The clock is ticking. How healthy are you? How healthy do you feel? If you’re lucky, at age 45 you have another 45 years still to live. How do you want to live out those years?
Your body is smart and wants to be healthy. Unfortunately, many of us are “undoing” what it knows to do to feel better. Here are five essential health-promoting habits to support your body and mind throughout your years. While these all may seem obvious, these are fundamental principles in longevity that you simply cannot ignore, especially as the years tick on.
1. High-Quality Sleep
How are you sleeping? The quality of your sleep predicts the quality of your future years. It’s one thing to sleep enough: it’s another thing entirely for that time asleep to be high-quality. How do you know if you have gotten high-quality sleep? If you wake up feeling refreshed AND stay energetic all day, you are likely getting great sleep. Tracking your sleep is important in understanding the amount and quality of sleep you are getting. You must also understand the principles of sleep hygiene. These include 1) Getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night (this can be different for everyone, however); 2) Preparing for bedtime by eliminating electronics 30-60 minutes before bedtime or using blue light-blocking glasses, sleeping in a pitch dark, quiet room, and setting the temperature for 68 degrees or lower 3) Avoid caffeine or stimulants within 3 hours of bedtime, and 4) Do not read in bed – find a quiet nook or do breathwork/meditation to calm the brain before turning out the lights.
2. Consistent Exercise
If you are 45 and have not exercised before, get started now. The key to exercise is making it a consistent, daily habit. You are not required to go to the gym or on long, strenuous runs. Elements to include in an exercise program to support longevity are resistance training, modest cardiovascular training, and high-intensity interval training ONLY if you build in enough recovery time. You must also understand and monitor your body composition, or the proportion of fat mass to lean muscle mass in your body. Women should aim for 30% or less body fat, while men should aim for 20% or less body fat. Exercise and low body fat are crucial longevity markers. It is also easier to maintain optimal body composition with a dedicated and consistent weekly exercise routine.
3. Smart Nutrition
Do you know how to eat well? A healthy diet includes macronutrient and micronutrient structure, portion control, and timing. Stick to fresh, whole foods and healthy proportions of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins). Choose carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and reduce or eliminate simple sugars: they are “simply inflammatory.” Eat small portions of healthy fats like nuts, seeds, or olive oil, and high-quality, lean proteins like fish or grass-fed beef. Are you aware of micronutrients and how you are getting them? Take a multivitamin, mix a green drink, or add a variety of vegetables to your plate to ensure you have a healthy serving of vitamins and minerals each day. Portion control and timing are also crucial to consider. The benefits of intermittent fasting are numerous, though there are differences in impact between men and women. Ninety-nine percent of us eat too much. Train yourself to eat less at each meal, and preferably make the last meal of the day the smallest. Hydration is also paramount to good health. Two ounces or water per 1 pound of body mass using plain, clean water is ideal in maintaining cellular integrity and energy in the body.
4. Psychological Wellness
At this point in your life, do you feel you have a sense of purpose? Do you have goals to achieve? Have you aligned your life, work, and home pointing in the direction of your purpose and goals? Are you committed to those goals? There is clear evidence that when people have a sense of purpose, and establish meaningful goals that align with that purpose, their level of cortisol (a stress hormone) in the body lowers. Speaking of stress, are you able to identify and manage the stress in your life? Balance your nervous system through breathwork, meditation or creating a spiritual foundation. Finally, are you truly happy in life? Many of us chase the wrong things for fulfillment. Explore your world, knock things off your bucket list, PLAY, and find out what brings you into alignment with your true purpose.
5. A Strong & Supportive Healthcare Team
Find and build a team around you that supports your highest health and sense of wellbeing. Do you need help with exercise, nutrition, mental health, or spirituality? Find the right players to support you in each of these areas through knowledge, accountability, and trust, and find a coach (healthcare provider) who can call the plays. Your provider must understand root cause analysis and be able to create a personalized plan unique to your health profile. However, it is YOU who must run the plays to make the necessary changes in your life that lead to optimal health and longevity.
The point is, that there is no shortcut or magic pill. All five of these lifestyle behaviors lead to an optimal “healthspan,” or the number of high-quality years you can add to your life, living comfortably, joyfully, and free from disease. In the last half of your life, how healthy will you live?
James R. Stevens, MD, CAQSM, ABAARM, FAAFP
Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Essential Holding Company, LLC, the licensor and owner of Essential Health, a unique medical practice model based in North Carolina that combines the best of conventional medicine with the best of functional and integrative medicine. Dr. Stevens is Board Certified in both Family Practice and Anti-Aging Medicine, holds a Certificate of Added Qualification in Sports Medicine and is currently enrolled in the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine’s Peptide Therapy certification program. He is a Fellow in both the American Academy of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine and the American Academy of Family Practice and is a member of the American Medical Society of Sports Medicine and Hyperbaric Medicine International. Dr. Stevens practices out of Essential Health in Cary, North Carolina where he brings his passion for helping individuals reach optimal health and longevity to the Triangle and beyond.