Disease might seem like an inescapable fact of life. The numbers are grim: more than 85 million people in the U.S. have some type of heart disease, upwards of 100 million have type 2 diabetes, and more than one in three people will eventually get cancer. So what's the point of trying to prevent disease if illness is so common to begin with?
Despite how it might look on the surface, disease prevention is actually not a futile task. There's definitely an element of luck to both sickness and health -- no one, after all, can change or fight their genetic blueprint. But health and disease are both strongly influenced by your lifestyle as well. There's plenty you can control about your health, from whether you smoke to how much you work out. So why not give yourself the best possible odds of living a long and healthy life? Not everyone is willing to do the four things on this list, but if you do them, you'll dramatically increase your odds of avoiding most serious diseases and staying healthy into your golden years.
1. Eat for good health.
A good diet is the foundation of overall good health. After all, your body is literally built out of the food you eat. If you don't consume the right nutrients in the right proportions, it's difficult for your body to make the hormones and neurotransmitters it needs and repair itself from injuries and stress.
There's no single right way to eat. The most important thing is to avoid the "standard American diet," which contains lots of refined carbs, sugar, meat, and saturated fat. Eating this type of high-calorie, low-nutrient diet is a major cause of diseases like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Instead, opt for a minimally-processed diet that contains plenty of vegetables and fruits. Choose whole grains for your carbohydrate sources, and go for lean meats like chicken and fish over fatty meats like beef. If you can manage to eat well 90 percent of the time, the other 10 percent of your diet won't be nearly as harmful to your health (and you won't have to cut out treats completely).
2. Get plenty of sleep.
You can't skimp on sleep without eventually paying the piper. Sleep is crucial to your health -- it's when your body knits damaged tissues back together, fights off invading pathogens like the common cold virus, and recharges its systems. When you're sleep-deprived, you're more likely to have system-wide inflammation in your body, a major predictor of later disease. Getting too little sleep can even make you pre-diabetic. The lesson? Prioritize your shut-eye if you want to live longer. A good mattress, such as latex made of natural rubber, can help you get a better night's sleep.
3. Exercise every day.
Exercise has been called "the fountain of youth," and there's a good reason for that. Your daily workout doesn't just keep you looking and feeling good -- it also lowers your blood pressure and blood glucose, improves your insulin sensitivity, and protects you against neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. The Director of Health and Human Services recommends that most adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity every week. This is a minimum, though, so don't be afraid to increase your activity past this threshold if you want to. As long as you're taking proper precautions, such as warming up, taking rest days, and exercising with good form, it's hard to get too much physical activity.
4. Visit your doctor regularly.
Health screenings save lives, and if you want the best possible odds of avoiding disease, it's smart to visit your primary care provider on an annual basis. Most diseases are far more treatable in their early stages than they are at advanced stages. Prevention is better than cure, that's true -- but early detection can still be considered a preventative measure, so go ahead and make that doctor's appointment if you haven't yet this year.
Good health isn't just a matter of rolling the dice and hoping for the best. There are many things you can do to increase your odds of living a disease-free life, including the four things on this list. Ask your doctor if you'd like more ideas for how to stay healthy and live a long life.