If you search the Internet for “how to live a healthy lifestyle,” you will be inundated with tons of information. More information than you have time to read and implement. There’s information about diet and exercise trends, quick fixes that are not sustainable, and also fixes that are. However, who has the time or energy to decipher all of that information and weed out the confusing chatter? You can read an article and think you have a plan, then ten minutes later read a different article contradicting the information you just read prior. Frustrating to say the least. So, what is a person, striving to improve his or her physical health, to do? In this article, I will outline five very simple steps that will have you on the road to improving your health and living a healthy lifestyle.
1. Eat whole food
What is whole food? Well, whole food is basically food that is as close to its natural state as possible. It’s strawberries that look and taste as they did right after they were picked. It’s broccoli that looks and tastes like broccoli. Catch my drift? It’s pretty much food that hasn’t been messed around with too much. By eating whole food, you consume food the way it was created in nature. You eat the nutrients the food has to offer all together, the way nutrients are intended to be consumed. Nutrients in foods are there to work together to give you maximum benefit. In general, they do not work the same when picked apart, packaged in a supplement, or artificially added back to the foods from which they were stripped. Okay, okay. I feel like I am standing on a soapbox. Let me hop off and shove it in the corner. The premise of eating whole food is to eat food as close to its natural state as possible. Plain and simple. By eating a colorful diet, primarily consisting of fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds, you help to ensure that you’re consuming a variety of nutrients.
2. Limit highly processed foods
On the spectrum of altering natural food, whole food is at one end and highly processed food is at the other. Highly processed foods are manufactured. They are usually high in at least one of the following: sugar, salt, and fat. They contain very little to no whole food. Highly processed foods include items like many pre-packaged snack foods, baked snack items, cold breakfast cereals, packaged bread items, crackers, processed meats, and soda to name a few. Eating foods in an “un-whole” state can cause the body to react differently. These foods can cause inflammation. Inflammation is when the body’s immune system gets revved up. Chronic inflammation (if inflammation continues for a prolonged period of time) can increase the risk for diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, strokes, heart attacks), and certain cancers. Also these types of foods can cause excessive weight gain. I am definitely not saying never have these foods again. It’s not practical. They exist and are designed to be tasty. As far as pursuing a healthy diet, the goal is to limit the amount and frequency with which you consume them. All I am saying is save these items for special treats. Say one that you do not keep on the regular grocery list, but one that goes on the occasional list. There’s no need to get bent out of shape for having occasional treats when your diet is primarily composed of healthier foods. Eat the treat and move on. No need to entertain the thought any more, and you resume your normal diet thereafter. No guilt.
3. Get physically active
Meeting or exceeding the physical activity guidelines has both, physical and mental health benefits. For most adults that’s 150 minutes of moderate activity a week or 30 minutes for five days in a week. For children, sixty minutes of daily physical activity is recommended. These activities include not only cardio but also other exercises like strength and balance training. For the sake of sanity, it’s not necessary to pull out a stopwatch everyday and physically time your activity. However, becoming more cognizant of your physical activity can help increase your activity. Simply be active. Playing with your kids counts. Doing chores counts. Running up and down the stairs (20 times it feels like some days) to get that thing you forgot upstairs counts. Cutting on some music and dancing counts. You do not have to “formally exercise” everyday to be physically activity. Recognize the physical activity you already perform, then find simple ways to increase it.
4. Cut yourself some slack
I cannot stress this enough, AVOID BEING OVERLY RESTRICTIVE. It makes it really hard on you when you paint yourself into a corner that keeps you fighting your willpower to keep from stepping out of it. You do not have to put a label on your eating if you do not want to. Let’s say you read about the health benefits of reducing or eliminating your meat intake. You’re so inspired you decide to become a vegan. You pick a day for your last day of eating meat and start your vegan lifestyle. You’re doing alright, but you can’t seem to shake the fact that sometimes you just want a little piece of chicken. But you’re vegan and vegans don’t eat chicken. You’re miserable with the mental struggle of trying to be a chicken-wanting vegan. So much so that you quit all of it. You completely revert back to your old way of eating just so you can eat chicken. For a while, I thought I had to be a vegan. I do not really mind a vegan diet at all. However, on occasion, I like to eat eggs. Sometimes I will have a few shrimp. Every so often, I have a dapple of cheese. I felt guilty about wanting or having those things because I was striving to be vegan. I dropped the title. It’s not necessary to label your eating. Decide what foods you are okay with eating, which changes, and what foods you are NOT okay with eating, which also changes. All of that is okay. The most important aspect in all of this is that your good foundation is strong. If your focus is on eating whole, plant-based foods as the main part of diet, then I wouldn’t worry too much about treating yourself from time to time. Being healthy shouldn’t be a big headache.
5. Make it enjoyable
If you despise broccoli, don’t make it your go-to green vegetable. If you hate running, don’t do it. Eat healthy food you actually enjoy eating. Do physical activity you enjoy doing. Try new things. If you try something new and don’t like it, try a different way next time. There are so many different ways to prepare food and to perform activities. For example, you may not like steamed broccoli but love them roasted. You may not like to run on a treadmill but love running outside on a track. I’m not in love with long bike rides outdoors but love riding stationary bikes. Spend some time finding out what you like and enjoy the healthier lifestyle you seek.
It all boils down to simplifying your definitions of healthy eating and physical activity. We make them such formal activities when they don’t necessarily have to be robotic events. Eating healthy does not mean counting, measuring, and calculating. Focus on eating whole, plant-based foods. With that, there’s no need to get out your calculator to eat. Who checks the nutrition facts on carrots or oranges, broccoli or apples? There’s really not need for the vast majority of us. Being physically active does not mean you have to start some strict exercise regimen. Find activities that get you moving, and you enjoy doing. Then do them. You like to dance? Dance. You like to ride bikes? Ride. You like structured exercise regimens? Rock out. Getting healthy means first defining what healthy looks like for you. Explore your options. Explore different healthy foods and ways to enjoy them. Explore different physical activities. Find the things in life you enjoy AND allows you to take care of your body. There are countless options. There is a healthy lifestyle that fits your lifestyle for sure.
JR & Erica
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