Written by Tan Wee Loo, AA Pharmacist.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of health, health is a condition in which a complete physical and mental well-being is attained; not merely in the absence of disease or infirmity.
Firstly, genetics play a pivotal role in expressing how an individual is constructed and is a non-modifiable component in deciding one’s health. However, our choices in opting a healthy lifestyle are not. Key element factors influencing one’s lifestyle include dietary interventions; i.e. real food and supplements, regular consistent physical activity (aerobic and anaerobic exercise, meditation) and social activities (tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption). Therefore, how these modifiable key elements are utilized and incorporated would be the deciding component in determining the health status of an individual.
In this article, we shall first contemplate upon physical health. Physical health revolves around several key components; namely :
Physical activity – cardiovascular endurance, stamina, flexibility, explosiveness, strength, technique and agility
Nutrition and diet – proper nutrient and fluid intake, healthy digestion
Alcohol and drugs – preferably reduced consumption of these substances
Rest and sleep – periodic rest and relaxation, quality sleep
Physical activities confer a vast pool of of health benefits:
- Regular activity aids in regulating and lowering heart rate and blood pressure
- Reduces blood sugar levels, insulin resistance and improves insulin sensitivity
- Increases skeletal muscle synthesis and recovery and concomitantly strengthens bones, tendons and ligaments; thereby reducing risk of osteoporosis.
- Stimulates fat breakdown, which reduces risk of obesity and other health complications.
- Stimulates the release of endorphins, a hormone responsible in elevating mood by enhancing euphoric sensation, reducing anxiety, depression and stress levels. Endorphins are also body’s natural pain killer; assisting in alleviating pain and stress conditions.
- Boosts natural sex hormone such as testosterone in men and estrogen in women, thereby reducing the risk of infertility.
- Lowers blood cortisol levels which ensures improvement in mood, decrease in stress levels, blood pressure and glucose levels.
- Augments dopamine and serotonin release in the brain; thereby sharpening one’s focus, concentration and perception. Dopamine and serotonin play a crucial role in regulating mood and behavior in the brain.
- Improves the immune system; thought by improving the circulation of inflammatory cells and antibodies.
- Aids in detoxification, eliminating nitrogenous waste by-products and harmful pathogen from the body through perspiration.
- Improve lung function by expanding lung capacity and exercise tolerance.
Types and examples of physical activity:
- Aerobic (increase in cardiovascular endurance and conditioning)
- Running / sprinting
- Sports: football, basketball, tennis, badminton
- Muscle strengthening
Recommendation: 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, 3 or more days a week.
When it comes to dietary intervention, integration of the right food comes into play. However, the right food differs according to everyone’s perspective; not every type of food is palatable to one’s taste. As such, we should follow the following rule of thumb: Eat smart, not less. Here are the list of food we can opt to include and prioritize in our diet to live a healthy lifestyle.
Low glycemic index sources of
|Lentils and beans|
|Purple sweet potato|
Lean source of protein aiding in
muscle synthesis and enzymatic
|Chicken breast (economical)|
|Salmon, tuna, mackerel, fatty fish|
|Lean cut red meat (beef, pork, mutton)|
FRUITS and VEGETABLES
(These are selected due to
|FATS and OILS
|Nuts (walnut, almond)|
|Vegetable oil (grapeseed, olive)|
|Extra virgin coconut oil|
|Apple Cider Vinegar|
Table 1.0 : List of healthy foods to be incorporated in diet
Steps into having a healthy diet :
- Eat a variety of food.
- Reduce consumption of saturated or trans fat.
- Include a variety of whole grains
- Take lean source of protein
- Limit intake of refined sugar ; 2 teaspoons (10g)
- Increase fruits and vegetable intake (at least 5 servings)
- Limit to less than 1 teaspoon (5g) of salt
- Drink plenty of plain water (8 glasses/day or 2000mL)
- Avoid processed, refined, fast food
- Cut down on large portion meals
- Be aware of liquid calories (fruit juices, milk, soda, sweetened beverages)
- Prioritize real food over supplements
Moving on to social health, we shall now contemplate the hazards of chronic smoking and alcohol consumption in affecting one’s health. As such, it has been medically proven that excessive chronic tobacco smoking leads to increased risks of a collective number of diseases which are manifested in the table below.
System Affected |
Heightened Risk Factors
|Congestive heart failure|
|Respiratory||Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)|
|Gastro-intestinal||Acute, chronic gastritis|
|Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD)|
|Gastrointestinal laceration, ulceration, bleeding|
|Cancer||Oropharynx, larynx, esophageal (Oral)|
Table 2.0 : Complications of smoking
Additionally, tobacco smoke’s counterpart; chronic consumption of alcohol also leads to numerous overlapping health complications, which include liver cirrhosis and hepatitis, chronic gastritis, GERD, gastrointestinal bleeding and ulceration, pancreatitis, coronary artery diseases, dystonia (muscle cramps, tremors, weakness) and neurological complications such as impaired coordination, hallucinations and occasionally convulsion.
Fortunately, according to Dietary Guideline for Americans, it is safe to moderately consume alcohol; defined as 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men, restricted to the amount consumed on any single day and not intended as an average over several days. On the other hand however, there is no consensus to which the daily recommended allowance for tobacco smoking is to be followed.
Adequate sleep is a requisite component in having a healthy lifestyle. According to National Sleep Foundation, an average human being requires at least 6 to 7 hours of sleep daily
In general, ample and quality sleep offers a great deal of benefits; such as :
- Reduces stress (by reducing cortisol levels)
- Improves memory
- Stabilizes and regulates blood pressure and heart rate
- Boosts immune system
- Regulates appetite and weight control
- Enhances mood, reduces anxiety, agitation and depression
- Allows recovery and recuperation from ailments or injuries
- Sharpens focus and attention
As such, if you suffer difficulty in falling asleep; these steps can be attempted:
- Ensure proper sleeping environment (dim lightings, cozy bed, suitable room temperature)
- Practice regular daily sleep and wake hours
- Avoid intake of stimulants (caffeine, nicotine, diet aids)
- Exercise regularly; but avoid exercising approaching bed time
- Avoid meals 3-4 hours before sleep
- Avoid sleeping in the evening. (Disrupts sleep cycle)
- Reduce alcohol intake (alcohol reduces quality of sleep)
In conclusion, the ultimatum in having a healthy lifestyle is via the integration of consistent daily commitment through appropriate dietary intervention, effective stress and sleep management, possible avoidance of tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption; and finally incorporation of persistent perpetual physical activity.
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