What affects our health besides diet?

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Carolyn Murphy by Matt Jones for ELLE Italia April 2015

When looking for ways to be healthier, many people focus on diet and food. Diet is certainly important to health, but sometimes changing diet alone isn’t enough. Health is influenced by a large number of factors, and below are some other key elements to consider.

EXERCISE

Research shows that the benefits of regular exercise are overwhelmingly positive. Regular physical activity reduces or delays the development of chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Incorporating strength training and weight-bearing exercises helps to build and maintain bone density, which protects against osteoporosis. Exercise also boosts mood, assists in reducing stress and anxiety, and improves sleep quality. Both the Australian Department of Health and The U.S. Center for Disease Control recommend adults (ages 18-64) get at least 150 minutes (2½ hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes (1¼ hours) of vigorous-intensity physical activity every week with 2 days of strength training. If you’re just starting out, however, it’s best to work up gradually to the recommended length of time to protect against injury.

SLEEP

Sleeping is one of the best things you can do for your body. Similar to exercise, adults who sleep the recommended 7-9 hours a night may lower the risk of heart disease and stroke and have better glucose control.  Being well-rested may also assist in weight maintenance and appetite regulation. One study showed that those who slept below average had decreased leptin levels and increased ghrelin levels. Leptin is a hormone that suppresses appetite and ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates appetite. In other words, a change in these hormones from lack of sleep can lead to increased appetite, which in turn can lead to weight gain.

ENVIRONMENT

It has long been known that air pollution can negatively affect health. Burning fossil fuels emits hazardous gases and chemicals into the environment, causing a higher rate of asthmatic attacks, allergies, and acute and chronic respiratory issues. As consumers, we can help maintain the quality of our environment by driving less and biking, walking, using public transport, and carpooling whenever possible. Additionally, we can choose more fuel-efficient vehicles like hybrid or electric versions.

Working toward a healthier lifestyle takes time so take small steps for lasting change. Improve your overall well-being by choosing an area that you can incorporate easily into your routine, like getting adequate hours of sleep or biking to work.

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