50 Habits For Maximizing Personal Health and Wellbeing
CURRENT VERSION: 1.0 (28 April 2019)
Additional Sections are Coming Soon!
Introduction to the 50-Healthy-Habits Program
Whether your goal is to become a better person, improve the world, or do something in between, a sound first step is to get your own personal health in order. Adopting healthy habits to improve your own personal wellbeing not only helps you avoid several forms of pain and suffering in the short and long term, but it also frees you up to be a force for good in the lives of others.
We live in an age flooded with both good and bad advice. Sometimes, online health advice is sound, but it is not targeted toward the average person. Whether this advice comes from social media shares, self-appointed health gurus (peddling their own so-called “remedies,” to the gullible), or articles with reputable sources, it is no wonder that the average person can feel a bit disoriented and overwhelmed. When considering the various health issues that plague our society, how can we afford this much confusion? How can someone sort the good advice from the bad?
“Healthy Living” is one of the key values held and promoted by the Free Thought Initiative. It is a topic that deserves serious consideration, given that it addresses three of the six social issues each Free Thought Forum exists to combat: “Isolation & Depression,” “Misinformation & Anti-Intellectualism,” and “Overindulgence & Addiction.” To this end, the “50 Healthy Habits Program” was first launched in April of 2019. The objective of this program is to list simple and universally applicable personal habits that have been tested and supported by scientific evidence. These habits will be made available on our website (freethoughtforum.org) one section at a time and will be regularly updated as new and better information is brought to the attention of the executive board.
As this program is developed, your feedback, suggestions, and links to relevant research articles all play an indispensable role. Thank you for your consideration of the following, and for your participation in this ambitious undertaking!
① Get About 8 Full Hours of Sleep Each Night
Eight hours of sleep each night is what is generally recommended for adults. However, everyone has slightly different needs depending on one’s age, body size, activity levels, diet, and so forth. Therefore, it is important to remember that your mind and body requires a certain amount of sleep, an amount that must be met regularly. Getting enough sleep has been shown to improve one’s immune system, brain function, memory, mood, eating habits, and overall life expectancy. In fact, losing just a half hour of what is personally needed on a regular basis can have dramatic consequences. For those struggling to regularly get a full night’s sleep, here are a few suggestions that may help:
1. Leave a fan on in your bedroom while you sleep. (This can promote air flow, cool the body, and produce calming white noise.)
2. Ensure that all light sources are turned-off or covered.
3. Refrain from looking at a phone, computer, or other bright screens before sleeping.
4. Deeply stretch your muscles before climbing into bed.
5. Set and strive to keep a regular sleeping schedule.
6. Engage in meditative exercises in bed, such as counting your breaths.
7. Allow your body about four hours to digest your last meal before sleeping.
8. Make a to-do list of things to think about in the morning, allowing yourself to relax afterward.
9. Ensure that your blankets, pillowcases, and sheets are laundered on at least a weekly basis.
10. Consider bathing at the end of the day and allow time for your hair to dry before retiring for the night.
11. Consider increasing your physical activity or reducing caloric intake in order to prevent surplus energy at the end of the day.
Hirshkowitz, Max, et al. "National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary." Sleep health 1.1 (2015): 40-43.
Walker, Matthew P. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. Scribner, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2018.
“Big Brains at BAM | StarTalk Live! with Neil DeGrasse Tyson | Full Episode.” Featuring Dr. Mayim Bialik and Dr. Heather Berlin, et al., YouTube, Star Talk Radio, 25 Apr. 2019, youtu.be/CHjVz6nHh7Y.
Brunborg, Geir Scott, et al. "The relationship between media use in the bedroom, sleep habits and symptoms of insomnia." Journal of sleep research 20.4 (2011): 569-575.
② Drink One Glass of Clear Water with Every Meal
To maintain healthy body function, the average adult needs to drink a minimum of about 6 cups of clear water directly, in addition to the water gained through food consumption. Recent studies suggest that a large portion of our population may be chronically dehydrated. To combat this, it is recommended that every adult consumes at least two cups (one glass) of plain drinking water three times a day. For those who drink coffee or alcohol, engage in vigorous physical activity, are exposed to sunlight, or are affected by other similar factors, increased water consumption is essential. In addition, replacing sweet drinks, sodas, juices, and other beverages with clear, clean, and unflavored drinking water has been proven to make a significant difference in overall caloric consumption. Therefore, filling one’s stomach in part with water (in place of other drinks) can be a powerful tool in fighting obesity
Stookey, J. D., Constant, F. , Gardner, C. D. and Popkin, B. M. (2007), Replacing Sweetened Caloric Beverages with Drinking Water Is Associated with Lower Energy Intake. Obesity, 15: 3013-3022. doi:10.1038/oby.2007.359
Kleiner, Susan M. "Water: an essential but overlooked nutrient." Journal of the American Dietetic Association 99.2 (1999): 200-206.
③ Fill ½ of each meal with a variety of vegetables
Vegetables are some of the most nutrient-dense low-calorie foods we consume. In addition to the dietary fiber they provide (critical for our indispensable gut bacteria), vegetables have also been shown to reduce the risk for heart disease, stroke, and even several types of cancer! When replacing more energy-dense foods, vegetables can also positively influence healthy body weight. (In part, this is because we often feel “full” or satiated based upon the volume in our stomachs, rather than the energy levels of our food.)
Despite all this, less than 14% of Americans include the recommended amount of vegetables in their diet! Federal Recommended vegetable consumption is about four cups per day, which can easily fill half of the volume of three average adult-sized meals. In fact, the National Institute of Health flat out recommends that “Half of your plate should contain green vegetables.”
Given these governmental recommendations, the various nutrient benefits from vegetables, and their capacity to help us feel “full,” the Free Thought Initiative encourages all members to scale their meals according to their needs while also ensuring that 50% of their meals’ food consists of a variety of vegetables, especially raw vegetables, allium vegetables, carrots, green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and tomatoes.
Moore, Latetia V, and Frances E Thompson. “Adults Meeting Fruit and Vegetable Intake Recommendations - United States, 2013.” MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report vol. 64,26 (2015): 709-13.
B J Rolls, V H Castellanos, J C Halford, A Kilara, D Panyam, C L Pelkman, G P Smith, M L Thorwart, Volume of food consumed affects satiety in men, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 67, Issue 6, June 1998, Pages 1170–1177, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/67.6.1170
Wax, Emily, and David Zieve. “Portion Size: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” Edited by Brenda Conaway, MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2018, medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000337.htm.
Steinmetz, Kristi A., and John D. Potter. "Vegetables, fruit, and cancer prevention: a review." Journal of the american dietetic association 96.10 (1996): 1027-1039.
④ Avoid Foods with Added Salt, Sugar, and/or Fat
Four of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States are associated with diets that are too high in sodium, calories, cholesterol, fat, and saturated fat. Eating these types of foods can lead to coronary heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, osteoporosis and a number of other disorders and conditions. As a general rule, the less-processed a food is, the better. This is not to say that raw food is preferable to food with minimal cleaning and processing. Rather, it is important to remember that heavily processed foods tend to lose much of their nutrients and are often packaged with added salt, sugar, and/or fat. Therefore, it is recommended that one’s diet consists largely of minimally-processed food, while the consumption of foods high in salt, sugar, and/or fat content is dramatically reduced or completely avoided.
Moss, Michael. Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. WH Allen, 2014.
Frazao, Elizabeth. "The American diet: a costly health problem." Food Review: The Magazine of Food Economics 19.1482-2016-121385 (1996): 2.
Monteiro, Carlos A. “Nutrition and Health. The Issue Is Not Food, nor Nutrients, so Much as Processing.” Public Health Nutrition, vol. 12, no. 5, 2009, pp. 729–731., doi:10.1017/S1368980009005291.
⑤ Vigorously Exercise for at Least 30 min. Daily
Studies have shown that even a few minutes of exercise a day yield intense health benefits in men, women, children, and even in those with a high risk of cardiovascular disease. Those who engage in vigorous leisure-time exercise (such as jogging, weight-lifting, or playing high-intensity sports) for at least 30 minutes, six days a week, (or at least 180 minutes of total exercise a week) have been shown to have an 18% reduced risk of all-cause mortality and had a 3 year longer life expectancy than those who do not engage in any such exercise. Despite the clear health advantages to regular intense physical activity, less than 10% of Americans meet the minimum recommended amount of exercise.
The recommended 30 minutes a day does not include any warm-up, stretching, or cool-down time. Such additional activity is conventionally recommended, however scientific studies on the short-term benefits of warm-ups and cool-downs are inconclusive.
Wen, Chi Pang, et al. "Minimum amount of physical activity for reduced mortality and extended life expectancy: a prospective cohort study." The Lancet 378.9798 (2011): 1244-1253.
Tucker, Jared M., Gregory J. Welk, and Nicholas K. Beyler. "Physical activity in US adults: compliance with the physical activity guidelines for Americans." American journal of preventive medicine 40.4 (2011): 454-461.
Van Mechelen, Willem, et al. "Prevention of running injuries by warm-up, cool-down, and stretching exercises." The American Journal of Sports Medicine 21.5 (1993): 711-719.
Rodenburg, J. B., et al. "Warm-up, stretching and massage diminish harmful effects of eccentric exercise." International Journal of sports medicine 15.07 (1994): 414-419.
⑥ Brush Your Teeth Twice a Day and Floss Once a Day
Oral hygiene is a significant contributor to one’s overall physical health. According to well-established studies, all adults should engage in tooth-brushing twice daily (soon after rising from bed or breakfast and soon after dinner) with fluoridated toothpaste. A toothbrush is the most effective tool in removing plaque from teeth, but that does not mean that flossing should be ignored. Daily brushing and flossing combat some major health conditions such as gingivitis, periodontal tissue attachment loss, and carious lesion development, even more than direct treatment of these conditions after the fact.
Axelsson, P. and Lindhe, J. (1978), Effect of controlled oral hygiene procedures on caries and periodontal disease in adults. Journal of Clinical Periodontology, 5: 133-151. doi:10.1111/j.1600-051X.1978.tb01914.x
Schmid, M. O., Balmelli, O. P. and Saxer, U. P. (1976), Plaque‐removing effect of a toothbrush, dental floss, and a toothpick. Journal of Clinical Periodontology, 3: 157-165. doi:10.1111/j.1600-051X.1976.tb01863.x
Brothwell DJ, Jutai DK, Hawkins RJ. An update of mechanical oral hygiene practices: evidence-based recommendations for disease prevention. J Can Dent Assoc. 1998 Apr;64(4) 295-306. PMID: 9594467.
⑦ Bathe about once a day
Your skin is your largest organ, and regular bathing is an essential part of skin care, infection prevention, waste removal, preventing the spread of pathogens, and overall societal standards of cleanliness and professionalism. However, it is possible to shower too often or too intensely. Excessive bathing can lead to rough, dry, and irritated skin. It can also compromise the naturally protective oils in the skin provide such as housing beneficial bacteria and providing a barrier against harmful chemicals. One’s natural scent can also be neutralized by excessive bathing, often noticeable by one’s intimate partner.
Therefore, based upon your own activity levels, as well as your body’s chemistry, you should plan on showering about once per day (at least twice every three days and shortly after vigorous exercise). Remember to not use water that is too hot. Avoid showering for more than 30 minutes at a time. In order to prevent rough or dry skin, lotion and moisturizers can be used shortly after bathing.
Leffell, David J. Total Skin: the Definitive Guide to Whole Skin Care for Life. Hyperion, 2000.
Cleton, F. J., Y. S. Van Der Mark, and M. J. Van Toorn. "Effect of shower-bathing on dispersal of recently acquired transient skin flora." Effect of shower-bathing on dispersal of recently acquired transient skin flora. (1968).
Carnegie, Dale. How To Win Friends And Influence People. Harpercollins Canada, 2018.
⑧ Wash Hands after Restroom Use, Prior to Preparing Food, Eating, and as Needed
Hand washing is the single best way to stop the spread of pathogens and disease. Hand washing is even preferable to anti-bacterial alcohol-based disinfectant gels and similar products! It is a practice that is paramount to personal, interpersonal, and societal wellbeing. No other medical practice or hygienic act is as important and thus requires our constant adherence.
Good handwashing practice includes hand soap, hot (but not scalding) water, and rubbing your hands together for several seconds. It is strongly recommended after any restroom use, before preparing food, before eating, after eating, and after touching objects that often come in contact with pathogens such as steering wheels, door knobs, used dishes, pets, and shoes. When asked about how often people wash their hands, they tend to exaggerate and assume that they are doing much better than they actually are. In reality, only about 40% of people wash their hands as recommended.
Handwashing Liaison Group. “Hand washing.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.) vol. 318,7185 (1999): 686.
Sprunt, Katherine, Winifred Redman, and Grace Leidy. "Antibacterial effectiveness of routine hand washing." Pediatrics 52.2 (1973): 264-271.
Voss, A., & Widmer, A. (1997). No Time for Handwashing!? Handwashing Versus Alcoholic Rub Can We Afford 100% Compliance? Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, 18(3), 205-208. doi:10.2307/30141985
Mokhtari, Amirhossein, and Lee-Ann Jaykus. "Quantitative exposure model for the transmission of norovirus in retail food preparation." International journal of food microbiology 133.1-2 (2009): 38-47.
⑨ Use Medications Only as Prescribed
Prescription drug abuse and over-the-counter drug abuse has risen dramatically in the United States in recent years, leading to a rise in addiction and a swarm of other health and societal issues. For example, deaths from opioid overdoses quadrupled between 1999 and 2010, exceeding deaths from cocaine and heroin combined. For teens especially, the abuse of over-the-counter drugs has reached epidemic levels.
Parents are strongly encouraged to be aware of the drugs being purchased and used by their adolescent children. Even innocuous drugs such as cold and cough medicines may be abused.
To prevent such addiction or abuse, it is reasonable to ask your doctor about non-drug treatments whenever possible. When drug treatment is prescribed, it is important to follow one’s medical prescription exactly as it is written. Likewise, when using an over-the-counter drug, the instructions for usage on a bottle’s label should be followed with strict fidelity. Be sure to ask questions about your medication until you fully understand how and how often it should be taken. Communicate any problems you are having with your medications with your doctor before adjusting your medication use in any way. If you suspect that the recommended dosage on the side of an over-the-counter drug will not meet your needs, communicate this with a pharmacist so that you can be sure to purchase the most effective drug for your condition.
Lessenger, James E., and Steven D. Feinberg. “Abuse of Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications.” American Board of Family Medicine, 1 Jan. 2008, www.jabfm.org/content/21/1/45.
Volkow, Nora D., et al. "Medication-assisted therapies—tackling the opioid-overdose epidemic." New England Journal of Medicine 370.22 (2014): 2063-2066.
Levine, Deborah A. "‘Pharming’: The abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs in teens." Current opinion in pediatrics 19.3 (2007): 270-274.
Blenkinsopp, Alison, and Colin Bradley. "Over the Counter Drugs: Patients, society, and the increase in self medication." Bmj 312.7031 (1996): 629-632.
⑩ Keep a Health Journal
Medical professionals could use as much information about your health history as possible when making an appropriate diagnosis. Although there are efforts to record this information on a database that can be accessed by medical professionals from different organizations, the endeavor has been plagued by multiple logistical, political, and practical issues. While technical and elaborate answers may be more widely available in the future, simply keeping a written “personal health journal” can be a useful tool for this and other purposes.
The Free Thought Initiative strongly recommends that each member keeps such a journal up to date and readily accessible at a moment’s notice. (To help keep your medical information private, it is recommended that you do not record this information digitally.) A personal health journal can be kept in a common notebook or sketchbook dedicated to this purpose. Even if the written information isn’t used for decades, the accumulated data can be indispensable in the future.
What should be written in a health journal? You should update it with the date, time, and details of any change to your physical, cognitive, or emotional health such as:
• Whenever you dramatically change your diet, sleep patterns, or exercise routine
• Whenever your diet and sleep patterns change inexplicably
• Whenever you lose or gain a large amount of weight
• Whenever you experience any head trauma or bodily injury
• When you feel new pains or aches
• When you notice new bruising, burns, bites or other new marks on your skin
• When you feel dramatic changes in your mood or experience dramatic emotional events
• When you notice unusual things in the process or products of defecation or urination
• Whenever you drink more alcohol than usual
• Whenever you take prescribed or over-the-counter medication. (This can help to prevent accidental overdose.) It is also useful to describe in a small note the dosage taken, the effects that you feel from the medication, and how long it takes to feel the effects
Lessenger, James E., and Steven D. Feinberg. "Abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medications." J Am Board Fam Med 21.1 (2008): 45-54.
Kahn, James S., Veenu Aulakh, and Adam Bosworth. "What it takes: characteristics of the ideal personal health record." Health affairs 28.2 (2009): 369-376.
Verbrugge, Lois M. "Health diaries." Medical care 18.1 (1980): 73-95.
Freer, Charles Bernard. "Self-care: a health diary study." Medical Care (1980): 853-861.
Breakwell, Glynis M. "Using self-recording: Diary and narrative methods." Research methods in psychology 3 (2006): 254-272.
Written By Nicholas Burk, Executive Board Member © 2019 Free Thought Initiative