I hope 2020 has been off to a great start for everyone! A trend that I’ve seen this year and like a LOT is the focus on healthy lifestyles rather than hard and fast resolutions that are surely broken by February. I get so sick of detox diets or restrictive programs that aren’t sustainable (and sometimes aren’t even safe). So today, I’m sharing four lifestyle changes you can make for better health.
These are four areas that most of us can improve upon without feeling like we have to become a new person to make them happen! They’re sustainable and have a true long-term impact on health. And that’s what we all want right? To be healthy and happy for as long as possible. Not just for 30 days or 12 weeks.
Alright, let’s get into the healthy lifestyle changes I’m working on this year — and I hope you’ll join me too!
4 Lifestyle Changes for Better Health
1. Look beyond your weight and also focus on your heart.
Weight isn’t always a best indicator of health. Someone who has a smaller stature and terrible diet could be medically worse off than someone who has a well-balanced diet and consistent exercise routine but shows up ‘heavier’ on the scale.
While yes, a healthy weight is so important, the number on the scale isn’t the only thing that matters. It’s also important to focus on your health on the inside. Are your lungs functioning well? What about your circulation, digestion, brain or any other organ that keeps you alive? And how is your heart health?
Since February is Heart Health Month, it’s the perfect time to take charge of your health and learn about heart disease and how to prevent it. Unfortunately, heart disease can happen at any age, so it’s important to stay on top of your health with annual doctors visits. Novant Health also has a free online heart age assessment so you can understand how old and stressed your heart is. (It may be different than your calendar age!)
If you want to read and understand more about heart disease and how it can occur at any age, head on over to this blog post where I really go in-depth on the subject. And the other three tips below will all benefit your heart — 80% of heart disease can be prevented through diet and lifestyle changes!
2. Move more.
Movement is so important in our daily lives! And movement isn’t only formal exercise either. Don’t get me wrong, exercise is important, but movement throughout the day is just as important for circulation, digestion, and metabolism.
If you work a desk job, finding time for movement throughout the day is essential. As humans, we are not meant to sit at a desk all day. Not only does sitting at a desk all day ruin our posture, but studies have linked desk sitting to diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
To combat this problem, you need move throughout the day. It’s not enough to knocking out a long workout in the morning and then sit all day, assuming you’re good. How much should you move? Over the past few years, 10,000 steps a day has been the benchmark but one study sets the standard for optimal heart health even higher, at 15,000 steps a day. (Learn more!)
This is one I really struggle with, especially now that I don’t have my sweet pup to take me on 3x daily walks. Sometimes I only hit 3000 steps and even when I’m conscious of it, it’s still hard for me to hit 10,000 – let alone 15,000.
Here’s what I do to help increase my steps throughout the day:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator at the office. (Elevator tip: if you work on the 9th floor, for example, and that will make you a sweaty mess to do all nine flights, take the elevator up to the 6th floor and walk the remaining three!)
- Park further away from the store entrance or the furthest spot in your work parking lot.
- Schedule 1-2 daily walks, preferably more than 30 minutes long.
- Take phone calls while walking!
- Ask your manager if you can do your weekly touch bases while walking. (Explain that you’re working on your health! What manager could say no to that??)
- Use a restroom that’s further away from your desk or if you spend your days at home, use the restroom that’s upstairs or downstairs, rather than on the same floor.
This is also a good time to mention that running is a great option to include a part of your daily movement! Running has already been shown to reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease, and now a study finds that people who run tend to live three years longer than nonrunners. If you need help getting into running, sign up for my Running 101 newsletter where I share advice to get started and stay motivated.
3. Reduce Your Sugar Intake.
I know it’s hard to resist, but having a healthy lifestyle also means reducing the amount of sugar you eat.
Too much sugar can cause:
- Fatty liver disease and insulin resistance.
- Weight gain and obesity
- Increased risk for all diseases. “A diet heavy in added sugar – even more than one heavy in saturated fat – raises the likelihood of diabetes.” (Source)
Healthy eating is definitely a balancing act and it can be hard! I get it. Even though most of my recipes don’t include much added sugar, there is always the temptation of sugary treats lurking around us. Coffee shops are the worst at displaying those sugary treats right in front of your face as you order your drink (which is often filled with more sugar!). And sugar is often hidden in packaged foods where you couldn’t expect it, like condiments, bread, and crackers. If you add that on top of a sugary coffee and a soda, you’re consuming MUCH more than the recommended amount of 40 grams of added sugar a day (or less!)
It’s important to monitor your sugar intake and, for most of us, reduce it dramatically. Sugar addiction is a real thing and it’s important to break the addiction so you have more control over how often and how much you eat when you have sweet things. First, try to add up how much added sugar you have in a day. (Apps like MyFitnessPal can help or read packaging.) Do it a few times to get an idea of your daily baseline and then work to decrease it from there.
I don’t recommend going cold turkey cutting out sugar unless you do VERY well with sticking to things you set your mind to! Making gradual changes help your taste buds adjust and you’re more likely to stick with it. If you just cut out sugar all together, you’ll likely find you crave it even more.
So, how can you gradually make healthier options?
- Choose dark chocolate (something like 70-80%) instead of a candy bar. Or buy Smart Sweets rather than Swedish Fish. Then try dried fruit instead of candy. Then, try fresh fruit instead of dried fruit!
- Get a latte without flavoring and have them add powdered cinnamon instead.
- Read labels, particularly on cereal and yogurt! Choose less sweet or unsweetened options.
You’ll find when you choose less-sweet options or healthier sweet treats, eventually, when you eat “normal” stuff, you’ll find it too sweet. Get more tips here from a nutrition specialist on how to control your sugar. (And sugary drinks are particularly an issue so do your best to reduce them – read why and how here.)
4. Be Present.
We all have that love/hate relationship with social media, don’t we? For me, social media and being online is important for my business and for keeping up communication with loved ones and friends.
However, it’s important to be mindful of how much time we spend on our phones and computers — and not just for productivity’s sake. It can also impact your mental health.
- The average American swipes, taps or clicks their mobile device 2,617 times each day.
- Adults 18 to 24 sent and received an average of 128 texts a day in 2016.
- Research shows that teenagers spend, on average, 1.5 to 2 hours on social media a day. And being immersed in social media can add to a teenager’s angst.
That stresses me out just reading those stats! Here are four tips to help you give your phone (and your mind!) a rest. And listen to this podcast on how to help your teen limit the stress that comes with social media.
There are several areas I’m working on to be more present and focused in life and how I minimize my phone usage to help with them
When I need to get tasks or projects done, I put my phone on airplane mode or keep it in the other room or in my purse to prevent distractions from incoming notifications. (I also have 99% of notifications turned off!) By staying present in my work, I have been able to increase my productivity exponentially. And that means I can power down at a reasonable hour and spend time with loved ones, leaving work behind for a bit.
Family and friend connections are so valuable and it’s especially love to share a meal together. Nothing makes me sadder when I see a couple or a family out to dinner and everyone is looking at their phone, rather than engaging with one another. So, I’m especially conscious to not do that unless Tommy and I are looking at something together. Again, I’ve found that keeping my phone in my purse, or turning it on airplane mode when I am with others helps with this. Sometimes I even leave it in the car if we’re eating out.
I’m really working on not overscheduling myself. When I load too much on my plate, have too many meetings, or life is stuck on the fast-track, it’s so important to take a step back and evaluate where I’m spending my time. I have a history of anxiety, that is significantly worsened by working too much, and I don’t want to let it get to the levels it was at last year ever again. (Read more about how I improved my anxiety here.)
Alone, unplugged time
One of my favorite ways to unplug is to go into nature (and either leave my phone at home or put it on airplane mode)! Being outside is incredibly soothing for me and helps my mind slow down, take in the beauty of the outdoors and really reconnect to the present. We are so rarely alone where we aren’t filling time with TV or our phones and it’s so important to take time for ourselves too.
Okay, let’s recap the four lifestyle changes we can all work on for better health:
- Monitor heart health (not just weight!)
- Move more
- Reduce sugar
- Unplug and be present
We got this!
What are you working on in 2020 that isn’t related to a detox diet or losing X pounds? Do any of these resonate with you? If you need support, join the Novant Health Vision 2020 challenge (free!). It’s a series of challenges designed to keep your focus – throughout the year – on improving your overall health and wellness by lowering your heart age. The challenges are fun, manageable and most importantly, sustainable.
This post was sponsored by Novant Health. A big thank you to them for not only supporting my blog, but also supporting me and my readers in reaching our running goals and living long, healthy lives!