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Simple, Healthy Changes to Make Right Now

This year, I’m focusing on making simple, healthy changes – nothing stressful or unsustainable! One of my goals for the year is to improve my diet by eating at least 30 different plant foods every week – fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. I got this idea from the book Fiber Fueled by Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, who believes that this is a simple and practical way to increase the variety and amount of plant foods we eat. It’s challenging but kind of fun, and is forcing me to be creative and expand my eating horizons. (Includes affiliate links)

If you haven’t set a goal for this year, or if you’re still contemplating what to do, I
want to encourage you to go ahead and do it. And if you’re not sure where to start, think
about starting with one change in one of three areas:

Simple, Healthy Changes in:

  • Sleep
  • Diet
  • Exercise

The more I learn about our health, both physical and mental, the more I’m convinced that
these areas are the keys. If we get these right, our chances of feeling good, feeling
energetic, and staying healthy increase dramatically
. If we let them slide or leave them to chance, the likelihood that we’ll feel down, lack energy, or get sick go way up. If you’d like to make a healthy change in one of theses areas this year, here are some tips and a few resources to help you get started:

Sleep

If you sleep poorly or not enough, consider starting the year by working on improving your sleep. Good sleep is absolutely foundational to our physical and mental health, and it’s almost impossible to feel great and stay healthy if you’re not sleeping well. Getting into a healthy sleep pattern can take some time, but it’s more than worth the effort. Here are a few basic steps, simple, healthy changes that can get you started –

  • Get exposure to natural light in the morning and evening – go outside for 5-10 minutes around the time the sun rises and just before it sets
  • Avoid bright light in the evening
  • Avoid caffeine after 2:00 pm (or even 12:00 pm if you’re sensitive to it)
  • Exercise regularly (but not right before bedtime)
  • Wind down in the evening
  • Limit light from electronic devices in the evening
  • Set a consistent bedtime

(Want to learn more? See Sleep Resources below.)

Diet

Diet advice can get complicated, but I’m not sure that it has to be. Here are some simple
but powerful ways to improve your diet this year
. If you’re not sure where to start,
consider setting a goal around one of these simple, healthy changes:

  • Cut out added sugar. This includes sweetened drinks, sugar that you add to drinks or food, and sugar that’s added to processed and prepared foods. Begin to cut down on it, and work towards cutting it out completely.
  • Eat more plant foods. Focus on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. Set a reasonable goal for yourself, like adding one additional plant food to every meal, and then increase it over time. Or try the 3 x 3 + 1 rule. Or set a goal of eating 15 or 20 different plant foods every week and work your way up to 30.
  • Cut way, way down on highly processed food. Fast food, most foods that are ready to heat and serve, and foods with long ingredient lists tend to be highly processed. They’re typically full of sugar, unhealthy fats, and artificial ingredients. Start slowly to move them out of your diet and replace them with simple meals made with whole foods.
  • Focus on fiber. Your gut microbiome, the trillions of bacteria and other organisms that live in your gut and strongly influence your immune system, weight, digestion, and brain health, need fiber to thrive. So consider focusing on getting more fiber and other prebiotics (food for the microbes) into your diet. This typically involves eating more plant foods, like legumes, vegetables, and whole grains and, in some cases, taking fiber supplements.

(Want to learn more? See Diet Resources below.)

Exercise

One of the best things you can do for your body, mind, and overall health is to get up and
move every day
. You don’t have to go to the gym, take a class, run, or lift weights
(although those things are great if you want to do them). The Physical Activity Guidelines
for Americans
recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate
intensity activity (like brisk walking) and do strength training exercises on two days each
week. Experts also recommend getting up and moving throughout the day, rather than
sitting for hours on end. (I have a desk job, so I know how easy it can be to sit all day!)
Here are some ways to get started:

  • If the thought of starting to exercise seems overwhelming, one of the easiest healthy changes you can make is to think in terms of “movement” rather than “exercise.” Create a list of ways that you could add movement to your day, and start trying them out. For example you could take a walk at lunch, walk and talk with a friend (rather than sitting and talking), walk during your children’s sports practices, get up from your desk several times a day, play outside with your children, or take a walk with your spouse after dinner.
  • Find a convenient way to add more exercise to your life. You have to decide what will work for you. I know that going to a gym regularly doesn’t work for me, but maybe it does for you. For a lot of women, exercise needs to be convenient, inexpensive, and practical. So that may mean working out with online exercise videos or working out with an app. Many free and low-cost options are available for both. (I’m using the FitOn app this year to make sure that I fit in some strength and stretching exercises every week.)
  • Use any equipment you already have on hand. Many people have a piece (or two!) of exercise equipment that serves primarily as a clothes rack! If you have some kind of equipment that you’d be willing to use, dust it off and get started. And be sure to find and organize smaller items you already have – like hand weights, exercise bands, an exercise ball, or a mat. I sometimes use our treadmill as a clothes rack, but I also use it to exercise almost every day!
  • Start small – but start. Pick a way of getting started that seems workable for you and get moving. It’s fine to start small and then increase – for many people, that’s the most practical way to make a healthy change that sticks. Incorporate it into your schedule until it becomes a habit. For example, after years of doing regular brisk walking, it’s a habit for me – it’s so ingrained in my life and my schedule that I don’t really have to think about it. But strength exercises and stretching aren’t ingrained into my life at all (because I really dislike them!) So this year I’m being very intentional about doing both twice a week (I check them off on a chart after I do them!), in the hope that they’ll eventually become a habit.

(Want to learn more? See Exercise Resources below.)

Are you ready to make some simple, healthy changes this year? This week is the perfect time
to start. Just pick the first step you want to take, and begin doing it.
And small changes count, because they add up over time. Once you’ve established one as a habit, you’ll be ready to make another one.

Are you ready to make a healthy change? Let me know in the Comments what you plan to do – I’d love to hear from you.

Sleep Resources
The Huberman Lab Podcast – Toolkit for Sleep (article; the basics)
The Huberman Lab Podcast – Sleep Toolkit (podcast episode; more detailed)
Dr. Matthew Walker – The Science of Perfecting Your Sleep (podcast episode)
Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker (book)

Diet Resources
6 Tools for Improving Your Gut Health, Dr. Andrew Huberman (article)
Zoe Science and Nutrition (podcast)
How to Build and Maintain Your Gut Health, Dr. Justin Sonnenburg (podcast)
Fiber Fueled, Dr. Will Bulsiewicz (book)
The Blue Zones Solution, Dan Buettner (book)

Exercise Resources
Fitness – 5 Steps to Getting Started, Mayo Clinic
The New Way to Get More Exercise, The Healthy Life Toolbox
Fit. Strong. Healthy. The Busy Woman’s Guide to Exercise, CalmHealthySexy
How to Start Exercising, Healthline

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