Getting healthier. It can sound so…hard. You might feel like you have to completely overhaul your whole lifestyle, find time for an epic workout every day, throw out everything delicious in your kitchen, and slave away at chopping and cooking weeks of healthy meals (and add kale to everything, right?). When you put it that way, sure, getting healthier sounds totally overwhelming and inaccessible, like a life full of sacrifice and discipline.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! In fact, it shouldn’t be, especially when you’re just getting started on a journey to improve your health and fitness. No, the best way to get started is not to dive in at the deep end and go all out (which could set you up for failure), but rather to start off gradually, by tweaking your daily routine with some simple hacks. So let’s get started – now! This week! And by the end of even the next seven days, you’ll probably be feeling much healthier (no slaving away or overdosing on kale required).
1. Downsize Your Plates and Bowls
Want to start really gently? If overeating is a problem for you, try this simple hack: change to smaller plates and bowls. Sound silly, or like it won’t do anything for you? Consider this: in one study, scientists found that people who ate from large serving bowls ate 56% (142 calories) more food than people who ate from smaller bowls, and in an analysis of 72 studies, scientists found that people consistently ate more food when offered larger portions and plates. So it might be time to try tricking yourself with the illusion that you’re eating more, and you’ll most likely be just as full at the end of your meal. And while you’re at it, slow down when you eat: this gives your brain the chance to get the signal that you’re full, so you’re less likely to overeat. And if you take it slow, you’re more likely to think about what you’re eating and make sensible, healthy choices.
2. Take Time for Yourself and Others
We live a lot of our lives online these days, and we’ve also just spent the last few years in periods of isolation, but now is the time to get back to some good old-fashioned time spent with others. And you know what? It’s not about how many people you know, or what you do with them, it’s really just about making connections. It’s these real connections that will make you happier, healthier, and more productive, so go ahead and get some real face time with someone you care about.
3. Have a Little Drink
And when we say “little,” we mean “little.” Too much alcohol will offset the benefits of a daily glass of wine, but that little tipple can actually be good for your heart health, your stress levels, and even your sex life. And you know what else is good for your health? Good sex! Sex boosts your endorphins, improving your mood and reducing stress levels, and can also help with your heart health and lower your blood pressure, among other many other benefits, so sounds like a wild weekend is in store. Ok, not too wild – stick to that one drink (or two for men)!
4. Be Smart about Fats
You might think you know what we’re about to say: cut the fat out of your diet. Nope! What you do need to do is bone up on your fats, and know which ones are actually good for you. Trans fats, which are added to processed foods, are your enemy, but some fat (from dairy, whole eggs, fish, avocado, or nuts, for example) is good for you as part of a balanced diet. And high-fat dairy may even help you lose weight better than low fat, possibly because the fat satisfies your hunger better than other calories.
5. Get Sweaty in the Morning, Take a Walk in the Evening
It might sound like a lot, but remember that studies have shown you don’t have to do a long workout all at once to get the benefits of exercise. So if it works for you, try doing a morning strength routine and then take a walk in the evening. There are benefits to be gained from both. For example, a study conducted at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that a.m. workouts can lead to better sleep, which is an important weight loss factor, and according to a study in PLOS ONE, being exposed to direct sunlight before noon reduces your risk of weight gain, as well. But taking a stroll in the evening is great for you, too, and you’re probably more likely to do that than to do an intense workout after work. An evening stroll will also promote better sleep, as well as keep you away from the temptation to snack while watching TV, and allow you to connect with a friend or loved one if you invite them along!
6. Make Things Easy on Yourself
We started out by saying that a lot of people don’t make the effort to get healthier because it seems like just that – a big effort. But if you make things easy on yourself, you’re more likely to stick to your goals and get healthier in the process. We suggest making friends with your microwave (and no, we don’t mean with frozen meals): try things like one-minute quiche in a mug, cinnamon breakfast quinoa, or even a flaky salmon dinner made in a silicone microwave steamer. Not a microwave fan? There are lots of other ways to make healthy meals and snacks with minimal effort: think overnight oats, using a crockpot or instant pot, and making simple swaps like whole grain options for refined carbs. And remember, your healthy meals don’t have to be complicated. You can make amazing 3-ingredient meals, like stuffed sweet potatoes, banana oat pancakes, chili, etc – just remember to combine protein and complex carbs and you’ll be setting yourself up to feel healthier without changing the amount of time and effort you put into eating.
7. Pump Some Iron (and Protein)
Yep, protein is super important, and you should try to include it in every meal, to keep you feeling satisfied, and to help with muscle repair. But you know what else you shouldn’t be skimping on? Iron! In fact, protein is important for muscle strength, but you also have to pump yourself full of iron in order to go pump some iron effectively. Iron boosts muscle strength, making it that much easier to get through the workday and your workout. And not eating enough iron can cause fatigue and even depression, so keep your energy levels high by eating oatmeal, lentils, and lean meats.
8. Get Prepped
Some people groan at the thought of meal prepping, but we’re big proponents of it to keep you on track with healthy eating, and to save precious time on weeknights. But even if you don’t want to go all-out with meal prep, you can still do simple things like making ready-to-blend bags of smoothie ingredients, including fruits and veggies (and while you’re at it, add fruit and veggies to anything you can!), or having emergency healthy snacks on hand. Remember, snacking is ok (in fact, it can keep you from getting too hungry and losing your ability to control what you’re eating), you just need to do it right. Have fruit sliced and stored, individual portions of nuts pre-packed, or cut up cheese ready to go when hunger hits.
9. Make the Most of Your TV Time
We’re totally not judging if you want to spend part of your evenings with some TV time to wind down, but we’ve got a few suggestions to sneak a little healthy even into this part of your day. First of all, it might be time to ditch the binging while binge watching habit. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition linked distracted eating to a long-term food consumption increase. You’ll be better served by doing a quick workout, or even just yoga or stretches, while you fire up the Netflix, and if you stick to this for a few weeks, you’ll soon find that you’ve broken yourself of the habit of mindlessly snacking (and hopefully replacing it with something healthier, even if it’s just going to sleep a little earlier)!
10. Make the Most of Your Workout Time
Some people really enjoy a long workout, and others – not so much. Or maybe you want to get a really intense workout in, but you just don’t have the time. Don’t let either of those things stop you from working out, just rethink what a workout looks like for you. Try interval training, with short bursts of high-intensity activity, which can often be more effective than other types of workouts in a much shorter amount of time, even as little as 20 minutes.
11. Hydrate Before You Die-drate!
Forgetting to sip water throughout the day? While you don’t necessarily need to drink a set amount of water every day, you should hydrate as much as possible. Studies show hydration is important to maintaining proper health and cognition, reducing kidney stone risk, and managing a healthy weight.
12. Ditch Sugary Drinks, and Switch to Green Tea
Yes, we’ve all heard it: stop with the sugary drinks! And we’re here to remind you of that. There is nothing to be gained from drinking sugary drinks (even juices, since you won’t be getting the benefit of the fruit’s fiber), and lots of damage that can be done, including the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Looking for a new drink? Try green tea! It can help to reduce stress, and some studies have even found that it can help with weight loss.
13. Move Throughout the Day
We all probably spend a lot more time being sedentary than we think, and many people think that because they do a workout at some point in the day, they’re doing enough. But that’s not always the case, unfortunately. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that people who exercise and then sit all day after are at risk of the same negative health issues as people who aren’t hitting the gym at all. Stinks, right? But that just means you need to get up and move any chance you get throughout the day! Take an extra lap when headed to the bathroom, do some yoga poses at lunch time, run up and down the stairs, park further away – whatever you can do to get more movement into your day.
14. Be Positive!
Think a positive outlook only impacts your mental health (as if that weren’t reason enough to think positively!)? Researchers are finding more and more that having a positive outlook actually affects your physical health, as well: according to the World Health Organization, “a happy engaged and fulfilling psychological and social life is not just a consequence of good health, it is what leads people to live a healthy and long life.” In fact, Johns Hopkins researchers have found, for example, that among people with a family history of heart disease, people with a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within 5 to 25 years, when compared to those with a more negative outlook. So when you find negativity creeping in, try to find ways to switch to a positive mindset, and you’ll be feeling better in both body and mind.
There are a lot of things in life that are hard, but making healthy changes to your lifestyle doesn’t have to be one of them. By sneaking in a few little changes, and tweaking a few of your routines, you can be on the road to better health in no time!