By: Madeline Holcombe, CNN
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some undiscovered ingredient, and one bite of it would cure all our health concerns?
There isn’t one, sadly.
But scientists do know the recipe to better health, and it is a long-term practice of good habits when it comes to sleep, eating, exercise, socialization and stress.
In honor of the 75th anniversary of the World Health Organization, here are the factors that add up to better health and what you can do today to improve in these areas.
Ask your doctor if you have specific concerns in any of these areas.
Get enough sleep
A bad night’s rest doesn’t just mess with your concentration during the day. So far this year, CNN has reported that not getting enough sleep can increase your risk of mood problems, asthma, stroke and longevity.
Sleep is kind of a big deal.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get at least seven hours of sleep a night — but quality is important as well.
To get more good sleep, research shows it’s important to set a schedule for going to bed and waking up, follow a nighttime routine to tell your brain it’s time to go to bed, keep your bedroom dark and cool, turn away from the screens early, and don’t lay in bed if you are having trouble sleeping.
Eat good food
People’s individual bodies need different things, but is there a best way to guide your nutrition?
According to many scientific studies and U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings, it’s the Mediterranean diet.
Don’t let the word diet fool you — this isn’t a restrictive philosophy to manipulate your body weight. The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that features simple, plant-based cooking, with the majority of each meal focused on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and seeds, with a few nuts and a heavy emphasis on extra-virgin olive oil. Fats other than olive oil, such as butter, are consumed rarely, if at all, and sugar and refined foods are reserved for special occasions.
Numerous studies have found the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk for diabetes, high cholesterol, dementia, memory loss, depression and breast cancer.
Get some exercise
Scientists have long known that exercise is good for a healthy body, but research has shown it’s also important for a healthy mind.
The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that people between the ages of 18 and 64 engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week, as well as muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week.
The good news is even if you can’t get there right now, adding even a little bit will help.
Research published earlier this year showed that even 11 minutes of exercise a day can lower your risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease or premature death.
Take time to socialize
Many people place a lot of importance on some of the health behaviors often thought of as more physical, but social and emotional factors deserve our attention as well.
And good, strong friendships are key to not just alleviating our stress and improving emotional well-being, but also boosting markers of our physical health, according to the latest research.
People should grow this area of health by investing more in a feeling of community, experts have suggested.
They also stressed the importance of making friendship a priority in your schedule: Text a friend that you haven’t talked to in a long time, commit to meeting one new person a month, host a dinner party or join a class.
Strong bonds won’t happen overnight, but starting small and prioritizing friendships as an important part of your life can bring more happiness, less stress and more support, workplace belonging expert Adam Smiley Poswolsky told CNN earlier this year.
“Even when — especially when — their friend is struggling or going through something hard,” said Poswolsky who is also author of “Friendship in the Age of Loneliness: An Optimist’s Guide to Connection.” “You know someone is a true friend when they have your back when you’re sick, when you lose your job, when you make a mistake, when you’re going through a break-up, when you’re stressed, when you’re sad.”
Reduce your stress
I know I’ve heard it every time I go to the doctor for any concern: Whatever it is, it gets worse with stress.
Sure enough, stress can send a body into fight or fligh, which raises cortisol. Higher levels of cortisol can exacerbate health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic gastrointestinal problems, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Stress can also cause or contribute to anxiety, irritability, poor sleep, substance abuse, chronic distrust or worry, and more.
Fortunately, a balanced diet, good sleep, exercise and social support can help with stress reduction. It can also help to explore breathing and meditation techniques.
You may be thinking, I am already stretched thin in my day — adding in all these health behaviors will cause stress by itself.
The good news is that these habits are best added with small, manageable changes over a period of time.
Approach your goals one bite at a time and with a plan, flexibility, fun and support, and you may soon find you’ve made the changes you are looking for, said Katy Milkman, the James G. Dinan Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, author of “How to Change: The Science of Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.”
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