After a few months of heavy clothes, hearty food, and gloomy weather, your body, mind and spirit start to crave something different — something lighter, brighter and more active. Fortunately, just about the time soups, sweaters, and snow are getting on your last nerve, spring shows up. And not a moment too soon!
This year, take that yearning for lighter, brighter and more active things and put it to work for your health. Spring is the perfect time to make changes that will help you get leaner, stronger and healthier — and to establish habits that will help you stay lean, strong and healthy in every season. Here are 6 that will set you up to look good and feel great:
- Ditch the crappy food. You know you want to stop eating chips, candy, cookies, fast food and other stuff your body doesn’t need, so just do it. It makes you feel bad, and it doesn’t even taste that good. (Well, some of it tastes pretty good…) So if your goal is to look better, feel better and live healthier, that stuff needs to go. Get it out of your house, office and car. Throw it away and don’t buy it again. Instead, replace it with food your body does need, like nuts, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Plan simple, healthy meals that don’t require complicated ingredients or lots of prep time. And avoid the urge to grab a candy bar or chips by making healthy snacks on the weekend that you can grab during the week.
- Follow the 2 x 3 + 1 rule. One of the fastest and easiest ways to improve your diet is to eat 2 fruits or vegetables at every meal (2 x 3) and one as a snack (+1). Following that simple equation means you’ll be eating at least 7 fruits or vegetables every day (and more is better, especially when it comes to vegetables). And it means you’ll be eating more vitamins, minerals, fiber and other things your body needs, and less salt, sugar and chemicals it doesn’t.
- Embrace healthy fats. If you’re switching to a healthier diet, and especially if you’re trying to lose weight, you may be tempted to cut way back on fat. But avoid the temptation. Low-fat diets don’t provide any health benefits for the average person, but diets that include healthy fats can improve heart health, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar, and can help you look and feel better — and even lose weight. So, cut way down on processed foods (that are full of unhealthy fats and sugar) and eat more foods high in good-for-you fats, including nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil and some fish (e.g., salmon, albacore tuna).
- Move more. Most of us just don’t move enough. We feel exhausted much of the time, but it’s because we expend so much emotional energy, not physical energy, as we plow through our schedules each day. And because we don’t move enough, we tend to feel tired, flabby and generally out of sorts. The antidote to those feelings is to get up and move, to do some sort of moderate intensity activity (like brisk walking, biking or dancing) at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Or to get a pedometer, FitBit or other fitness tracker and build up to about 10,000 steps a day. (Obviously, consult your doctor if you have any questions about the safety of beginning to move more.) This amount of exercise helps you feel and look better, and helps prevent chronic diseases, like diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Get strong. Many busy people, and especially women, tend to skip strength exercises. I’m one of those people; I find strength exercises to be incredibly tedious, and would rather walk 10 miles than life weights. But they’re really, really good for you. Regular strength training helps you build and maintain muscle mass, and increased muscle mass burns calories, promotes bone strength, prevents fractures, and helps you look trimmer. So this year I’m disciplining myself to do strength training for about 15 minutes a day, three days a week, and you can do the same. You don’t have to go to a gym (although it’s great to get some instruction from a trainer); I work out at home with hand weights, body weight exercises and fitness bands.
- Sleep more. You probably don’t get enough sleep. And the bad news is that, over time, lack of sleep can make you sick – it increases your risk of stroke, diabetes and heart disease and lowers your body’s ability to fight infections. It also ages your skin, messes with your sex life, and may prevent you from losing weight. So if you want to get healthy and feel great this spring, figure out a way to sleep 7 to 8 hours most nights. That may mean saying “no” more often, delegating some tasks, or making changes to your family’s schedule.
All of these strategies require you to do one thing — prioritize your health and well-being. Whatever you have going on in your life — and I’m guessing you have a lot — very little of it should take precedence over finding time to get leaner, stronger and healthier this spring and this year.