Everyone knows how important a healthy lifestyle is in preventing chronic conditions and boosting your overall health. There are tons of information, resources, and experts available at your fingertips. While maintaining good health is easy for some people, it’s an elusive goal for others. Learning how to stay fit and healthy isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Why is this the case?
Contrary to popular perception, it’s not always your fault if you fumble and find yourself falling behind your fitness goals while others are crushing it. Let’s discuss how you can reevaluate your current lifestyle, make a sustainable plan, and take action.
1. Get SMART About Health Goals
Goal setting is an underrated health tool that is surprisingly simple and effective. You can give it a try by writing down your specific health goals.
What are your health goals in terms of physical activity, nutrition, key relationships, and sleep?
Are you committed to making the kind of changes required to start your transformation journey?
Can you do this alone, or do you need help to meet your goals?
Instead of setting a vague goal like “I’ll start exercising this week,” have a more specific goal like “I’ll start walking for 30 minutes a day, five times a week, for three months.” Using this approach, you’re making a SMART goal that’s specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-sensitive.
Once you’ve determined your SMART goals, start identifying the concrete actions you can implement to reach your goal. Start making incremental changes with one to three actions per week so it doesn’t get too overwhelming for you at the start. When it becomes your habit over the next few weeks, your health goals will start to become more realistic and achievable.
Track and monitor your weight every six weeks for the next three months, six months, nine months, and so on. Celebrate every success no matter how small it is, and move forward.
Some people will lose weight faster. You may be losing weight very slowly. It shouldn’t discourage you and make you give up altogether on your health goals. Find ways where you’ve made progress no matter how slow and inconsistent you might have been.
Take a look at your health numbers:
Did you lose a pound or two?
Or did you not gain additional weight?
Or have you slept better ever since you started making these positive changes?
How are your blood pressure and cholesterol levels?
If nothing else, are you more aware of your health now?
Look for ways to motivate yourself, boost your self-esteem, and get back on track. You might even consider setting new goals or adjust the existing ones at a later point in time to make them more realistic.
You can—or rather, you should—make your doctor your health and fitness ally. Discuss your setbacks with them and work out possible solutions together for overcoming your challenges. Review your eating, drinking, physical activity, and sleep habits with your doctor periodically for accountability and review.
2. A Simple Diet Can Make You Live Better
Eating and drinking well are very important if you want to stay fit and healthy. What you choose to eat and drink can make a huge difference in your health outcomes.
As uncomfortable as the truth sounds, obesity is a common, serious, and costly disease that affects around 42% of Americans. Being overweight puts you at risk for various health conditions such as certain kinds of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
The estimated medical cost of obese people is $1,429 higher than people with normal weight. It’s also why the role of a primary care physician is paramount to promote behavioral change and healthy habits.
Discuss your food choices with your physician by reflecting upon the following questions and making small, incremental changes towards progress.
What is your concept of healthy eating?
What are the types of food and beverages you consume on a regular day?
Do you eat only when you’re hungry, or do you eat when you’re bored, emotional, and stressed out?
What kind of food and beverages do you like to binge on?
What are the best fitness foods to include in your diet for a stronger body?
How do you feel about maintaining a food diary or journal?
Having a healthy eating and drinking plan doesn’t have to be complicated. The average person needs between 2000 and 2500 calories a day. Again, this figure varies depending on your activity levels. If you consume more than your activity levels, you will put on weight.
You can start making small changes in your eating and drinking habits. If you want to reduce or abstain from processed food, sugar, and deep-fried food, there are some ways you can achieve that goal.
You can drink your coffee or tea with reduced or no sugar. Even if it’s homemade, try to avoid or limit deep-fried food. Update your kitchen pantry by eliminating processed, sugary, and deep-fried foods like cookies, biscuits, chips, soda, and sweets.
A ready and reliable grocery list helps you control your eating habits and food choices. Have a variety of fresh fruits, dry fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, dairy foods, lean meat, healthy condiments, and snacks in stock at all times. If you’re craving junk food, try making healthier versions of it at home.
Also, pay attention to your food cravings in the next few weeks, making a note, and analyzing the various reasons behind them. It will help you detect the problem, identify patterns, and alternative solutions. So, listen to your body and the signals it’s sending to you.
Whenever you’re triggered to make poor food choices due to your emotions, try to find an alternative activity like listening to music, meditation, or reading a book instead.
A craving might also indicate some form of deficiency in your body. Low blood sugar might cause mood swings and lead to poor food choices. Ask your doctor for her/his expert advice on your food cravings.
Sometimes, when you think you’re hungry, your body is actually craving hydration. A fun fact is that your body is made of almost 97% of water when you’re born and as adults, the percentage of water drops to 75%.
Water is an essential aspect of nutrition. Our brain cells are majorly composed of water, and our teeth hold 10% of water in them. Your body cells benefit from water as it absorbs all the nutrients from it and needs water to flush away the unhealthy toxins and waste products from your system. Even 2% of dehydration can make your energy levels drop to one-fifth. So, make sure to drink enough water throughout the day to maintain optimal hydration levels in your body.
3. Get Moving and Active With These Easy Ways
Regular exercise benefits everyone across age groups, and it’s an important part of staying fit and healthy. It has various benefits, such as improving your immune system, self-esteem, focus, emotional resilience, and cholesterol levels. Regular exercise also has the effects of lowering blood pressure, controlling blood sugar, alleviating stress, managing chronic conditions, building stronger bones, and setting your sleeping patterns in order.
If you’ve not been regular with your exercise routine, maybe the following questions can help you get started.
Is health and fitness among your top priorities?
How much time do you spend sitting in a day?
Would you be keen to include some physical activity in your daily schedule?
What kind of physical activities do you enjoy?
When would be the best time in the day for you to be physically active, given your schedule?
Humans are designed to move, and your organs function much better when you are physically active. A simple daily exercise to stay fit doesn’t only mean going to the gym. Taking the staircase instead of the elevator or any physical activity that you enjoy doing, be it gardening or dancing, will boost your physical and mental health.
If you’re up for more kinds of exercise, there are several that you can choose from to make your workouts fun and diverse—jumping jacks, mountain climbing, Surya namaskar, push-ups, and squats. You can buy home exercise equipment like the elliptical machine or treadmill and work out at home.
Are you strapped for time? Try the 7-minute HIIT workout if you can handle an intensive exercise program, or take a walk for 10 minutes after your daily three meals if you are an exercise beginner.
Break the cycle of long sitting hours by standing up or walking for a few minutes every hour. A short walk regularly can do wonders for your longevity based on the latest research. You can keep resistance bands on your work desk to strengthen your core, neck, and back.
There are also various fitness apps to track your progress and wellness communities where you can find buddies and accountability partners to help keep you motivated and focused.
If you have a heart condition, feel dizziness or pain in your chest, or have a joint problem that gets worse due to exercise or any other health concerns preventing you from exercising, you should consult your doctor immediately.
4. Learn How to Sleep Well and Reap the Health Benefits
A good sleep routine is the bedrock of healthy living. Your body recovers during sleep as it heals and strengthens you from the inside out. Most people don’t get sufficient sleep for various reasons. But you can get to the ideal seven to nine hours of night sleep daily with mindful intention and effort.
There are several small steps you can take to achieve your sleep goals:
Make sleep time a priority in your “have-to-do” list.
Maintain a consistent time when you call it a night, and wake up every day.
Avoid caffeinated drinks at least eight hours before bedtime.
Exercise in the earlier part of the day if you can.
Wind down two hours before bedtime by reducing your screen time.
Try to avoid watching or reading disturbing news if it affects your peace of mind.
Relax by taking a nice, hot bath, or reading a book or listening to music, or meditating, or writing in your gratitude journal before you go to bed.
If you’ve had an erratic sleeping schedule, it might take some time for you to establish a consistent sleeping pattern. Till then, try to avoid sleeping during the daytime, or limit your daytime naps to less than 30 minutes. Also, don’t try to force yourself if you don’t fall asleep within 30 minutes. Instead, do something relaxing that you enjoy until you feel sleepy.
Also, pay attention to your body clock and the effect of light and meal timings on your sleep schedule. Wake up early in the morning to get at least 30 minutes of the morning sunlight. Remain in bright light as much as you can during the day by opening your window blinds or shades.
Dim the lights when closer to bedtime and turn on the blue-blocking settings on your electronic devices. Have a regular time when you have your three main meals and snacks. Avoid having large meals within three hours of night sleep.
5. Pay Attention and Take Charge of Your Mental Health
If you want to know how to stay fit and healthy, you also have to pay attention to your mental health. Diet is more than just the food that you put in your body. It’s way more complex than that, and it’s why you might be failing to achieve your health goals. Diet is often the outcome of your psychological programming influenced over the years by your family, friends, community, the food industry, and beyond.
Often, it calls for a lot of unlearning before you can rethink and learn again about diet. Of course, at a physical level, we need to nourish our bodies with healthy food. But it’s not just the nutritious foods you eat that count.
Healthy nutrition includes two sources of foods: primary and secondary foods. Primary foods include your relationship with yourself and others, your creativity, or physical activity. These areas need attention and nourishment. It’s what drives your secondary food choices and influences it on a subconscious level.
So, focus on your primary food nutrients, i.e., your relationships with self and the key people in your life, emotions, creativity, or spirituality.
Each one of us has different ways to deal with setbacks and grief in our lives. There is no one right or wrong way to grieve or deal with a setback. There are several ways to overcome your grief, loss, setbacks and move forward.
Staying connected with the key relationships in your life can make a big difference in your life. You can do this fun exercise together with your loved ones. Make a list of the top five to ten people in your life who are important to you and compare your expectations from them and vice versa. Now, check with them about their expectations from you, and discuss your expectations from them. It will ensure that your expectations from each other are aligned. Now, honor their expectations relentlessly, and expect the same in return. Watch how you nourish the special relationships in your life and how it positively affects all the other areas of your life.
Indulging in your creative side is another healthy way to strengthen your mental health, as is expressing gratitude to your loved ones. Why do we need to practice gratitude regularly? Gratitude is the key to abundance. When you take the time out every day to count your blessings and how life is kind to you, you attract positivity, joy, and abundance.
Stephen Covey first coined the term “Abundance Mentality” or “Abundance Mindset” in his 1989 best-seller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
Covey defined abundance as ”a concept in which a person believes there are enough resources and successes to share with others.” He compares it with the scarcity mindset (i.e., destructive and unnecessary competition) founded on the faulty notion that if someone else wins or is successful in a situation, that means you lose.
We need to get out of the scarcity mindset and adopt an abundance mindset. The first step towards abundance is practicing gratitude, which is a proven powerful tool for creating abundance and happiness in your life.
According to Tony Robbins,
“When you are grateful, fear disappears, and abundance appears.”
So, practice gratitude every single day. Inculcate an attitude of graciousness within yourself and if you have the interest, volunteer to give your time to people who could benefit from your expertise. There are several beautiful ways to bring meaning into your life and others around you.
If you are having difficulty managing your mental health and it’s affecting all aspects of your life, request a referral from your primary care physician.