More and more research is showing that the key to lifelong good health is what experts call “lifestyle medicine” — making simple changes in diet, exercise and stress management. To help you turn that knowledge into results, we’ve put together this manageable list of health and wellness action steps.
We asked three experts — a naturopathic physician, a nutritionist, and a personal trainer — to tell us the top five simple-but-significant lifestyle-medicine changes they recommend.
Besides giving you three different takes on how to pick your health battles, this list gives you choices you can make without being whisked off to a reality-show fat farm — or buying a second freezer for those calorie-controlled, pre-portioned frozen meals.
1. Think positive and focus on gratitude
Research shows a healthy positive attitude helps build a healthier immune system and boosts overall health. Your body believes what you think, so focus on the positive.
2. Eat your vegetables
Shoot for five servings of vegetables a day — raw, steamed, or stir-fried. A diet high in vegetables is associated with a reduced risk of developing cancers of the lung, colon, breast, cervix, esophagus, stomach, bladder, pancreas and ovary. And many of the most powerful phytonutrients are the ones with the boldest colors — such as broccoli, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, grapes and leafy greens.
3. Set a “5-meal ideal”
What, when and how much you eat can keep both your metabolism and your energy levels steadily elevated, so you’ll have more all-day energy. A “5 meal ideal” will help you manage your weight, keep your cool, maintain your focus and avoid cravings.
4. Exercise daily
Did you know that daily exercise can reduce all of the biomarkers of aging? This includes improving eyesight, normalizing blood pressure, improving lean muscle, lowering cholesterol and improving bone density. If you want to live well and live longer, you must exercise! Studies show that even 10 minutes of exercise makes a difference — so do something! Crank the stereo and dance in your living room. Sign up for swing dancing or ballroom-dancing lessons. Walk to the park with your kids or a neighbor you’d like to catch up with. Jump rope or play hopscotch. Spin a hula hoop. Play water volleyball. Bike to work. Jump on a trampoline. Go for a hike.
5. Get at good night’s sleep
If you have trouble sleeping, try relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga. Or eat a small bedtime snack of foods shown to help shift the body and mind into sleep mode: whole grain cereal with milk, oatmeal, cherries or chamomile tea. Darken your room more and turn your clock away from you. Write down worries or stressful thoughts to get them out of your head and onto the page. This will help you put them into perspective so you can quit worrying about them.
6. Check your food ’tude
What we eat and how we feel are linked in very complex ways. A healthy approach to eating is centered on savoring flavor, eating to satisfaction and increasing energy, rather than focusing on weight. Check your balance of low-calorie foods, nutrient-dense foods (providing many nutrients per calorie), and foods that are calorie dense but nutrient poor. Most Americans need to eat more fresh whole foods (in contrast to processed, highly refined foods). Try to add more whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and legumes into your meals. Pair these carbohydrate-rich foods with a healthy fat or lean protein to extend satisfaction.
7. Eat like a kid
If adding more fruits and vegetables sounds ominous, look to “finger food” versions that preschool kids love — carrot and celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, broccoli florets, grapes, berries and dried fruits. All are nutritional powerhouses packed with antioxidants.
8. Be a picky eater
Limit saturated fats and trans fats, and aim to eat more foods rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids to cut your risk of cardiovascular disease and maybe even improve depressed moods. The equivalent of just 1 gram of EPA/DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid/docosahexaenoic acid) daily is recommended. Eating cold-water oily fish (wild salmon, herring, sardines, trout) two to three times per week will provide both EPA and DHA. Adding up to 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed and eating meat, milk and cheese from grass-fed animals will provide you with a healthy dose of omega-3s.
9. Use foods over supplements
Supplements are not a substitute for a good diet. Although many health experts recommend taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement that provides 100 to 200 percent of your recommended daily value, each and every supplement should be carefully evaluated for purity and safety. Specific supplements have been associated with toxicity, reactions with medications, competition with other nutrients, and even increased risk of diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
10. Get satisfaction
Both eating and physical activity are fun, sensory experiences! In both, aim for pleasure — not pain. Pay attention to the nutritional value of the foods you choose to eat, as well as your sense of satisfaction, relaxation, tension, exhilaration and fatigue when you sit down to eat. Check in with yourself as you eat, rekindling your recognition of hunger, fullness and satisfaction when considering when and how much to eat.