Seven Habits of Healthy Humans

I'm not really a "health nut". I eat burgers, drink soda, and love cookies. I have never counted calories, trained for a marathon, bought organic food, or shopped at GNC. I'm not against those things, but I've never found the motivation to head down those roads.

The fact that I've never taken on the role of health enthusiast made me think I'm not really qualified to write a post about healthy living. Then I started thinking--many people are like me, and you might be able to relate to my approach to healthy living. 

You may exercise, but not on a professional level. You may eat well, but not according to any type of strict diet. You may have relatively stable health, but you know you could do some things to improve. You may try to have a balanced approach to get the most out of your body without disqualifying yourself from the enjoyment of the occasional "party food".

But even after all that speculative generalization, I also realize some of you have very unique health situations. Perhaps a congenital condition or an injury has complicated your pursuit of a healthier lifestyle. I'm certainly not judging or criticizing anyone who does not follow the things I will mention in this post.

Here are some things I do to benefit my health.

#1 Exercise

"Oh, thanks Dan. How insightful!"

I know, I know--you've heard it ten thousand times. It's become cliche. It's become such common advice that our minds have learned to tune it out. And if we're not careful, we'll end up ignoring the advice altogether.

If you're not currently exercising on a regular basis, it probably annoys you every time someone tells you to do it. It's like smoking. Smokers "know" it's bad for them, but it still irritates them when everyone feels the need to remind them over and over again. And that resentment, believe it or not, can turn into stress and anxiety that will push that person into their addiction even further. Likewise, pestering people about exercise can cause them to feel like a failure, and feeling like a failure detracts from their motivation to exercise. It's a vicious cycle--one that only you can break.

With a child that wants to play with me every moment after I return from work, it makes difficult to find time to exercise. As we get busier, exercise can accidentally get shoved down the priority list until eventually it becomes non-existent.

To remedy my lack of exercise, I decided to start a jogging routine. It's not every day, but at least several times a week. It was at least getting my heart rate up and warding off muscle atrophy.  But it didn't happen easily. I had to carve out time, wake up earlier, and make it happen. It's not exactly convenient, but neither is needing Lipitor (what is that?) when you turn 40!

I also purchased a $0.99 app called "Sworkit" that comes with pre-loaded exercise routines that will audibly guide you through short and long workouts. It's not a gym membership or a personal trainer; but it will help--if I use it.

#2 Avoid soda / pop / Coke

Don't misunderstand me--I drink soda, but very moderately. Like many Americans, there was a time in my life when I consumed at least one can of soda per day--sometimes two or three. This constant influx of high fructose corn syrup and phosphoric acid took a toll on my body. I could feel it. 

I made a decision to stop buying soda at the store--no more 12- or 24-packs. It would not be in my fridge. I still drink soda at restaurants or for special "party" occasions, but it has become a rarity instead of a daily routine. Your body is designed to process small amounts of toxic material without much detriment. But if you continuously bombard your "filtering" cells with toxins day after day, negative results lurk around the corner.

If you're a daily soda guzzler, I challenge you to stop for one week and replace your soda with something else sugary, like juice or Gatorade. I replaced my daily Coke with Lipton Green Tea. Tell me after one week you don't feel better.

#3 Take a daily multivitamin

In recent years, vitamins have become over-marketed and people think they can vitaminize (that's not a word) their way into health. Vitamins don't work like that.

Vitamins are facilitators. They work mostly as enzymatic cofactors in your body. That means they bind to an already active protein, whether inside of cells or in the bloodstream, and increase the activity or efficiency of that protein. In other words, vitamins boost the performance of the components that are already present in your body. However, if other fundamental nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, etc.) are lacking, the vitamins won't do you as much good. They only enhance an already functioning system.

 Multivitamins don't make me "feel" different. I don't have more energy or think more clearly. But I have noticed vitamins improve my resilience. If I push my body when I'm taking my vitamins, I sense I recover more quickly. I bounce back more efficiently. I get sick less frequently. I can maintain my focus longer into the day, even when I start feeling fatigued.

#4 Eat fresh fruits and vegetables

Another line of cliche advice! 

But seriously, I eat baby carrots almost every day of my life. I love them. Eat them instead of Doritos! My wife makes a salad for almost every dinner in our house. They usually have lettuce, carrots, cheese, black olives, green peppers, and tomatoes. I love to munch on green peppers, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, snap peas, and whatever other vegetable happens to be in the house. Sure, I might dip them in ranch and add some fat and calories to them, but the nutrients in the veggies still help my body.



Vegetables are good for you because they have unique combinations of elements in them that facilitate the function of your body. In fact, if you eat a balanced diet of vegetables and fruits, you wouldn't need multivitamins. But the truth is that none of us consistently eat enough fruits and veggies to keep our bodies in great shape. The supplemental vitamins can help fill in the deficiencies in our diets.

#5 Be conscious of pathogens

Pathogens are disease-causing microorganisms. Most microorganisms are not pathogenic--that is, they won't cause you to get sick. But we all know that sickness is pretty common. Here are some things I do to avoid getting sick.

First, follow steps #1-4, because a healthy body (and immune system) is your best defense against these nasty microscopic enemies.

Next, maintain mental awareness of things or people you touch. Shopping carts? Church pews? Door handles? Faucet knobs? All these things probably have pathogens on them. If you touch them, disinfect your hands as soon as possible, and don't touch any part of your face until you do. If you shake a person's hand, just assume their hands are contaminated. 



"But Dan, you're a germophobe." No, I am not afraid of them, because I know how to kill them or wash them off of me. Carry an alcohol-based disinfectant in your car and use it when you leave a store, a mall, or someone's house. Wash your hands every time you come home from the grocery store. If you have been around people, wash your hands as soon as you leave their presence. Most people are shedding virus/bacteria the most prior to being symptomatic. You can't assume the a person that looks okay is not infected. 

Thankfully, most pathogens are not transmitted by aerosol (through the air). That means you don't need to get overly paranoid and wear a respirator your entire life. Yeah!

#6 Be positive

Your emotions are just as much of a biochemical process as the filtering of toxins by your kidneys and liver. They happen as a result of molecules. 

The unique thing about emotions is you have some control over which ones you choose to harbor and amplify. As adults, we learn (or should learn) to wield our emotions to accomplish the goals we perceive as good and noble.  There are times to be angry and tenacious, but those times add stress and anxiety to our lives. These things are of detriment to our bodies. They increase our blood pressure, our heart rate, and increase the production of cortisol (what is that?) to cope with the stress. Cortisol suppresses the immune system and makes you more likely to get infected. Therefore, high stress lifestyles tend towards sickness.

Sometimes stress and hardship are unavoidable. I get that. I'm not advocating we all move to a tropical island and smoke pot to avoid conflict and difficulty. That's an escape tactic. I'm saying there is enough negativity in the world to be dealt with, so don't add to it by wallowing in the mire of your own negativity.

#7 Sleep

This can be a touchy subject. Everyone has different sleep requirements depending on their age and physiology. To be safe, let's just agree that we all need sleep. Without it, we die. It's like oxygen. So is more or less oxygen better? Well, that's a trick question. We need a certain range. Too little is very stressful on our bodies, and too much can increase cellular oxidative stress. So it is with sleep--too much can make us lethargic and lazy and too little can cause serious physical and mental problems.

Sleep is almost always an issue of time management. If you are undisciplined with spending your time, you probably get an unbalanced amount of sleep. People with the tendency to be sedentary and lazy might sleep away their motivation, and people with the tendency to be workaholics will probably try to skim by with 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night. Both are bad news. 

Conclusion:

Human life is a delicate balance in so many areas. The fundamentals of how we live will always hold the key to being as healthy as our bodies can be.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, some congenital conditions or acquired diseases (e.g. cancer, HIV, hepatitis) can complicate our pursuit of health; but you always have to be honest and compare your current condition with a realistic idea of what you could accomplish. Don't compare yourself to someone else. Compare yourself to what you know you can be.

Image credits:
Health/workout guy image from http://pnutink.deviantart.com/art/health-nut-color-123737896
Exercise image from http://www.illinoisbackpain.com/orland-park-back-pain-cardiovascular-exercise-dr-amy-harmening/
Soda can image from http://bestclipartblog.com/29-soda-clip-art.html
Multivitamin image from http://www.fitness.com/articles/558/the_importance_of_a_multivitamin.php
Fruits and vegetables image from http://thatswhatieat.com/new-years-resolution-idea-eat-more-fresh-fruits-and-veggies/
Washing hands image from http://health.allwomenstalk.com/ways-to-get-through-cold-and-flu-season-without-getting-sick/7/
'Think positive' image from http://guides.wikinut.com/img/_8ykmem5z3d5ygn5/Think-and-be-positive
Sleep cycle image from http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/sleep.htm

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