Healthy Habits and Life Style

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Taking Care of Yourself (For Adults)

Physical Activity and Exercise

It is important to be physically active and exercise when possible.

Adverse consequences of physical inactivity and lack of exercise:

  • Physical inactivity and lack of exercise are associated with heart disease and some cancers.
  • Physical inactivity and lack of exercise are associated with Type II diabetes mellitus (also known as maturity or adult onset, non-insulin dependent diabetes).
  • Physical inactivity and lack of exercise contribute to weight gain.

Comments -  benefits of regular exercise include:

  • Regular exercise can prevent and reverse the age-related decrease in muscle mass and strength, improve balance, flexibility, and endurance, and decrease the risk of falls in the elderly.· Regular exercise can help prevent coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.
  • Regular exercise can help chronic arthritis sufferers improve their capacity to perform daily activities such as driving, climbing stairs, and opening jars.
  • Regular exercise can help increase self-esteem and self-confidence, decrease stress and anxiety, enhance mood, and improve mental health.
  • Regular exercise can help control weight gain.

Exercise recommendations:

  • 30 minutes of modest exercise (walking OK) at least three to five days a week is recommended. But, the greatest health benefits come from exercising most days of the week.
  • Exercise can be broken up into smaller 10-minute sessions.
  • Start slowly and progress gradually to avoid injury or excessive soreness or fatigue. Over time, build up to 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day.
  • People are never too old to start exercising. Even frail, elderly individuals (ages 70-90 years) can improve their strength and balance.

Exercise precautions: 

Individuals can begin moderate exercise, such as walking, without a medical examination. The following persons, however, should consult a doctor before more vigorous exercise:

  • Men over age 40 or women over age 50.
  • Individuals with heart or lung disease, asthma, arthritis, or osteoporosis.
  • Individuals who experience chest pressure or pain with exertion, or who develop fatigue or shortness of breath easily.
  • Individuals with conditions that increase their risks of developing coronary heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cigarette smoking, high blood cholesterol, or having family members with early onset heart attacks and coronary heart disease.

Healthy Eating Habits

Eat a balanced diet that contains carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins, and plenty of fiber. Balance calorie consumption with energy expenditure to maintain a healthy weight and avoid weight gain. Eat less saturated fat and cholesterol. Avoid drastic diet changes without consulting a doctor or a nutritionist.

Eating too many calories (eating more calories than the body needs for your level of activity)

Adverse consequences of eating too many calories:

Recommendations (to reduce calorie consumption):

  • Eat more vegetables and complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains). Vegetables have low energy density. Low energy density foods contain relatively few calories per unit volume. For example, you can eat a large volume of lettuce without taking in many calories
  • Eat less energy dense foods such as fats, nuts, egg yolks, fried foods, sweets, and high fat salad dressings. Energy dense foods have a high calorie content per unit volume. Also eat fewer foods that provide calories but little other nutrition such as alcohol and many packaged snack foods.

Eating too much saturated fat

Adverse consequences of eating too much saturated fat:

  • Too much saturated fat intake promotes weight gain, increases blood cholesterol levels and the risk of developing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Atherosclerosis can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and poor circulation in the legs.
  • Even though conclusive proof is lacking, a diet high in saturated fat may be associated with an increased risk of colon cancer.

Recommendations (cut down on saturated fat):

  • Eat less red meat, dairy fat, fried foods, egg yolks, delicatessen meats, and desserts. These foods have high energy density and most have a high cholesterol and saturated fat content.
  • Cook with vegetable oil (not palm or coconut oils which are high in saturated fats) and use unsaturated margarines.
  • Choose foods that contain more unsaturated fats such as certain fish. Unsaturated fats may decrease the blood level of triglycerides (another substance associated with the development of atherosclerosis) in some people.

Eating too much sodium

Adverse consequences of eating too much sodium:

  • Too much sodium in the diet can contribute to high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attacks, stroke, and heart and kidney failure.

Recommendations (decrease sodium intake):

  • Avoid adding salt to food and avoid foods prepared with lots of salt (most soups, canned vegetables, prepared foods, many "fast" foods, delicatessen foods, salted nuts, popcorn, and other snack foods). 
  • It is best to prepare foods from scratch and minimize the use of salt in the preparation.

Inadequate fiber in diet

Adverse consequences of inadequate fiber in diet:

Recommendation (to increase fiber consumption):

  • Eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables

Inadequate calcium and vitamin D consumption

  • Inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake
  • The average woman in the US consumes less than 500 milligrams of calcium per day in her diet, which is less than the recommended amount.
  • Vitamin D deficiency is common among the elderly. Vitamin D comes from food and is also produced by the skin upon exposure to sunlight. House-bound individuals and nursing home residents are thus prone to developing vitamin D deficiency if their dietary intake is insufficient.

Adverse consequences of unhealthy eating habits (not consuming adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D):

  • Adequate calcium intake is important to maintain healthy bone. Inadequate calcium intake contributes to osteoporosis.
  • Vitamin D is necessary for absorption of calcium in food. Lack of vitamin D can therefore weaken bones.

Recommendations (assuring adequate calcium and vitamin D intake):

The National Institutes of Health Consensus Conference on Osteoporosis recommend the following calcium intake:

  1. 800 mg/day for children ages 1 to 10
  2. 1000 mg/day for men, premenopausal women, and postmenopausal women also taking estrogen
  3. 1200 mg/day for teenagers and young adults ages 11 to 24
  4. 1500 mg/day for post menopausal women not taking estrogen
  5. 1200mg to 1500 mg/day for pregnant women and nursing mothers
  6. The total daily intake of calcium should not exceed 2000 mg.

The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommended the following vitamin D intake:

  1. 200 IU daily for men and women 19 to 50 years old
  2. 400 IU daily for men and women 51 to 70 years old
  3. 600 IU daily for men and women 71 years and older
An average multivitamin tablet contains 400 IU of vitamin D. Therefore, one to two multivitamins a day should provide the recommended amount of vitamin D.


  • Excessive vitamin D leads to elevated blood calcium levels which can cause significant toxicity. Consequently, intake should not exceed 1000 IU daily. Those taking calcium tablets which contain vitamin D need to use caution if their multivitamin tablet also contains vitamin D.

Inadequate intake of folic acid and vitamin B

Adverse consequences of inadequate folic acid and vitamin B intake:

  • Inadequate folic acid intake in child-bearing women is associated with an increased risk of spina bifida (a form of birth defect) and other serious congenital neurological defects in new-born infants. 
  • Inadequate intake of folic acid and certain other B vitamins (B12 and B6, which is also known as pyridoxine) causes high homocysteine blood levels, which are associated with an increased risk of heart attacks.

Recommendation (assuring adequate folic acid and vitamin B intake):

  • Even though cereals are fortified with folic acid in the United States, women in childbearing years should consider taking a multivitamin that contains at least 400 micrograms of folic acid daily for the prevention of neural tube birth defects.The multivitamin tablet should also provide the recommended minimum daily amount of vitamins B6 (10 milligrams) and B12 (25 micrograms) as well as that of the other B vitamins: thiamine, niacin and riboflavin.

Inadequate intake of anti-oxidants:

  • Antioxidants include carotenoids, vitamins A, C and E, and natural antioxidants in fruits and vegetables.

Adverse consequences of inadequate intake of anti-oxidants:

  • Even though conclusive proof is lacking, some doctors believe that an inadequate intake of anti-oxidants can increase the risk of developing certain cancers. Not eating enough fruits and vegetables also may deprive the body of certain cancer fighting plant anti-oxidants called phytochemicals.

Recommendations (assuring adequate intake of ant-oxidants):

  • Eat at least 5 servings of vegetables and fruits daily. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and are rich in vitamin C and other antioxidant vitamins and phytochemicals.
  • Take a daily multivitamin that contains the anti-oxidant vitamins: (A, C, and E) and carotenoids. 

Taking mega-doses of vitamins 

  • Fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, and E)
  • Non-fat soluble vitamins (B and C vitamins)

Adverse consequences of taking mega-doses of vitamins:

Large doses of vitamins are not always safe. For example:

  1. Only a slight excess of vitamin A can cause birth defects and neurological symptoms in infants and children, and skin disorders in adults. 
  2. Vitamin D in high doses can cause high blood calcium levels which may lead to  nausea and constipation, kidney stones, and confusion.
  3. Vitamin E in high doses can increase the blood thinning action of Coumadin and increase the risk of bleeding in those using that medicine.
  4. Pyridoxine (vitamin B6) in very high doses can cause nerve damage.
  5. While adverse side effects of vitamin C are rare, large doses of vitamin C may cause kidney stones, gastric acidity,  diarrhea, or anemia due to blood cell destruction in individuals with G 6PD (glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase) deficiency.

Comments and Recommendations:

  • Adults should take one multivitamin daily which provides the minimum recommended levels of those vitamins not always readily obtainable from a usual diet. This is a safe and inexpensive way to assure adequate vitamin intake of all the B vitamins, vitamin D, and anti-oxidant vitamins.
  • Do not take high doses of any vitamin without advice and monitoring by your doctor.
  • Maximum unit of vitamin A is 10,000 IU daily
  • Maximum unit of vitamin D is 800 IU daily
  • Vitamin E, 400 units daily is generous and safe
  • Vitamin B6, 10-20 mg daily is very generous
  • B vitamins.....
  • Vitamin C doses over 500 mg daily increases risk of gastric acidity, diarrhea or anemia

Inadequate intake of minerals:

  • Inadequate intake of minerals (potassium, magnesium, iron, and the trace minerals such as selenium, chromium, zinc, and manganese)

Adverse consequences of inadequate intake of minerals:

  • Low potassium and magnesium levels are associated with muscle weakness.
  • Low iron can cause anemia.
  • Trace mineral deficiencies disrupt a number of important metabolic processes, but are uncommon.

Recommendations (assuring intake of adequate minerals):

  • Potassium and magnesium are widely available in a balanced diet and supplementation of them is generally not needed unless the individual is taking certain diuretic (water pills) medications.
  • Iron supplementation is appropriate for infants and pregnant and menstruating women. However, in the absence of these special needs, iron tends to accumulate in the body. Excessive levels of iron, which are not uncommonly found in older men, may cause serious damage to the liver, pancreas, and heart.
  • Supplementation with the trace minerals may be appropriate in the minimal recommended daily doses. Little evidence supports the use of high doses of these minerals.

Tobacco Use

Unhealthy habit of tobacco use:

  • Tobacco use is the most important preventable cause of death. Tobacco use was estimated to be the cause of 17% of all deaths and 13% of all years of life lost by adults due to death prior to age 65 in the US in 1980.

Adverse consequences of  tobacco use:

  • Tobacco use causes an estimated 30% of cancers in the US. Tobacco use causes cancer of lung, mouth, lip, tongue, esophagus, kidney, and bladder. It also further increases the risk of bladder cancer in subjects occupationally exposed to certain organic chemicals found in textile, leather, rubber, dye, paint, and other organic chemical industries, and further increases the risk of lung cancer among subjects exposed to asbestos.
  • Tobacco use causes atherosclerotic arterial disease (hardening and narrowing of the arteries) that can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and lack of blood flow to the lower extremities. Tobacco use causes an estimated 20% of coronary heart disease in the US. It also further increases the risk of heart attacks among subjects with elevated cholesterol, uncontrolled hypertension, obesity, and a sedentary life style.
  • Tobacco use causes an estimated 20% of chronic lung diseases, such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema in the US, and causes pneumonia in those with chronic lung disease.
  • Pregnant women who smoke are more likely to deliver babies with low birth weight.
  • Second-hand smoke can cause middle ear infections, coughing, wheezing, bronchitis, and pneumonia in babies, and aggravate asthma in children.

Comments and recommendations:

  • Quitting smoking is difficult to accomplish; tobacco contains nicotine, which is addictive. Some smokers can quit "cold turkey," but for most, quitting smoking requires a serious life-long commitment and an average of six quitting attempts before success.

  • Quitting smoking efforts may include behavior modification, counseling, using nicotine chewing gum (Nicorette Gum) and nicotine skin patches (Transderm Nicotine), and oral medications such as Bupropion (Zyban).

Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Unhealthy habit: Excessive alcohol consumption

Adverse consequences of excessive alcohol consumption:

  • Chronic, excess alcohol consumption is the major cause of liver cirrhosis in the US.
  • Liver cirrhosis can cause internal hemorrhage, fluid accumulation in the abdomen, easy bleeding and bruising, muscle wasting, mental confusion, infections, and in advanced cases, coma and kidney failure.
  • Liver cirrhosis can lead to liver cancer.
  • Alcoholism accounts for 40-50% of deaths from automobile accidents in the US.
  • Alcoholism is an important cause of injury and death from home accidents, drowning, and burns.

Comments and recommendations:

There are many treatments for alcoholism. But the crucial first step to recovery is for the individual to admit there is a problem and make a commitment to address the alcoholism issue. The 12-step style self help programs, pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous, can be effective treatment. Psychologists and related professionals have developed programs to help individuals better handle emotional stresses and avoid behaviors that can lead to excess drinking. Support and understanding from family members are often critical for sustained recovery. Medication can be useful for the prevention of relapses and for withdrawal symptoms following acute or prolonged intoxication.

Healthy Behaviors

Unhealthy behavior - high-risk sexual behavior such as:

  • Multiple partners
  • Partners with a history of
    • Intravenous drug use
    • Venereal disease
    • Bi-sexual partners
    • Male homo-sexual activity

Adverse consequences of high-risk sexual behavior:

Risks of high-risk sexual behavior include:


  • Avoid unprotected sex (sex without barriers such as a condom) outside an established, committed, monogamous relationship and with a partner without a history of multiple partners, previous sexually transmittable diseases, or male homosexual activity.

Unhealthy behavior - high-risk behaviors such as:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Driving while sleep deprived
  • Reckless driving and speeding
  • Driving while using cell phones or performing other tasks
  • Motorcycle (and bicycle) riding without helmets
  • Possession of firearms and guns without proper training and storage
  • Smoking in bed

Adverse consequences of high-risk behaviors:

  • Motor vehicle accidents account for 40-50% of accidental deaths
  • Motorcycle accidents are a major cause of serious head injuries
  • Firearms and guns account for significant proportion of deaths among adolescents due to male suicide and homicide.
  • Smoking in bed can lead to burn injury and death


  • Use seat restraints
  • Do not drink and drive
  • Do not drive if sleep deprived
  • Avoid unnecessary distractions while driving (talking on cell phones, eating, applying makeup, etc.)
  • Use helmets while riding bicycles and motor cycles. Helmet use reduces deaths from motorcycle accidents by 30% and serious head injuries by 75%.
  • Proper training in the use and storage of guns and ammunition
  • Smoke detectors; avoid smoking in bed
  • Use seat restraints
  • Do not drink and drive
  • Do not drive if sleep deprived
  • Use helmets while riding bicycles and motor cycles
  • Proper training in the use and storage of guns and ammunition
  • Smoke detectors; avoid smoking in bed

Unhealthy behavior - excess sun exposure

Adverse consequences of excess sun exposure:


  • Avoid sunburns and sun exposure without protection. Use brimmed hats, protective clothing and sunscreen.

Medical Author: Daniel Gornel, M.D., MPH
Medical Editor: Dennis Lee, M.D.


Kurokawa, Ichiro, et al. "New Developments in Our Understanding of Acne Pathogenesis and Treatment." Experimental Dermatology 18 (2009): 821-832.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/13/2013

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