10 ways to improve your health this World Health Day

Today is World Health Day – a day dedicated to focus global attention on urgent actions needed to keep humans and the planet healthy and foster a movement to create societies focused on wellbeing.   At Happy Futures we are passionate about promoting healthy lifestyles and in celebration of World Health Day, here is 10 ways you can improve your health.

1. Eat healthy

According to the NHS, the key to a healthy diet is to eat the right amount of calories for how active you are, so that you balance the energy you consume with the energy you use. It’s recommended that men have around 2,500 calories a day (10,500 kilojoules) and that women should have around 2,000 calories a day (8,400 kilojoules).

But, eating healthy is not all about the amount of calories, but also about the quality of those calories. You should eat a wide range of foods to make sure you’re getting a balanced diet and your body is receiving all the nutrients it needs. This includes:

  • eating higher fibre and wholegrain foods, such as wholewheat pasta, brown rice or potatoes with their skins on,
  • eating at least 5 portions of a variety of fruits and vegetables each day,
  • eating more fish, including oily fish as it is high in omega-3 fast which may help prevent heart disease, such as salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel,
  • cutting down on saturated fat, such as fatty cuts of meat, sausages, butter, hard cheese, cream, cakes, biscuits and pies, as saturated fat increases the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases your risk of developing heart disease,
  • eating less sugar by limiting sugary fizzy drinks, cakes, sweets, chocolate, biscuits, sugary breakfast cereals and alcoholic drinks, as too much sugar leads to weight gain, obesity and tooth decay, and
  • eating less salt, no more than 6g a day for adults, as too much salt raises your blood pressure which can lead to heart disease or stroke.

2. Exercise regularly

To support your overall health and wellbeing and to help reduce your risk of getting serious health conditions, it is very important to exercise regularly. People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing many long-term (chronic) conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, depression, dementia and some cancers.

To stay healthy, adults should try to be active every day and aim to do at least 150 minutes of physical activity over a week, through a variety of activities. Adults should aim to:

  • do strengthening activities that work all the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) on at least 2 days a week, and
  • do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week, such as brisk walking, water aerobics, riding a bike, dancing or hiking, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week, which includes running, swimming, sports, skipping, gymnastics or martial arts.

Inactivity is described by the Department of Health and Social Care as a “silent killer”, so we should reduce time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity.

3. Watch your weight

Many things can affect your weight, including genetics, age, gender, lifestyle, family habits, culture, sleep, and even where you live and work. Some of these factors can make it hard to lose weight or keep weight off. Maintaining a healthy weight is important for health. In addition to lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure, it can also lower the risk of many different cancers. Because most adults between the ages of 18 and 49 gain 1-2 pounds each year, preventing weight gain should be a priority for you as you look after your health.

To work out what your ideal weight is, many use the Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI calculation divides an adult’s weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared. For example, A BMI of 25 means 25kg/m2.

For most adults, an ideal BMI is in the 18.5 to 24.9 range. If your BMI is:

  • below 18.5 – you’re in the underweight range
  • between 18.5 and 24.9 – you’re in the healthy weight range
  • between 25 and 29.9 – you’re in the overweight range
  • between 30 and 39.9 – you’re in the obese range

In order to check your ideal body weight, you can use the NHS free BMI calculator here.

4. Protect your skin

We all love the summer and spending a lot of time outdoors when the weather is nice, but did you know that sunburn increases your risk of skin cancer? According to the NHS, there is no safe or healthy way to get a tan, a tan does not protect your skin from the sun’s harmful effects and you can burn even when it is cloudy.

In order to protect your skin from sun damage, spend time in the shade when the sun is strongest. In the UK, this is between 11am and 3pm from March to October. Make sure you:

  • spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm,
  • never burn,
  • cover up with suitable clothing and sunglasses,
  • take extra care with children, and
  • use at least factor 30 sunscreen.

The sun protection factor, or SPF, is a measure of the amount of ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) protection. SPFs are rated on a scale of 2 to 50+ based on the level of protection they offer, with 50+ offering the strongest form of UVB protection. The star rating measures the amount of ultraviolet A radiation (UVA) protection. You should see a star rating of up to 5 stars on UK sunscreens. The higher the star rating, the better. The letters “UVA” inside a circle is a European marking. This means the UVA protection is at least a third of the SPF value and meets EU recommendations. Sunscreens that offer both UVA and UVB protection are sometimes called broad spectrum.

5. Practice safe sex

As part of taking care of your health and wellbeing, you must also take control of your sexual health and safety. Being prepared, being ready, and being safe are healthy and wise. If you are sexually active or have been in the past, it’s important that you are checked regularly for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Some diseases that are contracted through sexual encounters do not cause significant symptoms or signs until several weeks, months, or even years after you’ve contracted them. By the time you find out you have the STI, you may have unknowingly shared it with someone. Likewise, a partner may unknowingly share an STI with you. That’s why you should be tested often.

You must also research your birth control options if you are having sex, or planning to do so. Birth control options are expanding and today daily pills, monthly injections, condoms, vaginal rings, and intrauterine devices are all options for preventing pregnancy if you are sexually active. Talk with your GP about your birth control options if you are or may become sexually active. At your annual health check, discuss your lifestyle changes and decide if your birth control option is still the right one for you. Also, if your birth control is causing unwanted side effects (such as dizziness or decreased sex drive), work with your doctor to find a birth control option that works better.

You can read more about sexual health and the NHS’s advice here.

6. Don’t smoke

Quitting smoking is one of the most important actions people can take to improve their health. This is true regardless of their age or how long they have been smoking. Quitting smoking:

  • improves you health status and enhances your quality of life,
  • reduces the risk of premature death and can add as much as 10 years to your life expectancy,
  • reduces the risk for many adverse health effects, including poor reproductive health outcomes, cardiovascular diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and cancer,
  • benefits people already diagnosed with coronary heart disease or COPD,
  • benefits the health of pregnant women and their fetuses and babies, and
  • reduces the financial burden that smoking places on people who smoke, healthcare systems, and society.

While quitting earlier in life yields greater health benefits, quitting smoking is beneficial to your health at any age. Even people who have smoked for many years or have smoked heavily will benefit from quitting sooner rather than later. Quitting smoking is also the single best way to protect family members, coworkers, friends, and others from the health risks associated with breathing secondhand smoke.

The NHS has great resources, information and advice to help you stop smoking, which you can access here.

7. Limit your alcohol intake

Drinking too much can harm your health and includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any drinking by pregnant women or people younger than age 21. Binge drinking, the most common form of excessive drinking, is defined as consuming 4 or more drinks during a single occasion for women, or consuming 5 or more drinks during a single occasion for men.

Most people who drink excessively are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent, but excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful health conditions. These are most often the result of binge drinking:

  • injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns,
  • violence, including murder, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence,
  • alcohol poisoning, which is a medical emergency that results from high blood alcohol levels,
  • risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners. These behaviors can result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and
  • miscarriage and stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) among pregnant women.

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems, including:

  • high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems,
  • cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum,
  • a weakened immune system, increasing your chances of getting sick,
  • learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor work or school performance,
  • mental health problems, including depression and anxiety,
  • social problems, including family problems, job-related problems, and unemployment, and
  • alcohol use disorders, or alcohol dependence.

By not drinking too much, you can reduce the risk of these short- and long-term health risks. If you think you may have a problem with alcohol, you can find free NHS resources here, or contact your GP directly.

8. Sleep well

Sleep can have a very big impact on your health, and many experts believe a good night’s sleep can

  • boost your immune system,
  • help prevent weight gain,
  • strengthen your heart,
  • improve your mood,
  • increase your productivity,
  • increase your exercise performance, and
  • improve your memory.

In general, an adult should get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep each night. To help you make the most of your sleep, try these 6 steps:

  1. Stick to a sleep schedule, where you go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  2. Pay attention to what you eat and drink, as nicotine, caffeine and alcohol can have stimulating effects that can take hours to wear off and can affect your quality of sleep.
  3. Create a restful environment which is ideal for sleeping – keep it cool, dark and quiet.
  4. Limit daytime naps, but if you do need to take one, limit yourself to 30 minutes.
  5. Include more physical activity in your daily routine.
  6. Manage your worries and try to resolve your concerns and stresses before bedtime.

9. Drink more

By the time you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated, so it is important to drink more. The NHS recommends drinking 6 to 8 glasses each day in addition to the fluid you get from the food you eat, and any non-alcoholic drinks count, such as water, low fat milk, tea and coffee.

Avoid drinking sugary drinks, such as sweetened fruit juices and smoothies and fizzy drinks, and remember to drink more fluids during hot weather or while you are exercising.

10. Ask you doctor

You know your body and your healthiest self better than anyone, so it is important that you speak up if something is not right. Trust your instincts and get in touch with your GP if you have any concerns about your health or wellbeing.

Please note that Happy Futures Support Specialists Ltd does not accept responsibility for any impact or outcome of the information provided in this blog post, nor will we give any advice, diagnose or treat any health concerns or conditions. This blog post is designed for informational purposes only and following any advice is done so at your own risk and voluntarily. If you suspect you may have any health concerns or are experiencing symptoms related to any health condition, please speak to your GP directly.

Sources for further reading:

  • https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-to-eat-a-balanced-diet/eight-tips-for-healthy-eating/
  • https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercise-health-benefits/
  • https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercise-guidelines/physical-activity-guidelines-for-adults-aged-19-to-64/
  • https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercise-guidelines/why-sitting-too-much-is-bad-for-us/
  • https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/lifestyle/what-is-the-body-mass-index-bmi/#:~:text=BMI%20ranges&text=below%2018.5%20%E2%80%93%20you’re%20in,re%20in%20the%20obese%20range
  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-misuse/#:~:text=men%20and%20women%20are%20advised%20not%20to%20drink%20more%20than,alcohol%2Dfree%20days%20each%20week
  • https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/seasonal-health/sunscreen-and-sun-safety/
  • https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/
  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dehydration/

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