Simple changes key to healthy, lasting success

January 15, 2003|by LYNN F. LITTLE

When Americans think about losing weight or improving their health, they usually think about making big changes in their lifestyle - like joining a health club or going on a serious diet. Then they get frustrated or feel like failures when they are unable to maintain their new habits over the long haul.

There is a better way to get fit and healthy - and your body is counting on you to take it. The secret is to keep it simple. Small changes are easier to maintain, and they can make a big difference over a lifetime. Simple changes, like eating breakfast or taking a 10-minute walk, can energize your life.

A healthy lifestyle is all about balance. Making small, lasting changes can help anyone reach their health goals. If your goal is a healthy weight, you need simple ways to balance food with activity. If your goal is stress reduction, you need simple ways to balance family, work and other expectations. If your goal is more energy, you need simple ways to balance sleep, rest and responsibilities.


Black and white thinking is often what gets us into trouble. People think that they have to eat perfectly or spend an hour at the gym in order to get fit. Health is not an all-or-nothing proposition; it's about maximizing the positive and minimizing the negative. Moving toward your health goals means maximizing the time you spend walking - and minimizing the time you spend sitting. It means drinking more water and milk - and drinking less soda and coffee.

Making healthful food choices is much easier than you thought possible. There's no need to follow a complicated diet, to count every calorie or to avoid your favorite foods. Even better, it's easy to eat healthfully anytime of day - anywhere you decide to eat.

For high-energy health, choose minimally processed, whole foods. These are the best sources of the 70-plus nutrients your body needs every day. Whole foods are cheaper than supplements - and the nutrients in them are usually better absorbed. Your best bets are:

  • Fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned and dried): five to nine servings a day.

  • Whole grains (breads, cereals, rice, pasta and snacks): three servings a day.

  • Low-fat dairy foods (1 percent or less milk, yogurt and cheese): two to three servings a day.

  • Legumes and plant proteins (beans, peas, nuts and seeds): one to two servings a day.

  • Lean animal proteins (Meat, poultry, fish and eggs): two to three servings a day.

With a few simple guidelines, you can enjoy power foods from morning 'til night. Look for tasty choices everywhere - at home, in restaurants and at the supermarket.

  • Eat early: Start every day with a protein, a whole grain and a piece of fruit.

  • Snack regularly: Include a protein for maximum satisfaction and lasting energy.

  • Select bright colors: Pick colorful fruits and vegetables to fill half your plate.

  • Go for lean: Choose lean meats and skinless poultry to minimize your saturated fat.

  • Choose crunchy: Go for grains, nuts, seeds and veggies to pump up your fiber.

Being physically active is much easier than you thought possible. There's no need to join an expensive health club or to spend hours doing exercises you hate. You don't even have to change your clothes. Best of all, you can get fit anywhere, anytime of day!

For overall health, your best bet is to enjoy a wide variety of physical activities. Just follow the 30-10-five rule: at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day; at least 10 minutes at a time; at least five days a week. For best results, give your body what it deserves:

  • Fun activities: They are the ones that you'll stick with.

  • Aerobic activities: They get your heart pumping, like brisk walking or dancing.

  • Body-shaping activities: to maintain muscles, like lifting weights or groceries.

  • Stretching activities: for flexibility and tone, like water aerobics or gardening.

  • Balance activities: to strengthen bones and prevent falls, like yoga or bike riding.

With a few simple guidelines, you can make physical activity an integral part of your day - even with a hectic schedule. Look for all the easy ways to fit fitness into your life:

  • Play more: Feel like a kid again by skating, swinging, playing ball or flying a kite.

  • Use leg power: Walk the dog; walk to the store; walk around the mall; just walk.

  • Hide the remote: Change the channels the old-fashioned way - by getting up.

  • Practice inefficiency: Make multiple trips on the stairs or to the car for groceries.

  • Pick up the pace: Use a longer stride when you walk - everywhere, all the time.

A few simple changes in eating habits and activity patterns can make all the difference in the world. Our bodies deserve the best care possible. Fortunately, it's easy to give your body the nutrition and physical activity it craves - anytime, anywhere. From early morning to late at night, all it takes are small, simple changes in your everyday food and fitness choices.

Lynn F. Little is the extension educator with Family & Consumer Sciences, Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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