If your New Year’s resolution is to eat better and exercise more, setting the threshold too high with a new rigid diet or strenuous workout may not be the best way to reach your goals. In fact, making drastic lifestyle changes can backfire when you’re trying to develop healthy habits. You may start the year feeling gung-ho about cutting out carbs or going to daily spin classes only to be disappointed later when it’s difficult to sustain that routine.
Long-lasting healthy habits develop gradually and start with small, manageable steps. Here are 10 small ways to shake up your routine and set yourself up for significant health improvements over time.
1. Start a food diary. Try tracking everything you eat for a week. Being aware of your current eating habits is the first step toward improving them. A food diary can be an especially valuable tool for weight loss. Participants in a Kaiser Permanente study who recorded their daily food intake lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t keep records.
2. Make breakfast at home. Instead of heading to the fast food drive-through on the way to work, prepare your own quick, healthy breakfast to either eat at home or on the go. Bake a batch of whole-grain fruit muffins over the weekend to pair with a freshly scrambled egg each morning. Wrap some leftover meat and veggies in a soft tortilla with a splash of salsa and a sprinkle of cheese for a breakfast burrito. There are many quick and healthy options to choose from!
3. Keep healthy snacks at work. If you have a stash of healthy things to munch on at your workstation, you’ll be less tempted by the vending machines loaded with junk food or the candy jar on your co-worker’s desk. Nuts, fresh and dried fruits, pumpkin and sunflower seeds and low-fat microwave popcorn are some healthier options to keep on hand.
4. Slow down. Sometimes speed eating is the culprit for overeating. If you’re gulping down your meals too quickly, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has some suggestions to curtail that habit. For example, you might try putting your fork down between bites or not watching the news during dinner if it distracts you from noticing how fast and how much you’re eating.
5. Keep healthy food in sight. Instead of tucking all your produce in the crisper drawer where you’ll forget about it, set a bowl of fruit on the counter. Store healthy foods in the most visible spots in your cabinets, refrigerator and freezer.
6. Schedule your workouts. Treat exercise like a regular appointment you make with yourself. That could mean signing up for a fitness class or, as the Mayo Clinic suggests, committing to get on the treadmill while you watch your favorite evening TV programs.
7. Find a buddy. Taking a class with a friend or walking with a group of co-workers might make exercising more fun and easier to stick with. But your buddy doesn’t
necessarily need to exercise with you. Sometimes it helps to simply have someone on your team to whom you’re accountable — and who will give you an occasional pep talk.
8. Mix it up. To avoid boredom and decrease risk of injury, the Mayo Clinic recommends cross-training with a variety of activities that exercise different parts of the body. You might break up your 30-minute exercise session into three 10-minute activities of, say, brisk walking, weight training and swimming laps. Or, you could alternate between different activities on different days of the week. For instance, you might go running one day for a good aerobic exercise that strengthens your leg muscles and take a yoga class the next day to work on your core strength, flexibility and balance.
9. Sacrifice convenience. Force yourself to move a little more by parking farther away from the entrance when you go shopping or by taking the stairs instead of the elevator in your office building.
10. Track your progress. The American Heart Association’s tips for long-term fitness success include logging your physical activities and even noting how you feel after exercising. When you’ve reached a milestone like working your way up from a daily walk around the block to a one-mile trek around a park trail, give yourself a reward. Catch a movie you’ve been eager to see, order the latest book by your favorite author or get a new pair of sneakers for taking your fitness journey to the next level.