you may experience more success by starting gradually and not setting unreachable goals for yourself. For example, try cutting down on less healthful foods, rather than cutting them out. Try going to bed a little earlier and getting a little more exercise. Doing something is better than doing nothing. It normally takes time—weeks or months—before a new good habit becomes second nature. In the meantime, if you do not see immediate benefits from your extra efforts, do not despair. If you persist, despite setbacks, your health is likely to improve.
Policy Issue Associate