6 Lifestyle Factors and How they Impact Our Health

Updated: Jul 22

Introduction | 6 Lifestyle Factors | #1: Smoking | #2: Alcohol | #3: Sleep | #4: Stress | #5: Exercise | #6: Diet & Nutrition

an image of items relating to the lifestyle factors: running trainers, skipping rope, dumbbells and health food

The aim of this article is to provide you with an opportunity to complete a health and lifestyle questionnaire. By reading through and honestly answering the questions, and comparing the answers to the ‘health professional’s analysis, you will be able to identify areas of your lifestyle that (might) need improving.

So this is how the Lifestyle Analysis should work

Read through the questionnaire ensuring to answer each question as honestly and accurately as possible.

How this would normally work, say, between a health professional and their client, is, after the client has completed the questionnaire, the health professional would read it over making recommendations and suggestions.

The health professional would identify areas in the client’s lifestyle that could compromise their health and increase the risk of illness and disease. Not only would they identify pernicious lifestyle habits but also order them in a list of prioritised importance. That is, which lifestyle habit poses the greatest risk to health and ought to be tackled first.

If the health professional is worth their salt they would sit with the client and verbally walk them through their analysis.

Because we cannot, for obvious reasons, conduct this process in the manner described above, I have instead analysed the questionnaire based on how the ‘average’ (that is statistical average) person would answer the questions.

In addition, for those lifestyle questions that the average person would posit a positive answer – for example: Do you smoke? To which the average person would answer No – I have still explained how this lifestyle factor could negatively impact on health. Why?

For the simple reason that I want this lifestyle analysis to be as inclusive as possible. And of course, statistically speaking, it stands to reason that, if enough people do conduct this questionnaire, one will inevitably be a smoker.

However, if you were to come across a question which you could answer positively – such as: Do you smoke? Yes/No . . . No – you would simply dismiss my analysis and proceed to the next question.

In a bid to facilitate user participation and make the process run more smoothly, I have indicated at the end of each question whether or not, based on your answer, you should read the accompanying analysis.

A quick word on the lifestyle questions

In my discussion of each lifestyle question I have remained both broad and brief. The reason for this is twofold.

1) A comprehensive outline of but one lifestyle factor would require an extensive investigation which would easily consume thousands of words. I have purposely avoided this so as to better cater for the contemporary palate.

2) When analyzing a client’s diet I would normally pick it apart and, on slipping on my nutritionist specs, scrutinize every edible, meal and morsel.

This approach, for a general lifestyle analysis, is of course not feasible. Thus the onus is on the reader to compare and contrast the lifestyle factors discussed to their own.

Also, I would advise the reader to further explore those lifestyle factors that were identified as needing improvement. A suggested reading list accompanies each factor.

Ok, I’ll shut up now. It’s over to you to complete the questionnaire. Just remember one thing: be honest!

Lifestyle Factor #1: Smoking

a man snapping a cigarette in half - this image is showing the importance of stopping smoking as part of a move towards a healthier lifestyle.

Do you smoke? Yes / No: Yes (if you answered Yes please read the analysis)

According to the NHS (2020) ‘Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable deaths in England, accounting for nearly 80,000 deaths each year. One in two smokers will die from a smoking-related disease.’

There’s more: ‘Every 15 cigarettes you smoke will cause a mutation in your body, mutations are how cancers start.'

By reducing your consumption of cigarettes, and eventually quitting of course, you will significantly reduce your susceptibility of the plethora of smoking-related diseases.

Diseases associated with smoking

9 of the 10 known lung cancers
Cancer of the: mouth, throat, oesophagus, stomach, digestive tract and brain
COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
Hypertension – high blood pressure
Heart disease

Smoking has also been shown to adversely impact on infertility and reproduction – men who smoke tend to have lower sperm counts – and blood circulation – men who smoke tend to experience fewer erections.

As a consequence of the toxic gunk that accumulates and coagulates in the body, which eventually finds its way to the circulatory system, the blood of a smoker is not only comparatively thicker to that of a non-smoker but also carries less oxygen. This is bad for a number of reasons. But the two most prominent are:

1: Thicker blood which increases your chances of clot formation
2: Increases your blood pressure and heart rate, making your heart work harder than normal

If, as a smoker, you are left unmoved after learning of these dire facts, findings and figures, you are clearly unreachable. Why you would so willingly subject your body to such disgusting pollution and poison and expose your health to so great a risk I could never understand. You are a psychological enigma.

However, now that you are informed, if ever you do succumb to one of the aforementioned diseases/conditions – and statistics indicate that you stand a very high chance – at least you won’t be able to say: But I didn’t know smoking was so bad for my health. Thus, when the time comes, ensure that you fall on your sword with dignity . . . and be so good as to give up your medical care to someone more deserving of it.

(On the bright side, until you do decide to dispense with the disease inflictors you’ll be contributing to the coffers of the tobacco barons, the government and keeping many a health psychologist in pay. On their behalf: Thank You!)

If, as a smoker, you feel somewhat unnerved by the myriad ways smoking could shorten your life, and the prospect of dying 15 years prematurely keeps you up at nights, as it rightly should, TAKE ACTION IMMEDIATELY!

Nowadays there is so much help available for people who want to quit the cancer sticks. You’ve just got to be bothered to seek out those support groups and use them.

To unburden you of one of the many barriers that are no doubt prohibiting you from taking action, I have included a number of links to smoking support groups. Start your journey to healthier life today!

The following link will take you to the NHS’s Personal Quit Plan
Quit.org is charity dedicated to helping people QUIT!
Smokefree.gov is a governmental initiative to help people QUIT!
And then there’s Ash.org, a public charity striving to help people improve their health by staying QUIT!

Further reading

Health Psychology: Theory, Research and Practice

by David F. Marks (Author), Michael Murray (Author), Emee Vida Estacio

This fully-revised and updated Fifth Edition takes a critical approach and places health psychology in a real-world context, enabling students to understand how public policy, theory and research can influence communities and individuals alike.

Lifestyle Factor #2: Alcohol Consumption

An image depicting multiple bottles of alcohol. This is supposed to illustrate the importance of reducing or quitting drinking alcohol as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Do you consume alcohol? Yes / No: Yes (if you answered Yes please read the analysis – though not before first calculating the number of units you are consuming)

If Yes, how much alcohol do you consume during the week? (Unit conversion: one pint of low strength beer = 2 units – large glass of red wine = 3 units – single small shot 25ml of a 40% proof spirit = 1 unit)

I consume between 3 to 4 alcoholic beverages per week. My tipple is red wine and one drink constitutes as a full glass. Going off the conversion chart I am probably consuming about 12 units each week.

The dangers of alcohol consumption

‘According to Government statistics, more than 1.4 million people are dependent on alcohol in the UK. 33,000 people die each year due to alcohol-related incidents or associated health problem,’ (Alcoholics Anonymous 2020).

Alcohol, in any quantity, is extremely pernicious to health. According to Dr Greger ‘moderate drinking does appear to protect against heart disease, perhaps because of a blood-thinning effect, but even light drinking (less than one drink a day) has been found to increase cancer risk,’ (How Not to Die - p144).

Alcohol consumption contributes to 3 million deaths each year globally as well as to the disabilities and poor health of millions of people. ‘Overall, harmful use of alcohol is responsible for 5.1% of the global burden of disease,’ WHO (2020).

Furthermore, alcohol consumption is associated with fatty-liver disease, type 2 diabetes and visceral/subcutaneous fat. Anyone who is serious about weight loss and health must look to reduce the amount of alcohol they consume.

Alcohol-related diseases

Cirrhosis of the liver ‘is scarring (fibrosis) of the liver caused by long-term liver damage.’ (NHS 2020)
Wet brain syndrome or ‘‘Wernicke’s encephalopathy’ is a condition that causes neurological symptoms as a result of biochemical lesions of the nervous system’ which can result in permanent damage to the brain leading to memory loss and impaired cognition (Dr Thomas 2020).
High blood pressure (hypertension)
Digestive problems: alcohol can impede the body from absorbing vital nutrients – such as thiamine (B1)
Alcohol can also damage your pancreas. If you drink too much, it can lead to acute (short-lasting) or chronic (long-lasting) pancreatitis (BUPA 2020)
Chronic Depression
Impaired reproductive capacity – alcohol consumption reduces sperm count

In light of these facts – and there are many more besides – it is best to reduce alcohol consumption to zero units per week. Over the course of the next couple of weeks aim to reduce the number of units consumed. Do not replace alcohol with a non-alcoholic alternative as they contain lots of sugar and you would merely be replacing one unhealthy beverage for another.

Below I have included a number of links to support groups. Access them today and kick this nasty habit.

Alcoholic Anonymous, in their own words, ‘is a fellowship of men and women who share their experiences, strength and hope with each other that they may sole their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.’ But the charity also provides advice on guidance on how to lower consumption and how to quit altogether.

The NHS provides a service that enables people to find support groups in their local area. Follow the link and get the support you need.

Alcohol Change is a charity dedicated to helping people find the right support for them.

Further Reading

Alcohol Explained by William Porter

Alcohol Explained is the definitive, ground-breaking guide to alcohol and alcoholism. It explains how alcohol affects human beings on a chemical, physiological and psychological level, from those first drinks right up to chronic alcoholism. Alcoholism and problem drinking seems illogical to those on the outside, indeed it is equally perplexing for the alcoholic or problem drinker. This book provides a logical, easy to follow explanation of the phenomenon and detailed instructions on how to beat it.

Lifestyle Factor #3: Sleep

A cartoon image of a woman sleeping in a cloud. This picture is supposed to illustrate the importance of sleep as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Do you get on average between: 7 to 8 hours of good sleep? Yes / No (If No please read the analysis)

No, I do not get between 7 to 8 hours good sleep. I’m lucky if I get 6 hours and the sleep I have tends to be broken and fractured.

The importance of sleep

The importance of sleep and how it impacts on physiological and neurological systems are becoming more deeply understood. Sleep scientists (yes that’s a thing) around the world are studying the ways in which sleep both positively and negatively effects our lives. Their findings are a cause for great concern for those who are not getting enough sleep.

The focus of this analysis is centered on the negative effects and why it is imperative to implement a healthy sleeping regime.

Few people truly recognise just how important sleeping is. I myself often use to say that sleep is for the lazy and that I’ll catch up on those lost hours when I’m dead. Ironic as it is, and in my ignorance little did I know that, persistent sleep deprivation could hasten my ultimate demise.

But beyond potentially shortening your lifespan poor sleep hygiene, as it’s known, correlates strongly with obesity, metabolic syndrome and impaired physical performance (Ventino et al 2013).

In addition, the quality of sleep is an indicator of general well-being and irregular sleeping patterns have been shown to impair or diminish the quality of a person’s life. Poor sleep hygiene is associated with heightened states of anxiety, stress and depression.

Other negative outcomes associated with poor sleep include

Impaired memory
Impaired learning capacity
Increases states of anxiety, stress and depression
Increases chances of developing obesity
Reduces the size of a males testicles thus adversely impacting on reproductive capability
Could increase susceptibility to Alzheimer’s
A mere one hour of sleep deprivation can significantly increase one’s risk of suffering a heart attack
Sleep loss has been shown to impair immune system function
Short sleep duration is linked to increase risk of cancer

So now that we know how detrimental sleep deprivation is to our health, two questions naturally follow:

Q1) How much sleep should I get
Q2) How do I get a good night’s sleep?

In answer to Q1, how much sleep we should get each night, the general consensus amongst sleep scientists is that 8 hours I optimal – but as this is unachievably specific aim for between 7 to 9 hours. Sleeping for fewer than 7 hours each night is considered as ‘short sleep’, which, if persistent, increases your chances of falling foul to the negative outcomes listed above.

But, as with all good things, we can get too much sleep. Sleeping for more than 9 hours constitutes as over sleep and comes with its own list of potential negative outcomes; such as stroke and, in women, breast cancer.

In response to Q2, I have compiled a list of advice from the top sleep scientists of how to improve your chances of getting a better night’s sleep. Remember, don’t expect instant results. As with anything worthwhile you have to persevere and be prepared to work at it.

Shh! I’m catching 40 winks: 7 ways to get a good night's sleep

1: Abstain from caffeinated or sugary drinks for a minimum of 6 hours before bed time. Why? Cuz caffeine can continue to stimulate the brain for up to 6 hours after ingestion.

2. Avoid bright lights – including ‘screen time’ – for a good hour or two prior to tucking up. Bright light can adversely impact on how the brain regulates sleep hormones and, so I read, can trigger wakey wakey time – something we want to avoid before fluffing up the pillow.

3. It is good practice to create an environment conducive to inducing a restive ‘sleepy’ state at least an hour before entering the Land of Nod. For example, let’s say you habitually climb into you coffin dead on 10pm, at 9pm you would ensure that all devices are turned off, lights turned down, maybe a bit of soft music playing in the background and you might begin reading a pleasant book – not a Stephen King slasher flick – or engage in a relaxing activity: Pilates, light Yoga, meditation.

4. Avoid strenuous physical activity at least 2 to 3 hours before boarding the sleep train. Exercise induces a heightened arousal state which may delay disembarkation.

5. Impose a strict zero tolerance attitude on napping throughout the day. Yes there is evidence out there in favour of napping; some studies have shown that it can boost mood and increase cognition. However, for light sleepers or people who struggle to 'get off', napping can impoverish the quality of a night's sleep.

6. Maintain a routine and rigidly stick to it. Apparently, according to the sleep scientists, we can train ourselves to sleep not only better but more deeply. One of the best ways to do this is establish a routine and avoid breaking it. Contrary to popular best sleeping practices advice, even if you are not tired you should still observe your routine.

7. Resist the temptation to hit snooze and don’t make a habit of lying in. Yes it’s probably not going to hurt once a week – say as a Sunday morning treat – but sneaking in extra Zzzzzs can disrupt sleep cycles.

Follow the link and learn more on the importance of sleep from one of the world’s foremost sleep scientists.

Further Reading

Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our life, health and longevity and yet it is increasingly neglected in twenty-first-century society, with devastating consequences: every major disease in the developed world - Alzheimer's, cancer, obesity, diabetes - has very strong causal links to deficient sleep.

Lifestyle Factor #4: Stress

A cartoon image depicting a man in a state of stress. This image heads the section that discusses the importance of stress reduction and stress management as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Do you suffer from stress on a regular basis (two or more times per week)? Y / N – Yes

If you answered Yes, rate the severity of stress against the 10 point scale below (1 being Zen Buddhist calm 10 being volcanic meltdown stressed)

1 . . . 2 . . . . 3 . . . 4 . . . 5 . . . 6 . . . 7 . . . 8 . . . 9 . . . 10

What are your primary stress triggers?

Primarily work as my job is atherosclerotic with bureaucracy and the organization expects far too much from its staff. We are always being saddled with unachievable expectations . . . and we are under appreciated. Other stressors include relationships and money matters.

The two faces of stress

We all know that there are two types of stress. Type 1: Acute – or short term: in a moment of absentmindedness you step into the road without looking, a car wizzes past whilst honking which sends your heart rate through the roof. But after giving yourself a good and much deserved dressing down you go about your merry way like nothing happened. After all, the crisis is now over so why dwell on it?

Type 2: Chronic stress

For months and months your boss has been saddling you with more and more work responsibilities and you’re feeling overwhelmed and you’ve got knots in your stomach and you can’t sleep and you’re constantly anxious and worried and, and . . . Yep, this is chronic stress and it’s the stuff that’ll make you ill and, if not treated, potentially prematurely cut your life short.

For obvious reasons we’ll be focusing our attention on the second type of stress.

The dangers of chronic stress

Chronic levels of stress has shown to be detrimental to many areas of the body with links to some of the biggest health concerns including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental health issues.

Harris et al 2017; Song et al 2019; Bullmore, 2018

The silent killer kills many thousands of people each year. And in one way or another stress negatively impacts on the lives of millions of people every day. It has been shown to exacerbate the severity of anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders. Some studies have shown that stress can even trigger mental health episodes in people who before had not exhibited any underlying symptoms.

Stress has also been linked to physical disorders and it is estimated that ‘over 80 percent of visits to the doctor’s office in the developed world are for stress-related disorders’ (Dr Siegel, Psy.D 2014).

But though there is an edifice of research demonstrating the detrimental impact stress has on human health, few people recognise just how pernicious stress actually is and it is not taken nearly as seriously as it ought to be.

In his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Robert M. Sapolsky, who is Stanford professor of biology and neurology and foremost researcher into the impacts of stress on health, talks about how stress impairs immune function thus increasing our susceptibility to illness and disease – such as cancer.

States of chronic – or persistent – stress have been shown to inhibit digestion, reproduction, ovulation and the general growth and repair of tissue (Sapolsky 1994). This goes some way to accounting for why people suffering with chronic stress are more likely to get ill and develop disease for their bodies, as Sapolsky colorfully puts it, ‘halts long-term, expensive building projects’ like manufacturing antibodies whose job it is to fight, amongst other things, tumour cells.

In addition, stress is believed to be linked to a range of physical illness which include

Infectious illness (such as influenza)
Cardiovascular disease
Rheumatoid arthritis

(Curtis 2000)

Emerging research is showing how stress can exert a destructive influence at both a cellular and neurological level. For example, the stressed brain halts highly important ‘building projects’ such as birthing new neurons – called neurogenesis – whilst also impairing hippocampal function; the hippocampus ‘is a small, seahorse-shaped structure that store your conscious memories in an organized way,’ (Greenberg 2016).

The result? Over protracted periods this neurological damage can result in a weakening of neural networks leading to diminished memory recall and, in the most severe cases, early onset of cognitive decline. The brain that weathers a lot of stress wears quicker.

Identifying the signs and symptoms of stress

Before stress can be dealt with it must first be identified. The reason why it is called the silent killer is because, unlike a physical ailment, such as the flu, or a sheered femur, which exhibit salient symptoms, stress can bubble away under the surface undetected for years.

People, in the main, just aren’t adequately educated on how to identify the signs and symptoms of stress. This must change if we hope to avoid the pernicious effects of stress.

Below you’ll find an extensive list of the signs and symptoms commonly associated with chronic stress:


headaches or dizziness
muscle tension or pain
stomach problems
chest pain or a faster heartbeat
loss of libido


difficulty concentrating
struggling to make decisions
feeling overwhelmed
constantly worrying
being forgetful


being irritable and snappy
sleeping too much or too little
eating too much or too little
avoiding certain places or people
drinking or smoking more

(NHS 2020)

Methods of managing stress

"The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another."

William James

To identify in ourselves if we might be suffering from stress we must either know our triggers or regularly conduct a self-examination. This may come across as a bit preposterous I know but unless it is brought to our attention, either through illness or a breakdown, then the fact that you are stressed might simply go unnoticed.

If you know your stress triggers then you can work to engineer your environment to reduce or remove them.

But let’s imagine that you are not aware of your triggers and that, after conducting a self-examination, you’ve realised that you are in fact exhibiting a number of the signs and symptoms of stress. How do you go about reducing the stress response and restoring your inner harmony?

4 ways to manage stress

Exercise is a great stress-buster

Exercise has been shown to disperse the dark forces of stress like a ray of bright monochromic light. When we get a rigorous sweat-on the body releases ‘feel good’ chemicals – endorphins and what not – which, well, make us feel good. This, for a time, can turn the tide of stress. To keep stress at bay it might be worth implementing the daily habit of an early morning 30 minute jog or gym circuit. This way you’ll not only reduce stress but also reap the many health rewards associated with exercise.


Yoga, much for the same reason as exercise, demonstrably disposes of the demonic forces of stress. Stretching and slow body control movements also release ‘feel good’ chemicals. In addition, Yoga has been shown to enhance proprioception – body awareness. By enhancing body awareness we will sharpen our sensitivity to detecting the signs and symptoms of the silent killer. (Challenge yourself to 30 days of Yoga.)

Find time for yourself

Setting aside some time for self-care. This sounds a bit pink and fluffy I agree but it is massively important. Self-care is engaging in activities or pursuits that you love to do. By way of example, one of my self-care activities is playing my guitar. Every morning and evening I’ll sequester myself in a cloistered cell and strum the sorrows of the world away. For me an hour on the guitar never fails to banish stress. When you identify your self-care activity of choice you must ensure to set aside at least 30 minutes (preferably an hour) each and every day where you can indulge without the worry of being disturbed.

Work less, live more

Work/life balance. Work is often identified as the most prevalent stress-inducing trigger. Because of the Western world’s unhealthy obsession towards productive output things are not going to change any time soon and the work place will continue to make peoples’ lives a misery. However, you can do something about it. In fact, you absolutely must take action because it’s highly unlikely that your employer will. By establishing a healthy work/life balance, where work ends and life begins, you can enjoy the undisturbed down time you deserve, free from the incessant responsibilities of the job. But you must be strict when implementing the boundaries and you must never allow your employer to encroach on your life outside of work: give the bastards and inch and they’ll take a mile!

"Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life."

Dolly Parton

If you do find yourself suffering from chronic stress and the methods outlined above don’t seem to help, it is imperative that you seek professional support: IMMEDIATELY! By following the link you will be able to find the support you need.

Further Reading

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky

Now in a third edition, Robert M. Sapolsky's acclaimed and successful Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers features new chapters on how stress affects sleep and addiction, as well as new insights into anxiety and personality disorder and the impact of spirituality on managing stress. As Sapolsky explains, most of us do not lie awake at night worrying about whether we have leprosy or malaria. Instead, the diseases we fear - and the ones that plague us now - are illnesses brought on by the slow accumulation of damage, such as heart disease and cancer.

Lifestyle Factor #5: Exercise

A collage of the components of fitness: cardiovascular, muscular strength, strength, flexibility. This heads the lifestyle factor exercise.

Do you participate in regular exercise? Yes/No: No (If No please read the analysis)

Even when all is known, the care of a man is not yet complete, because eating alone will not keep a man well; he must also take exercise. For food and exercise, while possessing opposite qualities, yet work together to produce health.


The benefits of exercise

The health benefits exercise confers are widely understood and recognised. Few people today are ignorant to the fact that exercise is not only extremely good for us but can reduce our chances of developing illness and disease.

But exercise is even better than we previously thought.

Amazingly, contemporary research is showing that exercise can actually be weaponised and used to fight some of the worst diseases. In 2009 an Australian research team published a paper showing the positive effects exercise exerts in the fight against cancer. The research demonstrated that exercise, in conjunction with established treatment methods, can positively support cancer patients irrespective of what stage they are at in their treatment.