Healthy living involves more than physical health, it also includes emotional or mental health. The following are some ways people can support their mental health and well-being.
- Get enough sleep daily; the CDC recommends the following by age group (naps inclusive); 12-18 hours from birth to 2 months, 14-15 hours from 3-11 months of age, 12-18 hours for 1-3 years of age, 11-13 hours for 3-5 years of age, 10-11 hours for 5-10 years of age, eight and a half to nine and a half hours for 10-17 years of age and those 18 and above need seven to nine hours of sleep. Elderly people need about seven to nine hours but do not sleep as deeply and may awaken at night or wake early, so naps (like kids need) allow them to accumulate the total of seven to nine hours of sleep.
- Take a walk and reflect on what you see and hear at least several times per week.
- Try something new and often (eat a new food, try a different route to work, go to a new museum display).
- Do some mind exercises (read, do a puzzle occasionally during the week).
- Try to focus on a process intensely and complete a segment of it over one to several hours, then take a break and do something relaxing (walk, exercise, short nap).
- Plan to spend some time talking with other people about different subjects.
- Try to make some leisure time to do some things that interest you every week (hobby, sport).
- Learn ways to say “no” when something occurs that you do not want to do or be involved with.
- Have fun (go on a trip with someone you love, go shopping, go fishing; do not let vacation time slip away).
- Let yourself be pleased with your achievements, both big and small (develop contentment).
- Have a network of friends; those with strong social support systems lead healthier lives.
- Seek help and advice early if you feel depressed, have suicidal thoughts, or consider harming yourself or others.
- People taking medicine for mental-health problems should not stop taking these medications, no matter how “well” they feel, until they have discussed their situation with their prescribing doctor(s).
Avoid tobacco use
Tobacco use is the most important preventable illness and cause of death in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Tobacco use was estimated to be the cause of 443,000 deaths in 2010 in the U.S.
- Stop smoking tobacco; start to stop today (it takes about 15 years of non-smoking behaviour to achieve a “normal” risk level for heart disease for those that smoke).
- Stop using chewing tobacco to avoid oral cancers.
Adverse consequences of tobacco use:
- Tobacco use causes or contributes to a large number of cancers in the U.S. In men, 90% of lung cancer deaths are attributable to smoking; 80% in women. Tobacco use causes cancers of the lung, mouth, lip, tongue, esophagus,kidney, and bladder. It also further increases the risk of bladder cancer in subjects occupationally exposed to certain organic chemicals found in the textile, leather, rubber, dye, paint, and other organic chemical industries, and further increases the risk of lung cancer among subjects exposed to asbestos.
- Tobacco use causes atherosclerotic arterial disease (hardening and narrowing of the arteries) that can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and lack of blood flow to the lower extremities. Tobacco use causes an estimated 20%-30% of coronary heart disease in the U.S. It also further increases the risk of heart attacks among subjects with elevated cholesterol, uncontrolled hypertension, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle.
- Tobacco use causes an estimated 20% of chronic lung diseases in the U.S., such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and causes pneumonia in those with chronic lung disease. The CDC, in 2011, estimated that 90% of deaths from chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD) were due to smoking.
- Pregnant women who smoke are more likely to deliver babies with low birth weight.
- Second-hand smoke can cause middle-ear infections (otitis media), coughing, wheezing, bronchitis, and pneumonia in babies, and aggravate asthma in children. Second-hand smoke (sometimes referred to as passive smoking) can also cause lung cancer.
Comments and recommendations (tips):
- Quitting smoking is difficult to accomplish; tobacco contains nicotine, which is addictive. Some smokers can quit “cold turkey,” but for most, quitting smoking requires a serious life-long commitment and an average of six quitting attempts before success.
- Quitting smoking efforts may include behavior modification, counseling, use of nicotine chewing gum (Nicorette Gum), nicotine skin patches (Transderm Nicotine), or oral medications such as bupropion (Zyban).
Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
Adverse consequences of excessive alcohol consumption:
- Chronic, excess alcohol consumption is the major cause of liver cirrhosis in the U.S.
- Liver cirrhosis can cause internal haemorrhage, fluid accumulation in the abdomen, easy bleeding and bruising, muscle wasting, mental confusion, infections, and in advanced cases, coma, and kidney failure.
- Liver cirrhosis can lead to liver cancer.
- Alcohol accounts for 40%-50% of deaths from automobile accidents in the U.S.
- Alcohol use is a significant cause of injury and death from home accidents, drowning, and burns.
Comments and recommendations (tips):
There are many treatments for alcoholism. But the crucial first step to recovery is for the individual to admit there is a problem and make a commitment to address the alcoholism issue. The 12-step-style self-help programs, pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous, can be one effective treatment. Psychologists and related professionals have developed programs to help individual’s better handle emotional stresses and avoid behaviours that can lead to excess drinking. Support and understanding from family members are often critical for sustained recovery. Medication can be useful for the prevention of relapses and for withdrawal symptoms following acute or prolonged intoxication.
Avoid high-risk sexual behaviours
High-risk sexual behaviour can lead to the acquisition of sexually transmitted illnesses such as gonorrhoea, syphilis, herpes, or HIV infection. High-risk sexual behaviour is also known to spread human papillomavirus infection, which can lead to cervical cancer in women and other ano-genital cancers in both men and women.
High-risk sexual behaviours include the following:
- Multiple sex partners
- Sex partners with a history of the following:
- Intravenous drug use
- Venereal disease (sexually transmitted diseases or STDs)
Adverse consequences of high-risk sexual behaviour:
- Transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, genital herpes)
- Transmission of hepatitis B (50% of hepatitis B infections are due to sexual transmission) and, in rare instances, hepatitis C
- Transmission of human papilloma virus (HPV), which can cause genital warts and ano-genital carcinomas, most commonly cancer of the uterine cervix
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Avoid unprotected sex (sex without barriers such as a condom) outside an established, committed, monogamous relationship.
- If you plan to have sex and are unsure of your partner’s health status, use a condom.
Avoid other high-risk behaviors
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Driving while sleep-deprived
- Reckless driving and speeding, “road rage”
- Driving while using cell phones, texting, or performing other tasks
- Motorcycle (and bicycle) riding without helmets
- Possession of firearms and guns without proper training and storage
- Smoking in bed
Adverse consequences of high-risk behaviours:
- Motor vehicle accidents account for 40%-50% of accidental deaths.
- Motorcycle accidents are a major cause of serious head injuries.
- Firearms and guns account for a significant proportion of deaths among adolescents due to male suicide and homicide.
- Smoking in bed can lead to burn injury and death.
- When driving, use seat restraints on all passengers, both front and rear seats.
- Do not drink and drive.
- Do not drive if sleep deprived.
- Avoid unnecessary distractions and focus on the road and traffic while driving (avoid texting, talking on cell phones, eating, applying makeup, or other distractions).
- Use helmets while riding bicycles and motorcycles. Helmet use reduces deaths from motorcycle accidents by 30% and serious head injuries by 75%.
- Obtain proper training in the use and storage of guns and ammunition.
- Use smoke detectors; avoid smoking in bed.
Adverse consequences of excess sun exposure:
- Melanoma and other skin cancers
- Avoid sunburns and sun exposure by using adequate skin protection; use brimmed hats, protective clothing, and sunscreen.
- Sunscreens have undergone changes, and the U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) published new requirements that sunscreens needed to meet starting in 2012. Currently, the FDA suggests an effective sunscreen is rated as SPF 30 or higher and has both UVA and UVB protection (protection against ultraviolet waves of types A and B). In most instances, sunscreen needs to be applied every two hours and each time after a person has gone swimming.
Additional tips for healthy living
Although there are many other risky behaviours that may impede an otherwise healthy lifestyle (for example, working with toxic or radioactive materials, drug addiction, travel to areas with unusual endemic diseases), these are too numerous to cover in this general article. However, the reader is advised to visit such topic sites on MedicineNet.com, eMedicineHealth.com or WebMD.com because most of the specific articles will provide tips to avoid health-related problems.
Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery