Staying Healthy

Maintaining good health doesn't happen by accident. It requires work, smart lifestyle choices, and the occasional checkup and test.

A healthy diet is rich in fiber, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, "good" or unsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids. These dietary components turn down inflammation, which can damage tissue, joints, artery walls, and organs. Going easy on processed foods is another element of healthy eating. Sweets, foods made with highly refined grains, and sugar-sweetened beverages can cause spikes in blood sugar that can lead to early hunger. High blood sugar is linked to the development of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and even dementia.

The Mediterranean diet meets all of the criteria for good health, and there is convincing evidence that it is effective at warding off heart attack, stroke, and premature death. The diet is rich in olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish; low in red meats or processed meats; and includes a moderate amount of cheese and wine.

Physical activity is also necessary for good health. It can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancer, depression, and falls. Physical activity improves sleep, endurance, and even sex. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week, such as brisk walking. Strength training, important for balance, bone health, controlling blood sugar, and mobility, is recommended 2-3 times per week.

Finding ways to reduce stress is another strategy that can help you stay healthy, given the connection between stress and a variety of disorders. There are many ways to bust stress. Try, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, playing on weekends, and taking vacations.

Finally, establish a good relationship with a primary care physician. If something happens to your health, a physician you know —and who knows you — is in the best position to help. He or she will also recommend tests to check for hidden cancer or other conditions.

Staying Healthy Articles

Kettlebell workout

Harvard Fitness Expert Michele Stanten shows the proper form for using the kettle bell to maximize the health benefits and minimize injuries. You can find this and many other great exercises in the Harvard Special Health Report Advanced Strength and Power Training. More »

Medicine Ball Plank Pass

Harvard Fitness Expert Michele Stanten demonstrates how to use the medicine ball to add a little challenge to the plank position. You can find this and many other great exercises in the Harvard Special Health Report Advanced Strength and Power Training. More »

Should you try a subscription meal kit?

Subscription meal kits provide fresh, pre-measured ingredients ready to be cooked at home. They are convenient and can challenge someone to try new foods. The pre-portioned ingredients arrive once a week in insulated packaging, with step-by-step instructions and photos. Some companies offer vegetarian and gluten-free options. But some meals are high in calories or sodium. Before selecting meals, it’s best to read the nutrition information. One should avoid meals with more than 500 milligrams of sodium per serving. (Locked) More »

Strength and power training demo

Harvard Fitness Expert Michele Stanten explains the difference between strength and power, and how to work out each of these attributes in many of the same exercises. You can find this and many other great exercises in the Harvard Special Health Report Advanced Strength and Power Training. More »

The year in health and medicine

2016 brought numerous medical news stories. The first case of Zika was detected in the United States in February 2016, and many more followed. There were developments in health guidelines, such as the CDC’s first-ever guidelines for prescription painkillers and updated depression screening guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Also in 2016, the FDA approved an updated Nutrition Facts label, and the agency proposed voluntary guidelines to reduce sodium levels in commercially processed and prepared food in the United States. (Locked) More »

How to avoid the health risks of too much salt

Too much dietary sodium may increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Dietitians recommend limiting sodium intake to 500 or 600 milligrams per meal, and making sure it comes from healthy sources, like whole-grain breads and cereals. Sodium content is listed on Nutrition Facts labels on packaged food. Another recommendation is to flavor food with spices, such as basil and ginger, instead of salt. It’s best to choose fresh foods, and to avoid processed foods, which are often very high in sodium. (Locked) More »

Need to remember something? Exercise four hours later

Research suggests that exercising four hours after learning may improve your memory of the new information. People who exercised four hours after a learning session retained information better than those who exercised immediately after the lesson and those who did not exercise. More »

Planning ahead for your future medical care

Although heart disease is the most common cause of death, improved therapies have greatly extended the lives of people who then may develop heart failure. And many people with heart failure survive into old age and end up dying of something else—an example of the uncertainty all people live with. People who want to ensure they receive the type of end-of-life care they would like should choose a health care proxy—a person who can speak on their behalf if they cannot. A health decision worksheet, which asks questions about values and wishes about end-of-life care, can help facilitate the conversation.  More »