Healthy lifestyle, as a concept, has gained immense momentum in India over the last few years. It’s ironic, then, that lifestyle diseases such heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are at their peak as well [1, 2]. Genetics do admittedly play a small role here, but the development of these diseases is largely driven by our lifestyles, with nutrition being at the forefront.
All of this strongly indicates that it’s time to actively work on - improving our lifestyle habits.
A healthy lifestyle may, initially, seem overwhelming, but it’s much easier when you have a breakdown of the specific steps that can help you get there. Here are a few easy-to-implement ones, to help get you started:
1. Simplify Your Diet
For most, the term ‘diet’ evokes images of constant hunger assuaged only by tasteless, pea-sized meals that just leave one craving for some actual food. These kinds of diets are not sustainable, and tend to do more harm than good in the long term.
A study of the world’s longest-living populations has shown that there’s a decidedly simpler and more satisfying way to eat right :
- Fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (anything apart from potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes)
- Fill a quarter of your plate with starch or grain (potatoes, rice, rotis), and
- Fill the remaining quarter with protein (paneer, yogurt, legumes, beans, meat)
This simple breakup instantly balances our meals, giving us the right amount of macronutrients, as well as a good dose of micronutrients.
2. Eat a Healthy Breakfast
This isn’t probably news for you, but it bears repetition because it’s truly important and can make a significant difference to our health status: a healthy, balanced breakfast sets up a day of healthy eating . If we skip breakfast or eat refined grains and sugary cereals for breakfast, we continue to crave food throughout the day – that’s a result of the blood sugar rollercoaster (a sudden rise and fall in our blood sugar, caused by simple carbohydrates) .
Following the plate-breakup we covered in #1 is a great start to identifying the components of your healthy breakfast. Eating eggs, whole-grain toast and fruit, or even a more traditional idli and sambar, gives us an ideal mix of nutrients and, more importantly, keeps us satisfied without wreaking havoc on our blood sugar.
3. Eat More Protein
Protein isn’t just for fitness enthusiasts. Every function of our body, from our immune system to the muscles that help us move, is driven by protein . And according to a study, 88% of Indians don’t consume enough protein on a daily basis .
Getting enough protein does two things: it ensures that our body has all the nutrients it needs to stay healthy, and it keeps us full for longer . Also, since protein is much more filling than refined carbohydrates and has little impact on our blood sugar, a protein-packed lunch helps avoid the post-lunch slump that can otherwise occur (due to, once again, the blood sugar rollercoaster) [9, 10].
4. Replace Sugary Drinks with Healthy Options
Sugary drinks are loaded with HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), which are processed slightly differently than sugar. Their consumption leads to a decreased feeling of satiety, which tends to make us consume more than we normally would . Even diet sodas are full of artificial sweeteners that have been shown to drive cravings . Moreover, these drinks have literally no nutritional value.
Living in India gives us access to a wide range of healthy, nourishing drinks like fresh juices, coconut water, buttermilk, and herbal teas. All of these are loaded with nutrients and antioxidants, making them both refreshing and really good for us. Including these in our diet can boost nutrition and increase energy levels, too.
5. Prioritise Sleep
Although it isn’t directly related to nutrition, insufficient sleep is one of the strongest risk factors for weight gain and many lifestyle diseases like diabetes . Adopting a regular pattern of sleep, with a stable bedtime routine, can have a marked effect on our quality of sleep and, consequently, health.
A helpful tip: avoid electronics sometime before you plan to sleep, as the light from them tends to disrupt our sleep .
6. Move More, Sit Less
Studies have shown that sitting for long periods of time, and generally following a sedentary lifestyle have harmful effects that range from putting yourself at the risk of developing diabetes to obesity, musculoskeletal problems, and heart diseases [19, 20, 21].
Regular physical activity has countless benefits to our brain , heart , and skin health , while also improving our quality of sleep [25, 26], energy levels [27, 28], and immune response . It even reduces the risk of chronic diseases , and may increase our lifespan [31, 32]!
Increasing the amount of motion in our day-to-day lives is as simple as taking a flight of stairs instead of the elevator, or standing up and doing a few basic stretches every hour at work.
This, as with the rest of the tips in this article, only involves a small change/addition to your routine, because that’s what it’s all about: simple, incremental changes that are easy to sustain.
Once that’s done, we can develop these steps into daily habits that synchronously take us closer to a healthy lifestyle. A lifestyle that won’t just help us avoid diseases, but can also dramatically improve our everyday lives by making us feel lighter, happier and, most importantly, in charge of our own health. :)