The 9 habits of highly healthy people

July 2, 2010 at 4:13 am Leave a comment

The Nine Habits of Highly Healthy People by Jonny Bowden

For years, business and motivational gurus have known that there are basic habits that seem to predict professional success and excellence. Books like “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, by motivational speaker and business guru Stephen Covey, PhD has sold over 15 million copies alone, to people hungry for the secrets of success.

We don’t yet have the perfect formula for long life, happiness and physical health, but a little careful distillation of the massive amount of research on health and longevity reveals that cultivating nine basic habits will significantly increase the odds of your living long, well and happily, in a robust, healthy, weight-appropriate body.


1. Eat your vegetables. No kidding. And I’m talking at least 9 servings a day.. Unless you’re following the most stringent first stage of the Atkins Diet, you should be able to consume 60-120 grams of carbs a day (depending on your weight and exercise level), and you’d have to eat a stockyard full of spinach to get to that amount. Every major study of long-lived, healthy people shows that they eat a ton of plant foods. Nothing delivers antioxidants, fiber, flavonoids, indoles, and the entire pharmacopia of disease fighting phytochemicals like stuff that grows.

2. Eat fish and/or take fish oil. The Omega-3’s found in cold-water fish like salmon deserve the title of “wellness molecule of the century”. They lower the risk of heart disease, they lower blood pressure, they improve mood and they’re good for the brain. And if you’re pregnant, they may make your kid smarter!

3. Connect. And I’m not talking about the internet. In virtually every study of people who are healthy and happy into their 9th and 10th decade, social connections are one of the “prime movers” in their life. Whether church, family, volunteer work or community, finding something you care about that’s bigger than you that you can connect with and that involves other people (or animals) will extend your life, increase your energy, and make you happier. Only always.

4. Get some sun. At least 10-15 minutes three times a week. Interestingly, a recent study of four places in the globe where people lived the longest and were the healthiest noted that all four places were in sunny climates. Sun improves your mood and boosts levels of cancer-fighting, performance-enhancing, bone-strengthening vitamin D, a vitamin most people don’t get nearly enough of.

5. Sleep Well. If you’re low in energy, gaining weight, grumpy and looking haggard, guess what?- chances are you’re not sleeping nearly long enough nor well enough. By sleeping “well”, I mean uninterrupted sleep, in the dark, without the television on, in a relaxing environment. Nothing nourishes, replenishes and restarts the system like 7-9 hours sleep. Hint: start by going to bed an hour early. And if you’ve got a computer in the bedroom, banish it.

6. Exercise every day. Forget this 20 minutes three times a week stuff. Long lived people are doing things like farm chores at 4:30 in the morning! Our Paleolithic ancestors traveled an average of 20 miles per day. Our bodies were designed to move on a regular basis. New studies show that merely 30 minutes a day of walking not only reduces the risk of most serious diseases, but can even grow new brain cells!

7. Practise Gratitude. By making a list of things you’re grateful for, you focus the brain on positive energy. Gratitude is incompatable with anger and stress. Practise using your under-utilized “right brain” and spread some love. Focusing on what you’re grateful for – even for five minutes a day – has the added benefit of being one of the best stress -reduction techniques on the planet.

8. Drink red wine or eat red grapes. The resveratrol in dark grapes is being studied for its effect on extending life, which it seems to do for almost every species studied. (So does eating about 1/3 less food, by the way.) If you’ve got a problem with alcohol, you can get resveratrol from grapes, peanuts or supplements. (And if you’re a woman, and you choose the alcohol option, make sure you’re getting folic acid every day.)

9. Get the sugar out. The number one enemy of vitality, health and longevity is not fat, it’s sugar. Sugar’s effect on hormones, moods, immunity, weight and possibly even cancer cells is enormous, and it’s all negative. To the extent that you can remove it from your diet, you will be adding years to your life and life to your years.

This list may not be perfect and it may not be complete, but it’s a start. As my dear grandmother used to say, “Couldn’t hurt”. Not one of these “habits” will hurt you, all will benefit you, and some may make the difference between life and death.

And it’s never too late to start cultivating them.

Enjoy the journey!

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