Sometimes it seems like making changes for a healthy lifestyle can seem overwhelming and just too hard. I’ve heard it so often from clients – it’s like they have no idea where to start, or what to focus on. There are so many ways of approaching eating healthy, moving more and staying active – it can easily become overwhelming to think about all the “shoulds” of a healthy lifestyle.
This has been on my mind recently as I try to get my butt in gear to increase my mileage and rebuild a strong running base, since I’ll be tackling the marathon again in May. I’m determined to use every available method of training – the brain training I interviewed Dr. Jeff Brown about last week; improving my nutrition; getting more sleep (always a work in progress for me); incorporating strength training I can keep up with as my mileage increases; as well as, you know, actually running.
As I started assessing where I was at in terms of health and fitness right now – my starting point, if you will – I was surprised but what I think are habits that are almost accidentally keeping me healthy. Don’t know what I mean? Here are three accidental healthy habits you might find you can incorporate without even noticing:
An Eating Routine
I get into routines with my cooking and meals. I find a breakfast or dinner I like and enjoy making and eating and they get into heavy rotation. Right now my go-to breakfast is a sunny-side up egg with a slice of toast and some of whatever fruit I have around. Dinner is usually a little more adventurous – I’m pretty sure I would hear complaints if I cooked the same thing over and over again – but one week’s worth of dinners is usually pretty similar to the next.
When I’m home alone for a few nights with the kids, I often make a big batch of something I can eat for a few nights in different ways. For example, I might make a black bean chili and then use it in a rice bowl, in a burrito, or with eggs as a scramble.
What Makes it Work
It’s way easier than being a slave to counting calories – if you have a few favorite meals you know are healthy, that satisfy you and you enjoy, then you’re most likely staying within a healthy calorie range without even having to think about it.
Planned exercise, when you’re working hard to get your heart rate up, or strength training, is vital to your overall health and fitness. But all the incidental exercise in your day isn’t just an afterthought. Taking the stairs, walking a little further from a parking spot, taking a walk at lunchtime – they may seem like they’re not that effective, but getting extra steps in your day do add up to a health effect. It also is a great idea for anyone who has a sedentary job to remember to take movement breaks to get your blood flowing. I’ve been doing this when I’m out with both boys – baby-wearing means I have an inbuilt weight and waiting for a toddler to investigate everything that distracts him every twenty feet means I have lots of time for lunges, squats, step ups and other mini workout sets while I let my big boy explore.
What Makes it Work
You don’t need to set aside specific time, get changed into workout gear, or think too much about adding incidental exercise to your day. A fitness watch or using a pedometer app will motivate you to hit steps goals for the day (warning: it’s addictive), or you can set reminders for yourself to just get up and move.
Stress Less, Sleep More
I wish I could say this was an easy one for me. While I’m not really a worrier, stress obviously rears its head in my life from time to time. But I was reminded of how amazing it feels to lower your stress level even a little earlier this year and was surprised by the positive physical result of having less worry and tension. Sleep, of course, is a major part of health. It’s the area I’m sorely, sorely lacking. I stay up too late and wake up grumpy, then let caffeine work its magic. But sleep is restorative for your body and mind and if you’re working out on a regular basis, it’s actually when you sleep and your body repairs itself that the strength gains are taking place.
What Makes it Work
Less stress in your life can lead to more sleep, or better sleep, since you’re less likely to be tossing and turning, worrying and thinking. When you’re not sleeping enough, your levels of the hormone leptin drop – this is important because leptin is what helps you feel full when you eat. You may find yourself overeating when you’re tired for this physiological reason alone. Both adequate sleep and healthy levels of stress in your life are also linked to a better immune system and no one wants to get sick constantly, right?
Of course, I’m not suggesting that just doing these three things will drastically increase your health and fitness. But if you’re looking for a starting point, or a small goal to start to work on when you’re making a commitment to getting fitter, or stronger, or losing weight, then these small habits are not a bad place to start. Just by making them more of a priority, you may find you’re focusing on healthy choices more overall, which can lead to a snowball effect.
What small habits do you have that you know contribute to your healthy lifestyle?
When you find yourself in a fitness slump, what’s the first thing you focus on?