16 Healthy Habits the Experts Live By
And Why You Should Too!
A series of studies have shown that doctors, on the whole, are healthier and live longer than the general population. One big reason: their healthy lifestyles. And doctors who practice what they preach are more likely to counsel their patients to follow such preventive measures, from watching their weight to eating the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. Perhaps most importantly, doctors’ own healthy behaviors seem to motivate their patients to make lifestyle changes. That’s great news, provided you know what those healthy behaviors are. To find out, we asked six Cleveland Clinic experts to share their everyday health habits. Here, they offer 16 ways to make 2017 your healthiest year yet!
Write It All Down
What he does: “I write a friend to tell them what I eat and do for physical activity every day.” — Mike Roizen, MD, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic
Why you should do it: Writing down what you eat as well as your physical activities keeps you honest. There’s no way to pretend you didn’t eat those M&Ms if you’re keeping a food log! Plus, writing down what you eat makes you more aware of exactly what and how much you’re eating, which helps you make smart food choices and control portions. Sharing that information with a friend means you’re held accountable, plus you get support. Studies show that keeping a food journal and buddying up increase weight-loss success.
Eat Breakfast Every Day
What she does: “I eat breakfast every day. What makes it easy is that I have a few set menus I know are healthy and that I like. I rotate them when I get bored. I make sure to have protein and healthy fat at the meal. Lately I’ve been making smoothies for me and my daughter. She’s a senior in high school, so sharing that time is great, and I know she has a healthy start to her day.” — Brenda Powell, MD, of the Center for Integrative Wellness at the Cleveland Clinic
Why you should do it: Starting the day with a healthy breakfast means more energy, a calmer, more focused mind, and a healthier body. Plus, skipping meals drains your energy and leaves you feeling run-down. When you do get around to eating, you’re extra hungry, which means a greater chance that you’ll (a) overeat and (b) reach for unhealthy foods.
Exercise With Friends
What she does: “I make a point to drive more than 30 miles each Sunday to run about four to five miles with a very good friend of mine. It keeps us connected, and it’s good for me both mentally and physically to stick to the routine.” — Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD
Why you should do it: Numerous studies show that social support from a significant other or meaningful friend is highly associated with sticking to an exercise routine. Another big adherence motivator is seeing how exercise improves quality of life, which is easy to see when you’re enjoying physical activity with a friend. Not to mention how important taking “me” time is for a busy mom like Jamieson-Petonic. Sticking to her Sunday routine is a real sanity saver! Studies show that taking this kind of time gives busy moms a sense of serenity and control over their lives.
Practice Deep Breathing
What she does: “My commute to and from the sleep center used to be a really stressful part of my day. My commute varies from 30 minutes to over an hour, depending on traffic and weather. I used to get really stressed out about the drive taking forever, and by the time I would get home I would be frazzled. But now when I get stuck in a traffic jam, I use the time to do some deep breathing exercises.” — Michelle Drerup, PsyD, of the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center
Why you should do it: The quality and rhythm of your breath affects your nervous system, including the portion of the brain that influences your feelings of calm or stress. A conscious, calming breath can offset the experience of anxiety and other stressful emotions. When we breathe fully and deeply, our lungs and chest send signals to our brain and we begin to feel calmer. Deep breathing – also called diaphragmatic breathing – also has physical benefits, such as improving posture and helping to ease pain.
The diaphragm is a large muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen. During a relaxed breath, your diaphragm contracts downward and helps to fill the lungs with oxygen-rich air. During the out breath, this large muscle relaxes, the belly falls, and the breath completes its cycle. To practice deep breathing, place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. Breathe in slowly through your nose. You should feel your stomach move out against your bottom hand while the hand on your chest remains still. As you exhale through your mouth, allow your belly to fall inward again. Repeat.
Get Enough Sleep
What he does: “I plan for sleep. Rather than stay up and watch late-night television, I record Jon Stewart’s show and watch him the next day before bedtime.” — Mike Roizen, MD, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic
Why you should do it: For starters, watching TV in bed hinders sleep — it’s stimulating, and you end up associating being in bed with being awake. Secondly, if you’re tired in the morning after watching late-night TV, you may be robbing yourself of much-needed sleep. Adequate sleep is essential for your body to perform routine maintenance. Sleep allows your brain to better process new experiences and information, which leads to increased understanding and retention. In addition, sleep helps immune system functioning and your ability to fight infection and stay healthy. This may be due to the immune system's increased production of certain proteins during sleep.
Laugh With Friends
What she does: “After my weekly Sunday morning run with my good friend, we have coffee together. We spend a lot of time laughing and catching up on events in our life. It really helps keep my stress levels in check.” — Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD
Why you should do it: While there’s some controversy surrounding the claim that laughter improves health, it’s clear that laughter does have some very real, positive benefits. Laughter buffers you against the negatives of life that could lead to depression. It brings people together, thus stimulating social support, which has been proven to help combat stress. Laughter could be healthy for your heart too: Some research shows that when you laugh, there is an increase in oxygen-rich blood flow in your body — possibly due to the release of endorphins, which create a chemical rush that counters negative feelings and stress. And, in general, studies show that people who say they laugh a lot tend to be in good health and feel well.
Schedule in Exercise
What she does: “I design my schedule to allow for exercise. It may not be the same time every day, but I know it’s there. I always make sure I get something in on Saturdays and Sundays. Then I just need two to three other times in the week to round it out.” — Brenda Powell, MD, of the Center for Integrative Wellness at the Cleveland Clinic
Why you should do it: Not only is exercise good for your overall health and fitness, but it also boosts your mental well-being. Scheduling time for exercise helps you stick to it: Studies show that the more successful at exercise people think they can be, the more likely they are adhere to the exercise program. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services currently recommends that adults engage in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, and that exercise should be spread out over the course of the week. Strength-training exercises should be performed at least twice a week. And while more exercise brings even greater health benefits, less exercise is still much better than nothing, as a recent Taiwanese study demonstrates. After tracking more than 400,000 Taiwanese adults for eight years, and surveying them several times about physical activity levels and their health, the researchers concluded that just 15 minutes a day of moderate exercise results in improved health and life expectancy.
Spice Up Meals
What she does: “I love to add spices to foods, especially foods that don’t typically get spiced, like eggs, popcorn, even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Spices also add zip and great taste to food in place of salt. I add cinnamon to my popcorn and turmeric in my scrambled eggs to get more bang for my nutritional buck!” — Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, manager of disease reversal at the Cleveland Clinic
Why you should do it: Spices such as cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, rosemary, sage, cloves, mustard seed, cumin and oregano have concentrated amounts of antioxidants in them that help with decreasing your risk for heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, overall inflammation and even bacterial infections. Plus, they pack a flavorful punch — without added fat or sugar.
What she does: “Although my work schedule makes outdoor exercise less convenient in the cold, darker months, I usually get outside for a very long walk or two on the weekends.” — Roxanne Sukol, MD, MS, of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic
Why you should do it: The sun contributes significantly to the daily production of vitamin D. As little as 10 minutes of exposure between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm is thought to be enough to prevent deficiencies. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, helping to form and maintain strong bones. More recent research also suggests that vitamin D may provide protection from hypertension, cancer and several autoimmune diseases. Data also show that spending just 10 minutes outside will increase your feelings of wellness and vitality as long as you’re paying attention to nature and your natural surroundings.
Make Staying Fit Convenient
What she does: “I keep my hand weights near my office area at home. That way I can get those reps in any time I want, especially when I need a break from the computer.” — Brenda Powell, MD, of the Center for Integrative Wellness at the Cleveland Clinic
Why you should do it: Not surprisingly, studies show that easy access to exercise facilities enhances exercise adherence. When it comes to strength training, researchers are constantly finding new reasons to do it. For starters, building — and maintaining — muscle is necessary for all of us, especially as we age. Strength training stops bone loss and can even build new bone — reducing, down the road, the risk of fractures from osteoporosis. It improves balance, boosts energy, builds confidence, combats depression and improves appearance.
Make Time for Friends
What she does: “Twelve friends and I have been getting together for a monthly book group for more than 10 years. The host makes something along the lines of soup and salad, and guests bring whatever they want. The food is usually amazing, and we’ve read many memorable books.” — Roxanne Sukol, MD, MS, of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic
Why you should do it: Research shows that your friends may be the key to good health and longevity. In fact, the results of a study from Brigham Young University showed that people with adequate or high social relationships had a 50 percent greater likelihood of survival than their friendless counterparts. In addition, say experts, people with social support have fewer cardiovascular and immune problems, as well as lower levels of stress.
What she does: “My husband is a great cook, and we make it a point to fill our plates with a variety of colors. It might be something like chicken roasted with lemon slices, sweet potatoes, chopped tomato and cucumber salad, or a turkey breast, sliced and served on a bed of roasted beets with balsamic vinegar. For breakfast, I sometimes make a green smoothie with one banana, one Anjou pear, several large handfuls of spinach, and half a cup of water. It’s delicious.” — Roxanne Sukol, MD, MS, of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic
Why you should do it: To get a wide range of health-promoting compounds, your best bet is to fill your plate with a rainbow of foods. Red fruits and vegetables are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant shown to have cancer-protective effects. Certain red fruits, like berries and grapes, contain other potential cancer fighters. Oranges and yellows contain beta-carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A. Beta-carotene-rich foods boost immunity as well as heart, bone and eye health, and they may help prevent cancer. Green plants are rich in healthy nutrients. Broccoli, kale and other cruciferous vegetables contain vitamin C and the naturally occurring compound indole-3-carbinol, which may help prevent some kinds of cancer. Spinach and peas protect eye health, among other health benefits. Broccoli is jam-packed with antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. Blue and purple foods contain anthocyanins, which show promise in reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke. And whites and browns can be just as healthy as their colorful counterparts. Soy foods like tempeh, for instance, contain health-promoting isoflavones, while cauliflower is rich in indoles. Onions and garlic are rich in the heart-healthy compound allicin, which studies show may help combat cancer.
Cook With Kids
What she does: “My 20-month-old daughter Mandi loves to cook with her momma, which allows us to spend quality time together. Also, I love that she’s involved in cooking from fresh ingredients at such a young age. Hopefully, these good habits will last her entire life!” — Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD
Why you should do it: Cooking with kids has both immediate and lasting benefits. In the short term, kids are encouraged to try healthy foods (and they’re more likely to eat it if they help prepare it, experts say). As Jamieson-Petonic knows, it also allows parents to spend quality time with their kids. In the long term, you’re setting a good example for your kids, which can make all the difference in raising healthy eaters. Plus, kids can use their cooking skills for the rest of their lives. Learning and practicing these skills also helps to build confidence.
Get Your Healthy Fats
What she does: “I’m a big believer in adding healthy fats to meals and snacks. An uninspiring bunch of steamed broccoli and a boneless, skinless chicken breast has never, ever done it for me. But steam that chicken in a covered frying pan for half an hour over a mix of finely chopped onion, celery and carrots, sauteed in olive oil until golden, and then mixed with a cup of chicken broth and you’ve got something else entirely. Or sprinkle a salad with peanuts and cubes of avocado. If you find yourself cruising the cabinets after dinner, I think that’s nature’s way of telling you there wasn’t enough nutritious fat in your meal.” — Roxanne Sukol, MD, MS, of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic
Why you should do it: Researchers are learning that “good” fats play a huge role in health, wellness and longevity. Fat aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, for starters, plus you need fat for energy, to cushion organs and to aid in normal growth and development. The key is focusing on the good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and eliminating the bad fats (trans and saturated), which expand your waistline and increase your risk for chronic disease. A few ways to tell the good from the bad: (1) If it walked before it arrived on your plate, it’s probably chock-full of saturated fat (think red meat, dark-meat chicken, bacon, etc.); (2) If it swam before it hit your plate, you’re probably getting some good fats such as polyunsaturated fats; (3) If it’s solid at room temperature, it’s probably bad fat; and (4) If it’s liquid at room temperature, it’s probably good. Some good fats to include in your diet: almonds, avocados, olive oil, walnuts, wild salmon, tuna and flaxseed oil.
Use Exercise as Together Time
What she does: “I try to exercise with my husband. We have some great conversations during this time. Often when my family needs to talk about schedules and organizing the day, I will ask them to talk to me while I’m on the elliptical machine. It makes the time go by, and we’re together.” — Brenda Powell, MD, of the Center for Integrative Wellness at the Cleveland Clinic
Why you should do it: Exercise is often more fun when you have someone to do it with. And many studies have shown that social support from a significant other or close friend is highly associated with sticking to a workout plan and reaching your fitness goals. And fitting in exercise while doing another enjoyable or necessary activity — whether it’s talking logistics with your kids or watching your favorite TV show — will make you even more successful.
Eat New Foods
What she does: “I make it a point to try one new food each week to keep my diet fresh and new. Also, I try not to eat the same foods every day.” — Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD
Why you should do it: As long as you’re eating foods from all the major food groups — fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein — it’s not necessarily unhealthy to eat a monotonous diet. Research shows that the health effects of eating the same thing day in and day out are highly personal. Some people experience more cravings when eating monotonously; others fewer. For dieters, boredom can lead to reaching for forbidden foods. Remember that your body needs a variety of vitamins and minerals, and if you eat the same foods every day, you may be missing some of these very important nutrients. Adding new foods to your diet not only offers a good nutritional mix, it makes eating more interesting, which can make it easier to stick to a healthy eating plan.