Everyone has heard about the importance of a balanced diet for maintaining good health. Similarly, everyone knows that they should be getting exercise - or at the very least adding more activity into their days. Getting a good night's sleep is essential - without it, you'll find that your immune system starts to slack off a bit and you put yourself at a greater risk for catching a cold or coming down with the flu.
We all know what we should be doing, but let's be honest: very few of us eat a balanced diet all of the time. Many of us make the choice to take the elevator rather than the stairs and we try to find a parking place that's as close as possible to our destination rather than taking the opportunity to walk a little further. We also tend to let stress, work, social gatherings and more interfere with the amount of sleep that we're able to get each night.
When we don't go the extra mile to take care of ourselves, and when our immune systems start to falter because of it, we may not feel it right away. Soon, sluggishness starts creeping in. This sluggishness not only slows us down, it also ages us prematurely.
Fortunately, there's something that we can do to counteract some of these effects. We can maintain our vigor and reduce the risk of disease simply by adding antioxidants to our diet.
What are antioxidants? The simplest answer is that antioxidants are plant-derived compounds that help prevent and repair cellular damage. Vitamin C, Vitamin E, selenium, lycopene and resveratrol are all examples of antioxidants that are found in fruits and vegetables. By making an effort to add antioxidants to our diet, we can slow the cellular damage that leads to disease.
Antioxidants are, in effect, sponges that soak up the free radicals in our systems. Excess free radicals are generated by the less healthy foods that we eat, alcohol that we drink, smoke that we're exposed, and stress that we endure.
Free radicals damage our DNA and other cellular structures at the molecular level. Antioxidants roam around the body inactivating the free radicals and also assisting in damage repair. Damage that isn't repaired can cause a cell to die, malfunction or replicate uncontrollably (such as in a tumor).
You can fight back against free radicals by adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet.
Note that free radicals are a natural by-product of metabolism and cannot be eliminated completely. The key is to keep them in check with an adequate supply of dietary antioxidants. Look for brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Without getting too scientific about it, the different colors (blue, purple, red, orange) in fruits are vegetables often come from the different antioxidants they contain. To get a broad range of antioxidants, eat a rainbow of different plants.