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Heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes are among the top leading causes of death in the U.S. These are often chronic conditions greatly impacting quality of life for several years. What if you could protect yourself, and live a disease-free life? Researchers say they have identified the five behaviors, which may afford you that ability and they are: regular exercise, non-smoker, low body weight, healthy diet, and low alcohol intake.

Participants of the 35-year study who adhered to four or all five of the behaviors reduced their risk of dementia and cognitive decline by 60 percent and risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke by 70 percent. If there is one behavior that stands out among the others as the most influential in our health, researchers say it is exercise.

The study indicates what many health care providers have been advocating to patients – our health is in our hands. Lead researcher Professor Peter Elwood remarked in a Science Daily article, “"What the research shows is that following a healthy lifestyle confers surprisingly large benefits to health - healthy behaviors have a far more beneficial effect than any medical treatment or preventative procedure.” 

Regular Exercise

If you do not currently exercise on a regular basis, there are steps you can take to get started. If you do exercise, but not consistently, make it a priority in your schedule to spend at least 30 minutes a day, most days a week, getting vigorous physical activity.

Make an appointment with yourself. Unless you make time for exercise, it will not make time for you. Consider this an unbreakable appointment with yourself and mark it down in your calendar or set a calendar reminder on your phone.

Start small. You do not have to go to the gym and take an hour spin class or hot yoga class. Start small and set manageable goals. Try walking either outside or on a treadmill for 10 minutes at a time. You can spread the 30 minutes of exercise over the course of the day or mix it up with other activities, like biking or swimming.

Replace a habit. If you think you don’t have time to exercise, look at what is taking up your time when you are not at work or managing family responsibilities. Can you substitute 30 minutes of TV time each night with exercise? 

Follow the two-day rule. Schedules get busy and exercise may be the first thing to go. Make sure to follow the two-day rule and never go more than two days without some form of exercise.

Kicking the habit

If you are trying to quit smoking, the odds are not in your favor – 6 of every 10 former smokers were not able to stop smoking after the first attempt. However, don’t let that discourage you, and help increase your chances of successfully quitting by enlisting help. Talk to your doctor about a smoking cessation program available in your area. Talk to friends and family and let them know you are working to kick the habit. A support network is very important to not only give you encouragement, but accountability as well. 

Within two weeks to three months of stopping smoking, lung function and circulation improves. At the one-year anniversary of quitting, you can celebrate a risk of coronary heart disease half of those who continue to smoke. 

Healthy Diet

We are a fast-food nation, so it is understandable why following a healthy diet is so important, but not always easy to do. A healthy diet, however, is not being on a diet. Eating right is a lifestyle – one that requires making the right decisions day in and day out. Proper nutrition includes an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs and nuts. Limit saturated fats, trans fats and added sugar and salt. 

Limit Alcohol Intake

Drinking alcohol in excess can raise blood pressure, as well as damage the liver, heart and brain. Women should drink no more than one alcoholic drink per day – two per day for men. An alcoholic drink is the equivalent of 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.

During the holiday season, people tend to drink more than the rest of the year. Be aware of how much you are drinking, and drink a non-alcoholic beverage in between alcoholic beverages. Also, do not re-fill a drink that is not empty. It is easy to lose track of the amount you are drinking when you cannot see the difference.

Maintaining a Low Body Weight

Body weight is a function of the other behaviors, but still an important parameter to make sure you are being proactive about maintaining good health. If you are following the other healthy behaviors, but having problems maintaining a low body weight, talk to your health care provider about steps you can take to achieve a healthy body weight.

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