Do you want to take control of your health, but are unsure about how to really do that? We asked Dr. Jonathan Snead, OB/GYN, about the basics of living a healthy lifestyle, and he offered some advice that everyone can benefit from.

First and foremost, he suggests that you look at your habits and ditch the unhealthy ones. For instance, stop smoking, no matter what it takes. Even a cigarette or two is bad for you. In addition, resist the urge to overeat and overdo the alcohol.

Another important component is getting enough exercise, but as Dr. Snead notes, “The hardest part of exercise is committing to a routine. Push past the first two weeks; it will get better!  dr.sneadExercise improves cardiovascular health and helps you lose weight, which lowers your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.” He suggests that you exercise 5–6 times each week for at least 30–45 minutes. Switching between cardio and weight training is a good mix, working your heart and building strength.

As for your diet, be on the alert when you eat out. Don’t hesitate to ask how many calories are in the foods or how the meals are prepared. “Portion sizes are out of control at restaurants,” Dr. Snead warns. “You will be amazed at the amount of calories in the choices you think might be ‘healthy.’ ”  He suggests staying away from fried foods such as fries and onion rings, sugary foods such as doughnuts and soda, and fatty meats. Watch the salad dressing, too, since some versions can add hundreds of calories to your healthy greens. Instead, stick with super-fruits such as avocados and blueberries, lean chicken and fish, raw or steamed vegetables, and whole grains. Another nutritious diet staple? Try unsweetened almond milk, which contains up to twice the calcium of regular milk.

Even if you exercise and eat right, your health can be compromised if you’re not getting enough sleep. Though requirements vary from person to person, most experts suggest 7­–9 hours of sleep a night. If you get less than 4–5 hours or more than 11–12 hours of sleep, you may increase your chances of accidents and illness. Lack of sleep can also lead to weight gain, mood swings, cravings for carbs, and heart disease. If you have insomnia, make sure you practice good bedtime habits: make your bedroom a calm and inviting place, and avoid watching TV in bed.

Finally, Dr. Snead suggests that there is a spiritual component to good health. “There are multiple studies that demonstrate prayer (or meditation) may improve people’s health,” he says. So look within yourself to create your healthiest life.

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