We’ve all been there: you’re overworked, stressed, tired, and eating fast food or junk food just to get through the day. Overhauling your whole lifestyle feels too overwhelming, and even though you want to get healthy, you don’t know where to start!
It can be really hard to break old habits, especially when you’re stressed about a bunch of other things. Falling into old habits is comforting and dependable. The good news is: living a healthier lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to change everything you do every day. You can make small, incremental changes that will make a big difference in your life!
To start, here are 6 easy steps to getting healthy:
Step #1: Move More
When we were little kids, it was easy to get a day’s worth of exercise in – since as a kid, you’re basically running around all day. But once you move into post-college life, you end up spending most of the day sitting down. A recent study showed that working professionals spend ~70% of all waking time in the seated position. How crazy is that?
Tips to get moving: Stand every hour and stretch, park farther away, take the stairs. If you have a workplace that allows standing desks, get one! It has changed the way I work. Try to fit in a lunchtime walk – all you need is 30 minutes (which you can even do in two 15 minute chunks throughout the day). An added bonus: for every hour, you spend standing vs. sitting still, you burn 30 extra calories.
Step #2: Sleep Well
1/3 of your life is spent asleep so make it count. According to a study at Harvard, sleep boosts brain power, is relaxing, rejuvenating, strengthens immune function, and is a critical source of renewal and recovery. Sleep should be enjoyed and celebrated!
An added bonus: Getting lots of sleep can help with weight management. When you’re sleep deprived, you don’t feel energized, which means you’re less likely to work out and probably aren’t using your calories efficiently. A recent study found that sleeping for more than 9 hours a night could suppress genetic influences on weight and favorably affect BMI (body mass index). However, getting less than 7 hours had the opposite effect. Another study found that just looking at junk food while sleep deprived activated reward centers in a person’s brain – more so than those who got a sufficient amount of sleep – which could make that food harder to resist.
To get more/higher quality sleep: try to create a relaxing pre-sleep ritual – like reading or meditating – and power down at least 30-60 minutes before bed (that means step away from all the screens: phones, computer, TV, etc.).
Step #3: Eat Right
One of the most important factors that determine good health is what we eat. Forget about the confusing media and all of the fad diets out there – they all do exactly the same thing, which is try to get you to consume fewer calories than you’re burning. Instead of trying to “diet,” focus on building a healthy plate at every meal, eat smaller portions, and practice mindful eating (that means don’t inhale a bag of chips in front of the TV – pay attention to and savor what you eat!).
To get started, just try to incorporate one fresh fruit and vegetable into each of your meals. And focus on eating whole grains instead of white/refined grains. Those two easy changes will make a big difference!
Step #4: Manage Stress
We’ve all felt it: when we’re stressed, our muscles tighten, we get headaches, we feel tired, maybe even nauseous or sick. It’s no secret that stress isn’t good for us. And studies have shown that long-term, daily stress disrupts almost every one of our body’s processes, increasing the risk of serious health problems. Decreasing the stress in your life will obviously make you happier, but it will bring you to a healthier place mentally, physically and emotionally.
Try to manage stress by spending time with family and friends, taking up a new hobby, exercising, getting a massage, or taking a day to just “unplug” from everything.
Step #5: Get a Baseline
Schedule a physical exam and learn your baseline on five simple metrics – blood pressure, cholesterol, fasting blood glucose, body mass index and waist circumference. Knowing and understanding your numbers allow you to monitor your health status over time and helps you catch problems proactively.
Step #6: Use the 80/20 Rule!
What does the 80/20 rule mean? For me, it means eating smart 80% of the time, and being flexible 20% of the time. That way you always have some flexibility without throwing off your healthy lifestyle or weight-management goals. Eating right 100% of the time just isn’t realistic (like what if you’re stuck in an airport with nothing but a McDonald’s?). If you try to be 100% perfect, you’re more likely to get discouraged and give up after a “bad” day.
The 80/20 rule is great for getting started on a path towards a healthier life. You don’t have to change everything about your lifestyle, just set one goal, and start taking action towards that goal. Tell people about your goals to hold yourself accountable and to get the support you need. Little by little, you’ll be able to work in all of your weight-management or healthy lifestyle goals, and pretty soon you’ll have transformed your life.