Seven Habits of Highly Healthy People
First, a disclaimer: I am not a fitness guru. I am not yet at my ideal weight. I am not an exercise maven. Who I am is a middle-aged, overweight, working mom. I’ve got a busy schedule, just like you. My days fly by, just like yours do. However, what I also am is this: I am no longer interested in being an American statistic on obesity. I am hoping to live longer than my parents did. I am no longer making excuses about my past habits. I am committed to doing the things that will help me feel better about myself and my future.
I am talking to people who have figured out, some of the things that I am trying to figure out. Those conversations have resulted in these seven steps. Here’s the best part: you can start from where you are NOW. Try a few of these healthy habits if you want to look, feel, and live more like the most healthy among us.
1. Water instead. Instead of what? YOU know what. Think of all the times you take a drink in a typical day, in a typical weekend. Better yet, record your beverages for a day or a weekend so you know exactly what you’re drinking. Then, start with the thing you drink “three” of-three cups of coffee? Three diet colas? Three glasses of sweet tea? Replace one of them with a glass of water. When that feels comfortable, replace another. You can keep doing this until every other glass you reach for in a typical day is a glass of water.
You say you don’t like “plain” water? I say, suck it up already. A “flavored” water-a glass of water into which you have squirted some artificial goo-does NOT count. If you must, try a squeeze of lemon, lime, orange, or a slice of cucumber.
I also challenge myself to have “water only” days. I figure I can do anything for a day, right? I don’t feel deprived if I’m only doing it “for just one day.” It’s become an easy habit. I think of it as a housecleaning for my body.
2. Plate Patrol. Michael Pollan, in In Defense of Food, writes “Eat healthy food-mostly plants-not too much.” That sums up the rebalance you can find on your plate. Fifty years ago, a typical “good meal” consisted of a big slab of roast beef, alongside a mountain of mashed potatoes, smothered in gravy. And oh, yes, a little spoonful of (canned) green beans to make it look colorful. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with roast beef and mashed potatoes, there are ways to rebalance your consumption so that you can have more healthy eating habits. The website www.ChooseMyPlate.gov shows you how the new healthy meal plate should look. It’s even color-coded for non-readers. How easy can that be?
While you’re at it, get rid of the oversized dinner plates. They aren’t fashionable any more, and studies show that people who eat on larger plates, not only fill those plates with more food, but they also consume more of that food. Having smaller plates won’t make you thin. But it will make you think. First, you’ll think you have a bigger meal, because your little plate will look more full. Second, it will help you make better decisions on filling that plate. In our house, there’s not a single dinner plate larger than 8″ across. Hey, you can always get seconds if you need to.
So, you say, you don’t know how to cook healthy? Get on the internet and look stuff up. That’s what Google is for. No excuses.
3. Move it to lose it. Come ON. If you’re reading this, and you don’t have a clue about exercise as a healthy habit, I personally promise to refund every penny you’ve spent reading this article. Experts recommend 30 minutes of deliberate exercise, just about every day. Healthy people move their bodies. Healthy people tend to look better and live longer. It’s not rocket science.
You can be creative about this. I have a dear friend who, when we visit, we commit to walking or hiking together. Sure, we could sit at my kitchen table and gab. But we could also walk and gab. The point is, we want to gab and we get to gab. See how that works? And sure, I can’t run a 6-minute mile like my teenage son can. But I can walk the track while he’s running circles around me. (I recently broke a 17-minute mile, whoopee!) And we can be active in other ways. This year we discovered a sport we both love: Frisbee golf.
So, you say you don’t know where to start? The point is to start. Pick something you love, or something you would love to try. NOW is the time to sign up for the salsa dance class at the community center. NOW is the time to see where the path around the lake goes. NOW is the time to stop draping clothes over your treadmill. NOW is the time.
4. Savvy snacking.
There’s nothing wrong with having a satisfying snack. However, you can do two simple things to make your snacks superior. First, take a drink and wait 15 minutes. Sometimes we mistake hunger for thirst (or boredom, or a need to change gears, or fatigue). Have a few gulps of water and give yourself time to decide if it’s a snack you really want. Second, think about what you want before you head to the kitchen. You can identify whether you are in the mood for salty or sweet tastes. You can decide if you want something creamy and comforting, or crunchy and chewy. You can even decide if you want a hot or a cold snack. Also, remind yourself that you’re going to snack. A snack is snack-sized! Use a little plate or bowl, or something that’s portioned, to help you. (See sidebar for easy snack ideas.)
But remember! You need to make those decisions BEFORE you’re standing in front of the open refrigerator or goodie cabinet. Commit to yourself that first, you’ll drink (water!) and then, you’ll think. It’s all about taking control and making sure that your snack is really satisfying.
5. Know your Numbers. Thanks to health gurus like Dr. Oz, more and more adults are realizing the importance of knowing what state their body is in, by knowing their “health numbers.” A simple blood test can tell you so much about your health, so it’s well worth scheduling. When is the last time you had your cholesterol checked? Or will the next time be your first time? How about your blood sugars? This is especially important if you have a parent or sibling with any disorder, such as diabetes. A fasting blood test (after 12 hours of not eating) can give you a realistic look at things like thyroid disorder, glucose tolerance, or chance of heart disease. Everyone should know their cholesterol numbers, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure.
So, you say you’re too busy? C’mon…you can schedule half a sick day, sleep in a little and then head to the doc on the way to the office. Have a ten-minute conversation with your doctor so you can take better care of yourself. Ask what those numbers mean. Find out if your numbers are ‘good’ or if you have to take steps or medication to improve them.
6. Snoozing and stress-busters. We all know that sleep deprivation is one of the most unsafe practices in the world. Lack of sleep leads to more accidents; more stress; shorter life; and a host of problems and complaints. Getting adequate rest is as important as exercise, when planning your healthier lifestyle. It’s time you planned your sleep better. If it takes you a long time to fall asleep, hit the hay a half-hour earlier. If you know you’re going to wake up at a certain time, count backwards and go to bed on time. If you need to, put a pad and pen by your bed, so you can write down things you need to remember for the next day.
In addition to getting adequate sleep, you can take “rest breaks” throught your day. So your boss says you can’t nap in the middle of the workday? No problem. Five minutes of shutting your eyes, breathing deeply, or stretching will help you feel more rested. Cut your lunch break short a few minutes and sit somewhere quietly by yourself. Do a few slow neck rolls. Resting throughout the day will help keep you sharper for what you have to do-and will help you cope with daily stress, too.
Here’s a 30-second trick that refreshes: close your eyes, and with the lids closed, look up, then down, then left, then right. Keep your eyes closed while you slowly take a few “look circles”-you’ll be surprised how good this feels after a few hours of staring at a computer monitor.
7. Remember who comes first. So, OK, you’re a busy person. You’ve got job responsibilities; you coach; you run your kids around; you like to party late with friends; you volunteer at the animal shelter; you don’t know how to say “no” to anyone, so your day-planner fills up faster than a tide pool during a full moon. It sounds clichéd to take “me” time, but that’s exactly what we all need.
How do you recharge? Would it be 15 quiet minutes with a good book? A quick walk around the block? Watching an uninterrupted sit-com on TV? Deep-breathing yourself into a higher power? Then DO it. Schedule the time if you have to. Turn the ringer off the smartphone. Pick your time and stick to it-even if it’s just in 10-minute increments. You’ve got time for everything else, so it makes sense to be a better you, by prioritizing you.
While you’re in “recharge” mode, it doesn’t hurt to think about the “who”s in your life. If we’re lucky, we have someone-or some ones-who would like to see us live longer or healthier. Maybe thinking about them will help you remember why you wanted to start living healthier in the first place. If it helps, share some of your new-habit decisions with the people who matter most to you. If it helps you, ask your spouse to nag you about your habits (hey, for some of us, this is a motivator!). Ask your friends to encourage you. Put positive messages or photos where you can see them. Whatever works for you…commit to making better choices, practicing the habits, and then use your results as encouragement to keep trying.
And don’t get discouraged if you can’t do everything, all at once. Just continue to celebrate every small victory, every time you practice a healthy habit, make a better choice, or do something good for yourself. Celebrate the journey of learning instead of beating yourself up for what you’ve done-or not done-in the past. Now is a good time to start a new healthy habit. Or seven.
SIDEBAR: Super snacks!
Toasted pine nuts with garlic salt
Pretzel sticks dipped in hummus
Cheese-flavored rice cakes
Small cup of leftover mac and cheese
Cottage cheese and pears
Chicken noodle soup
String cheese and cucumber slices
Chunky peanut butter spread on apple slices
Caramel corn rice cakes
Trail mix with dried fruit
Nutella spread on banana halves
Pudding cup with whipped cream
Frozen fruit juice pop