Here are the best habits to support a long, healthy life:
First, drink enough water. Most of us tend to be mildly dehydrated, especially during the humid months. To add to the problem, many people only drink caffeinated fluids such as coffee, black tea or sodas. Caffeine, which is a diuretic, increases your fluid output and can actually cause dehydration, despite the fact you’re drinking fluids.
A simple test to check for dehydration is checking your skin turgor. To do this, pinch the skin on the back of your hand and release it. It should return to normal quickly. The longer it takes the skin to become smooth again, the more you have a tendency toward dehydration.
Most authorities recommend drinking 6-8 eight-ounce glasses of water a day. If you dislike water, adding a little fruit juice or a squirt of lemon juice can be helpful. As always, check with your doctor, especially if you are taking medications or have medical problems.
The second best habit to practice is deep breathing. This may sound simplistic to think of as exercise, but most people go through an entire day without actually stopping to take a deep breath. Deep diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, nourishes your body with oxygen and has a calming effect. It also mobilizes the rib cage and can mentally refocus you.
To perform this type of breathing, place your hands on your lower rib cage and upper stomach area. Take a slow deep breath in through your nose. Focus your awareness on the air moving in through your airway and down into your lungs. Feel your lower ribs and belly expand. Often, because of tension or biomechanic imbalances, the exact opposite happens. Instead of allowing the belly to soften and expand out and down, it is pulled up and tightened with an in-breath.
By focusing on the correct process, the body can relax more and release tension that you may be unaware you are carrying. After a deep in-breath, allow your body to exhale deeply. Picture tension leaving with this deep exhale. Allow your body to dictate the natural timing for the next in-breath. Taking just a few minutes every hour to focus on breathing can yield surprising results. Try it and see!
The next good habit is to get regular exercise at least three times a week. It can be as little as 20 minutes a day, but consistency is important. Walking, doing yoga, swimming or playing a team sport are all ways to engage in exercise. Loosening up first with a general stretching routine is also important. When you stretch, make sure always to pay equal attention to both right and left sides and, more importantly, to your front and back. So, if you stretch your hamstrings (back thigh muscles) also stretch your quadriceps (front thigh muscles). If you bend your back forward, also arch it backwards, etc. The same thing holds true for weight strength training. One of the worse things you can do is actually create imbalance as you exercise! Remember to listen to your body and don’t push through pain. Instead, try to understand what your body is telling you.
Next, eat sensibly. Keep your BMI (body mass index) below 25. (For how to calculate your BMI, go to Back Issues, Do You Know Your BMI.) There are many different diets, fads and supplements. Some make sense, some don’t. Eating right and maintaining a healthy body weight should become a way of life, which is much better than doing a quick weight loss program that you won’t follow through in the long haul. Again, listen to your body for what feels right.
Some people do better in group settings, like Weight Watchers. Some people do well sticking to a diet during the weekdays, and eating what they want on weekends. The important thing is to do things in moderation, do what feels right and gets the long-term results you want.
Lastly, pace yourself. Stop to smell the roses. Remember, life isn’t a dress rehearsal. If you get run down, stop and take steps to take care of yourself. If you don’t, often your body starts to break down. Sometimes it’s in the form of illness because of lowered immunity, or in the form of stress-related problems like high blood pressure or ulcers. Take time for yourself, either to do a recreational sport or hobby or by getting a massage. Try to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night.
These are the best habits we all should stick to.