Think you have to spend hours at the gym or switch to a stringent diet to improve your health? While you may believe that big changes are the only way to achieve results, minor lifestyle switches can actually make a big difference to your overall health and well-being.
“When changes are too drastic, they may be overwhelming,” says Tracy Alexander, DO, a family medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in Solana Beach. “Small lifestyle changes are easier to achieve and maintain. They are more likely to become habits and lead you to success.”
Try these surprisingly easy changes to make a big impact.
- Once a week, try a new food or recipe. It’s a great way to expand your culinary skills, and you just may discover a new favorite. Tastes change over the years, and the squash you hated as a child may taste delicious as a creamy soup.
- Instead of sitting down to watch television after dinner, go for a walk. One hour of rapid walking after a meal cuts the rise in blood fats by 12 percent. Plus, it gives you valuable “family time," away from the distractions of home.
- Try a new workout. If you usually run, explore a spinning class. If you’re a Pilates devotee, try a yoga class. “You’ll work different muscles, avoid exercise burnout, and most likely enjoy the new experience,” says Dr. Alexander.
- Go someplace you’ve never been before. If you can visit a foreign country that’s always intrigued you, great. But even venturing into a new store or checking out an unusual art gallery can energize a routine day.
- Write a pen-and-paper letter instead of e-mailing. Handwritten letters have become so unusual in our fast-paced world, and they give both you and your readers a reason to slow down and enjoy heartfelt communication.
- Instead of vowing to “read more,” resolve to read one chapter (or a certain number of pages) of a book each day, or even each week.
- Learn one new word a day. Treat yourself to a “Word-a-Day” calendar and expand your vocabulary without even really trying.
- Exercise in small batches. No time for 30 minutes of exercise? Three 10-minute blocks of activity can add up to the same heart-healthy benefits as a full half-hour.
- Whip up an omelet with one whole egg and two egg whites, and save 10 grams of fat and 100 calories over a three-egg meal.
- Replace oil or butter in baking recipes with the equivalent amount of unsweetened applesauce or other pureed fruit. Your baked goods will be lighter, healthier and every bit as tasty.
- Next time you make soup, pasta or scrambled eggs, toss a few handfuls of fresh chopped vegetables into the mix.
- Make one vegetarian meal a week. Browse through the vegetarian cookbooks in your bookstore, or search online for appetizing suggestions.
- Surprise someone with a little gift for no reason. A silly card or a single flower can make someone’s day, and you’ll feel better for having done it.
- Socialize with older relatives and neighbors. Older adults who make a point of spending time with others may feel less stress and have a greater sense of well-being.
- Give yourself the gift of silence. Schedule 10 minutes a day all to yourself, with no TV, cell phones, e-mail or other distractions. A little silence goes a long way toward reducing stress.
- Keep a journal. Take a few minutes to reflect on your successes or write down your worries.
- Breathe. Put a sticky note with the word "breathe" on it someplace where you will see it often — on your computer, for example. Whenever you see it, focus on taking 10 deep, full breaths. Focused breathing slows your heart rate, reduces stress and helps you feel calmer and more relaxed.