What are the biggest risk factors for your health? Does your lifestyle need to be healthier? If so, how can you achieve this? And how can you keep it up? What difference can this make to your health?
What are your risk factors?
Do you know your family health history and how this might affect you? Are you at increased risk because of some aspect of your lifestyle? It makes sense to focus on what is likely to affect you personally.
- Family health history. We are likely to share genes, environment and lifestyle. This can make it more likely that we'll get chronic illnesses that other family members have developed. If we're aware of family illnesses we can make lifestyle choices to potentially reduce the risk of developing them ourselves.
- Are you overweight? Obesity increases many health risks such as heart attacks, strokes and cancer.
- Do you smoke? Smoking doesn’t just increase the chances of lung cancer. It has a dramatic effect on the body, from contributing to heart attacks and strokes to prematurely ageing your skin. And you're at even higher risk if you're a woman.
- Do you drink too much? Do you know how many units of alcohol are ‘safe’?, Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to developing many diseases.
- Do you eat too much ‘junk food’? You’ll probably know that too much sugar, salt, some fats and refined carbohydrates each increase health risks. But did you know ‘junk food’ may reduce the healthy bacteria in your gut, leading you to put on weight and become more prone to illness? Instead increase your consumption of fruit, vegetables, nuts, oily fish and foods with high levels of fibre.
- Are you getting enough exercise? Are you regularly doing exercise (cardiovascular and strength) which have health benefits as well as helping you to maintain a healthy weight?
- Are you well hydrated? H2O is the best to rehydrate your body, as we all sweat. Drinking tea and coffee can help, but they aren't not as good as H2O with rehydration. Also avoid sugary and fizzy drinks including juice which contribute to increase your weight as well as being harmful to your teeth.
- Do you stick to your vaccination schedules and your health screening programmes such as bowel, breast, cervical etc.?
- Are you getting enough sleep, do you avoid stress and do you socialise enough? Extending your circle of friends is shown to reduce your stress levels and improve your health.
Does your lifestyle need to be healthier? If so, then how do you achieve this?
People make successful lifestyle changes for a variety of reasons – including will power, encouragement from family and friends or reaching a turning point in their lives (like having children or getting older). That's what we've found from our own research, which we plan to publish later this year. Here are some other approaches that can help you.
- Why not take a brisk walk to the bus stop, station or shops every day and then build up how much walking you do. Or start training to do a 5K fun run for charity. A 2011 study revealed that just 15 minutes a day of brisk walking offers a wealth of health benefits.
- Drink water, not calorie rich sugar filled fizzy drinks. The World Health Organisation (WHO) new draft guidelines recommend that to help combat issues such as obesity, sugar should be less than 10% of our total energy input each day. To put this into perspective: one can of coca cola has 39g of added sugar. That’s already over half the recommended daily amount for both men and women.
- To give up smoking: set a date and then stop altogether, keep a calendar of ‘no smoking days’, get support if you need it from a GP recommended support group, or join an online one. Some people try 3 or 4 times to stop before they succeed, so if at first you don’t succeed, try again.
How to stick with your new healthy living goals?
Getting started is half the battle, but keeping going is the other. So how can you stay motivated?
- Set goals that are realistic for you – if you want to lose weight, take your time and break down your goals. It is reported that people who set fast weight loss goals end up putting it back on.
- Make sure you enjoy what you are doing, so you are more likely to keep it up. Why not try something new. Yoga, Tai Chi, ballroom dancing or joining a group exercise class can be fun – and the social element will give you more reasons for going.
- Get a fitness program that you can follow and see how your ‘score’ improves each week. Try an online version, or get your gym to design a personal programme for you.
- Keep food and drink diaries to help monitor your daily consumption.
- Commit yourself. The website Stickk motivates people by getting them to make a personal commitment, which a friend monitors. Then if they do not stick to it they have to pay money to a charity.
- Give yourself rewards for reaching certain goals.
If you stick to your goals, you will be fitter, happier, have new hobbies and maybe some new friends. Importantly you will also have reduced your risk of developing a chronic illness.
To live a healthier lifestyle and increase your chances of living a longer, healthier life:
- Work out what is unhealthy about your lifestyle now
- Decide what you need to do to change this
- Set yourself small and realistic goals
- Get support if you need it
- Reward yourself – but not with unhealthy food
Reviewed and updated February 2020.