4 ways to be in the healthiest 3 percent


June 27, 2016

Less than 3 percent of U.S. adults lead a healthy lifestyle; be among them.


The numbers are staggering. According to a study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, only about 3 percent of U.S. adults meet the four basic qualifications for a healthy lifestyle. With the help of Stacey Kendrick, a health educator at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, we explain the four qualifications and how to meet them.


  1. Quit smoking.

The American Cancer Society lists the immediate benefits of smoking cessation from within 20 minutes of that last cigarette to 15 years smoke-free. The Centers for Disease Control has resources to help you quit. You can also talk to your doctor for a solution that’s right for you.

“In addition to saving money on tobacco,” Kendrick says, “food will begin to taste better, your breath will smell better, and you will stop the damaging effects of premature aging and tooth decay that smoking causes.”

Learn more about smoking cessation  — and how you can do it — in these My Southern Health articles.

  1. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate or vigorous exercise per week.

“Get rid of the all-or-nothing mentality,” Kendrick says. “Just because you cannot do ‘the perfect workout,’ doesn’t mean you cannot find a way to fit in something during your day or night.” Schedule exercise as you would any other priority, and make it happen. Enlist a co-worker or friend to join you for fun and accountability.

Be creative. If time is tight, work in three, 10-minute bouts of exercise per day instead of a 30-minute chunk. “Look for ways to add activity into your routine,” Kendrick says, “such as taking the stairs, walking to lunch, pacing while talking on the phone, walking down the hall to the farthest bathroom or walking around the sports field while your child practices.”


  1. Eat a healthy, nutritious diet.

Improving your diet is key to a healthy lifestyle. Study participants who achieved a score of 40 percent or higher on the Healthy Eating Index met the requirement for a healthy diet. Choose My Plate, from the United States Department of Agriculture, is geared toward helping folks adopt a healthier eating style.

In order to get your recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables, Kendrick suggests including a fruit or veggie with every meal or snack. Examples include adding fruit to cereal or oatmeal or veggies to sandwiches or pasta. “Keep fruit handy, such as in the desk, on the counter top, in the gym bag or car for easy access,” she adds.


  1. Maintain a recommended body fat percentage.

If you need to lose weight, Kendrick suggests a one- to two-pound weight loss per week. “Slower is better,” she says, “especially if it includes lifestyle changes that can be practiced long term, and are not quick fixes that cannot be sustained.” To monitor progress or ensure maintenance, weigh yourself once a week.