The holidays are over, and many of us are feeling the effects of “too much holiday” and resolve to be healthier this year. But what does it mean to have a healthy lifestyle, and how can we achieve one?
The phrase “healthy lifestyle” is an abbreviated definition of how we should live if we want to get the healthiest body we can—one that both feels and looks good. If you were to describe a healthy person, you would likely think of someone who does not smoke, maintains a healthy weight, eats whole foods that include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and exercises on a regular basis. Healthy people also tend to manage their stress well, get a good night’s sleep most nights, have a positive outlook on life, don’t drink too much, don’t sit too much—everything is done in moderation.
Checking off all the items on that list can seem daunting. But the good news is you do not have to change everything at the same time in order to lead a healthy lifestyle. In fact, research shows that making small changes over time leads to better commitment and instills healthier habits. Making small changes—such as taking more steps each day, adding vegetables to dinner, having fruit with lunch, going to bed an hour earlier, having an extra glass of water, saying no to the extra slice of cake—is the key to starting and then sustaining those positive changes. One thing you can do right now to make your lifestyle healthier is to move more.
Why You Need To Move More
We all know exercise is important, but there are many excuses not to do it. We’re too busy, we don’t know where to start, we’re not motivated or we might be intimidated by thought of going to a gym. Some people might think exercise has to be really hard or what they do isn’t good enough or that it needs to be done at least an hour a day for it to be beneficial.
Whatever definition you have about what exercise is or isn’t, the bottom line is that exercise is movement. Whether it’s walking around the block or running a marathon, movement is exercise, and every time you move more than you normally do, it counts.
There are two different types of exercise/activity: physical activity and daily activity. Physical activity is when you are sweating and raising your heart rate (running, hiking, bike riding, lifting weights, taking a Zumba class, swimming, etc.). But daily activities—such as chores, walking, gardening, parking your car farther away, getting off the bus one stop earlier, taking the stairs instead of the elevator—can also make a difference.
The Benefits of Daily Activity
The great thing about simply moving more with daily activity is that just a few extra minutes a day can have lasting health benefits.
Daily activity has been shown to:
- Improve mood and outlook; help with depression.
- Help you sleep better.
- Improve joint mobility and stability.
- Reduce stress.
- Improve blood glucose levels.
- Improve cardiovascular health.
- Enhance self-esteem.
- Aid in weight loss and/or maintenance.
- Prevent osteoporosis and fractures.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that if you are overweight, a reduction of 5 to 10% of your total body weight can help lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels. For someone who is 200 pounds, a 5 to 10% weight loss is equal to 10 to 20 pounds. Even if you opt for small changes and a more modest weight loss, you can see the benefits of moving more are still pretty amazing.
Simple Ways to Move Your Body
Start the process of being healthy by adding a little more movement and activity to your current routine. If you are not ready for a structured exercise program, start small. Every little bit counts, and it all adds up to burning more calories during the day. Here are some suggestions:
- Walk more: Look for small ways to walk more. Park your car farther away, take the long way around to the restroom, walk around the block when you go and get the mail, take the stairs instead of the elevator, march in place or pace while talking on the phone, walk to the store or Starbucks, go up and down every aisle at Costco/Target/grocery store while shopping.
- Turn off electronics and do something physical: Once or twice a week, turn off the electronics and do something more physical with your family—go to the park, take the dog for a walk, play outside with your kids, build a snowman, turn on the music and have a dance party, have a snowball fight. Almost anything that will be more active than sitting on the couch works.
- Garden or do other outdoor chores: Get outside and dig in the dirt! Or, mow the yard, trim the trees or bushes, sweep the driveway, rake leaves, shovel snow.
- Household chores: Wash dishes, vacuum, clean the house, sweep the floors, make several trips up and down the stairs while putting laundry away or doing other chores.
Starting and developing your own healthy lifestyle takes time, commitment and positive reinforcement. Small steps help you achieve all of those things. Remember, this is something that you want to maintain for the rest of your life. It’s a marathon, not a sprint; but even a marathon starts with that first step.
Always consult your healthcare provider before making any major changes to your diet or lifestyle, especially if you have a chronic disease.
Amie Louwers, RD, CD, LD is a registered dietitian with Overlake’s Outpatient Nutrition Services.