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Wellness Made Easy: The Real Basics of Better Health

Wellness has three basic components: a balanced diet, regular exercise, and wise lifestyle choices. Incorporating all three into your daily routine can help you live a longer, healthier life. Adopting even one of them can improve your well-being.

Eating healthy

A healthful diet can reduce your risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other nutrition experts, a healthy diet is:

  • High in complex carbohydrates. Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes should make up 45 to 65 percent of an adult's diet. A daily diet that contains two cups of fruit, 2-1/2 cups of vegetables, and three or more servings of whole grains (approximately three ounces per day) will also provide the recommended 20 to 35 grams of fiber.

  • High in variety. Eating a variety of foods helps you meet the dietary reference intakes for essential vitamins and minerals.

  • Low in fat. You should get no more than 20 to 35 percent of your total calories from fat. To reduce your fat intake: Choose lean meats over fatty cuts; skinless white-meat poultry over dark-meat poultry with skin; nonfat salad dressings over regular dressings; nonfat or low-fat dairy products over full-fat products; and baked or broiled entrées over fried ones.

  • Low in cholesterol. Keep your daily intake to 300 mg or less. Eat the recommended number of servings from the meat group (six to nine ounces per day), but don't overindulge. Remember only animal products or foods made with animal products will be high in cholesterol.

  • Low in sodium. Limit your sodium intake to 2,300 mg or less per day. To reduce your intake: Use less salt when preparing foods. Add less of it at the table. Check food labels for high sodium levels, then choose products with lower levels. Limit use of prepared convenience foods and condiments, which usually are high in sodium.

  • See the Choose My Plate website for additional information.

Regular exercise

Regular exercise can reduce your risk for heart disease, cancer, obesity, and osteoporosis. The 2005 USDA guidelines for exercise include 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise most days of the week for adults and 60 or more minutes daily for children. Be sure to check with your health care provider before beginning an exercise program.

A balanced exercise program includes:

  • Aerobic exercise. This type of exercise makes your heart beat faster. It increases your cardiovascular endurance.

  • Weight or resistance training. Muscle strength and endurance help you maintain a sustained effort while you're playing sports, doing household chores, gardening, or carrying things and helps prevent falling in older adults.

  • Flexibility exercise. Flexibility, or the ease with which you can move your joints and muscles through their full ranges of motion, protects your muscles from strains and injury. It can also provide relief from back and joint pain, immobility, and improve balance. Always warm up before stretching major muscle groups.

Healthful lifestyle habits

These healthful habits can help prolong your life:

  • Not smoking. Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of lung cancer and heart disease.

  • Drinking alcohol moderately, if at all. Moderate drinking is defined as no more than one drink a day for women and people older than age 65, and no more than two drinks a day for men younger than age 65. One drink is a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a four-ounce glass of wine, or a 1-ounce shot of liquor. Heavy use of alcohol increases your risk for liver disease and heart failure.

  • Scheduling regular medical checkups. Many potentially fatal illnesses, including breast cancer, colon cancer, and heart disease, can be treated effectively if diagnosed early.

  • Wearing an SPF 15 sunscreen that protects against both UVB and UVA on exposed skin year-round when you are outdoors. Basal cell carcinoma, the most common skin cancer, strikes one in eight Americans. Sunscreen can provide effective protection. Be sure to apply the sunscreen correctly and use adequate amounts.

  • Controlling stress and anger. Stress and anger can contribute to heart disease. To ease your stress, learn the basics of positive self-talk and do relaxation exercises regularly. To help control your anger, learn to be empathetic and less suspicious of other people's motives.

Remember that one small change a day can provide you with major, positive health results. Make a commitment to your future by taking one small step to better health!