If you’re like 97.3% of Americans, chances are the answer to that question is no. Researchers at Oregon State University conducted a study based on four measurements of a healthy lifestyle: not smoking, eating well, exercising, and maintaining a healthy body fat percentage. The researchers determined these metrics serve as good barometers of a person’s overall health and likeliness to stay healthy. Statistics indicate people who don’t smoke, eat well, exercise, and have a normal body fat percentage are less likely to deal with health problems like cardiovascular issues, cancer, and diabetes. Among the group of average adults who participated in the research, findings showed:
• 11% hit none of the healthy lifestyle metrics
• 34% hit one metric
• 37% hit two metrics
• 16% hit three metrics
• 2.7% hit all four metrics
Of the four metrics (not smoking, healthy diet, exercise, and normal body fat percentage), the study group revealed that:
• 71% didn’t smoke
• 38% ate a healthy diet
• 46% exercised regularly
• 10% had a normal body fat percentage
The overall research had a few interesting points of data:
• Among participants with healthy levels of cholesterol, the biggest common denominator was a normal body fat percentage.
• Women tended to eat healthier and not smoke, but weren’t sufficiently active.
• Adults between the ages of 20-39 hit more of the healthy lifestyle markers than adults over 60.
With such discouraging percentages reflecting the state of health in America, it’s important for each of us to look at these four criteria of a healthy lifestyle and see how we measure up. Here’s a better definition of what each marker means, and tips on how you can improve in each area to lead a more healthy lifestyle:
1. Not Smoking. The measurement on this is simple: either you smoke or you don’t. We know that you know smoking is bad for your health; the research on the long-term effects of smoking speaks for itself. Quitting is easier said than done, but it isn’t impossible. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all method for kicking the habit, but a few successful ones include going cold turkey (this can work 9 out of 10 times!), counseling (increases your chances of being successful by 11%), nicotine replacement therapy (doubles your odds of never smoking again), and exercising (also doubles your odds of quitting for good).
2. Eating Healthy. The study measured healthy eating based on the US Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Eating Index, which has 12 components: total fruit, whole fruit, total vegetable, greens and beans, whole grains, dairy, total protein foods, seafood and plant proteins, fatty acids, refined grains, sodium, and empty calories. Each component eaten scored one point, and those with a score over 40 qualified as “healthy eaters.” Learning to eat healthy can be overwhelming. The best place to start is by doing simple things, slowly making changes. For example, start week one by cutting out fast food. Week two, start eating a “rainbow” of vegetables each day of the week. Week three, stop drinking soda and other sugary beverages. Week four, remove any other processed foods. In a month, you will have removed some of the most negative influences in your diet and added one of the most positive!
3. Exercise. Qualifying as “sufficiently active” in the study simply meant participants exercised at least 150 minutes a week. Only about 20% of Americans hit this goal. The good news is it’s a very attainable amount of time! 150 minutes works out to 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week, or two 1-hour sessions with a shorter 30-minute session. It’s important to find an exercise activity you enjoy, but exercise doesn’t have to be complicated. If you love the gym, then great, but even just a brisk walk around the block is enough to get you moving.
4. Body Fat Percentage. “Normal” for this study means a BMI of 5%-20% for men or 8-30% for women. This is the metric the fewest amount of people in the study hit. Lowering your BMI will take work, but the biggest thing you can do to help lower it is exercise on a regular basis. In one study, obese women who began a regular exercise routine and stuck with it for a year were able to lose 10% of their visceral fat during the study. How did you measure up? What areas do you need to improve in? Even if you only feel confident you hit one or two markers, you can start today making a few simple changes so you can be part of the group who follows a truly healthy lifestyle!