We don’t expect the car to get far if we’re filling it up with the wrong fuel or leaving it in the garage for months on end without turning the engine over. But often we don’t treat our bodies and minds with the same care we would any other essential machine. To live a long and fulfilling life it helps to keep up the habits that will have us in good health. Good health doesn’t just mean that we’re free from sickness or disease (although that’s always something to be grateful for), it’s about being in the best position physically, mentally, and socially, to enjoy life and navigate the bumps in the road (rather than breaking down) when they do arise.
Here are some of the science-approved habits you can include on your to-do list each day. If some of these are new to you, it helps to start small and work your way up slowly.
Adding physical activity into your daily routine doesn’t require an expensive gym membership or a complicated workout regime. It can be any movement that requires using a bit of energy — from walking to lifting weights. Regular movement can help you manage your weight better, strengthen your bones, muscles and joints, reduce your risk of heart attack, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, and help you feel better by improving your mood, energy and sleep.
Where to start: Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day. This could be a walk on your lunch break, a home workout on YouTube, or doing a bit of gardening. Any movement is better than none, so start by being active each day in a small way, before working up to the recommended amount.
Where to go: Over a week, the Guidelines recommend adults aged 18 to 64 should aim to get 150 to 300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity (during which you can talk comfortably but not sing) or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity (during which you can’t manage to say more than a couple of words without pausing for breath). Or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities. Try to get in muscle strengthening activities on at least two days of the week.
Eat a variety of healthy foods
Our diet not only affects how we feel physically and mentally each day, but it plays an important role in our long-term health. The quality and quantity of the food we eat helps us maintain a healthy weight, improve our mental health, and protect us against chronic disease and premature death. However, it can be difficult to make good food choices when less than ideal ones are readily available, affordable, and easily over-consumed. Fad diets and food trends make eating even more confusing with an overwhelming amount of conflicting, and often incorrect, information around. But most experts, research, and guidelines agree on the basics: eat a wide variety of foods from the five food groups, and limit foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.
Where to start: Not eating enough fruit and vegetables is a particular risk factor for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, and less than one in 10 Australian adults meet the recommended daily consumption. If you’re going to start with one habit, aim to include fruit or veggies with each meal and work towards hitting the recommended two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables. Adding to your plate, rather than restricting, is easier to keep up in the long term. You’ll also find you’re automatically eating less of the not-so-good foods when you fill up on fruit and veg.
Where to go: The next step is nailing the rest of the five food groups to meet your nutrient needs. Each day, the average, active adult should aim to eat:
- 5-6 serves of vegetables and legumes
- 3-6 serves of grain and cereal foods, mostly wholegrain and high-fibre varieties
- 2-3 serves of lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, legumes/beans
- 3-4 serves of milk, yogurt, cheese and dairy alternatives
- 2 serves of fruit.
Learn more about what this looks like at Eat for Health.
The relationships you have with family, friends, and the community can have a huge impact on not only our quality of life but the length of it. Research has found that social connection has as much of an influence on our risk of dying as smoking and alcohol consumption. It’s also a significant protective factor against anxiety and depression. Plenty of men struggle to make and maintain their connections as they get older. This is even harder for those living rurally, dealing with unemployment, or are injured or ill.
Where to start: Make catching up with your friends or family a priority in your life. Start with a simple text, call, or email to get a conversation going. It can help to organise regularly scheduled activities — like a cricket team or trivia night — rather than having to instigate an event each time.
Where to go: It’s common to feel like you have no one in your life to reach out to but there are plenty of ways to make new mates and build a network. It can be easier to connect with people about shared hobbies or interests so finding a sports team, club, or community group is a good place to start. There are also dedicated organisations and services like Men’s Sheds and Meetup that can help you connect with other people.
Drink less alcohol
Many of us have been raised to see drinking as an Australian pastime, considered either relatively harmless or even healthy. But recent research and new guidelines show that the risks outweigh any potential benefits, with alcohol contributing to more than 200 different types of disease and injury. Some impacts are immediate — like falls, accidents, alcohol poisoning and altered behaviour — while others add up over time to significantly affect your physical and mental health. Aside from benefits for longevity, cutting back on booze can help improve your sleep, mood, energy, and productivity.
Where to start: Start by keeping track of how much alcohol you drink over a week. Is it more than 10 standard drinks? Were there days you had more than four standard drinks in one session? These are the recommended limits of alcohol consumption for Australian adults so if your response is yes, it’s worth thinking about how you can cut back a bit and setting some goals to do so.
Where to go: It's a good idea to see your doctor before reducing or quitting alcohol as they can help you make a plan, connect you with support services, and manage any withdrawal symptoms you may have, especially if you’re a heavy drinker. If you want to reduce your consumption, think about why and where you tend to drink. If you’re overdoing it trying to wind down after work, look into other ways to manage your stress. If you’re prone to have a few too many while catching up with mates at the pub, organise alcohol-free events like catching up for a coffee or another activity. You can find more information about building a better relationship with alcohol at Hello Sunday Morning.