The pandemic highlighted the need for everyone, in any age group, to have a healthy body with a strong immune system. It is now a matter of survival to achieve and maintain this. Your day-to-day behavior must be geared toward this rather than to attain artificial ideals of body weight, size, and shape.
Wrong Notions of a Healthy Body
In the YouGov Body Image Study conducted nationwide from April 26 to 27 among 1,302 respondents from 16 years old and older, more than 75 percent held that media promotes idealized body images and there is stronger pressure on women to attain these body types. A majority or 69 percent held that fashion companies also endorse these. About half of all respondents felt the pressure, with 24 percent considering themselves unattractive, 20 percent considering themselves overweight, and 21 percent considering themselves chubby.
Comparing themselves to an artificial ideal body type creates a negative body image in people and lowers their self-esteem. They become exceedingly dissatisfied and disappointed with their bodies and desperately seek to change these to conform with the perceived ideal. They become self-conscious and ashamed of themselves. They either avoid social interactions and retreat into self-isolation or put up a coping mechanism by making fun of their body shape in public.
Eating Disorders from a Negative Body Image
These issues result in emotional and mental health problems like depression and anxiety that often lead to eating disorders. Food is associated with weight, hence, an unhealthy relationship with food develops. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that about five percent of Americans have an eating disorder, mostly among females from 12 to 35 years old. All eating disorders are dangerous and need immediate professional treatment.
The most well-known of these eating disorders is anorexia nervosa where a person starves herself even to the point of death. This has the second-highest mortality rate among mental health disorders, after the use of illegal substances. Another well-known eating disorder is bulimia where a person induces herself to vomit in private after eating. This also includes excessive use of laxatives. Also common is binge eating disorder where a person eats large volumes of food in secret.
Among the less-known eating disorders is rumination disorder where the person regurgitates and rechews swallowed food repeatedly. With avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), the person eats only limited types of food, sometimes only one type. With pica disorder, the person compulsively eats non-food items, including toxic ones.
Adequate Regular Exercise is a Must
To be free from wrong ideas about the body, you have to shift your focus from its appearance to its genuine state of health. What the body needs is regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and a healthy and nutritious diet.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans second edition, lack of regular physical activity is a factor in 70 percent of the chronic diseases that are most common. Unfortunately, nearly 50 percent of Americans have chronic diseases that can be prevented. This is not surprising because up to eight in ten American adults do not reach the minimum requirements for aerobic exercise and muscle strengthening. This contributes to 10 percent of annual premature deaths and costs $117 billion in health care.
Adults need at least two-and-half to five hours of moderate aerobics distributed in increments throughout each week. You can replace this with one-hour-and-15-minutes to two-and-half hours of vigorous aerobics or a combination of moderate and vigorous aerobics. Adults also need moderate to intense muscle-strengthening involving all major muscles two or more days a week. At the very least, limit the time you spend sitting and move around more.
Sleep, Eat, Be Healthy
Sleep at night is important for the immune system. The Circadian sleep rhythm or cycle, an internal clock of the body, dictates when the body starts to feel sleepy for a long night’s sleep and when it wakes up. This is tied to bodily functions that happen during long deep sleep. At this time, the body increases the production of cytokines that help the body fight an infection or heal wounds. When there is no illness to fight, the cells and cytokines at night strengthen immunity.
Sleep improves the immune system’s memory so that it remembers the process of recognizing dangerous antigens and how to fight them. Lack of sleep, on the other hand, makes the immune system weaker and renders it more vulnerable to infections.
Your diet is another key to a healthy body and strong immune system. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, diets high in ultra-processed foods, red meat, and refined sugar can suppress immunity. There is no specific diet that boosts immunity, though. Rather, a balanced good quality diet with a variety of nutritious food must provide nutrients like protein, iron, vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, and selenium, among others. It is also beneficial to include probiotic food that contains live bacteria helpful to the body and prebiotic food that feed those bacteria.
Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate has vegetables and fruits taking up half of the space, and whole grains and protein taking up a fourth of the space each. It advises adding healthy plant oils moderately.
If you follow these guidelines, you will not achieve that photoshopped look you see on magazines and social media. You will, however, become the healthiest possible version of yourself and your body will carry you through an awesome life.