Wellness

6 Unexpected Benefits Of Living A Healthful Lifestyle

10/01/2015 12:00am ET | Updated December 6, 2017

What does it mean to live fully? To one person, it may mean loving deeply and being loved deeply in return. To another, it may mean hiking, skiing, or otherwise spending time outdoors. To yet another person, regularly pursuing physical challenges may be critical for living a full life.

While there isn’t one answer to the question, any doctor can tell you that a “full life” must include taking care of your health. Inspired by how each of us thinks about life fulfillment, we partnered with global healthcare company Abbott to explore current thinking about some of the most unexpected benefits of living a healthier life.

1. Make Your Own Luck (Live Better)
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“I'm a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have."
-F.L. Emerson

Not everything is written in the stars—or in our genes. Seventy to 80 percent of heart attacks in the United States “occur not because of genetics nor through some mysterious causative factors,” but because of lifestyle choices people make when it comes to diet and exercise. Furthermore, a 40-year study of men in Hawaii found that their health later in life was directly tied to how factors such as blood glucose, blood pressure, LDL cholesterol and body-mass index (BMI) fluctuated during earlier midlife. Journalist and author Bill Gifford wrote about the study in his book Spring Chicken, explaining that things like BMI, blood pressure and cholesterol are, in large part, based on choices and behaviors. His bottom line: “How well you grow old is at least partially under your control.”

2. Build Brawn And Your Brain (Improve Cognitive Function)
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Dr. John J. Ratey of Harvard University examined the all-important relationship among food, physical activity and learning in his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Ratey explains that although “our culture treats the mind and body as if they are separate entities,” they are not. “Exercise balances neurotransmitters -- along with the rest of the neurochemicals in the brain," Ratey writes. “In addition to priming our state of mind, exercise influences learning directly, at the cellular level, improving the brain’s potential to log in and process new information.” In fact, there is such a strong relationship between physical activity and cognitive function that one can look at exercise as “Miracle-Gro” throughout the brain.

3. Think About Others More (Experience Fewer Physical Pains)
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In her book Plan B, author Anne Lamott describes dancing at a wedding surrounded by women in their 20s and 30s. Lamott, a woman in her sixth decade of life, points out that while she was older than the other women on that dance floor, she was, and is, certainly no less happy: “I love my life more, and me more. I’m so much juicier. And as that old saying goes, it’s not that I think less of myself, but that I think of myself less often.”

When a person is not focused on his or her own aches and pains, they can spend more time thinking of, and caring about, others. Thankfully, one of the benefits of getting regular physical activity is a generally lower incidence of physical ailments.

4. Keep Calm And Carry On (Stress Less)
helping handResearch has long shown that people who exercise and eat more healthfully experience, among other benefits, less stress. And enduring less stress helps us in countless ways. Washington Post reporter and author Brigid Schulte spoke to a researcher at Yale University about the repercussions of chronic stress for her book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has The Time. She explained that women and men who operate under stress can alter and even shrink the prefrontal cortex regions of their brains. Too much stress can impair “our ability to keep our cool, think clearly, reason, plan well, organize, remember, make good decisions, or just calm down at the very explosive moments when we need to the most,” Schulte writes.

5. Check Off More On Your To-Do List (Increase Your Energy)
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We are living smack dab in the middle of what author Andrew Smart (Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing) calls the “culture of effectiveness.” We must work at increasingly faster speeds. We are expected to give answers more quickly. And we need to be available for more hours of the day, if not all the time. It’s no wonder that being sluggish and tired feels so natural for so many of us. But thankfully, there is a remedy. Yes, getting more sleep is crucial. And so is getting exercise on a regular basis. Exercise helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently and delivers nutrients and oxygen to your tissues more effectively. That, in turn, boosts your energy (which in turn boosts you).

6. Get Ready To Rock (See the Achiever in Yourself)
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Influential entrepreneur and marketer Seth Godin has written extensively about success. He has said that achieving success doesn’t involve “huge jumps” but rather “small steps.” In a post on his popular blog, Godin wrote, “Your audacious life goals are fabulous. We're proud of you for having them. But it's possible that those goals are designed to distract you from the thing that's really frightening you -- the shift in daily habits that would mean a re-invention of how you see yourself.” When you live a healthful lifestyle, you have already shifted those daily habits. You have made the “small” steps into a habit -- and after that, the sky’s truly the limit.

Abbott is asking a million people what a full life means to them. Join them and share your story at http://www.lifetothefullest.abbott/. Abbott makes innovative products and technologies that help people live not just longer, but better, through the power of health. For more than 125 years, Abbott has helped people keep their hearts healthy, nourish their bodies at every stage of life, see more clearly, and have access to information and medicines to manage their health.

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