How can you get the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to your health and wellness?
In other words, what are the best, science-proven health habits to maximize your investment of time, energy, and money?
That’s what we’ll explore in this article.
We’ll uncover research that shows how making small improvements to some key areas and creating a few new habits can pay big dividends, health-wise.
Here goes …
Health Habit # 7: Limit sugar intake to < 30 grams daily
If there’s one thing most doctors who have studied nutrition extensively would advise you to avoid in your diet, it would be sugar.
That’s because eating too much sugar doesn’t just make us fat; it can also make us sick.
Research shows that getting more than 20% of your daily calories from sugar can lead to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
On top of that, a 2018 research review found that excessive sugar consumption may trigger neuroadaptations in your brain’s reward system that leads to compulsive overeating.
Added sugar is now found in 75% of packaged foods, and the average adult in the U.S. eats 77 grams of added sugar per day!
That’s quite alarming, since the American Heart Association recommends that adult females consume ≤6 teaspoons (∼25 g) and that adult males consume ≤9 teaspoons (∼38 g) of added sugar daily.
So here’s a good daily health habit to strive for: consume 30 grams of added sugar or less each day.
If you consistently eat more than this, then try reducing your intake of any beverages with added sugar and limiting your dessert portion sizes.
Paying attention to the “added sugar” in the foods and drinks you’re consuming can go a long way to keeping your sugar consumption in check too.
Health Habit # 6: Eat at least 2/3 of your weight in grams of protein daily
I don’t track my calories, carbs, or fat, and don’t feel that it’s necessary for most people, but the two things I do mentally monitor each day are: i. my sugar intake and ii. my protein intake.
Here’s why …
A 2016 meta analysis (an analysis of several available research studies) found that:
Higher total dietary protein intakes (1.2–1.5 g/kg/d) are reported to preserve lean mass and improve body composition during weight loss in young, middle-aged, and older adults when compared with normal protein intakes (0.8 g/kg/d).
My personal goal is 0.75 – 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight daily because I’m an ectomorph that wants to keep a little more lean mass on my frame.
But generally speaking, most people should aim for at least 2/3 of their body weight in grams of protein daily for optimal health.
If you’re trying to build lean muscle mass, consume closer to 1 gram per pound of body weight.
And shameless plug alert: if you’re looking for a high quality, organic, plant-based protein, then check out Pure Food protein.
Health Habit # 5: Do at least 30 minutes of active movement every day
“Active movement” doesn’t have to be “exercise”.
Just get up and move.
Go work in your garden, vacuum the house, chase your kids around the yard, do some stretches, walk your dog or on your lunch break at work …
Doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do something.
Just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day can help you reduce your risk of dying young, getting heart disease, getting certain types of cancer, and delay onset of 40 common chronic conditions!
But even if you only have 5-10 minutes to get a little exercise, a little bit every day goes a long way.
I routinely take 5-minute breaks throughout my day / week to stop working and walk, stretch, or just do anything active.
Over the course of a week / month / year, these minutes really add up!
If you make exercise a habit, it will reward you for the rest of your life.
Health Habit # 4: Do at least 2 strength training sessions every week
If you can take your exercise habits a step further and do 1-2 strength training workouts, it can help you improve your lean body mass (more lean muscle and less fat), strength and endurance, and mobility.
For older adults in particular, studies have shown just 2 strength training sessions a week can build muscle strength and muscle mass and preserve bone density, independence, and vitality with age.
You don’t have to lift weights, either.
Bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, and pushups work great.
You can also invest $10 or so into some exercise bands to provide a little more resistance.
Health Habit # 3: Try eating more of a Mediterranean-style Diet
Many folks are ditching grains for more protein and fat as part of a low carb, keto, or Paleo diet.
While these dietary approaches can have short-term weight loss gains, the longer term implications are less clear.
One dietary approach that’s backed by plenty of credible evidence though over the long-term for overall health and wellness is the Mediterranean Diet, with its emphasis on healthy fats from olive oil and fish, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. A little bit of wine is even encouraged!
Try eating more of a Mediterranean-style Diet and your health markers are likely to improve at your next checkup.
Health Habit # 2: Get 7+ hours of sleep
The importance of getting a good night’s sleep can’t be overstated enough.
Because in the short term, lack of sleep can lead to increased stress, pain, reduced quality of life, emotional distress and mood disorders, and cognitive, memory, and performance deficits.
For kids, in particular, not getting enough sleep can affect their psychosocial health, school performance, and risk-taking behaviors.
Long-term consequences of poor sleep in otherwise healthy adults include hypertension, cardiovascular disease, weight-related issues, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer. All-cause mortality is also increased in men with sleep disturbances.
While everyone’s sleep needs are different, research shows you should aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night if you want to maximize your health and your performance.
Health Habit # 1: Prioritize you
While being “selfless” and putting others first are highly sought after virtues in our society, here’s what I’ve learned in 40-something years here:
If you don’t take care of yourself physically and mentally, you’re going to have a hard time taking care of others.
Taking care of yourself can mean different things to different people but here are common self-care strategies:
- Managing your diet / eating well
- Getting adequate sleep
- Yoga / meditation
- Spirituality / religion
- Artistic expression – music, writing, drawing, painting, gardening, crafting, woodworking, building, etc.
- Spending time outdoors in nature
In short, self-care means finding time to do the things that make your life better, both mentally and physically.
And that, my friends, is the “secret sauce.”
Taking care of yourself is the single most important habit you can create for your overall health and happiness, because once you figure out how to make yourself better, you’ll be better equipped to help others and make a difference in this world.