When it comes to your health, it’s hard to focus on anything outside of the most dominant health event in our lifetime. COVID-19 is responsible for more than 800,000 deaths, suffering and an enormous disruption to our lives. Even the vaccines have been a trigger for debate. And, with the entry of the omicron variant, it is difficult to know where we’ll be this time next year.
With all this uncertainty, what remains constant is the value proposition of a healthy lifestyle. It can go a long way to stemming the impact of COVID-19 and, more generally, the onslaught of disease as we age. Healthy routines can make a huge contribution to our physical and mental well-being, and spur happiness. They’re an antidote to the chaos of COVID-19 and a source of resiliency during these difficult times. If there were ever a time to start living healthy, it’s now.
Over the course of the year, I’ve offered a number of scientifically-backed tactics and shared personal stories to drive home the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. As a springboard into 2022, I’ve highlighted my favorites, and placed them in categories to show that healthy behavior is more than sweating and counting calories.
Certainly, diet and exercise provide a foundation and I have appropriately included this subject, but there is much more. I hope this second showing will prompt you to take a fresh look as you contemplate the year ahead. The tactics fall into four categories; the mind-body connection, no-sweat practices, the motivating power of our social relationship and, of course, diet and exercise.
A theme covered in a number of my articles is the link between our mental and physical health. Using my late father’s debates with his buddies at McDonald’s as an example of maintaining your cognitive skills, I looked at the benefits of staying mentally sharp through exercise and a lively social life. I showed how continuing work and satisfaction can help older adults preserve their cognitive health, and that the use of thinking skills regularly can protect against mental aging.
I also reported how University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth found that the grittiest adults in her studies were in their late 60s – and older. As we mature, our willpower grows!
And I highlighted the contributions of laughter to our physiological and psychological well-being.
No sweat tactics
Another recurring theme I covered in 2021 is what I call “no-sweat” healthy practices: scientifically-verified behaviors outside the realm of diet and exercise that have proven health benefits.
I introduced the cold shower – or at least a cold rinse. The scientifically grounded benefits of taking cold showers range from healthier skin and weight loss to improved circulation and resiliency. I highlighted research suggesting that hugs can help reduce stress and boost your mood. The hug is one of the rare behaviors in life that feels good and is equally good for you.
Other no-sweat tactics included the importance of hydration. I explained that drinking water does more than keep your body hydrated. Sufficient intake may lower the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and certain cancers, among other benefits. Recommendations are for men to get 125 ounces of water a day; 91 for women.
Finally, possibly the most important no-sweat function is the doctor’s visit. I reminded readers that men are notorious for avoiding the doctor, and stressed the benefits of an annual physical. With age, we need to catch problematic health issues during their early stages, when they usually are more treatable.
Motivation is the underpinning of our behavior. It’s critical for a man to have a strong “why” to inspire a sustained commitment to his health. In 2021, I continued my emphasis on relationships by writing three articles chronicling experiences with my own family.
I featured my wife Maria in an article describing how partners up the odds of living healthy, and how relationships bring accountability, support and motivation – essential components to adopting a healthy lifestyle.
I shared my feelings about a family reunion with my brother and three sisters. The laughter, joy and gratitude I felt offered a case study in the power of shared experiences, and a major reason to maintain my healthy practices.
And I turned to the father-son relationship to show how rituals can help strengthen bonds. I wrote about a trip to the Eagles-Raiders game in Las Vegas with my son Anthony and recommended that dads initiate regular activities to demonstrate their love and grow relationships.
Diet and exercise
While I enjoy advocating for a well-rounded and comprehensive approach to healthy living, diet and exercise remain at the core. Though this territory is well-covered, I tried to offer some new insights into the practical challenges faced by the 50-plus man.
I described how experts report that exercising in nature leads to greater health benefits than performing the same activity indoors, and that individuals are more likely to repeat being physically active when exercise is performed in a natural environment.
During the summer, I covered an increasingly concerning topic, how hot weather can make outdoor exercise a challenge. Exercising in hot, humid weather necessitates that people closely monitor their fluid intake and rest at least 10 minutes during each hour of the workout, among other precautions.
And, I wrote about the growing interest in plant-based diets, and how some can offer flexibility while providing a slew of health benefits. As an example, I used my own Mediterranean diet as one which may appeal to many men because it allows you to eat red meat on occasion. Scientists say that it reduces the risk of colon cancer, heart disease and stroke.
As you look to 2022, my central message is that healthy behavior, COVID-19 or not, is your personal foundation for happiness and fulfillment – for yourself and your loved ones. It’s a practice that goes beyond diet and exercise and connects your physical, mental and social worlds. It allows you to give as much as you get. And that’s not a bad deal.
All the best for a healthy 2022.
Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of “Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50.” Read more from Louis on his website.