Living your life is like saving money in the bank – the more you contribute to the end goal, the better off you are.

Whether you are a young athlete or an older sedentary secretary, you can start today – right now – to live a longer and healthier life.

Secrets to a healthier life

We don’t have to read the “New England Journal of Medicine” or be a doctor to know that moderate exercise and a good diet are fundamental principles for a healthy lifestyle.  But interestingly, if we scan the headlines in the newspaper, or follow social media, the list of foods that are good for us seems to change all the time, as does other behaviors.  For example, for years the public was told to drink skim milk, or very low-fat milk instead of whole milk.  Obediently, most of us followed that suggestion, and eschewed the rich creamy taste of whole milk and opted for skim, which tastes like white water.  Likewise, the consumption of more than a few eggs a week was considered bad for you for years.  And everyone knows the expression “move it or lose it” which encourages us to exercise.  But in the last few weeks, the media has informed us that dietary guidelines have changed… whole milk is being embraced one again and eggs are back on top, even on a daily basis, thanks to the trending protein diet.  And in the last few days, experts tell us that a sedentary lifestyle won’t kill us… so you can feel free to be a couch potato… sometimes anyway.

The game of life

There are four types of bad behavior that will thwart a healthy lifestyle, and, if you can eradicate any (or all) of these, the chances are that you will begin to see an improvement in your overall health.  If you live healthy now, you can just skip this article, but, if you don’t live healthy, did you know that these minor tweaks and moderating your behavior will help you glean an extra dozen quality years of life down the road?

The four bad behaviors to correct are smoking, drinking alcohol, not exercising and not eating enough fruits and veggies.

Exercise and diet

Lifestyle changes and behavior modification as to smoking, drinking too much alcohol, not exercising and not eating enough fruits and veggies can hasten your demise, and can hustle you into an early grave, and, in effect, age you by as many as a dozen years.

Change your routine

Even if you’re not into a structured exercise routine, but playing a round of golf daily, you are at least working toward a good end goal.  You should aim to go for a least a thirty-minute walk as well.  It is important to do some stretches before any exercise and then after to keep limber.  Walking, like any exercise, will keep you limber and keep your heart pumping and you will look and feel better in no time!

A daily exercise regimen may be your ticket to a fountain of youth.  Regular high-intensity exercise (such as running) can add up to four years to your life, which isn’t surprising given the positive effects working out has on your heart, mind and metabolism.  The smallest effort… a mere 30-minute walk each day, for example, can lower your risk of heart problems.

If smoking is your downfall, as it is for many people, you have to try to eliminate the stressors in your life that lead you to grab for that pack of cigarettes.  That is difficult because often it is the workplace that is the biggest stressor of all.  Now that smoking is prohibited inside most workplaces, the urge to go outside and smoke on days when the weather is less than perfect, has caused many people to give up smoking for good.  Women who quit smoking by age 35 add approximately six to eight years to their lives.  It’s never too late to kick the habit. Quitting can slow disease and increase survival odds even in smokers who have already caused significant damage to their lungs, like those with early lung cancer or even chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

The use of alcohol can have many bad effects on your health, both for the short term as well as the long term.  The risks of using alcohol does not only put you and others in danger if you are driving your vehicle, but the continued use of alcohol will cause long-term effects to yourself like cirrhosis of the liver.  Women who have two or more drinks a day, and men who have three or more drinks a day, will suffer detrimental effects ranging from weight gain to relationship problems.  But in smaller quantities, alcohol can actually be good for you, especially red wine.

Healthy lifestyle

Use a dessert plate instead of a dinner plate if you are prone to overeating.  If that doesn’t work, stop eating when at least 3/4s of the food had been consumed.  Don’t just continue to eat the food, even if you feel full.  Cutting your portions and limiting calories lowers production of T3, a thyroid hormone that slows metabolism and thus speeds up the aging process.  So… slow down and cut down!  Fill that plate at least 2/3s full with bright-colored veggies which are excellent antioxidants.   Aim to have three servings of fruits and vegetables a day – the more the merrier because fruits and veggies are nutritious, taste good and are good for you. After all you know the First Lady has been stressing the need to eat more fruits and veggies since Day #1 in the White House.  She knows, and now you do too, that fruits and veggies are nutritional powerhouses filled with fiber and vitamins, that can lower your risk of heart disease by 76% and may even play a role in decreasing your risk of breast cancer.  Believe it or not, fruits and veggies’ fighting and circulation-boosting powers due to their antioxidants can even banish wrinkles!

Stay out of the sun

Even if you have been a sun worshipper for years, the time to start avoiding the sun is now.  Head off any more potential sun damage such as skin cancer, as well as keeping yourself younger looking by eliminating wrinkles, fine lines, and saggy skin, by applying a strong sunscreen (SPF of 30 or more) and wearing a floppy hat.   One of the best daily health tips you can follow is to add sunscreen to your daily skin-care regimen.  Slathering sunscreen on your chest and neck will keep that area from sun burning as well.  Otherwise you will have sun damage spots and splotches on your chest and neck.  Finally, good sunglasses are a must to avoid damaging your precious eyes from the harmful rays of the sun.

Spend time with friends and family

Research shows that you will be at a greater risk for heart disease if you lack a strong network of friends and family.  Did you know that loneliness causes inflammation, and, in otherwise healthy people it can be just as dangerous as having high cholesterol or even smoking?  In addition, loneliness appears to pose the greatest risk for elderly people, who are also prone to depression.

So keep all these top health tips in mind to keep yourself healthy from the top of your head to the tip of your toes going forward.