Most of us want to be healthier – we want to eat better, be more active, and have more energy on a daily basis. It’s not for lack of desire for change that has led to the United States’ shocking obesity rate (66% of adults); rather, it’s a combination of lack of knowledge and frustration with the often overwhelming plethora of information available online. It’s almost impossible to open any news site without seeing headlines about the latest, greatest diet and fitness trends: Studies show a low-fat diet is the best way to lose weight on one site may be countered by Studies show a low-carb, high-fat diet is the way to shed those pounds. South Beach diet! Cookie diet! Go Paleo! Gluten-free! Many, many promises of changes to your health – and weight – but how to know who or what to trust?
Fortunately, there are a lot of very basic, very common sense steps you can take to improve your health, energy, and, if needed, weight.
- Get moving! Though the Department of Health and Human Services’ currently recommends that adults (18-64 years of age) get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week, as little as 5-10 minutes/day can decrease your risk of certain diseases and help you along the road to fitness. You can also break your exercise up into 10-minute intervals throughout the day if time is an issue.
- But what IS “moderate-intensity” exercise? You don’t need to run 10 miles/day to see results. Moderate exercise includes, but is not limited to: biking at a slow pace (5-10mph), canoeing, ballroom dancing, gardening, walking briskly, water aerobics, etc.
- Add in muscle-strengthening activities. This not only increases your calorie burn, it also improves bone density, increases your dexterity and flexibility, and lowers your risk for certain diseases like diabetes and heart disease. You don’t need an expensive gym, either – push-ups, squats, lifting objects found at home (water bottles, etc.) – you can do this in front of your favorite show!
- Catch some zzz’s! While everyone’s specific sleep needs are different, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults aim for 7-9 hours/night. Getting enough sleep helps increase concentration and memory skills, while sleep deprivation increases your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Insufficient sleep has also been strongly linked to higher rates of depression and stress.
- What to eat?! While you will find proponents of all different diets, there are some basic rules to follow that will help you achieve that elusive balanced diet and, in doing so, feel better, look better, and have more energy. Your body will thank you!
- Minimize, if not eliminate, processed foods – the SAD diet (Standard American Diet) is relies heavily on processed foods rife with added chemicals and hard-to-pronounce ingredients. Try this: shop the perimeter of your grocery store and, if you can’t pronounce a food’s ingredients, keep it out of your cart. Better yet, focus only on foods that have NO label. Think whole fruits and vegetables, lean cuts of meat, seafood, low-fat dairy, and whole grains.
- Do NOT pour some sugar on it – too much refined sugar can wreak havoc on your health and energy levels, so be aware of how much you are consuming. Sugar sneaks in to some unlikely places, like store-bought pasta sauce, cereals, ketchup, and sandwich breads. So check for added sugars always, and keep the sweet treats to a minimum. Or, better yet, have some fresh, whole fruit instead!
- Watch the portion sizes – it is very easy to overeat – and overdo – your daily calories if you aren’t aware of portion sizes. Check out www.healthyeating.org for a guide, and always be wary of portions when eating at a restaurant. You are almost guaranteed to consume 2-3 (if not more) times the recommended portion size when eating out.
- Check your hunger at the door – this is not about fasting, this is about taking a moment to check in with yourself before you reach for a candy bar or bag of chips at 2pm. Are you really hungry or just thirsty? Or bored? While it is imperative that you meet your daily calorie needs, you also want to minimize the additional snacking. Take a 10-minute walk, have a glass of water, start on a new task – chances are, you’ll find the “hunger” passes. *To determine your daily calorie needs, there are many tools online, including the Mayo Clinic, Active.com, and Nutritiondata.self.com.
FINALLY, make getting healthy fun! You will be far more successful at making necessary lifestyle changes if you find ways to make it enjoyable. Find a physical activity that you actually enjoy – if you hate running and make that your go-to exercise, chances are you will give up. Engage a friend or family member – having an exercise partner will both keep you accountable and keep things fun. Challenge others to eat healthy – keep an online record of your diet and exercise progress (ex. www.myfitnesspal.com) and challenge a friend to do the same. Take a cooking class – or look up new recipes to help make healthy food more enticing. Any time you enjoy what you are doing, you are much more likely to stick with it!