Five basic principles that promote healthy living

Five basic principles that promote healthy living

In this article we will discuss five basic principles for healthy living. Healthy living does not only benefit an individual person, it also benefits the entire community and future generations since we are able to conserve the limited healthcare resources by living healthy.

Because you are reading this article, it is very likely that you have been exposed already to the five principles we will discuss here. In this article, we provide a concise discussion of these topics. In addition, we suggest practical approaches that are likely to be remembered and implemented in one’s daily life. We will not go into excessive details of each, but we will provide enough information to help us get started on or encourage us to continue towards the journey to healthy living.

The five basic principles are: 1) regular physical activity/exercise; 2) healthy eating; 3) avoid smoking tobacco; 4) avoid excessive alcohol intake; and 5) avoid use of illicit drugs.

If followed consistently, research has showed that these five principles can promote physical well-being as well as mental health. For example, research shows that healthy eating and regular exercise can reduce the risk of getting diabetes in a prediabetic person (one close to getting diabetes) by 58%. It is understandable that due to personal or health circumstances, one may not be able to consistently practice all the five principles. The goal should be to do as much as possible for each of the principles.

Now we will briefly discuss each of the individual principles:

  1. Physical activity/exercise
  2. Healthy Eating
  3. Avoid smoking
  4. 4.Avoid excessive alcohol intake
  5. Avoid use of illicit drugs

1. Being physically active does not only mean going to the gym for exercise, brisk walking around a block in your neighborhood for about 20-30 minutes daily or every other day can be just as good. Using staircases rather than elevators whenever possible or simply parking further away from the entrance when you go for grocery shopping can have some health benefit if done on a regular basis. The American Diabetes Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise. Newer research is showing doing more than 150 minutes per week is associated with even better results such as increased life expectancy.

2. The kind of diet we consume is another important determinant of our health. Generally the goal should be to consume food that is low in fats and carbohydrates, but high in fiber. Fats and carbohydrates are foods with high levels of calories. These foods need to be taken in moderation. Research shows that low intake of calories increases longevity. In humans aged 20-65 years, restricting the number of calories taken, independent of other factors has been shown to add 1-5 years to the lifespan. This benefit is more the earlier the lifestyle of taking low calories is adapted. Some of the ideas to help limit intake of a high number of calories, include eating small frequent meals, reading food labels, and avoiding those with high calories or eating them occasionally as treats. Eating more fruits and vegetables can be helpful as these provide fiber and also fill you up quicker. This helps with reducing the number of calories consumed. One way of trying to eat more fruits is to substitute the high calorie traditional desserts with fruits. For vegetables, one suggestion that tends to work for most people is to make it a goal that at each mealtime, half of your plate is vegetables while the other half is something else. In addition, drink more water as part of your diet. It's suggested that an adult person should drink at least 64 ounces or eight glasses of water each day. Soda or pop is another difficult thing to avoid. Most of the time, the real reason for soda consumption is thirst. If one can drink enough water and stay hydrated, the urge for soda can be much reduced.  Again, the goal is to do as much as possible instead of not trying at all.

3. Smoking causes many diseases especially cancers such as lung cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer etc. Other smoking related diseases include COPD (medically known as chronic obstructive pulmonary/lung disease), emphysema and bronchitis. Quitting smoking can be very difficult. There are psychological and medical options available to help with quitting smoking. For individuals addicted to smoking tobacco it is important to discuss with your doctor these different options. Research shows that even for people who have been smoking tobacco for many years, quitting can help reduce the risk of new diseases or reduce the progression of those already present.

4. Alcohol just like smoking is known to cause diseases such as liver cirrhosis. Alcohol consumption, particularly beer leads to weight gain as it is loaded with a high number of calories. There are other effects of alcohol use such as motor vehicle crashes due to impaired judgment. It is better to avoid alcohol altogether, if not able to, only take alcohol in moderate amounts. The biggest problem with alcohol comes from the hard liquors that are more likely to lead to addiction. The CDC recommends limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men or 1 drink or less in a day for women, on days when alcohol is consumed. Binge drinking as happens for example over a weekend can also lead to similar problems as those experienced from daily excessive alcohol intake. Resources such as Alcoholics Anonymous are available to help individuals addicted to alcohol to quit drinking. It is important that such individuals discuss this issue with their doctor or health care provider who can link them to these resources.

5. Data from the CDC indicate that use of illicit drugs has been on the increase in the United States. Along with use, there is also increased drug overdose deaths. Most of the implicated drugs include illicitly manufactured fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine (alone or in combination).  Addiction to prescription pain medications (narcotics) is another problem facing the nation.  One important risk factor to getting addicted to prescription pain medications is access to them. The goal of prescription drug monitoring programs at the state level is to try to reduce access to these medications. Addiction usually stems from a single use due to chronic pain conditions. If you are experiencing chronic pain from conditions such as arthritis, ask your health care provider about other available non-addicting or less addicting medication options. Illicit drug use is more increasingly being viewed as an illness for which individuals need treatment. Again, there are available treatment options. Primary care doctors and other health care providers need to be trained in the treatment options available and trained on how to approach, in a culturally competent manner, individuals with illicit drug problems.

One additional principle that can augment the results from the five is ensuring a good night’s sleep as much as possible.

The purpose of this article was to provide a concise summary of five principles to healthy living. Our subsequent articles will provide details of each of these specifically in different forms or presentation styles.

Jackson Musuuza, MD is accepting patients at White River Health Internal Medicine. To schedule an appointment, call 870-262-1529.

Posted April 26, 2023