By Bernard Freeman
When you’re just getting started, remedy getting healthy can seem like an almost unattainable task. It often takes changes — and sometimes major changes — to everything from daily routines to eating habits.
It can seem overwhelming, no rx but it doesn’t have to be.
Change the little things
Living a healthier life isn’t something that just happens. It takes work, remedy and it isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it has to be hard. Take stock of your daily routine and see what you can tweak to make it healthier.
Can you start biking or walking to work a few days a week? If not, think about other ways to be more active during the day. Are there any lunch spots within walking distance? Take off on foot instead of jumping in the car to travel those few blocks. Does your workplace have stairs? Use those a few days per week, instead of jumping on the elevator.
These steps might not seem like much, but they add up over the days and weeks.
Some workplaces offer gym facilities for employees. If your employer does, take advantage of it, even if it’s just walking on the treadmill for a few minutes a day.
Set attainable goals
The easiest way to start being healthier is to just start, and the New Year is a great time to do it. But, you don’t have to start out the year with a massive weight loss or muscle mass goal weighing you down. That’s the quickest way to find yourself frustrated before the calendar even flips to February. Instead, break those goals down, focus on the steps it’ll take to get there and start taking a few of those each day. Instead of coming straight off the couch and trying to run 5 miles on January 1, start with a 1- to 2- mile jog and walk around the neighborhood. Don’t try to start out bench pressing a few hundred pounds. Do a few reps that are comfortable for your level, and work up from there. Realize it takes time for your body to adjust to a healthier lifestyle, and it could take a while depending on the point from which you’re starting.
Along with exercise, sleep is one of the most important parts of a healthy lifestyle. But, it’s often the last thing that comes to mind. It helps everything from your brain to your heart — and can also help regulate weight gain.
It keeps your brain working
Sleep helps your brain work properly, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). While you’re sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day by forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information. Without rest, it doesn’t have time to do that daily prep work.
Studies show that a good night’s sleep improves learning and can help enhance learning and problem-solving skills. Sleep also helps you be more attentive, creative and clear. Studies have shown sleep deficiency can alter activity in some parts of the brain, which can affect emotional behavior and even basic skills over time. Prolonged lack of sleep also can lead to depression.
Your body needs it
When you sleep, your body heals and repairs itself, and ongoing sleep deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.
Sleep deficiency also increases the risk of obesity. For example, one study of teenagers showed that with each hour of sleep lost, the odds of becoming obese increased. Similar findings extended across other demographics, as well. Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of hormones, which is why you feel hungrier when you don’t get enough sleep.
Sleep also affects how your body reacts to insulin, and sleep deficiency results in a higher-than-normal blood sugar level, which may increase your risk for diabetes. A lack of sleep also can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to sicknesses.
This is the big one. All the best intentions and diets in the world won’t get you anywhere if you’re not being physically active. Being active is a key component in becoming healthy.
If you think about it from a unique perspective, it doesn’t have to be something terrible and daunting.
Get some data
A good place to start is with a step tracker — such as a Fitbit, JawBone, Apple Watch or Pebble — which will help hold you accountable and provide some valuable data as you move forward. The rule of thumb is to aim for 10,000 steps per day, which averages out to approximately 5 miles of walking. That might seem like a lot, but factor in all the steps around your house and workplace, and you’d be surprised how many steps you already take on an average day. That’s where a step tracker comes in. This will help you figure out how many steps per day you’re taking and what changes in your routine you might need to make to increase that amount.
Next up, you need to start increasing that step amount. Without trying, many people average around 5,000 to 6,000 steps per day, but some with more sedentary schedules could take as few as 1,000 or 2,000 steps. That’s OK. Just start working to increase the number. Go for an afternoon walk around your neighborhood, take stairs when possible, walk your dog, park further away when going to a store, and even spend your breaks at work walking around and being active. The benefits are tremendous, and just reaching a consistent step count has been shown to keep your heart healthy, regulate cholesterol, lower blood pressure and strengthen your bones. Not bad for something you can do for free.
Get a bike
Some people hang up their bicycles when they get a driver’s license and never look back. But biking can be a simple and fun way to stay active — and it can provide a nice break from jogging or walking every day.
Check around your town to see if there are any bicycle clubs, or even just some bicycle lanes or parks that are designed for riders. This will provide a safe environment to go for a ride.
Bike riding is easier on your legs, ankles and feet than going for a run. Plus, it has been proven to burn a comparable amount of calories, so there’s no real drop-off. It’s also fun to feel the wind on your face and feel the satisfaction of driving under your own power.
We’ve all been there — jumping into a new diet, dropping a few pounds, then gaining them all back (and maybe a few more) a few months later.
The problem? Diets are typically a part-time solution to a full-time problem. Most diets just have you change up your eating habits for a certain period of time and might not provide any long-term instructions to keep the weight off. The answer: Stop focusing on diets and losing weight.
Ease into it
You don’t have to fully drop everything you love and start eating bare salads and egg whites to “eat healthy.” Instead, start off with gradual improvements to your usual eating habits. If you’re a coffee or soda junkie, start with reducing the intake instead of cutting things out cold turkey. The same with fast food: If you eat it three to four times per week, cut that down to one to two times per week. You can still splurge and enjoy that Whopper or Big Mac (or espresso), but not as often. A good rule of thumb: If it’s something you do a lot, start by cutting it in half. You’ll still get enough to fulfill the urge, but it’ll be a good way to start weaning your body off some of your less healthy habits.
Change your habits for good
From there, keep working yourself into better eating habits. Do some research and choose meals that are both healthy and fit what you actually like to eat. It’s not all about counting calories, but it’s not a bad idea to start keeping an eye on how much unhealthy food you take in. By permanently changing your eating habits, you can not only lose (and keep off) weight, but also provide stable nutrition for your body.
Moderation, moderation, moderation
Oftentimes, it’s just as much about how much you eat as what you eat. For example, sodas can contain a lot of empty calories and sugar, so one wise approach to healthy eating is to reduce your soda intake. You don’t have to quit them for good, but make an effort to moderate your intake. The same applies to food (of all types). Eat enough to fill you up, then stop. Don’t pack your plate. Instead, start with smaller-than-usual portions and see how you feel after cleaning the plate. You may find that less food can be just as filling, if you take your time eating.