This article on healthy lifestyle has covered a number of the overarching topics related to mental health and ways to maintain a good healthy lifestyle and avoid risk as we age with mindful living. We have also explored the physiology of nutrition and exercise; looked at mental health; examined health issues unique to women, men, and children; and identified some generally healthy lifestyle choices that can benefit us all.
We’ve emphasized some key themes that will serve us no matter how the science of health changes, especially the Goldilocks criteria and the idea that it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. Start with small, positive changes that will accumulate over time. Most importantly, make healthy lifestyle choices that will bring joy to the journey of life.
Note: Gardening together can be social, full of family and friends, and neighbors. It can be very mindful. It can be meditative. I often find myself using it as mindfulness work.
Related: Healthy Lifestyle Choices in Your Daily Life
I. Healthy Lifestyle: A Mindful Way of Living
In my opinion and that of many others in the medical community, the combination of whole foods and enjoyable exercise is the winning ticket for longevity and a healthy lifestyle.
As we’ve discussed throughout this article, choose whole, healthy foods, and think of your diet as a way of living, not just a way to lose weight. Check out your local farmers’ market, community-supported agriculture group, or food co-op, or start your garden.
Exercise or movement should also be part of our healthy lifestyle or lives, but it doesn’t have to be high-level exercise. Dr. Paul Dudley White, the founder of the American Heart Association, pioneered what is now called preventive cardiology, a combination of exercise, diet, and weight control to prevent heart disease. Dr. White did a great deal to push Americans toward the exercise of every kind. In your exercise or recreation, try to sample the full buffet of sports and find the fun in physical fitness.
The people of the blue-zone cultures we talked about all have a strong community and family ties and make time in their healthy lifestyle and lives for relaxation and inner focus. Keep in mind that we all need regular mental, physical, and emotional breaks.
Note: It’s never too late in life to start finding the joy in movement. Go slowly; it’s for life.
II. Healthy Lifestyle: High Levels of Happiness
The Harvard Study of Adult Development is the longest-running longitudinal study of human longevity ever conducted. It began in 1937 with 268 male Harvard undergraduates and was prompted by the idea that medical research often concentrates only on people who are sick.
In this study, healthy aging seemed to be predicted by several major factors, including the use of “mature adaptations” in dealing with problems (something akin to mindfulness), level of education, exercise, avoidance of tobacco and alcohol use, and stable relationships.
Half the men who scored high in five or six of these factors at age 50 were classified as happy and well at age 80. Between the ages of 50 and 75, altruism and a sense of humor dominated as positive factors in the lives of these men, while depression correlated with poor physical health in later life.
Marriage and faith are also correlated with high levels of happiness. In short, the Harvard study confirmed all the parameters we’ve looked at for optimum health and well-being.
As you start building your healthy lifestyle and your own unique and solid foundation for longevity, always remember that the journey is far more important than the destination. Find ways to integrate health and joyfulness into your healthy lifestyle routines every day.
III. There are three main pillars for supporting age-related mental health and well-being:
Exercise, strong social interactions, and continuing mental stimulation.
As we’ve seen, the benefits of exercise affect all aspects of life and healthy longevity. A study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that adults between the ages of 60 and 75 who walked three times a week showed measurable improvement in cognitive function over those who performed a lower level of activity.
Researchers concluded that six months of exercise will result in a 15- to 20-percent improvement in memory, decision-making ability, and attention. A literature review on the subject of exercise and cognitive function found that the greatest positive changes resulting from exercise were in the area of executive function.
Exercise improves blood flow to the brain and stimulates brain chemicals, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is involved in the production of new neurons and the maintenance of existing ones.
Note: Walking three times per week can improve brain function.
IV. Healthy Lifestyle: Healthy Family and Social Relations
About social interactions, studies have shown a straight-line improvement of cognitive skills for all ages with an increased number of interactions with friends, neighbors, and family members.
In another study, socializing with friends and family was associated with decreased risk of cognitive decline and dementia as aging progressed. At the same time, social disengagement is a major risk factor for cognitive impairment among the elderly.
Numerous studies have looked at the question of whether brain exercises can protect us from age-related cognitive decline. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that cognitive decline can be slowed or even reversed through mental exercises, but the improvement is generally limited to the specific skills that have been trained and are lost if the training is not continued.
Some researchers believe that people who engage in intellectually stimulating activities tend to have the education and mindset that promote better eating habits, social activities, and exercise. The benefits they accrue may stem from those factors rather than mental training.
Given that mental function and performance can be improved in specific areas, such as memory, it may be worthwhile to train in those areas if you’re starting to see some decline. Probably the best advice is to find activities that are both mentally stimulating and enjoyable, such as reading, traveling, or learning a new language.
V. Healthy Lifestyle: Laughter
Finally, some studies have looked at the benefits of laughter. Laughing has been shown to cause the blood vessels to dilate and increase blood flow to various organs, while stress causes restriction of blood flow.
People who are laughing have been found to have similar levels of circulating chemicals in their blood as people who are working out. In the short term, laughter increases oxygen uptake and endorphins and activates a stress response similar to what occurs during exercise followed by relaxation. In the long term, it may upregulate the immune system and relieve pain.
The bottom line is, the more a person is exposed in a healthy lifestyle, in a more positive way to family; to church or religious organizations; even to clubs; and to common interest groups, like hobbies, sports, politics; and just a big circle of friends, the more they benefit in the health of every kind, including mental health.
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