There’s something about a new year that makes us want to make a fresh start. And one of the best changes we can make is to improve our overall health. But how to begin?
A good first step is to think about the reasons that are fueling your desire to make health changes. Rather than just saying “I need to lose weight,” think about why you want to do so – such as being sick and tired of your clothing feeling tight, or wanting to set a good example for your children by eating more healthily. Knowing the ‘whys” can serve to motivate you. Then, said Ruth Brocato, MD, family practitioner working at Mercy Personal Physicians in Lutherville, MD, aim for lifestyle changes, beginning with small steps. For example, she explained, “Saying ‘I will never eat sugar again’ is not likely to meet with success, but setting small goals is.”
Ready to start? Here are eight health goals to consider working on in 2017 along with some key starting points that are more attainable:
1. I’ll eat a healthier diet. Most of us are aware of what a healthy diet is – eating mostly antioxidant- and fiber-rich foods derived from plants, such as veggies, fruits, whole grains, and legumes (peas, beans, lentils), and a smaller amount of healthy fats like avocados and nuts, plus lean meats (if desired). It’s also important to limit and control portions of highly processed foods, such as white bread and pasta, and snack foods, most of which have little nutrient value and lots of calories, and are harmful to gut health.
Where to start: Dr. Brocato suggests an “80/20” plan as a great way to think of healthy eating. “If we eat ‘perfectly’ 80 percent of the time, and allow 20 percent to be less healthy choices, we are more likely to stick with changes, and also this prevents giving up on goals,” she said. “Often we won’t even meet that 20 percent and in fact will eat healthily more than 80 percent of the time, as long as we allow for binges.”
2. I’ll get more exercise. Physical activity should consist of aerobic exercise, weight training, flexibility, and balance exercises, said Steven McDaniels, director of fitness and athletics at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla. and owner of Fit & Focused, LLC. “Aerobic activity includes jogging, bike riding, playing sports like tennis, or anything that gets the heart rate up,” he explained. “Weight training consists of exercises that involve body-weight exercises, or even weight lifting items around the house, such as cans or jugs of water. Flexibility exercises can be performed anywhere, anytime, such as right out of bed. You can wake up in the morning with a huge stretch or do other stretches throughout the day at home or at work. Balance exercises can also be done anywhere, especially at home.”
Where to start: McDaniels recommends that the “average Joe” should strive for a bare minimum of 30 minutes a day five days a week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise. In addition, there should be two days of weightlifting that engages every major muscle group, as well as flexibility and balance exercises. If you’re not sure how to achieve a well-rounded fitness program, you can ask a professional at the gym, hire a personal trainer, or explore a reputable website like that of American Council on Exercise (AceFitness.org).
3. I’ll recover post workout. It’s important, particularly if you engage in intense physical activity, to give your body sufficient time and fuel to combat the breakdown of muscle fibers that occurs with exercise, said McDaniels. After stimulating our muscles with exercise, proper rest and fuel allows our muscles to get stronger and bigger. Rest can also sustain motivation for physical activity by preventing psychological burnout.
Where to start: While each person’s recovery time varies, many experts advise at least a day or two of rest each week from moderate to high intensity exercise. This doesn’t mean you can’t take your pooch for a short walk, but you don’t need to power walk or jog, or head for the gym. In general, said McDaniels, the more intense your workouts are, the more rest you need. “If engaging in intense weightlifting, you should have a 48-72 hour rest period before lifting weights again.”
As for refueling, “You want to consume a carbohydrate and protein combo,” he explained. Somewhere between 15 and 25 grams of quality protein is sufficient for a moderately intense workout, and 30 to 75 grams of carbohydrates. Rice and lean chicken is a good option, or chocolate milk to rebuild and refuel the muscles. A protein bar may also be sufficient.”
4. I’ll hydrate more. Can’t figure out what’s causing your headaches and constant fatigue? According to most health experts, you may need to increase your fluid intake. Water is important for the function of cells, tissues and organs. It helps us to maintain our body temperature, remove waste products from the body, and lubricate joints. Many people fail to get adequate hydration, especially prior to, during, and after workouts. As for how much water you need each day, this varies between people. In general though, six eight-ounce cups of fluid daily can help keep you hydrated, said McDaniels. In addition, he added, “You should consume one to three cups of water before your workout, and additional water during and afterwards. The more you weigh, the more water you need before and throughout your workout.”
Where to start: Sometimes it’s hard to increase your fluid intake, especially if you’re not thirsty or if you don’t particularly like the taste of plain water. But there are some tricks to increasing your intake, such as drinking on a schedule, for example at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bedtime. Or a small glass of water at the beginning of each hour. If water is not palatable to you, try adding lime or lemon slices or concentrate to your drink. Remember, too, that most fruits and veggies contain lots of water, adding to your total daily intake.