Medically reviewed by Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN
The concept of ultimate health is about achieving the best possible health for your body and mind. And though it is usually a highly individualized pursuit, there are certain lifestyle habits and practices that everyone should be (or may want to consider) doing.
Continue reading to discover eight practices experts swear by for ultimate health—and four they recommend avoiding—all with the research to help you decide what is best for you.
Practices Experts Swear By
When it comes to taking care of your body, our experts swear by these eight practices. Take a look at some of things you may want to consider committing to in your pursuit of ultimate health.
Eating Whole Foods
A whole foods and plant-based dietary pattern involves eating high-fiber, low-fat foods and minimizing animal-based products and processed foods. Studies have found that eating too many ultra-processed foods increases the risk of overall cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease. Examples of ultra-processed foods include candy, fried foods, and sweetened beverages.
Compared to non-plant-based diets, plant-based diets lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality, says Sara Chatfield, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist. “Whole plant foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds offer a variety of benefits for mental and physical health."
Whole plant foods also are good sources of dietary fiber, essential nutrients, and other beneficial compounds. You can boost your diet by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and eating other fiber-rich foods, such as almonds, black beans, or barley. An eating pattern like the Mediterranean Diet is also an excellent way to consume mostly whole foods with lean protein and low-fat dairy.
The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend balancing your plate with vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, and seeds. To do this, try adding a serving of fresh fruit to your breakfast. Snack on raw vegetables with guacamole or a bean-based dip.
Related: What Is a Whole Foods Diet?
Getting Enough High-Quality Sleep
According to a 2015 study, teens and adults need between seven and 10 hours of sleep, depending on their age. Quality rest allows your brain to clear out the cobwebs and dispose of waste. To do this, your brain uses a fluid-filled channel to clear out toxins while you sleep, allowing you to start fresh the next day. In short, your brain needs sleep to rejuvenate itself.
Sleep is also strongly linked to your immune system. An immune response can interrupt your sleep, and a lack of sleep can hurt the strength of your immune system.
Studies have found that sleep affects other ways your body functions, too, and can impact emotional and behavioral regulation. Not getting enough sleep also can negatively affect your self-control, inhibition, evaluation, and decision-making.
Even your social interactions can be impacted, though research about this effect is ongoing. Currently, researchers believe that the emotional reactivity and emotional dysregulation experienced due to a lack of sleep have a negative impact on a person’s social interactions. If you're not getting enough sleep you're more likely to have trouble regulating your emotions—which can lead you to say things you regret or make poor decisions.
Related: The 7 Best Sleep Trackers of 2023
A lack of hydration can negatively impact your urinary tract, including your kidneys and bladder. Your kidneys are responsible for filtering your blood and removing waste. In a single day, your kidneys filter about 150 quarts of blood. But, improper waste impairs this function, as well as increases the likelihood that bacteria will infect your bladder or urinary tract. Drinking enough water allows the kidneys and bladder to flush out bacteria more effectively.
“Our bodies are about 60% water, and drinking enough of it also is essential for our digestion and other critical body functions," says Chatfield. "But many of us don’t drink enough water to meet our needs. Water intake can affect your entire body and many bodily functions, making it an essential factor of health."
Low fluid intake can also cause constipation or other digestive issues. One of the most easily reversible causes of constipation is staying hydrated.
Related: How Much Water Should I Drink?
Engaging in Strength Training
Resistance training, also known as strength training, is a form of exercise that improves muscular strength and endurance through the use of body weight or external weights. Examples of bodyweight exercises include push-ups, sit-ups, squats, and planks. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends at least two days of full-body resistance training per week.
In a study focused on improving the health of frail, older adults, researchers discovered resistance training promoted significant enhancements in muscle strength, muscle power, and functional outcomes. Consistently, engaging in strength training also can improve and maintain your health as you age.
Cardiovascular exercise is a form of movement that aims to improve cardiovascular health and function. One of the most accessible forms of cardio is walking, which is low-impact and requires no special training or equipment. In a study that targeted the mental health of people who live in cities, researchers discovered that walking was especially beneficial.
Walking also can improve more than cardiovascular health. A study that focused on postmenopausal women with osteoporosis, or bone mineral density loss, found that brisk walking effectively improves bone mineral density, even when done in short bursts. In this study, women walked briskly for 30 minutes a day, three times a week.
In 2022, the American Psychological Association expressed concern for the stress levels of U.S. adults and noted that society as a whole is in distress. In fact, about 45% of U.S. adults did not feel protected by U.S. laws, and 70% of them felt that the U.S. government did not care about them. While it's challenging to alter these things, there are some ways you can manage your stress levels.
“We live in a hyper-frazzled, multi-tasking, venti-caffeinated, relentlessly sleep-deprived world from which it is becoming increasingly difficult to unplug—both metaphorically and physically,” says Darnell Cox, MA, a gerontologist and leading healthy aging expert.
But, proper stress management is crucial. Chronic stress can cause anxiety disorders, major depression, various health conditions, and even death. Some methods for managing stress include walking in nature, having a social support system, spending time with animals, getting enough sleep, exercising, and practicing mindfulness or meditation.
Nature is refreshing for the senses and the mind—especially at a time when many people spend hours indoors looking at a screen. As the world becomes more and more urbanized, researchers and medical experts alike are urging people to spend more time in nature. The benefits of spending time in nature include reduced stress, increased cognitive performance, and even increased feelings of inspiration or fascination.
A 2019 study concluded that spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature contributes to good health and well-being. Further, the quality and biodiversity of the ecosystem seem to correlate with the effects of spending time in it. People who spent time in rural and coastal locations of higher environmental quality (such as nature reserves) reported enhanced feelings of connectedness and psychological restoration.
A Note About Wearing Sunscreen
Wearing sunscreen protects you from UV rays, skin damage, premature skin aging, and skin cancers and precancers. When spending a day outdoors, experts recommend using sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher and reapplying every two hours.
It's important to note that sun exposure is important to maintain vitamin D levels. To achieve this, you need approximately 10 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen. In addition, some types of sunscreen contain ingredients that are carcinogenic, so you should be cautious about which brand you choose.
Practices Experts Recommend Skipping
Of course, there are always things that can detract from your health and undermine your goals, too. Here are the top four things you should avoid due to the potential harm that they can cause your body.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., causing more deaths than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, and firearm injuries combined. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that more than 10 times as many U.S. citizens have died prematurely from cigarette smoking than have died in all the wars fought by the United States.
Cigarette smoking hurts respiratory health and increases the risk of arthritis, hair loss, gum disease, and more. Current studies indicate that cigarette smoking may be the most robust environmental risk of developing or worsening rheumatoid arthritis. It can also exacerbate asthma in adults and contribute to early hair loss.
Sitting for Extended Periods
Sitting for extended periods like for work affects your ability to meet the recommended amount of physical activity. Studies found that the sedentary behavior of office workers leads to harmful musculoskeletal and cognitive impacts.
Long sitting times also can cause exhaustion during the working day, decreased job satisfaction, hypertension, and various musculoskeletal disorder symptoms.
To combat the effects of a sedentary lifestyle or habits, engage in more physical activity as often as possible. Getting up occasionally to stretch your legs or go for a walk. You also can add physical activity before or after work hours or try biking or walking to and from work. The CDC further recommends community and workplace efforts to encourage exercise.
Overusing Social Media
The use of social media and the internet can provide a sense of connection and a source of information. However, overuse of social media is strongly linked to increased depression. Part of this phenomenon is linked to FOMO or a fear of missing out.
FOMO occurs when people overuse social media for fear of missing out on engaging in or access to information, events, or other posted media. Yet, studies have found that limiting social media decreases feelings of loneliness.
People can also experience FOMO from social media when they see posts of other people living their best lives while they are at home. FOMO can even cause media overload and result in doom scrolling.
Media overload, as described by the American Psychological Association, occurs when there is an overconsumption of media and news headlines. This can cause headline anxiety and become a stressor for people who consume news headlines consistently.
These feelings can also lead to doom scrolling, where people feel compelled to consume more and more media despite overwhelming feelings of emotional drain. Limiting social media and internet use can alleviate these emotional stressors and help manage unhealthy urges to overconsume negative media.
Drinking Alcohol Excessively
Binge drinking is the most common and costly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the U.S. The CDC defines it as consuming four to five or more drinks on a singular occasion. Most people who binge drink are not dependent on alcohol, but it is still very harmful. It causes many unintentional injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, burns, and alcohol poisoning.
Binge drinking also puts you at risk for alcohol overdose. Alcohol overdose symptoms include mental confusion, difficulty remaining conscious, vomiting, seizures, trouble breathing, slow heart rate, clammy skin, dulled responses, and extremely low body temperature. Severe or repeated alcohol overdose can lead to permanent brain damage or death. This risk increases when taking certain drugs or medications alongside alcohol.
The above practices are expert-recommended and research-backed to help inform you about ultimate health do’s and don’ts. However, when trying to achieve the best possible health for your body and mind, it’s important to remember that your path is individualized. Plus, there are so many other practices not listed here that can be beneficial to you. The key is to find sustainable and realistic behaviors that add joy to your life.
Do what makes sense for you as well as what your healthcare provider suggests. These tips should never replace medical diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to a healthcare provider about the best lifestyle for you.
Related: What Does It Mean to Be “Healthy”
Read the original article on Verywell Fitness.