Practical steps to boost mood, energize, and extend your "health-span"
The turn of the New Year is the traditional time to tackle resolutions.
Nearly half of us resolve to make changes in the New Year, but only about one in 12 people achieve lasting success.
The reasons for those failures vary, but often relate to excessive ambition. Big, life-altering resolutions sound fantastic, but often fail.
You’ll find some evidence-based tips for success in Habits are Human … How to Break the Bad Ones, in which we summarized the essence of “The Power of Habit”, the New York Times bestseller by Charles Duhigg. "
In short, there is no truth to the myth that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Instead, research suggests that the “how” part of creating new habits matters more.
The key to creating new habits is to associate them with the daily routines that typically rule our lives.
So, if you’re ready, we suggest 10 goals that can improve quality of life and reduce the ill effects of six mutually reinforcing drivers of premature aging and degenerative disease:
- High blood sugar
- Silent inflammation
- Excessive oxidative stress
- Omega-3/6 fat intake ratio imbalance
These interlocking phenomena promote a cluster of six clinical symptoms — called “metabolic syndrome” (MetS) — that promotes or exacerbates three leading causes of death in the U.S.: cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, and stroke, as well as three major afflictions of aging:
- Diabetes (which promotes CVD, nerve damage, and eye problems)
- Alzheimer's and Age-Related Cognitive Decline (i.e., senility)
- Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Cataracts
1) Stay connected, grateful, and compassionate
One healthy resolution is to reinforce and expand your social circle and the emotional bonds with those close to you.
Concrete expressions of toward the members of your broader community is an obvious corollary to this resolution … charity helps others while reaping commensurate personal rewards.
And there's solid evidence that feelings of gratitude are actively healthful: see Gratitude May Change Brains & Boost Heart Health.
2) Exercise your choice to get fit (or fitter)
It may be a cliché, but exercise is the indispensable ingredient in any list of healthy resolutions.
Importantly, it takes both kinds — aerobic exercise (jogging, walking, swimming, etc.) and resistance exercise (weights, machines, isometrics, pushups, sit-ups) — to control weight and achieve optimal health.
Outdoor exercise is ideal, because natural settings lift mood and build brain power … see Get Out! Nature Boosts Brains and Spirits and Can Walking Improve Creativity? in the Weight & Fitness section of our news archive.
Adults should aim for 30 minutes of heart-pumping aerobic exercise — e.g., walking, running, biking, swimming, and/or aerobic exercise machines — at least three times per week, preferably five days or more.
Just 10 minutes a day of strength training will give you more energy, stronger bones, and a faster metabolism that burns more calories while you're at rest.
In addition to using free weights and resistance exercise machines, try the expert-ranked, equipment-free exercises from the website VeryWellFit, which is affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic:
High-intensity interval training or HIIT delivers maximum fitness rewards in the minimum time, without any equipment: see Fixing the Harms of a Sedentary Past, Fast and 7-Minute Fitness HIIT, which provides links to a New York Times article with HIIT exercise illustrations, and a free downloadable NYT mobile HIIT app.
You may also pick up some good tips from Be Active Your Way: A Guide for Adults, from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. If you have any serious health conditions, please consult your health care provider before tackling a new exercise regimen.
3) Watch salt consumption, with a caveat
Many Americans consume a full teaspoon (6,000mg) of sodium daily, which is more than twice the recommended daily allowance (2,400mg).
Lower-sodium diets have been linked to decreased risks for heart disease and hypertension, as well as improved weight management. However, recent research suggests that prescriptions to sharply limit sodium consumption may be off base, except for people who are sensitive to sodium. For more on that, see How Fake are Our Salt Fears?.
Processed foods contain the most sodium, so make sure to read labels. We're doing our part with a selection of no-salt-added canned fish, and by using substantially less sodium in our smoked fish, compared with national brands. We also offer a no-added-salt version of our popular Organic Salmon & Seafood marinade/rub mix.
4) Good protein sources come in many guises
Despite decades of bad advice — based on weak or flawed evidence — there’s nothing inherently unhealthful about the saturated fat in animal foods, including red meat (beef, lamb, and pork), poultry, and whole dairy foods.
In fact, the saturated fats in most animal foods raise blood levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol and only raise blood levels of large, fluffy, benign LDL cholesterol particles. (In contrast, sugars and starchy foods raise blood levels of small, dense, dangerous LDL particles.) And meats are far more nutrient-rich than most plant foods, lacking only fiber and antioxidants.
That said, fish and beans are particularly healthful protein sources, thanks to some unique attributes:
- Fish offers all eight of the amino acids the body needs to build protein, and seafood is the only food source of the long-chain omega-3s that the body needs for basic functions.
- Beans serve as an extra-healthful source of plant protein, especially when combined with whole grains. And new findings show that complementary protein sources don't need to be consumed at the same meal for the body to use their amino acids to build protein.
Advantages of seafood for protein
The long-chain omega-3s unique to fish and other seafoods decelerate oxidation- and inflammation-driven aging and may aid weight control:
- Omega-3s appear to boost calorie-burning directed toward raising body heat (thermogenesis), thereby reducing storage of dietary calories as body fat.
- Omega-3s exert indirect, beneficial nutrigenomic influences on key metabolism-regulating “working” genes in human cells – genes that control the burning and storage of dietary sugars and fats.
- Omega-3s curb production of synthase enzymes that promote the storage of calories as body fat.
Although the clinical evidence is mixed, a substantial proportion of it suggests that the omega-3s in seafood and fish oil tend to aid weight control: see Weight Loss Efforts Aided by Omega-3s, Fish Oil Trims Diabetics' Belly and Blood Fat, Weight Loss Lacking in Omega-3 Trial and Omega-3s Linked to Healthier Weight and Body Composition.
- Fiber-like carbohydrates called resistant starches (RS) increase the rate at which the body burns body fat (for up to 24 hours), do not cause unhealthful spikes in blood sugar levels, and prevent other foods in a meal from causing them. Eating just a palm-full of beans will prevent sugar spikes from other, higher-glycemic foods in a meal, and those effects can last for many hours.
- Beans contain so-called “starch-blockers,” which hinder the enzyme (amylase) that digests starches.
5) Cut back on refined carbs
Refined sugars and foods made with white flour promote diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and the silent inflammation that fuels aging.
In fact, it's now very clear that — instead of animal-source saturated fats — sugars and starchy foods are the real threat to heart health: see Big Sugar Paid Scientists to Pin Heart Disease on Saturated Fats and Sugar, not Fat, Affirmed as Top Heart-Attacker.
6) Serve smaller portions and eat slowly
Weight control is key to preventing MetS and its adverse outcomes, including heart disease and diabetes. Studies link smaller servings and slower eating with weight loss because both help prevent overeating: see Portion Control for Weight Control, Slow Eating May Prevent Weight Gain, French and American Eating Habits Affect Weight Gain, and related articles in the Weight & Fitness section of our news archive.
7) Get ample vitamin D
Recent research questions the disease-prevention prospects for supplemental vitamins, while others affirm the far greater preventive-health potential of whole foods: see Whole Foods Seen Superior to Supplements.
But two supplemental nutrients — seafood-source omega-3s and vitamin D, the “sunshine-and-seafood” nutrient — continue to show promise.
Vitamin D’s broad-based, hormone-like actions affect almost every aspect of health. In addition to boosting bone health, studies indicate that vitamin D may curb cancer risks and play a key role in fighting the flu and other infections. For more on that, see the Vitamin D section of Credible Cold & Flu Remedies and the Vitamin D section of our news archive.
Diets that provide 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D3 or more daily appear to cut the risk of developing certain common cancers — including colon, breast, and ovarian cancer — by up to 50 percent.
This intake level — whose safety has been assessed and confirmed by the National Academy of Sciences — exceeds the current infancy-to-adulthood RDA of 600 IUs per day. (Leading vitamin D researchers want to see the RDA raised to 1,000 or 2,000 IU, and most recommend taking 2,000 to 4,000 IU daily.)
Fatty fish are the richest known food sources, with several times more vitamin D than the next best food source, fortified milk (100 IU per 8 oz serving).
Wild sockeye salmon contains far more vitamin D than any other common food (687 IU per 3.5 ounce serving), followed, among our fish selection, by albacore tuna (544 IU), silver salmon (430 IU), mackerel (320 IU), halibut (276 IU), king salmon (236 IU), sardines (222 IU), and sablefish (182 IU).
8) Follow the rainbow (foods)
Population studies strongly suggest that diets high in fruits and vegetables yield reduced risks of cancer, heart disease, and obesity, probably because of their antioxidants and fiber.
When your body breaks down food it produces unstable molecules called free radicals. Cigarette smoke, pollutants, and radiation also produce free radicals, as do the “advanced glycation end products” produced in the body by browned foods.
The body uses its own “antioxidant network” — primarily, vitamins C and E, lipoic acid, coQ10, and selenium-dependent enzymes — to neutralize free radicals. But poor diets and excessive stress can overwhelm this defense system, allowing uncontrolled free radicals to injure DNA and cells, which can yield chronic inflammation, cancer, and heart disease.
You can help your body control free radicals and chronic, unnoticed inflammation by featuring lots of antioxidant-rich plant foods in your diet. (These compounds’ bountiful health benefits flow from their indirect “nutrigenomic” influences on gene expression and the body's own antioxidant network, rather than the direct antioxidant effects they display in lab experiments.)
Since many antioxidants are also pigments, it makes sense to favor vibrant red, yellow, green, purple, and blue fruits and vegetables over starchy, low-fiber, colorless ones like potatoes — although potato skins are rich in antioxidants and nutrients.
It’s worth noting that extra-dark chocolate (80% cocoa solids or more), natural (non-alkalized) cocoa, herbs, spices, coffee, and tea rank among the best sources, beating almost all fruits and vegetables on an antioxidants-per-ounce basis.
Many herbs and spices also offer ancillary benefits, such as these:
- Chilies may aid weight control.
- Cinnamon helps control blood sugar levels.
- Rosemary and thyme provide brain cells with powerful protection against oxidation.
- Turmeric's yellow pigment (curcumin) exerts substantial anti-inflammatory effects and may help curb cancer growth.
9) Cook in mono for sound health
By now, almost everyone has heard of the heart-disease and cancer prevention powers attributed to the so-called Mediterranean Diet, which is high in fish, vegetables, nuts, and extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO).
The vascular health benefits of EVOO flow from its exceptionally potent but uncommon tyrosol-type antioxidants abundant which are lacking or absent from lesser grades. To read about the relevant research, see the Fats & Oils section of our news archive.
It also makes sense to favor cooking oils high in monounsaturated fats — especially extra virgin olive, the only common oil that’s high in antioxidants — to help redress the excess of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats found in most Americans' diets.
10) Whole grains are good in moderation
Foods made from refined, white flour fuel two key engines of aging—insulin resistance and inflammation.
But diets featuring modest amounts of whole grains sidestep these effects and are also proven to help curb weight gain: see Whole Grains Affirmed as Good for Hearts and Waists.
Oats and barley are permitted to make heart-health claims, and common whole grains—especially wheat, corn, and buckwheat — offer an often-overlooked abundance of anti-aging antioxidants. To learn more, see Whole Grain Foods Found High in Antioxidants and its links to related articles.
Unfortunately, some best-selling books have disseminated misinformation about whole grains: see Gluten Often Plays the Gut-Health Patsy and its links to related articles about grains and gluten.
Make healthy living a habit
We wish you success in sticking to all your resolutions!
The best approach to any lifestyle makeover is to start right in, and it helps to get your partner, children, or housemate(s) to join in.
And you may achieve greater success by following the evidence-based advice we summarized in Habits are Human … How to Break the Bad Ones.