I've always thought the new year should start in September. Fall seems to bring with it a fresh start. And although I don't want to rush the change of seasons (I love summer!), I am starting to feel inspired to shake up my routine and, um, get one. It's all too easy to let healthy habits slide in the summertime (all that socializing can lead to some not-so-stellar food choices…hamburgers and ice cream have been in my diet more often than I'd like to admit). So if you're itching to get into (or back into) a healthy routine, as I am, then here are some steps you can take right now:
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How to start your new healthy routine:
▢ Stock your kitchen with healthy foods. A first step in eating right is getting prepared. Go through your fridge and pantry and toss the super-unhealthy stuff you want to eat less of. Then, get ready to cook up healthy meals by stocking your pantry with healthy-cooking essentials. Check out this Guide to Stocking a Healthy Kitchen for advice on where to get started.
▢ Make a meal plan. Get organized about your eating habits. Make a meal plan at the beginning of the week, shop for it and follow it. You can leave a couple nights open for eating out or takeout, if you like, but planning it ahead of time will help you make intentional, healthy choices.
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▢ Eat vegetables or fruit at every meal. Simply upping your consumption of fruits and vegetables--foods packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants--helps to lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Not to mention all the other benefits: for example, beta carotene in carrots and sweet potatoes helps keep your eyes, bones and immune system healthy, and lycopene in tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit may help protect against prostate and breast cancers. How much you should eat depends on your age and size, but many adults need roughly 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables daily.
▢ Pack your lunch. A packed lunch isn't just for kids. Packing a healthy lunch to take to work will make it easier to eat more healthfully throughout the day. Remember to pack nourishing, satisfying snacks, too, so you don't give in to the afternoon lure of the vending machine (or cafeteria cookie, sweet coffee drink or whatever your particular vice may be). Think about taking leftovers from last night's dinner and adding some cut-up vegetables, fruit and nuts for snacks.
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▢ Hide tempting foods. One study found that keeping unhealthy food hidden can help you eat less of it: when secretaries were given candies in clear dishes to place on their desktops, they helped themselves to candy 71 percent more often than a similar group that was given the same candy in opaque dishes so that the candy wasn't visible. At home, stash tempting treats inside a cabinet where you can't see them--or better yet, get rid of them altogether and keep the apples--and other healthy eats--out on the counter.
▢ Schedule your exercise. If you wait for the mood to strike or for a lull in your day, you might not get in an optimal amount of exercise. Make sure you get enough by checking your schedule at the beginning of the week and penning in appointments to exercise. Need some incentive? Just remember that in addition to boosting your energy, exercise can help keep your heart healthy, lengthen your life and lower your risk of chronic disease.
How much exercise do you need? Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity (like brisk walking) or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity (jogging/running), as well as strength-training twice a week. You can break that total time up into chunks that work for you--10-minute walks at lunch 5 times a week would knock out 50 of those minutes, a longer hike on the weekend or a couple of bike rides or dance classes could fill out the rest (just make sure the segments are at least 10 minutes long).
▢ Try a new activity. Embrace change and try something new to you: take a yoga or meditation class, hit the climbing gym…find out how much fun you can have being healthy by discovering a new activity.
What healthy habits are part of your routine?
By Kerri-Ann Jennings
Kerri-Ann Jennings, a registered dietitian, is the associate nutrition editor of EatingWell Magazine, where she wields her master's degree in nutrition from Columbia University writing and editing news about nutrition, health and food trends. In her free time, Kerri-Ann likes to practice yoga, hike, bake and paint.
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