Being “healthy” encompasses much more than being skinny, but it is often hard for us to focus on health goals that don’t involve temporarily slimming down. Like everything in our society today, we constantly seek quick fixes. Staying healthy requires hard work, but focusing on lifestyle changes instead of temporary switches can lead to simple, long-term wellness.
Positive health changes are almost always cyclical and evoke a domino effect. For example, exercising more reduces your stress levels which elevates your overall mood and in turn prevents emotional eating. Eating whole foods improves your physical health making it easier to exercise which prevents chronic disease down the road. It is important to focus on the whole picture. Below are a few simple tips that will help you redefine and elevate your personal health.
Define your goals: Think hard about the reasons for your health overhaul. In the short-term you may want to lose weight or tone up for a special event. But, it probably won’t take much thought to realize that you want to improve your health to feel better, have more energy and be around longer for your loved ones. Write down your long-term goals in a journal or even on the fridge for a constant reminder and motivation.
Start small: Many of us take an “all or nothing” attitude when it comes to health. This outlook usually is just a setup for failure. Think about the broader goals you defined in tip No. 1, and create smaller, realistic goals that will help you get there. Reevaluate and create a new plan once these have been accomplished. If exercise is your goal and you are currently a complete couch potato, begin by walking at a comfortable pace twice a week for 15 minutes. You will soon feel the benefits of exercise and be able to increase the time, frequency and speed of your workouts. If you aren’t succeeding in your goals, don’t beat yourself up.
Maybe they are too broad, you have too many other responsibilities or they just don’t work with your lifestyle. Change them to make them more attainable.
Incorporate exercise into everyday activities. We all struggle to find time to fit in everything we need to do, and exercise is no exception. Instead of trying to carve out three hours to go to the gym, think of ways to fit in quick spurts of exercise throughout the day. If you are in a safe neighborhood, park at the far side of the parking lot or get off the bus a few stops early. Always take the stairs instead of the elevator. During long hours of work, studying or even watching TV, get up every hour to do 25 jumping jacks, 10 push-ups or 30 crunches. Set your phone alarm as a reminder. The short bursts will burn lots of calories, rev your metabolism and keep your motivation high. Schedule longer exercise sessions when you do have the time, but remember they can be fun. Take your dog for a long walk or rent bikes to explore a new city with your family.
Stop using the word “diet”: Nothing makes me cringe more than hearing someone say they are going on a diet. It’s not just teenage girls, people of all ages and both genders love to brag about dieting. Healthy eating and exercise is always commendable, but these should be permanent changes, not short-term band-aids. Saying “diet” implies that you will soon go right back to the old ways. If you do need a kick start, hire a personal trainer or a dietitian to help you get on the right track to a healthier you. These professionals will help you find what works best for your personal lifestyle.
Eat your veggies, all the time: I’m sorry if you are tired of hearing how important fruits and veggies are, but there is just no getting around it. Produce is natural medicine for your body. Adding them to every meal and snack you eat boosts your vitamin intake and minimizes calorie consumption with minimal effort. It also adds tons of flavor and freshness to otherwise boring meals. Keep frozen veggies on hand so you can easily add them to any meal even if there’s no time to go to the grocery store. It is best to get a wide variety and include all the colors of the rainbow, but if you are a picky eater make sure you eat plenty of the produce you do love.
Make time for relaxation: Between work, social and personal responsibilities, many of us look at relaxation as optional or even a sign of weakness. However, taking time to calm down and give your body a break is crucial to maintain not just mental health but physical health as well. Stress has been attributed as a cause to many chronic diseases like heart disease and hypertension (high blood pressure). Yoga and meditation are popular and proven stress relievers, but they only work if you enjoy them. The key is to choose something that is relaxing to you. Try listening to calming music for a few minutes in the afternoon or burning aromatherapy candles to calm down and recharge.
Simple, consistent, long-term changes are the solution for improved wellness. Incorpora-ting the tips above to work with your own lifestyle will help you feel better, be happier and redefine health for yourself.
Raina Goldstein Bunnag has a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and is currently a master’s candidate in nutrition and public health at the University of North Carolina.She keeps abreast of the latest health news and will be addressing relevant wellness topics each month. If you have any questions or topics you would like to see covered in the column, please send her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.