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The health benefits of how we used to live

10 things people used to do that made them healthier
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

As a nation we are fatter, eat more junk food, and are less physically active than we were a generation ago.

So can we learn lessons from the past? What did we used to do back in the day that made us healthier?

1. Walking

In days gone by, more children walked to school than they do now. In fact, the school run probably was just that, rather than the gridlock that happens on weekdays as parents in cars drop their little darlings off at the school gate.
Statistics show the number of children travelling to school by car over the past 20 years has doubled.

We’re often being told about the benefits of walking. Schools do have "walk to school" weeks to encourage kids to give it a try, but if both parents work, driving may be the only option as it takes less time. Also these days, parents have a greater choice of schools, so not all children live near enough to their school to walk there.

It’s not just school children either. We’re always jumping in the car for a short journey which could easily be done on foot. Maybe that’s an upside to the rising price of fuel - it may encourage us to walk!

2. Playing outside

Remember skipping, hopscotch, and tag? Kids these days have great muscles from all the playing they do, but it’s mainly in their thumbs! Many kids, especially boys, would prefer to spend time on their hand-held video games alone than to go outside and play.

Back in the day, kids loved playing outside. They made dens, climbed trees, cycled, went to the park, and ran about. They used up energy without even thinking about it, and burned off calories too.

These days many parents are worried about busy roads and stranger danger so don’t give their kids as much freedom.

Kids of yesteryear had physical activity built into their daily lives but nowadays that’s not the case, and an imbalance of energy can lead to overweight children and the associated health problems.

Obesity is a global problem, and it’s starting young. Among children between two and 15 years in England, 30% are overweight and 14-20% are obese.

Latest statistics show that almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or obese.

That’s likely to get worse. A scientific report used to guide government policy has predicted that by 2025 nearly half of men and over a third of women will be obese.

Obesity can contribute to type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and many other health conditions.

3. Cooking

In days gone by cooking was mainly done from scratch. Many people in rural communities ate foods that were in season, much of which they'd grown themselves.

Top chefs and health experts these days are extolling the virtues of organic produce and seasonality, like it’s something new. Our grandparents were doing it years ago!

Traditional meals, although not tremendously exciting, were relatively healthy compared to what’s on offer today. A meal of meat and two veg was usual in most households. Nowadays there’s a vast array of food available.

There’s no denying, it’s easy to choose healthy options and fresh produce. In real life though many people go for convenience and price, which often isn’t the healthiest choice.

If you’ve been at work all day, why buy all of the separate ingredients for a lasagna then spend an hour and a half making it when you can buy a ready-made one for a couple of quid?

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