40 Amazing Things Only Really Healthy People Know

Not every snippet of advice on Instagram is backed by science.

The digital flood of fitness tips and healthy-eating tricks can quickly make one lose track of what's actually healthy—and what's not. In fact, there's a growing gulf between quick-fix gimmicks and the tried-and-true wisdom of educated professionals. Don't get left in the dark or fooled by fitness fads. Instead, bone up on these 40 things only truly healthy people know!

Most people overestimate calories their workouts burn.

Food Labeled with Calories {Health Mistakes}

Estimating calories is a key skill in maintaining a healthy weight, yet, according to a 2016 study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, most of us are quite bad at it. In the study, 58 subjects completed a 25-minute workout at various levels of intensity. They were then asked to estimate how many calories they burned, and prepare a meal that was the caloric equivalent. People both widely over- and under-estimated how many calories they burned, and how many they ate, revealing that, for the population at large, calorie counting is more guesswork than science.

Only 10 percent of Americans eat the right amount of sodium.

spilled salt shaker

Like sugar, sodium is hidden in just about every corner of the American diet. But according to The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), just 10 percent of Americans consume the right amount. So, what's the best way to cut down? Cook for yourself using whole ingredients, and skip the excessive salt in favor of herbs and spices that will also tantalize your taste buds.

Americans eat three times more meat than the rest of the world.

new study says one in five deaths worldwide linked to unhealthy eating habits.

As a 2011 study in the journal Public Health Nutrition explains, Americans consume meat at a rate of three times the global average. Beyond the environmental impact of that staggering statistic and the moral questions surrounding the meat industry, the study points out a major health concern: increased risks of cancer and chronic disease." If your diet includes meat, it's best to opt for lean cuts of organic meat—stick with chicken, pork, and grass-fed beef—when possible, and to eat it in moderation.

Soda can double your diabetes risk.

dish washing hacks

It probably comes as no surprise that soda is bad for you, with its heaps of sugar and non-existent nutritional contribution. But most people don't realize just how drastic the impact can be on their health. A 2007 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that women who consumed just one soft drink per day were twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

Diet sodas can cause metabolic syndrome and weight gain.

four cans of diet coke

Some people think that the answer to soft drink criticism is to switch to diet soda. But really healthy people know that these soda imposters are full of chemicals, and pose a range of dangers to your health all their own. One 2015 study in the journal Nutrients shows a positive association between all types of soft drink consumption and metabolic syndrome, and noted that "diet soft drinks were positively associated with waist circumference." And for more on why you should put the stuff down, find out why diet soda is one of 30 Things You Had No Idea Could Cause Cancer.

Junk food can create an addiction (of a sort).

Pile of Junk Food
beats1 / Shutterstock

Ever find that one cheat meal is all that it takes to send you spiraling away from your regular routine? You're hardly alone. "There is mounting evidence that many highly processed foods have addictive properties, and that some cases of compulsive overeating resemble an addiction disorder," explains a 2014 study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Carbs are not the enemy.

non coffee energy boosters

If you dip your toe into the vast ocean of nutritional advice out there, you'd be forgiven for thinking that all carbohydrates are to be avoided at all costs. But wade in a bit deeper, and a fuller picture emerges: As one 2018 study in Science and Politics in Nutrition points out that refined carbohydrates from things like sweets, white pasta, cereal, and processed foods deserve their negative press. But complex carbohydrates—whole grain pasta, oatmeal, legumes, and sweet potatoes—have a whole host of benefits, and, in moderation, can be part of a sustainable weight-loss diet.

Eating the right fats will help you slim down.

avocado health tweaks over 40

If you think a low-fat diet is the silver bullet for weight loss, think again. Really healthy people know that good fats are key when it comes to shedding pounds, and that skipping them means depriving your body of important nutrients. Beyond their weight-related benefits, this 2018 study in the journal Nutrients notes that polyunsaturated fats, like those found in omega-3 rich fatty fish, can help stop inflammation, fight chronic disease, lower your risk of heart failure, regulate blood pressure, combat cancer, ease arthritis, and more.

There is such a thing as "good cholesterol."

two over easy eggs cracked in a frying pan, smart person habits

Do you know the difference between LDL and HDL cholesterol? Well, your heart health depends on it. According to the Mayo Clinic, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is "bad" cholesterol—the type that can cause plaque build up in your artery walls as a result of eating too much saturated fat. On the other hand, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) is considered "good" cholesterol, because it helps move LDL from your bloodstream to your liver, where it can be processed and broken down into waste.

Drinking alcohol will tank your diet plans.

Worst Things to Say to a Cashier

As one 2014 study in the American Journal of Public Health explains, in the United States, the average drinker takes in 16 percent of their overall calories from alcohol, and rarely compensates for those calories in other areas of their diet.

Food companies pay for studies to say their products are healthy.

Scientific Discoveries

If you rely on the morning show circuit for nutritional advice, beware sweeping statements about new health trends that can send you straight down the wrong path. Really healthy people know that one study should never be enough to change your whole diet, because food companies regularly pay for pseudoscientific studies that directly or indirectly promote their products. In 2015, Michele Simon, a public health attorney and the author of Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back, wrote a comprehensive report detailing all the ways in which nutrition scientists and the food industry are bedfellows. Long story short: If you're skeptical about a claim that isn't backed up by multiple corroborating sources, it's probably not trustworthy.

"All natural" means next to nothing.

Bin of Organic Produce

Are you just as likely to buy one product that's labeled "all natural" as another item that's deemed "organic"? Are your eggs "free range" and your salad dressings "light"? Kudos for trying to be health conscious, but really healthy people know that these labels are often intentionally misleading to consumers, preying on your desire to be healthier and more accountable, and charging you a hefty fee for the privilege. For the record, the USDA states that "all natural" meat can legally still be processed; "free range" means poultry has, at some time in its lifespan, had access to the outdoors (but has no other requirements for what that means); and "light" can, in some cases, refer to the flavor of the dressing, rather than its calorie count or nutritional profile.

Some food packaging contains harmful chemicals.

chicken wrapped plastic

Beyond the deception of intentionally misleading labels, packaged foods tend to be more processed and are sometimes made less healthy by chemicals in the packaging itself. As researchers in Diet, Nutrition and Cancer: Directions for Research explain, "More than 2,500 chemical substances are intentionally added to foods to modify flavor, color, stability, texture, or cost. In addition, an estimated 12,000 substances are used in such a way that they may unintentionally enter the food supply. These substances include components of food-packaging materials, processing aids, pesticide residues, and drugs given to animals." That's why it's so important to load your diet with whole foods, including organic fruits and veggies from your local grocer or farmers market.

Exercise boosts mood and cognitive function.

running couple exercise

Really healthy people are no stranger to the mood benefits of a great workout. According to a 2017 study in the journal Brain Plasticity, "acute exercise has been shown to enhance affective, mood, and emotional states," as well as "an overall small positive effect on cognitive functioning, especially in areas of prefrontal cortex-dependent cognition."

Or, as Dr. Vernon Williams, director of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, California, puts it, "many people may not realize that actual physical exercise, especially those exercises designed to build lean muscle mass, can have a significant positive impact on a person's quality of life." And for more ways to feel your best, Saying This One Word Will Boost Your Mood By 25 Percent.

"Healthy" is not synonymous with "low-calorie."

Woman Eating Nuts

While people are increasingly aware of the fact that low-calorie foods aren't necessarily healthy (diet sodas, anyone?), many glaze over the fact that just because something is healthy doesn't mean you can treat it as low-calorie. For example, this 2010 study in the journal Nutrients says, "Compared to other common foods, nuts have an optimal nutritional density with respect to healthy minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium." Yet eating more than a palmful (a roughly one-ounce serving) can pack in hundreds of extra calories in no time.

Stress makes you store belly fat.

man squeezing stress ball ways we're unhealthy

Stressed out at work, or by the relationships in your life? If that stress feels uncontrollable, it could be taking even more of a toll than you think. According to this 2011 study in the journal Obesity, stress causes the cortisol awakening response, which is independently linked to increased abdominal fat. But the trouble doesn't stop with a few extra pounds around your midsection. The fat it helps create is visceral fat, a dangerous variety that wraps around your internal organs, leading to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and more.

Gut health is key.

Rumbling stomach, man holding his stomach in pain

Gut health is a fascinating new pathway in scientific discovery, and we're just at the beginning of understanding the impact of gut microflora. An influential 2015 study in the journal Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience revealed that, not only does gut health influence your immune system, metabolism, and digestive tract, it also has a profound connection with your brain that can even cause depression. As research progresses, health insiders know that this field may rule the health discussions of tomorrow.

"Crowding out" means you don't have to "cut out."

A Vegan or Vegetarian Grain Bowl with Lots of Vegetables

Looking for an instant way to make your diet healthier? Instead of cutting out food groups, healthy people know that it's better to "crowd out" unhealthy foods by loading up on the healthy ones. By filling two thirds of your plate with fresh veggies, then using the rest of your plate for other food groups, you can make sure that you fill up on all the healthiest stuff—without restricting yourself from eating any one particular thing.

Weight training isn't just for bulking up.

Couple Lifting Weights, look better after 40

If you're in search of a way to look and feel stronger, few things will transform your body like a solid weightlifting routine. But this 2014 study in Current Sports Medicine Report shows that resistance training does even more: It's also "as effective as [aerobic training] in lowering risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other diseases." Though less frequently recommended for overall health benefits, resistance training programs are, according to the researchers, a valuable "prescription for public health."

The wellness industry can be downright unhealthy.

woman on facebook, reach a customer service rep

On the surface, the wellness industry exists to help us all become our best, healthiest selves. But the reality behind this $4.2 trillion industry is that, the more you dislike your body, the more likely you are to spend money—and unfortunately that negativity has really taken root.

A 2018 study in MHealth found that 88 percent of posts and comments on fitness and nutrition "support" pages on Facebook promoted harmful health messages. "These Facebook groups, though intended to be a sort of online support forum, provide an open space for body negativity and promotion of extreme behaviors for the sake of thinness," write the authors. Really healthy people know that wellness is not about having the perfect "beach bod." It's about taking care of yourself, and putting health first.

Meal planning is key to consistency.

Meal prep

In one 2017 study in the International Journal of Behavior Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers found that meal planning is associated with a healthier diet and lower overall weight. Planning your meals—and especially preparing and portioning meals ahead of time—is a concrete way to ensure that you cook more at home, and stick to a reasonable caloric intake.

Even a 15-minute workout can work wonders.

heart attack after 40

According to a 2011 study in the Journal of Obesity, even brief workouts are good for weight loss, overall health, and longevity. The study explains that high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE) "may be more effective at reducing subcutaneous and abdominal body fat than other types of exercise." These brief but vigorous workouts "significantly increase both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. HIIE also significantly lowers insulin resistance," the researchers note. Find 10 or 15 minutes every day and give it all you've got!

You build muscles by tearing and repairing them.

muscle mass, heart disease risk factors

Muscles are built up through a process called hypertrophy: As you strain your muscles during a workout, you tear them slightly, then the fibers rejoin during a stage of rest, building mass. But really healthy people know that your body can't do its job if you don't give your muscles time to repair!

If you don't want to interrupt the routine of working out every day, divide your workout into localized body parts, and rotate them daily. Your chest muscles can rest and repair as you work your arms, your arms can rest as you work on your legs, and so on.

The best workout plan is the one you'll actually stick to.

a man swimming in a lap pool

Sure, you can get into the nitty gritty of exactly which workout plan burns the most calories or builds the most muscle, but ultimately, really healthy people know that the best work out plan is the one you enjoy enough to actually stick to.

Dr. Peter LePort, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of the MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center in Fountain Valley, California, emphasizes that, for long term success, you need to make sustainable changes that fit into your lifestyle. He suggests incorporating bike riding, swimming, ice skating, rock climbing, or other physical activities that you can enjoy with friends.

Meditation is good for your mind, and your brain.

non coffee energy boosters

We all know that meditation is good for mental relaxation, but fewer people realize that it may actually have a neurological effect on the brain. One 2015 study in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience posits that long-term meditation can actually help diminish cognitive decline.

"NEAT" activities can make or break how fit you are.

office workers taking the stairs

Everyone knows that working out is good for you, but it's what you do between workouts that counts the most. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, also known as NEAT, is comprised of the little everyday things you do that keep your body moving and your calories burning. This could be walking up a flight of stairs, carrying grocery bags, or playing with your kids. According to one 2018 study in the Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Biochemistry, "low NEAT is associated with obesity," and for those that don't actively work out, NEAT activity is the single greatest variable in weight management.

Dietary supplements have caused seizures, coma, and liver failure.


Diet pills, special shakes, and supplements may seem like a shortcut to fitness, but really healthy people will tell you that many of these products can be at best ineffective, and at worst, downright dangerous. As one 2015 study published in the American Journal of Public Health explains, while nearly 80 percent of Americans report taking dietary supplements daily, they remain poorly regulated. "As many as a third of calls to poison control centers associated with dietary supplements report such adverse events (AEs) as coma, seizure, myocardial infarction, liver failure, and death," the study points out.

Steroids are not just being used for sport performance.

man giving himself steroids

Fitness and lifestyle influencers on social media don't always tell the truth about how they got their lean and toned physiques. In recent years, more and more social media insiders have come forward to admit that steroids are increasingly being used to enhance looks rather than sports performance, despite serious side effects. According to this 2006 study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, the risks associated with steroid use include decreased myocardial function, liver damage, higher risk of liver cancer, testicular atrophy, libido changes, acne, and more.

Certain foods raise thermogenesis.

green tea health tweaks over 40

As a 2004 study in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism explains, "Daily energy expenditure consists of three components: basal metabolic rate, diet-induced thermogenesis, and the energy cost of physical activity." Diet-induced thermogenesis is measured as the increase in energy expenditure above basal metabolic rate, and certain foods can do more to boost that expenditure. Try eggs, green tea, lean proteins, ginger, garlic, salmon, and chili peppers to jumpstart thermogenesis in your own diet!

One secret to burning fat is… fat.

belly fat

Believe it or not, thermogenesis is actually triggered by fat—not the white fat tissue that expands as we gain weight, but brown fat that helps "dissipate large amounts of chemical energy as heat," as a 2009 study in the journal Diabetes puts it. Thanks to this brown fat, "diet-induced adaptive thermogenesis" is an apparent compensatory mechanism to limit excess weight gain and obesity."

Drinking cold water turns up thermogenesis.

Black woman of middle age drinks water, smart person habits

It seems there's no end to the benefits of staying hydrated. A 2007 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism revealed that, by drinking cold water, you can help trigger thermogenesis and turn up your metabolism. Just 500 milliliters "increased energy expenditure by 24 percent over the course of 60 minutes after ingestion," the study notes.

Functional fitness exercises do more for your body.


According to a 2018 study in the journal Sports, "Crossfit"-style routines that use multiple muscle groups to prepare the body for real life activities—commonly known as high intensity functional training (HIFT)—lead to significant improvements in maximal oxygen consumption, decreases in body fat, and improvements in bone mineral content.

Overexertion is the number one case of exercise injury.

woman weightlifting at the gym

A 2015 study in the journal Injury Epidemiology reviewed 2,873 cases of exercise-related injury in fitness facilities and found that injuries due to overexertion accounted for over 36 percent of all reported injuries. Healthy people know that form is key for workout safety, and an injury from overdoing it can take you out of your routine for weeks.

Restrictive diets lead to regaining weight.

ways to stick to a diet

According to 2011 research published in the American Journal of Physiology, "less than 20 percent of individuals that have attempted to lose weight are able to achieve and maintain a 10 percent reduction over a year." Truly healthy people know that when it comes to weight loss, slow and steady wins the race.

Satiety is a full sensory experience.

chef secrets, What You Should Do At a Fancy Restaurant

If you ask the average person what makes you feel satiated after a meal, they are likely to mention two things: flavor and quantity. But one 2015 study in Obesity Reviews explored the broader sensory experience of satiety, and showed that, in fact, a whole range of sensory cues tell you when you are satisfied. As the study explains, by enhancing things like plating and presentation, choosing textures that you find more satisfying, or creating rituals around your meals, you can be more satisfied with healthier food served in reasonable portions.

Visceral fat contributes to cancer.

Doctor in lab coat

To most people, fat is fat, regardless of where it is and how it got there. But really health people know that there is a huge difference between subcutaneous fat (the kind that rests directly under your skin) and visceral fat (the kind that develops in your abdominal cavity, around your internal organs). According to a 2012 study out of the British Institute of Radiology, visceral fat "is associated with medical disorders such as metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and several malignancies including prostate, breast, and colorectal cancers."

Too much protein can cause liver problems, bone disorders, and more.

protein shakes are weight loss secret that doesn't work

High protein diets have skyrocketed in popularity, and for the most part, lean proteins are good for your body: They help you build muscle and contain relatively few calories. But there's a limit. The recommended daily allowance is 0.36 grams per pound of your weight, and a 2013 study in the journal ISRN Nutrition explains that there is no notable benefit to going over that recommendation. What's more, the study found associations between overconsumption of protein and bone disorders, renal function disorders, increased cancer risk, disorders of liver function, and precipitated progression of coronary artery disease.

You can build your whole diet around "super foods."


There are a few key foods that should make a daily appearance on your menu. These are super foods, the giants of the nutrition world, packing the biggest nutritional bang for your buck. Green tea, dark leafy greens, berries, nuts and seeds, salmon, legumes, avocado, quinoa, and eggs are all a great place to start. The key is a balance of lean proteins, healthy fats, slow-release complex carbs, and nutrient-rich produce.

Your hormones are the key to weight management.

woman eating donut ways we're unhealthy

You may think that hunger is as simple as not having eaten for a while. But really healthy people know that there's something more complex at work: the hunger hormone, ghrelin. According to a 2013 study in the journal Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, "ghrelin's hallmark functions are its stimulatory effects on food intake, fat deposition, and growth hormone release." This particular hormone affects just how irresistible your hunger feels. Avoiding sugar and eating enough protein helps keep this hormone in check.

People who exercise get sick less often.

heart attack after 40

The myth that exercise leaves your immune system more vulnerable to attack has simply gone on too long. A 2018 study in Frontiers in Immunology debunks this, and argues that the opposite is in fact likely. The researchers found that regular physical activity reduces the incidence of many chronic diseases in older age, including viral and bacterial infections, cancer, and chronic inflammatory disorders. And, when you're ready to take your health to the next level, these are The Best Ways to Bulletproof Your Immune System.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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