Looking for the path toward a healthier you? It's not hard to find. The journey begins with some simple tweaks to your lifestyle. The right diet, exercise, and stress-relief plan all play a big role.
Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet
There's an easy recipe if your goal is to keep away problems like heart disease and strokes.
- Eat more fruits and veggies.
- Choose whole grains. Try brown rice instead of white. Switch to whole wheat pasta.
- Choose lean proteins like poultry, fish, beans, and legumes.
- Cut down on processed foods, sugar, salt, and saturated fat.
When eating healthy, flexibility often works best, says Joyce Meng, MD, assistant professor at the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center at UConn Health. If you like to follow a strict diet plan, go for it. If not, it's OK. "Find what works for you."
Tricia Montgomery, 52, the founder of K9 Fit Club, knows first-hand how the right diet and lifestyle can help. For her, choosing healthy foods and planning small, frequent meals works well. "I don't deny myself anything," she says. "I still have dessert -- key lime pie, yum! -- and I love frozen gummy bears, but moderation is key."
Exercise Every Day
The more active you are, the better, Meng says. Exercise boosts your heart health, builds muscle and bone strength, and wards off health problems.
Aim for 2 and a half hours of moderate activity, like brisk walking or dancing, every week. If you're OK with vigorous exercise, stick to 1 hour and 15 minutes a week of things like running or playing tennis. Add a couple of days of strength training, too.
If you're busy, try short bursts of activity throughout the day. Walk often. A good target is 10,000 steps a day. Take the stairs. Park your car far away from your destination.
Montgomery exercises every day, often with her dog. By adding lunges, squats, and stairs to a walk, she turns it into a power workout. "I also am a huge Pilates fan," she says.
When you shed pounds you'll lower your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
Aim for a slow, steady drop. Try to lose 1-2 pounds a week by being active and eating better.
"It doesn't have to be an hour of intense exercise every day," Meng says. "Any little bit helps."
As you improve, dial up the time and how hard you work out. If you want to lose a lot of weight, try for 300 minutes of exercise a week.
"Eating a healthy diet will go a long way," Meng says. Start by cutting sugar, which she says is often hiding in plain sight -- in store-bought items like salad dressing, packaged bread, and nuts. Try to avoid soda and sugar-laced coffee drinks, too.
Visit Your Doctor
Get regular checkups. Your doctor keeps track of your medical history and can help you stay healthy. For example, if you're at risk for osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones, he may want you to get more calcium and vitamin D.
Your doctor may recommend screening tests to keep an eye on your health and catch conditions early when they're easier to treat.
Keep the lines of communication open. "If you have questions, ask your doctor," Meng says. "Make sure you understand things to your satisfaction." If you're worried about a medication or procedure, talk to him about it.
Cut Down Your stress
It can take a toll on your health. You probably can't avoid it altogether, but you can find ways to ease the impact. Don't take on too much. Try to set limits with yourself and others. It's OK to say no.
To relieve stress, try:
- Deep breathing
- Healthy eating
- Talking to a friend, family member, or professional counselor
Create Healthy Habits
If you make the right choices today, you can ward off problems tomorrow.
- Brush your teeth twice a day and floss every day.
- Don't smoke.
- Limit your alcohol. Keep it to one drink a day.
- If you have medication, take it exactly how your doctor prescribed it.
- Improve your sleep. Aim for 8 hours. If you have trouble getting shut-eye, talk to your doctor.
- Use sunscreen and stay out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Wear your seatbelt.
Take time every day to invest in your health, Meng says.
It paid off for Montgomery. She says she overcame health problems, feels good, and has a positive outlook. "My life," she says, "is forever changed."