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5 Simple Steps to a Healthier Lifestyle

It can be overwhelming to think about all the things we can do to be healthier. Everyday new research findings are touted in the newspaper, on blogs, sent out via email blasts. We're bombarded with information about new diets, exercise plans, supplements. Where to start? It's understandable that so many people simply shake their heads and go on engaging in their same habits, unsure where or how to start. A healthy life may seem very far off, unobtainable even, and the path to greater wellness too unreachable. But the old saying, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," applies here. It's never to late to start. Here are 5 steps you can take today to begin your journey to better health and wellness.

  1. DRINK MORE WATER -- Water hydrates your body and keeps everything running smoothly. About 60% of your body is water. Drinking more water can help you control your caloric intake, it energizes your muscles, keeps your kidneys healthy and hydrates your skin. It keeps your blood vessels open, allowing blood to flow freely through your body. Try substituting water for sugary drinks or excessive alcohol. There are lots of apps to help you track your water intake -- or you can simply keep track the old-fashioned pen and paper way or use a water bottle! Aim for about 64 ounces a day or eight 8-ounce glasses.

  2. GET ENOUGH SLEEP -- Sleep is the newcomer to lists of healthy living. Its importance is becoming more and more apparent. In fact, the new 2022 American Heart Association guidelines for cardiovascular health identify sleep as one of 8 factors essential to good health. Sleep helps our brains function optimally and contributes to a strong immune system. It helps us maintain a healthy weight. Adults should aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Think about establishing a bedtime routine, turn off electronics and keep them out of the bedroom, keep your bedroom cool. There are many mindfulness apps that have sleep meditations to help you clear your mind and drift off to sleep. Balance is one such app -- it's free for the first year!

  3. MOVE YOUR BODY -- Here's another area where every little bit counts! The CDC website lists the benefits of physical activity: improve brain health, manage weight, reduce risk of disease, strengthen bones and muscles, improve ability to do everyday tasks. Sitting less and moving more can also improve mood, boost energy and promote better sleep. The US Dept. of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week in addition to strength training for all major muscle groups twice a week -- defined as using a weight heavy enough to tire muscles after 12-15 reps. Start with small increases in your daily activity rather than shooting for 150 minutes the first week. Increase your steps (if you have an activity tracker such as a Fitbit or Apple Watch) by 10% a week. Think about getting an exercise buddy -- research shows that having a friend to walk with helps to keep you accountable to meeting your movement goals. If you don't like to walk, find a dance class or dust off your bicycle, go for a swim.

  4. STOP SMOKING -- This one is a no-brainer! It improves every aspect of your health and can add as much as 10 years to life expectancy. It reduces the risk for many diseases, improves reproductive health outcomes, reduces cardiovascular risks, incidence of cancer and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). You can prepare to quit smoking in the following ways: set a date for quitting, have a conversation with your medical provider, think about what happened with previous quitting attempts and what worked and what didn't, tell family and friends and ask for support, prepare to deal with nicotine withdrawal (over-the-counter or prescription medications, nicotine patches, gum), prepare to deal with things that trigger the desire to smoke, anticipate cravings, and plan an exercise program and healthy diet to minimize weight gain. By the way, vaping isn't a harmless substitute for traditional cigarettes. Research suggests that it is bad for your heart and lungs, it raises your blood pressure, and increases your risk of a heart attack. The aerosol in e-cigs is not harmless water vapor and can contain a variety of contaminants that are harmful to your health.

  5. EAT HEALTHY FOODS -- Harvard University has developed a useful graphic for creating healthy, balanced meals. The "Healthy Eating Plate" is divided into the following sections: Vegetables and Fruits (1/2 of your plate), Whole Grains (1/4 of your plate), and Healthy Protein (1/4 of your plate). Aim to eat fruits and vegetables with lots of color and variety. Whole Grains -- whole wheat, barley, oats, quinoa, brown rice -- don't cause the large spikes in blood sugar and insulin like white bread and other refined grains. Healthy proteins are fish, poultry, beans and nuts. Red as well as processed meats (bacon, sausage, luncheon meats) should be limited. Stick to healthy plant oils in moderate amounts (olive, canola, sunflower, peanut) and avoid hydrogenated oils (typically solid at room temperature) that contain unhealthy trans fats. Drink water, coffee and tea, limit sugary drinks and milk and limit fruit juices as they are high in sugar.

While there are many things you can do to improve your health and reduce your risk of disease, focus on just one or two of the above things that you can do TODAY! Add a salad to your dinner planning, take a short 10" walk during your lunch break, substitute a glass of water for a soda during the day, plan to get to bed a little earlier. The point is that it doesn't matter where you start to make some small changes. What matters is that you pick a couple of areas where you find it relatively simple to change and start your journey to a healthier life. Every little bit counts and will move you closer to your health goals.

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