Here at Outside, we write about the foundational principles of health and fitness all the time. In a world rife with nonsense hacks and cleanses, doing so is more important than ever. In an attempt to further cut through the noise, we spoke with Michael Joyner, a physician, researcher, and expert on health and human performance at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to come up with the most essential basics: seemingly obvious principles to abide by whether you’re trying to set a marathon PR or simply live a long and healthy life.
Do Something Active Every Day
You need not put in heroic efforts, but you should use your body every day, whether that’s a fast-paced walk, a hike, or an hour in the garden. Decades of studies show that just 30 minutes of moderate to intense daily physical activity lowers your risk for heart disease, Alzheimer’s, depression, and many types of cancer.
Do Stay Engaged in Life
Involvement in activities you find meaningful and groups you care about increases both quality and quantity of life. Studies show that individuals who have a strong sense of purpose—in other words, a reason to get up every day—tend to outlive those who don’t. Other research points to robust social interaction as critical for both mental and physical health.
Keeping calorie intake in balance with calories burned is critical. Obesity is one of the gravest health threats in the world. A recent study in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine found that obesity has doubled in more than 70 countries since 1980 and accounts for more than 4 million deaths every year. Another study found that obesity is now the second leading cause of early death, behind only tobacco.
Don’t Drink to Excess
Excessive alcohol use is associated with a number of chronic diseases, such as liver cirrhosis, throat cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Drinking too much also impairs sleep and daily function. The good news is that if you enjoy alcohol, drinking reasonably—one drink per day for women and up to two for men—carries minimal risk.
At this point, it’s common knowledge but bears repeating: There is absolutely nothing more damaging to health, wellness, and fitness than smoking. It is associated with dozens of types of cancer, as well as heart disease, dementia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. According to the American Cancer Association, smoking causes one out of every five deaths in the United States, killing more people than alcohol, car accidents, HIV, guns, and illegal drugs combined. If you do smoke, there is some good news: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, your body literally starts repairing the damage caused by smoking within days of stopping.
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Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Alzheimer’s, a degenerative brain disorder, as a psychological disease.