We get it, it’s hard to break bad habits. But when it comes to building healthy habits, small decisions add up over time.
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Exercise physiologist Christopher Travers, MS, and dietitian Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD, offers some diet, nutrition and fitness ideas that you can incorporate into your busy life to be healthier every day.
1. Use stairs and furniture as makeshift gym equipment
If you have stairs at your home or office, take them every chance you get. Don’t stop there, though. For a strong cardio workout, walk up and down the stairs repeatedly. Start with a limited number of repetitions and then increase them as you feel stronger.
Get even more creative by using wine bottles or a gallon of water as weights and your kitchen chairs for planks and tricep dip exercises. Why buy expensive equipment when you can utilize your furniture instead?
2. Drink 1 extra glass of water a day
It’s nothing new that there are health benefits to drinking more water. It helps keep your temperature normal, lubricates and cushions joints, protects your spinal cord and other sensitive tissues and gets rid of wastes through urination, sweat and bowel movements.
Because 50 to 75% of your weight is water, drinking some plain old H2O is imperative in keeping your body working the best it can and staying hydrated. If plain water isn’t your favorite, you can add flavor to your water to help up your intake.
3. Replace diet soda with carbonated water
Research suggests the brain reacts to artificial sweeteners much like it does to sugary sweets.
“If you drink diet soda each day, use carbonated mineral water to help wean yourself off of it,” says Jeffers. “Ingesting them frequently can increase your desire for high-calorie foods and put you at risk for weight gain.”
If you’re not a fan of carbonated water, try drinking unflavored tea, coffee or fruit-infused plain water. Quitting cold turkey isn’t realistic but if you start decreasing the amount of diet soda and artificial sweeteners you ingest, you’ll be doing wonders for both your waistline and your health.
4. Take a 10-minute walk
“Even a 10-minute walk can help boost your cardiovascular health,” says Travers. “Take a walk during your lunch hour or to a store that is a block away to buy a gallon of milk — it’s all good for you.”
If you’re at work, walk to the furthest bathroom and take the stairs. While running errands, try to find the farthest parking spot and walk from there. Remember, even the smallest amount of steps still add up.
Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate and the last thing you want to do is go outside when it’s snowing or windy, but don’t let cold weather deter you. You can often walk comfortably by dressing right: Start with a sweat-wicking layer next to your body, add insulating layers for warmth, and top them off with a waterproof shell.
5. Correct your posture
When you were a kid, have your parents ever yelled at you for having bad posture? Well, the bad news is that they were right. Having good posture can prevent aches and can also reduce stress on your ligaments. Not only that, but good posture prevents backache, fatigue and muscle pain.
“You can try to leave yourself a note to sit up straight until it becomes an unconscious habit,” says Travers. “Walking with your shoulders back and head held high can also make you feel good about yourself.”
While teaching yourself to have better posture isn’t something that can be fixed right away, reminding yourself to sit up straight has a positive effect on your overall health.
6. Go to bed ½ hour earlier
Do you sleep a solid seven or eight hours most nights? Many of us don’t but experts say this is a marker of good heart health. Solid sleep doesn’t just give you more energy, it can also help with healthy eating goals. When you’re short on sleep, it reduces your body’s production of hormones that suppress appetite, which can contribute to weight gain. You may have a higher risk of heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure if you suffer from untreated insomnia or sleep apnea, too.
Those seven to eight hours don’t have to be consecutive. If you’re feeling particularly tired, try to sneak in a short nap early in the day. Don’t overdo it, though. Limit your naps to 30 minutes to avoid falling asleep later than you should.
Try to head to bed ½ hour earlier than your usual time. Turn off your phone (we promise you won’t miss anything!) and wind down with a book. You’ll be falling asleep in no time.
7. Incorporate balance exercises into your routine
Balance on one leg for 10 seconds at a time, then switch to the other leg. Travers suggests incorporating this balance exercise into your routine, but it can also be done while brushing your teeth or standing in a line. It’s a part of neuromotor training, which helps you improve your balance, agility and mobility — all things you need in everyday movement and in other forms of exercise.
8. Weigh yourself every week
To keep your weight from creeping up on you, set a weekly maintenance or loss goal for yourself, write it down and check yourself against that goal. Weigh yourself each week on the same day and at the same time – and wearing the same amount of clothing for consistency. It’s important to be mindful of clothes fitting and scale measure.
Team up with your doctor or dietitian to create meal plans so you can reach your weight loss goals faster and in the healthiest way possible.
9. Start off your day with a healthy breakfast
Eat something high in fiber that includes protein to keep you full and energized. If you start the day out right, you tend to eat better overall and it helps lower your risk of diabetes and improves heart health. Not only that, but eating breakfast helps reduce brain fog, so you’ll be ready to go for those morning meetings.
Tired of the same bowl of oatmeal? Add different toppings to make it more exciting. Omelets don’t have to be boring, either. Throw your favorite salsa, cheese and eggs into a whole grain wrap for a quick and easy breakfast burrito. The options are endless.
10. Include greens and lettuce in your meals
Incorporate lettuce into your meals to add nutrients and water to your diet. The fiber in lettuce helps to fill you up and it does so at just 20 calories per serving. Lettuces that are dark green and reddish in color are the most nutritious and the most flavorful. But even the popular, pale iceberg lettuce provides water, fiber and folate.
11. Find creative substitutions for unhealthy foods
Work to eliminate foods and snacks that you buy regularly that are high in calories but low on their health benefit. Eat them less often as an occasional treat. Try using low-fat dairy, whole grains, healthy oils like avocado and olive oil and natural sweeteners like fruit instead of high fat or sugary alternatives.
“Remember that building new healthy habits can take some time and it’s OK to treat yourself to avoid feeling deprived,” says Jeffers. “Stay focused on your goal, and if you slip along the way, just start again.”