Recently I calculated my “real age” through one of the life expectancy assessments.
I was pleased to see that I'm expected to live to the ripe old age of 104 — if I continue the same healthy lifestyle choices I currently practice.
Some of the healthy choices that contribute to longevity are obvious — wearing a seat belt, not smoking, putting on sunscreen, and not parking on railroad tracks. These have been pretty easy for me to accomplish.
But not all of my healthy lifestyle choices have been so intuitive for me. I can remember times in my 20's when a Wendy's burger and fries was a staple meal for me. And even when I learned more about health and fitness as an adult, I've had my addictions to processed foods, deli meats, and sugar. I did take exercise seriously until I was in my late thirties, and even then it was a spotty commitment.
As I've become more educated about health and fitness, and as I've reached midlife and want to improve my longevity, I've become more serious and engaged in making healthy choices.
Here are four healthy living habits I've recently incorporated into my routine that have made a difference both in how I feel and my potential for living a long and active life:
1. Becoming a flexitarian
Flexitarian is a relatively new term which means one is a flexible vegetarian. A flexitarian has made the choice to eat a primarily plant based diet while still eating meat on occasion. After doing much research on the value of cutting back on meat (including reading The China Study and The Blue Zones), I know a plant-based diet is essential to longevity and good health. Studies show that vegetarians live on average 3.6 years longer, weigh 15% less than non-vegetarians, and have lower incidences of heart disease.
I've also made the choice to avoid red meat as much as possible. I might eat red meat 3-4 times a year. I stick mostly to fish and poultry when I eat meat (a few times a week.) According to the Mayo Clinic, “A National Cancer Institute study of 500,000 people found that those who ate 4 ounces (113 grams) of red meat or more daily were 30 percent more likely to have died of any cause during a 10-year period than were those who consumed less. Sausage, luncheon meats and other processed meats also increased the risk. Those who ate mostly poultry or fish had a lower risk of death.”
My diet mostly consists of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. I try to incorporate many of the “super foods” such as kale, spinach, blueberries, walnuts, oats, chia seeds, beans, broccoli, dark chocolate, green tea, tomatoes, apples, and oranges. One of the best super foods is wild salmon, so when I make a choice to eat animal protein, this is my go-to choice.
You can read more about a flexitarian diet in the book The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life.
2. Enjoying juicing and smoothies
Although it shouldn't be your only source of fruits and vegetables, juicing is a great way to get your daily recommendation of them in one drink. The juice from juicing affords a highly concentrated mix of vitamins, minerals and enzymes which rapidly enter your bloodstream. Drinking these super juices gives your digestive organs a much-needed rest. Juicing also facilitates weight loss, increased energy levels,a strengthened immunity, and strong bones. It may also reduce the chances of heart disease, cancer and strokes.
The best time to drink juice is at least an hour before eating a meal or on an empty stomach. This maximizes the amount of nutrients absorbed into the body. One of my favorite juicing combinations is kale, fuji apple, jalapeno pepper (just a quarter of one to give a little zing), ginger, carrot, spinach, and celery.
Juicing shouldn't be a substitute for eating fresh fruits and vegetables, as you need the fiber and nutrients in the pulp and skins of fruits and veggies to enjoy the full benefits they afford. If you want to “drink” your fruits and vegetables and still maintain the pulp and fiber, you can make smoothies and consume the pulverized whole fruit or veggie. A smoothie takes a longer time to digest but gives you the benefits of the fiber and additional nutrients.
One of my favorite smoothies combines banana, strawberries, blueberries, spinach or kale, chia seeds, almond milk, and a little protein powder.
For smoothies I use Ninja QB900B Master Prep Revolutionary Food and Drink Maker. For juicing I'd recommend Breville 800JEXL Juice Fountain Elite 1000-Watt Juice Extractor. Juicers range in price and can get very expensive, but the higher the wattage on the juicer, the more nutrients you will extract from your fruits and vegetables.
You can learn more about juicing and get great recipes at The Healthy Juicer's Bible: Lose Weight, Detoxify, Fight Disease, and Live Long.
3. Using fitness self-monitoring
Accountability is such a big part of success when it comes to your health and fitness goals. The reward of seeing what you've accomplished, how many calories you've burned, how far you've run or walked, and what your heart rate is provides great motivation to keep moving forward with your goals.
With the increasing number of smartphone apps, you can now easily keep track of your fitness goals and accomplishments (and many other goals) with the press of a button. And new wearable products like the Fitbit Flex Wireless Activity + Sleep Wristband and the Nike FuelBand sync with your mobile devices and track steps, distance, and calories burned, as well as tracking your sleep cycle at night.
I am a recent runner, and I use the free Runkeeper app on my iPhone to keep track of distance, speed, and calorie output. I've found that when using this app I'm more motivated to increase my running goals as I watch my progress.
4. Focusing on outdoor fitness
I have never been one to enjoy going to a gym (although I've done it) or jogging on a treadmill (I've done this too). These indoor, confined workouts made exercise feel like a chore. By combining my love of nature and being outside with some form of exercise, I feel inspired and motivated to stay active.
I've always enjoyed hiking, and in recent years have sought out more vigorous and interesting hiking trails locally and great hikes in different places I visit around the country. Hiking is a great cardio-vascular activity and great for muscular fitness. Hiking exercises almost every part of your body including your legs, knees, ankles, arms, hips and butt, abdominals, shoulders and neck. And I consider it a mind-body exercise as it affords such feelings of peace and positive energy.
Just a couple of years ago, I started biking for the first time since I was a kid. I live near a river with a biking/running pathway, and I totally enjoy the freedom and beauty of riding my bike along the river. Biking is a great low-impact but high aerobic activity that is so much fun. You can read more about the joy of riding a bike here.
And just this spring, I took up running again — but this time with a commitment I've never had before. Running has really challenged my own beliefs about myself and my abilities, as I've learned I'm really passionate about something I once thought I hated. And I'm far more capable at it than I gave myself credit for in the past. I've worked up to a five mile run, and the feelings of accomplishment, coupled with being outside and actually feeling good while running, have made this my new go-to fitness activity.
What healthy living habits do you find most beneficial and enjoyable? How have they impacted your health, fitness level, and your overall feelings about yourself? Please share your experiences in the comments below.