These are my top 10 practical tips for overall well-being and fitness:
1. One of the single most important things you can do every single day for optimal health is to get 8 hours of sleep. If you’re not well rested, everything else falls apart. Your energy takes a nose dive and your appetite increases which means you’ll make poorer choices and overeat. Irritability is another nasty side effect of being sleep deprived. If you haven’t read my page on sleep essentials, check it out for tips and gadgets for better sleep.
2. Hydration! I know…this tip’s been beat to death and you’ve read it everywhere. Why? Because it really is that important. Your body is roughly 70% water which means when you are dehydrated, something is suffering somewhere in your body. Could it be your mental focus? Your energy levels? Your appetite? Your ability to have a bowel movement? Maybe, all of the above…check out more of my hydration tips here.
When dehydration is severe, hospitalization is often required for treatment. But, truly most people are walking around with mild, chronic dehydration and just don’t realize it. The classic recommendation is at least 8 glasses of pure water a day. I aim for a minimum of 3 liters and I make sure the 1st liter is down that hatch before I leave the house each morning.
3. Start every day with a healthy breakfast, even if it’s a small one. Research tells us over and over again that it’s important to start your day by having something to eat. Breakfast stimulates your metabolism and it will help prevent a major hunger attack later in the morning. I love a green smoothie to start the day because it helps me start to pack in the fruits and veggies straight away and it digests easily.
4. Get a little fresh air and sunshine every day or as often as you can. No, walking to your car in the morning does not count! Just do something outside as often as you can manage.
5. Take an honest assessment of the stress in your life and start getting real with yourself on the ways you can reduce it. Several years ago, during the recession, I lost my job with a great company that was forced to dramatically downsize. It was really upsetting to lose my job and I suddenly found myself home a lot, job-searching on the internet with the t.v. on in the background. I was obsessing over the constant replay of bad news. It was depressing and scary and it was keeping me up at night. So, after several months of being freaked out all the time, I decided to disconnect my cable. Within days, I noticed the stress melt away. I was sleeping again at night and, guess what? I saved extra money on the cable bill I no longer had to pay! Sure, I missed my favorite programs. But, I knew that they would all still be there when I hooked up the t.v. again. And, actually, I happily reacquainted myself with books. It ended up being a really great thing. Stress messes with your hormones and wreaks havoc on your sense of well being. So, even if you can only manage small changes to reduce your stress, it all counts and you’ll be better off for it!
6. Increase your fiber intake. The recommended intake of fiber each day is approximately 25 grams a day for women and 38 grams a day for men. The average American falls short, only eating about 15 grams a day. But, not if you’re eating a plant-rich, whole foods diet! Fiber keeps you fuller longer and it can help stabilize blood sugar levels. Plus, your bowel movements will be awesome! Beans, berries and dark leafy greens are all excellent sources of fiber. Avoid processed foods and swap in more veggies and fruit. People eating diets rich in fiber are slimmer than those who are deficient. There is a ton of research to support this, so eat your fruits and veggies and ditch the refined foods!
7. Go grocery shopping once a week with a written list of everything you need. Don’t make shopping a random after-thought on your way home from work when you’re hungry and tired. Think about what you want to have in the house for the coming week, keep a list and then make a plan to go to the store when you are not rushed and distracted. This is even more important if you are actively making the transition to a whole foods diet. Making bad choices that you will regret later often happens when you are not well prepared. Always have healthy snacks on hand and include some quick-prep frozen food options, as well. I love…love Amy’s Brand of frozen foods. Amy’s has tons of vegan, gluten-free foods that are super easy to heat and eat when you are fried from work and don’t feel like cooking. I also love my Costco membership because I can get obscenely large bags of sweet potatoes, kiwis and frozen berries for smoothies. They even offer quite a bit of organic produce, which is a really nice trend to see!
8. You must move every day! I don’t care whether you walk, run, cycle, hike, do martial arts, take group classes…just do something! Everyone is busy and, frankly, you might have to go to bed and wake up earlier in order to get it done. But, you must move your body, make your muscles work and get some blood circulating. If you don’t self-motivate then you are the perfect candidate for a class where you have to show up on time and participate. For those who like competition, then you’ll do best to pick a goal like a 5 K run and start training for it. Just get real with yourself about what you are sincerely willing to do on your own behalf and get going with it. The really encouraging news is that new studies have shown that even (2) 10-minutes sessions of exercise a day can be beneficial. Which means that if you can wake up and do a quick 10-minute circuit of, say, push-ups, planks and air squats you are gaining health benefits. It all counts!
9. In addition to daily exercise, studies also show that it is important and beneficial to get up from your desk every hour (at least) and, if you can get your boss to approve it, a standing work station can reduce your risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. This might not work well with high heels. But, you can always keep some slippers under the desk to slide in and out of!
10. Finally, the top tip you must know for your best health and fitness is that you cannot exercise your way out of poor eating choices! This is really important. Many years back when I was working as a nutrition consultant in gyms, I spent a lot of time hanging out with people who built their livelihoods around health and fitness and the overwhelming consensus among the athletes and health professionals was that the food you eat has the greatest impact on your body, even more so than the type or amount of exercise you get each week. This is where a plant-rich diet comes in. Fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds are all straight from the source…nature. The more plant-based foods you eat each day, the more antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals you’ll be absorbing. Plant foods are more filling and nourishing and you can eat big quantities for satisfaction without the tons of useless, empty calories you find in processed, sugar and fat-filled foods. Plants offer plenty of protein in addition to all the other goodies they contain so you don’t have to subject your arteries to the nasty, clogging affects of the saturated fat in processed foods. It’s win-win with whole foods foods.