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Ten Tips for Healthier Living

Don't Smoke
Smoking is the only activity that can kill you just by using it as directed. Smoking claims the lives of approximately 400,000 Americans every year. Of these, approximately 130,000 are due to lung cancer, 115,000 to coronary heart disease, 27,000 to cerebrovascular disease and 60,000 to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Despite warnings, 54 million smokers in the United States continue to smoke and spend billions of dollars annually to support their habit. Why? Most habitual smokers are addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes which creates an almost immediate "high."

Here are some interesting facts about smoking:

  • Each cigarette you smoke makes you lose about 7 minutes of your life.
  • There are over 4,000 chemicals in cigarettes.
  • Nicotine is deadly in high doses. One drop (70 mg) will kill an average man within a few minutes.
  • Cigarettes contain the following ingredients: paint and fingernail polish remover, a poisonous gas, a preservative for dead bodies, an insecticide, 401 poisons and 43 known carcinogens (cancer causing substances).

There is nothing good about smoking. But if you quit, its harmful effects can be lessened. Within 12 hours after you've stopped smoking, carbon monoxide, tar and nicotine levels in your body will decrease as will your risks for heart disease and certain lung diseases, although the risk of lung cancer can take up to seven years to go away.

Use Sunscreen
Tanned skin used to be considered a sign of good health -- now we know better. Sun damages your skin forever, and it could also kill you. One out of every 500 Americans will develop skin cancer this year. Melanoma is the most common (and deadliest) form of skin cancer in women under the age of 35.

Sun exposure prematurely ages skin and is the chief cause of skin cancer. Doctors say that one severe sunburn can double the risk of developing melanoma. Reaction to the sun's light can cause changes inside skin cells. These changes, over time, produce wrinkles, loss of skin elasticity, mottled skin color, enlarged blood vessels and precancerous and cancerous skin growths. Sunlight is more harmful to younger people because their skin cells multiply more rapidly and over a longer time span. Most people experience 80 to 85 percent of sun damage to the skin before the age of 20.

The best way to avoid sun damage is by minimizing exposure to ultraviolet radiation:

  • Avoid sunbathing and tanning parlors. Limit the time spent outside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are strongest.
  • Wear protective clothing such as hats, long-sleeved shirts, jackets and gloves.
  • Use sunscreens which help keep sun damage to a minimum by absorbing and deflecting ultraviolet rays.
  • The SPF (sun protection factor) in a sunscreen indicates the level of protection it provides. Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Apply sunscreen at least one hour before going outside and reapply after swimming or perspiring heavily. Don't be fooled by overcast days - harmful ultraviolet rays can penetrate through clouds. Being in the water is no protection either because the sun's rays also cut through water.

Get a Good Night's Sleep
Sleep is a basic part of life. You'll spend approximately one-third of your life or about 3,000 hours a year sleeping. While an average night's sleep is seven to eight hours, one in four people get less. Studies have shown that if you don't get enough sleep over a long period of time, your ability to think and function rapidly decreases.

Sleep allows your body to recharge itself. While you sleep, your body gets rid of skin waste and circulates minerals, vitamins and hormones in the skin.

It is also the time when your body produces the most amount of infection-fighting substances. That's why bed rest is so important when you have a cold.

Here are some tips to help you sleep better:

  • Avoid caffeine six hours before bedtime
  • Don't use alcohol or depend on sleeping pills to help you sleep
  • Exercise in the late afternoon or early evening only
  • Avoid eating a heavy meal of spicy foods within two hours of going to sleep
  • Drink a glass of milk about a half-hour before going to bed. Milk contains a natural sleep inducer
  • Keep your bedroom cool
  • Sleep in comfortable clothes
  • Try to keep the same sleeping and waking schedule

Eight Glasses of Water
The average adult body weight is between 55-75 percent water, which is about 10-12 gallons. Water does many things for your body such as regulating body temperature, carrying oxygen and nutrition to cells and cushioning joints and organs. Humid climates, higher altitudes, pregnancy and breast feeding increase your need for life's greatest nutrient. The American Dietetic Association recommends drinking eight cups of water a day and adding one more cup per hour of activity. Drink water before you feel thirsty because if you feel thirsty, you're already dehydrated.

Exercise Regularly
Regular physical activity helps condition your heart and lungs so that they function efficiently by doing the same amount of work with less effort. At the same time, you can improve your muscle tone and lose excess fat. Exercise also:

  • Helps reduce your chances of developing coronary disease
  • Decreases your weight and cholesterol level
  • Helps improve your sleeping habits
  • Helps improve digestion
  • Increases your flexibility and keeps bones strong
  • Helps you cope with stress and relieves emotional and nervous tensions

The healthy, normal fitness standard for exercise is 45 minutes of cardiovascular work followed by 15 minutes of weight training at least three times a week. However, 80 percent of the population still do not exercise regularly, citing a lack of time. Also, many people who are out of shape feel intimidated by the thought of exercise. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine suggest 30 minutes of accumulated physical activity five or more days a week. Activities can range from walking the dog and raking leaves, to running a marathon. This new recommendation does not replace the earlier standard, but it helps those that do not have a regular fitness program to start one.

Eat Right Without Dieting
Throw the word "diet" out of your vocabulary. Instead of starving yourself or limiting yourself to "good" foods, eat a variety of foods in balance and moderation. A balanced and healthy diet includes foods from each of the four basic food groups -- meats, fish and poultry; milk and dairy products; fruits and vegetables; breads and cereals. Here are some eating guidelines:

  • Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Keep total fat grams under 20 per day. Avoid foods high in fat (read labels) and choose lean meat, fish, poultry, dry beans, peas and tofu as your protein sources.
  • Eat at least 1,200 nutritious calories per day and eat frequent servings of vegetables and grains.
  • Consume two low-calorie snacks per day. If you're still hungry, carrot sticks, broccoli florets and dry grain cereals are good snack foods.
  • Drink at least eight to 10 glasses of water a day. It will help keep you healthy and has no calories.
  • Avoid foods that contain large amounts of sugar. These foods -- usually referred to as "empty calories" -- provide little or no nutrition, but are high in calories.
  • Alcoholic beverages are also high in calories and low in nutrients. Long term, excessive alcohol drinking can cause cirrhosis and other liver diseases, disorders of the heart and nervous system and throat cancer. To avoid that "beer belly," drink in moderation. Remember, never, ever drink alcohol and drive.
  • If you want to "splurge" on a meal, keep tabs on your fat, sodium and calorie contents and adjust the other meals of the day accordingly.
  • If you are trying to lose weight, remember that the only way to lose those pounds is by burning more calories than you consume, so continue to eat sensibly and exercise regularly to burn away those extra calories.

Wash Your Hands
Hate getting a cold? The best way to avoid a cold is to wash your hands often. That's right. It isn't high tech, but it works. Your hands can carry a multitude of germs which can make you sick when you touch your mouth, nose or eyes. Hand washing is considered the most important single procedure for preventing the spread of germs.

The generally accepted correct hand washing time and method is a 10 to 15-second vigorous rubbing together of all lathered surfaces (including between the fingers, under the nails and the top of the hands) followed by rinsing in a flowing stream of warm water. If you are using liquid soap, the dispensers should be cleaned thoroughly before they are refilled. If you are using bar soap, use a rack-type dish that allows the soap to drain.

Use a Seat Belt
It's easy to buckle up. Seat belts, which strap you to your seat across your lap and shoulders, can protect you better in all collisions (front, side and back), while air bags protect you only in frontal collisions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that seat belts dramatically reduce traffic deaths. If you're afraid that the seat belt might trap you in one of those rare accidents in which a car catches fire or goes underwater -- don't worry.

Seat belts actually improve your chance of survival in these types of accidents because a person who isn't wearing a belt can easily be knocked unconscious even in a minor collision. Unconscious people rarely escape from burning or submerged cars.

Avoid Stress
Stress is a part of every day life. Often associated with negative things such as a divorce or waiting in a long line, "happy" things such as taking a vacation or planning a wedding can also be stressful.

Stress is your body's reaction to the stimuli or situations you encounter every day. As you encounter these stimuli, your body responds by increasing the production of certain hormones which creates changes in your heart rate, blood pressure and metabolism.

If stress is controlled, it can actually improve your performance -- when you direct stress positively, you direct all your energy toward the challenge you are facing. However, continued exposure to stress can be destructive if it is not controlled. It can lead to mental and physical health problems such as anxiety, indigestion, muscular aches and pains and even death.

Some stress can't be avoided, but you can reduce it by following these tips:

• Set realistic goals. Develop short-range goals to help you achieve long-range goals.
• Remove yourself physically from the cause of your stress. Take a break.
• Learn to relax a few minutes every day. Turn off the radio or television, take a leisurely bath, unplug the phone, practice deep breathing.
• Release your emotions by talking with a good friend or loved one.
• Ask yourself if the situation warrants your stress. Is it really going to matter in a week, a month or a year? Refuse to take responsibility for things you have no control over or cannot change.
• Create a routine. Use your time and energy more efficiently.
• Be optimistic about your life. Be positive and focus on the good things you see in yourself and others.
• Exercise regularly to help redirect pent-up energy in a positive way.

Take Care of Your Heart

The heart is a hard-working, efficient muscle that beats approximately 100,000 times a day while moving 4,300 gallons of oxygen-rich blood through your entire body. It pumps blood through 60,000 miles of blood vessels at 60 to 80 beats a minute -- continuously, each and every day. Many of us take our hearts for granted . . . until it breaks down.

You can reduce many of the risk factors of heart disease by modifying your lifestyle, participating in a health maintenance program and having regular check-ups by your physician. Improve your chances of avoiding disability or premature death from heart disease by following your doctor's advice about taking medicine and changing your diet and health habits, controlling stress, quitting cigarettes, eating well and wisely, and exercising regularly and sensibly.