Many of us feel motivated to make healthy lifestyle changes, whether it be to exercise more, eat better, or sleep more. More often than not, these efforts to change fall short because changes in life are difficult. This challenge is made worse when we try to do many changes at once.
The following are five small health changes that you can add to your daily routine, one step at a time.
Eat more protein
Not eating enough protein may contribute to age-related loss of muscle mass and function. At a minimum, people need about 10% of their caloric intake derived from protein. Signs of not eating enough protein include decreased muscle strength, lowered immunity, bone fractures, and binge eating. Try these tips to increase protein intake:
- Eat your protein first, before you eat the starches on your plate.
- Switch up your proteins. There are many protein alternatives to red meat, including nuts, legumes, eggs, cheese, fish, and tofu.
- Replace breakfast cereal with eggs. Some research suggests that eating an egg a day might even keep cardiovascular disease away. Just skip the fatty bacon.
- If you are going to eat meat, choose the lean varieties.
- Eat protein-rich snacks like low-fat cheese, high-protein Greek yogurt, lean jerky, and edamame.
Moderate or vigorous leisure walking can boost mental health and health perceptions. Try these tips to walk more:
- To get the most benefit from walking, it’s best to have a goal. The gold standard is to aim for 10,000 steps a day, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But it’s OK to start slowly. You’ll get the most benefit if you do 10 minutes of nonstop walking, but if you haven’t walked for a while, start with 5 minutes.
- Break up your walks throughout the day and throughout the week One day you might only have time for a 15-minute walk before work, but the next day you might have 45 minutes. Another day you might only have time for a 10-minute walk at lunch, but you can do a 30-minute walk after work. Try to aim for a total of 150 minutes of consistent movement by the end of the week.
- Park your car in the space farthest from the door when shopping or going to work.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
For the record, it’s recommended that adults do at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity weekly—or an equivalent combination throughout the week. But, if you’ve been sedentary for a while, the point is to start moving, even a little, and be consistent.
Avoid ultra-processed foods
In a first-of-its-kind randomized controlled trial, 20 participants followed either an ultra-processed or unprocessed diet for two weeks, followed by a crossover to the alternative diet for 2 weeks. The meals were matched for calories, energy density, sugar, sodium, macro-nutrients, and fiber.
Try these tips to eat fewer ultra-processed foods:
- Learn to identify processed foods. “Ultra-processed” foods are those that have been changed from their natural state by the addition of ingredients such as salt, sugar, fat, artificial colors, stabilizers, and more. These include frozen meals, salty snacks like chips, sweetened cereals, packaged cookies and crackers, fast-food, cold cuts, soft drinks—you get the idea. Avoid these as much as possible.
- Stock your pantry and fridge with healthy, whole foods. For the fridge, that means a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits, lean meats, and other foods that come without packaging. For the pantry, that means staples with the least amount of sodium, saturated fat, and sugar. Buy whole grains whenever possible. Opt for brown rice instead of white, whole wheat or corn tortillas instead of flour.
- Shop smarter. Use a grocery list, eat before you go, read the labels, and buy in bulk.
- Eat home-cooked meals. Thanks to the pandemic, many of us are doing this already. You’ll consume fewer calories and increase your intake of healthy foods.
Meditative and relaxation exercises depend on the slowing of breathing. Try these tips for deep breathing:
- Take six deep breaths. This is a good place to start. Even the busiest of physicians can make time for this.
- Experiment with different techniques. From diaphragmatic (belly) breathing to Lion’s breath and everything in between, you’re sure to find a technique that works for you.
- Start small. Try 5 minutes and increase your time as you begin to get the hang of it.
- Do your breathing exercises in your car. Sure, it’s great if you have time to get comfortable at home to do your breathing exercises, but you can do some deep breathing just about anywhere. If you’re in traffic, just make sure you don’t get too relaxed.
Spend time in nature
Research indicates that increased exposure to natural environments, such as parks, woodlands, and beaches, is linked to better health and well-being in those living in high-income, urbanized societies. Living in green surroundings is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma attacks, mental distress, and more.