Even if you’re not a loud-and-proud member of social media’s #fitfam, you probably know the basics of living a healthy lifestyle: Eat fruits and vegetables, get sweaty a few times a week, and don’t pollute your lungs with cigarette smoke. You might also drink plenty of water, get plenty of sleep, and limit your alcohol intake. With a few basic practices, you might feel comfortable classifying yourself as a healthy member of society — even if you do indulge in a donut now and then.
But all of your wellness habits might not be enough, according to a recent study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Based on a sampling of 4,725 adults, researchers found that only 2.7 percent of Americans currently lead a healthy lifestyle. That works out to just more than 8.6 million people based on the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau — just slightly more than the number of people living in New York City, which means that all of the healthiest Americans can fit into a single metropolitan area.
The study used four characteristics to classify a healthy lifestyle: Exercise, diet, body fat percentage, and smoking habits. In order to be deemed healthy, a participant in the study had to engage in moderate to vigorous exercise for at least 150 minutes a week, score in the top 40 percent on the Healthy Eating Index, have a body fat percentage less than 30 for women and less than 20 percent for men, and be a non-smoker.
“Very few U.S. adults (less than 3 percent) had all four healthy lifestyle characteristics, with little variation by age, sex, and race/ethnicity (the range of having all four healthy lifestyle characteristics across demographic groups was 0.6-3.9 percent),” the researchers concluded. “We also showed that having more healthy lifestyle characteristics was associated with more favorable biomarker levels related to chronic disease. Although having multiple healthy lifestyle characteristics is important, specific health characteristics may be more important for particular cardiovascular disease risk factors.”
While the percentage of people who met all four criteria was dismally low, the number of people who could check off at least one box was much better: In the study, 71.5 percent of participants were non-smokers, 46.5 percent meet the exercise requirements, and 37.9 percent followed a healthy diet. The numbers plunged, however, when it came to body fat percentage, with only 9.6 percent falling into the acceptable range. The number of people who met the first three requirements came in at 13 percent.
Eating habits were based on a 24-hour, self-reported food diary, which can be unreliable, but the other data points were objectively measured. Researchers used blood samples to verify smoking status, an X-ray test to calculate body fat percentage, and accelerometers worn over the course of a week to measure physical activity.
Would you pass these tests, or do you fall short on any factors? More important, what can you do to fulfill all the conditions?
Smoking has the most cut-and-dried solution, of course: If you smoke, stop. Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week is slightly more complex, but Beachbody On Demand makes it easy to find exactly the right fitness program for your personality, time constraints, and fitness goals. Not a fan of streaming online videos? Then check out one of our newest DVD workout programs: 22 Minute Hard Corps.
When it comes to diet, you can do your very own 24-hour diet recall to see where you land on the Healthy Eating Index. If you find that you’re not getting the right portions of the different food groups, the Beachbody Portion-Control Container Kit can help get you get on track.
There are several ways you can calculate body fat percentage at home, including body fat calipers and scales, but the most accurate methods are administered by a professional: Bod Pod (air displacement), DXA Scan (x-ray), and hydrostatic tank (water displacement). Not happy with your results? Follow the exercise suggestions above to shed the extra weight and sculpt the body you’ve always wanted.