What can we each do to help maintain good health?
What we eat and drink and how much physical and mental exercise we do can make a big difference for health.
It also has big implications for those we love - for instance if we want to reduce the risk of dying early, leaving them poorly provided for, or needing their long-term care due to chronic ill health.
And if we all took more care of our health that would reduce pressure on the NHS and increase the chances of it still being there to help when we need it.
Practical Tip – Check how many of the points below you’re already doing – and which you might need to work on.
If you’re already following a healthy lifestyle, do you have a friend or family member who might need your help?
1. Look after our body
Here are seven practical things we can do. You’ll probably know most of these already
- Don’t smoke
- Drink alcohol in moderation (like a glass of wine not a bottle)
- Eat plenty of vegetables, fruit, pulses, nuts and whole grains
- Avoid junk food - and fizzy drinks in particular
- Take regular, brisk exercise – at least 30 minutes a day, ideally with friends so you get the social benefit too
- Maintain a healthy weight – eating a healthy diet is usually more effective than yo yo dieting (don’t get too obsessed with counting calories, it is the food the calories come in that usually makes the difference)
- Regular, short exposure to the sun (10 – 15 minutes before you put on sunscreen or make up that contains sunscreen)
2. Look after our mind
We all know we need to look after our body. What we might not realise is how important it is to look after our mind – particularly if we want to reduce the risk of dementia as we get older.
Here are five things you can do that research suggests can make a difference:
- Learn something new that makes your brain work a bit differently - like a new language or a musical instrument, a new craft or IT skill or a new sport or new type of dance.
- Have a sense of purpose – for example what beliefs, skills and interests do you have? What goals and objectives would you like to achieve? When do you feel most motivated?
- Think positive – if you’re not naturally optimistic make a conscious effort to look for the positives in a situation rather than dwelling on the negatives
- Find ways to manage stress – some people find exercise, music, a healthy diet and not smoking all seem to help here
- Help others and do work (paid or voluntary) you enjoy and which ideally is valued by others
3. Look after our relationships
This may not be obvious - but seems to be another important factor influencing how long we live in good health. Loneliness can be a real health risk. So:
- Socialize and stay connected
- If you’re in a good relationship, work to keep it successful
- If possible don’t retire too early
4. Vote for health
Government action can make a big difference when it comes to health. If it wasn't for government action, for instance, most of us would probably still be smoking and forcing our family, friends and colleagues to inhale harmful cigarette smoke.
Unfortunately, governments are sometimes slow to act. That's perhaps because of the financial support received from businesses that produce unhealthy products and because of the lobbyists businesses employ to influence government. As one former Secretary of State for Health admitted a few years ago, it was hard enough taking on the tobacco industry. They didn't think they could realistically take on the food and drink industry as well.
Governments also seem to find it difficult to recognise that prevention is better than cure. From time to time they say prevention is important - but each year recently they have usually cut funding for public health (the front line when it comes to prevention). Promising to build new hospitals is all very well - but wouldn't it make more sense to reduce the number of people who need hospital treatment in the first place, by taking prevention seriously.
Fortunately, as we've seen in recent years, public opinion can make a difference. It can help governments stand up to business, for instance on the issue of sugary drinks. So, use your vote to support parties that are prepared to recognise that prevention is better than cure and to take action to achieve this. And support campaigns for healthier food and drink and a healthier environment.
1. Make sure you look after your body, your mind and your relationships
2. Use your vote and your voice to support action to reduce health risks in the UK