Twelve tips for a healthful lifestyle

January 18, 2006|by LYNN F. LITTLE

It's automatic.

January is the month when millions of Americans resolve to get themselves into shape. Gyms and fitness centers are crowded with exercisers, and diet ads flood newspapers and airwaves, each one promising a miracle solution for the perfect body.

The key to good health is definitely not another diet. Ignore those misleading weight-loss ads and focus on taking permanent steps toward a healthful lifestyle. The real solution is to make healthful eating and physical activity a way of life.

1. Forget the fads: Diet fads come and go without offering a permanent solution. When you hear about the latest diet, always ask yourself, "Can I eat this way for the rest of my life?" Like diets, exercise fads come and go. When you think about a new workout, ask, "Is this something I really enjoy doing?"


2. Be realistic: Any eating plan needs to work for your family and your situation. It needs to fit with your schedule, your food budget and your cooking skills. Any physical activity also has to fit into your schedule and situation. If you don't have time to get to the gym or if you hate running, it's time to look for some new and different activities.

3. Make a commitment: Write down some important reasons for changing your eating habits and becoming more active. Share a written or verbal promise to make healthful food choices and be more physically active with your friends or family.

4. Start slow: Making drastic changes can be a recipe for failure. Small changes can make a big difference, if they last. Pick one healthful eating change, like eating breakfast, and make it a habit. Pick one physical activity change, like walking more, and make it a habit as well.

5. Be consistent: The human body responds well to consistency. Whatever decisions you make regarding healthful eating and physical activity, make it part of your regular routine - rather than an occasional thing.

6. Stick with it: Research suggests that it takes about 21 days for a behavior to become habit. If you want to start eating breakfast, make a plan with 21 breakfast menus you'd love to eat. Visit for sample menu ideas. If you want to start walking more, make a plan to walk 30 minutes a day - for 21 days!

7. Be flexible: Life is full of surprises, and plans need to change. If an early meeting makes breakfast at home impossible, you need some healthful alternatives stored in your desk at work. If you can't get out in the morning, fit a 30-minute walk into a lunch break or go out before you have dinner.

8. Be creative: Make a list of optional ways to meet your goals. Brainstorm breakfast options that you enjoy: at home; in the car or on the bus; at work; or from a vending machine. Make a list of all the possible ways to fit a 30-minute walk into your life - like walking a dog, walking with a friend, walking to the store, or walking around the mall.

9. Stock up on options: Once you have a list of possibilities, stock up. Fill your cupboards, car and desk drawers (anywhere you might eat breakfast) with healthy options. It's always good to have physical activity options, like indoor ideas when it's cold. Make a list of all the ways you like to move, so you'll always have a fun option.

10. Plan ahead: When situations pose problems, make a plan. Make room for fitness by putting activity on your schedule. Try walking from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Have a meeting where giant cinnamon rolls are served? Plan to eat half of a roll; bring cheese and fruit with you.

11. Forgive yourself: Healthful eating does not have to be perfect eating. If you make a mistake or miss a few days of proper eating, no big deal. Just get back on track ASAP. If you miss a day of activity, no big deal. Just put on your shoes and get your walk in today! Your goal should be at least 30 minutes of activity, at least five days a week.

12. Congratulate yourself: Changing your eating habits can be tough. Just think how long you've had your current habits. Give yourself a pat on the back for any positive changes. Becoming more active also can be tough. Just think how long you've been sitting around. Give yourself a big pat on the back for any increases in physical activity!

When it comes to eating more healthfully and being more active, making moderate changes might prove to be more beneficial for long-term success.

Lynn F. Little is an educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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