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Why eating, moving, and sleeping go better together

(This post originally appeared on Psychology Today)

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Making better choices takes work. There is a daily give and take, but it is worth the effort. The vast knowledge we have to prevent cancer, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses is staggering. Every day, I read about new ideas and research that could help someone I care about live a longer and healthier life.

What I learn from this research also influences my countless daily decisions. Every bite of food either increases or decreases my odds of spending a few more years with my wife and two young children. Half an hour of exercise in the morning makes for better interactions all day. Then a sound night of sleep gives me energy to tackle the next day. I am a more active parent, a better spouse, and more engaged in my work when I eat, move, and sleep well.

What seem like small or inconsequential moments accumulate rapidly. When your good daily decisions outweigh your poor ones, you boost your chances of growing old in better health. Life itself is a big game of beating the odds. Take, for example, these four largely preventable diseases: cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease. Combined, they kill nearly 9 in 10 people.

Researchers have estimated that 90 percent of us could live to age 90 with some simple lifestyle choices. What’s more, we could live free of common diseases that make our final years miserable. Even if you have a family history of heart disease or cancer, most of your fate is in your control.

A recent study suggests you do not “inherit” longevity as much as previously believed. Instead, the sum of your habits determines your life span. How long you live is more about how you live your life and less about how long your parents lived.

As I explained in a previous post, I am a living testament to the fact that lousy predispositions can be encoded in your genes. Yet even in this extreme case, my decisions affect the odds of new tumors growing and my existing cancers spreading. The reality is, the majority of your risk in life lies in the choices you make, not in your family tree.

No single act can prevent cancer or guarantee you will live a long life. Anyone who promises you something that absolute is a fraud. Yet there are countless things you can do to improve your odds of a longer, healthier, and more fulfilling life.

Starting your day with a healthy breakfast increases your odds of being active in the hours that follow. This helps you eat well throughout the day. Consuming the right foods and adding activity makes for a much better night’s sleep. This sound night of sleep will make it even easier to eat well and move more tomorrow.

In contrast, a lousy night of sleep immediately threatens the other two areas. That bad night of sleep makes you crave a less healthy breakfast and decreases your odds of being active. In the worst-case scenario, all three elements start to work against you, creating a downward spiral that makes each day progressively worse.

New research shows that tackling multiple elements at the same time increases your odds of success, compared to initiating a new diet or exercise program in isolation. Eating, moving, and sleeping well are even easier if you work on all three in parallel. These three ingredients for a good day build on one another. When these elements are working together, they create an upward spiral and progressively better days.

If you eat, move, and sleep well today, you will have more energy tomorrow. You will treat your friends and family better. You will achieve more at work and give more to your community.


Adapted from the book Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes by Tom Rath (Missionday, 2013)

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