Create a habit with a plan that will make “healthy” automatic.
Track your progress by hand, on your smartphone, or online to see better results.
It’s easy to say, but not always easy to do. If you feel like you’ve been following all the “rules” of healthy living but aren’t seeing the results you’d hoped for—the scale isn’t moving, your six-pack still looks like a loaf of bread, or your blood pressure hasn’t dropped—it’s time for a review of your health habits. Maybe you started off strong, but lately, not so much. This is normal. Diets and fitness plans usually 1
start off with you feeling revved up and full of motivation, but life can get in the way. Taking a vacation, family events, holidays, busy work schedules, and no time to prep and cook. In any case, the first thing to do is to stop and take an inventory. Grab a pen and notebook to take stock of where you are now, and to write out a plan for how you’ll proceed. Writing everything out will help you pinpoint where you’ve been off track, where you are doing great, and it gives you a place to acknowledge what could be improved, revamped, or revved up.
As you take stock, some sticking points might be obvious, such as overdoing it at a buffet or holiday dinner, snacking while you make dinner, or skipping one too many workouts. On the other hand, you may very well have been doing everything right—eating healthy, exercising, sleeping, and have a balanced mood—but aren’t seeing results. In this case, a little more digging can help. A detailed self-evaluation and self-reflection can help to lead you to some new angles, strategies, and actions to get you moving toward your goals again.
To that end, here is a guide to reviewing the four pillars of health and strategies to remind, enlighten, and illuminate how you can once more get moving toward being healthier and happier.
Eating: There are countless methods, books, websites, and magazines that tout “the best” way to eat, and many do work—for a short time. However, a Mediterranean diet seems to be one of the healthiest and easiest to follow long term. Before you begin, do a review of what you have been eating and drinking.
First, write down exactly what you remember eating and drinking yesterday. Here be as detailed as possible.
Then do a brief review of how and what you ate or drank over the previous week. This part doesn’t have to be as detailed but do take note of the big offenders—the calorie-filled, sugary and alcoholic drinks; processed or fast foods, huge portions, and refined flours and sugars. These are often the perpetrators of plateaus.
Examine your portions. Many people make the mistake of thinking that if they are eating healthy foods, it means that they don’t have to pay attention to amounts. Not true. All meals come with calories, and calories do count, even healthy ones. Make sure that you are eating appropriate amounts for your age, gender, weight, and activity level.
Now, examine a sample Mediterranean meal plan or a diet that works for you and write out what you will eat and drink today, or if you are writing this in the evening, then plan for tomorrow. Take it one day at a time, but aim to avoid processed foods and stick with real whole foods, lots of veggies and fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats—all portion-sized for you.
Exercise: The basic guidelines for exercise state that you should be getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. Here, you’ll want to review the following.
How many minutes of exercise did you get last week? Was it moderate or vigorous? Here, you are striving to participate in continuous physical activity that gets your heart beating faster and you breathing harder. If you are averaging a decent amount of aerobic exercise, it might be time to increase your time. For example, if you are walking for 30 minutes a day, most days of the week, increase to 40 minutes or add some bursts of very fast walking intermittently during your workout. Alternatively, add some variety. If you primarily walk, try swimming or cycling. If you are underperforming, start wherever you are. A 10-minute walk around the block is a great begin
ning. You can gradually add on until you are up to the recommended minutes.
Are you doing any strength training? As we age, it is especially important to preserve and build muscle. This helps you maintain a healthy weight and improves other health markers. Consider incorporating two days a week of strength training. The Mayo Clinic’s website offers numerous strength-building how-to videos for all levels of fitness.
How about flexibility? How many times did you stretch out your muscles last week? It’s a good idea to do a few stretches when you wake up and after a workout. Stretching is also a great way to relax before bed.
Sleep: You need seven to nine hours of sleep during each 24-hour day. Period. Sleep protects your mental and physical health. Lack of sleep causes an increase in heart disease, obesity, stroke, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Write down:
How many hours you slept last night. How many hours you averaged over the last week.
If you are having trouble hitting your quota, check your sleep hygiene. There are several simple strategies you can create to help you better. Where are you getting snagged? Make sure your
bedroom is quiet, dark, and screen-free. Cut out caffeine after 1 pm and alcohol before bedtime.
Choose and write down a bedtime and a wake time you will follow for the next three nights (hint, choose a duration of seven to nine hours).
Emotional Health: How you feel can influence your thoughts, and your thoughts and feelings tend to direct your actions and behavior. Thankfully, we humans can steer our thinking toward a more positive outlook, but it does take effort. Complaining, gossiping, being critical, feeling helpless, feeling less than, or more than others, feeling stressed, anxious, fatigued, or depressed. The fix?
Start by making a commitment to text a friend or family member each morning three things for which you are grateful. Finding things to be thankful for (food in the fridge; a bed to sleep on; a beating heart, etc.) improves mood, reduces anxiety, and decreases depression. Do this each day.
Check your social life. It’s vital to have people to talk to about how daily life is going, and it’s even more important to remember to call and see how others are doing. Make a commitment to call (not text) one friend each day.
If you are feeling down, overly anxious, or depressed, get help. You can find a certified psychol ogist at the American Psychological Association. Also, thanks to our modern technology, you can now find and work with therapists online, just be sure to do your homework.
Now that you’ve reviewed the four pillars to stellar health, you are ready to get back to work and start seeing results. The final step is to have a system to track your progress. You can do this with plain old paper and pen in a notebook. Just write down when and what you eat, how you feel, what you are grateful for, and what your exercise was for that day. It will keep you accountable. If you’d rather keep track on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop, there are plenty of to help you track your food, fitness, sleep, and emotional health. Any way you choose to do it, logging your daily happenings will keep you accountable to your health.