Hint: Popcorn is one of them

If you were to boil down all of our medical wisdom to just a few words, you would already know them—exercise, eat well, don’t smoke and maintain a healthy weight. But a shocking number of people are not following through. Only 9% of adults meet all of the criteria for a healthy lifestyle—that’s right, only 9%!

The study, which looked at more than 23,000 participants between the ages of 35 and 65, found that those who improved any one of the factors above were 50% less likely to develop a chronic disease. Those who did all four at the start of the study had a nearly 80% reduced risk for any chronic disease.

So why aren’t we doing what we should? Because it seems too hard! Here are little ways to get started…

Stand up. A report in BMJ Open suggests that you could gain an extra two years of life just by standing up. Researchers found that people who reduced their daily sitting to less than three hours tended to live longer than those who spent more of their days in a chair.

My advice: Remind yourself to move. At least once an hour, stand up for a few minutes. A fast walk through the halls will get the blood moving. Better: Do high knee raises, jumping jacks or other calisthenics.

When I’m on a long car trip, I do isometric exercises by flexing my arms against the steering wheel. At home, stand up and flex your calves while talking on the phone or watching TV.

Eat popcorn. Even if your diet is mainly healthy, you still will gain weight if you don’t keep an eye on portion sizes. This is particularly important for those who eat processed foods, which typically pack a lot of calories into surprisingly small servings.

My advice: Eat foods with a high satiety index. Even small servings of these foods will fill you up, so you consume fewer calories. Popcorn is a good example. It contains a lot of air, which takes up space in the stomach. (But avoid chemical-laden packaged microwave popcorn.)

Other high-satiety foods include those with a lot of water (such as soup or fruits)…protein (beans, lean meats, nuts, etc.)…and low-glycemic foods (such as sweet potatoes or whole grains), which are absorbed slowly into the bloodstream.

Go caveman. Our Stone Age ancestors probably got about half of their calories from meat. This wasn’t a problem because the meats they ate were much leaner than today’s steaks and hamburgers. You don’t have to avoid meat to be healthy. You do have to limit saturated fat.

The mass-produced beef, pork and poultry that most of us eat come from confined animals. They’re fattened with grains and manufactured foods, an unnatural diet that makes meat tender but also increases saturated fat.

My advice: Eat meats only from animals that were given a more or less natural diet. Game meats, such as venison and antelope, are leaner than traditional beef and pork—and rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

If you don’t care for the “wild” taste of game, look for beef or pork that is grass-fed and buy free-range poultry.

Get the right fiber. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that the prevalence of diabetes has increased by 45% in the last 20 years, with the greatest increase occurring in people 65 years old and older.

Self-defense: Studies have shown that soluble fiber—the type found in beans, lentils, berries, vegetables and whole grains, particularly oats—slows the rate at which sugar enters the bloodstream. If you eat oatmeal for breakfast, you will have a lower blood sugar response to whatever you eat for lunch.

My advice: In addition to adding more fiber to your diet—the optimal amount is 35 grams or more a day—include foods with a high percentage of soluble fiber. For example, add a whole grain, an apple or avocado, raw spinach or cooked broccoli, or a bean dish to every meal.

Think movement, not exercise. Even people who exercise often approach it as a formal, and not particularly fun, activity. This mind-set might explain why lack of physical activity now accounts for nearly 10% of premature deaths in the world each year.

In my experience, most people want to exercise, but they haven’t found a natural way to integrate it into their lives. You might not realize that the accumulation of 20 to 30 minutes of daily physical activity provides up to 85% of the cardiovascular benefits of hard exercise.

My advice: Think about what you already do—and do those things more often. Dancing is good exercise. So is a stroll through a park. An hour spent gardening counts. So does moving furniture…a bike ride…and a yoga class.

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