Today I’m sharing five ways you can improve your health. I shared the first five tips here. Again, these are based on my learning and personal experience. The specific suggestions work for me and my family but they may not work for you. However, the general ideas are good for anybody.
6. Increase your activity level (if you are not already living an active lifestyle.) You don’t have to belong to a gym to be active. Just get moving! You can take walks in your neighborhood, ride bikes with your kids, go for hikes, play sports, garden, or do exercise videos at home. With Pinterest, YouTube and other sites out there you can do just about anything from the comfort of your own home. I do go to the gym, but it’s not always possible with the kids so I workout at home too, when time permits. I have a yoga mat, large exercise ball, and several different sized hand weights. A great site for exercise videos that I use is pop sugar. I pin a lot of their videos on Pinterest and do them at home with hand weights. I also do PiYo videos at home.
Staying active keeps your muscles from becoming weak, keeps your heart and lungs working efficiently, and prevents your joints from becoming stiff and easily injured. Your risk for injury increases as you age, especially if you are inactive. Exercising can also improve your quality of life. It’s a natural mood booster, keeps you feeling and looking younger, helps control weight and can improve sleep.
I’m almost 40 and still have young kids. I really want to be healthy and active when my kids have their own kids! If I don’t take care of my health now I may not be able to play around with my grandkids one day. That’s motivation for me!
7. Learn to read ingredient labels. Most people are accustomed to looking at the fat and calories on food labels. There is nothing wrong with that, but it’s only part of the story. Obviously, the best things you can buy at the grocery store are foods without labels (think fresh fruits and vegetables.) But when you do need to buy packaged foods, reading the ingredient list can help you determine which is the healthiest choice. The shorter the ingredient list the better, in most cases.
Ingredients are listed in order of what you will find the most of by weight. So if an ingredient list is “oats, honey, peanut butter, water and salt,” you know that there are more oats than any other ingredient. Honey would be next, then peanut butter, and so on. I could write up an entire post on reading labels (and I will) but for now I’ll share a few labels I snapped photos of…
The following is a photo of the ingredient label for a bag of Cheetos. There are about 21 ingredients. Three of the ingredients that stand out to me that I try to avoid are: monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial flavors and artificial colors. MSG and artificial colors/ingredients have been linked to health problems for some people, especially kids. The question I ask myself is, “do I cook with these ingredients at home?” If not, I try not to make them a regular part of my diet. Twenty one ingredients is a lot and most of them are just not necessary to make chips if you are using real food.
Below is a picture of a better choice. These are organic corn chips. (And just as a side note, I got these on sale for less than $2 so they are no more expensive than Cheetos! Buying healthier food is not always more expensive.) There are 3 ingredients in these chips. The oils used in these chips are not my first choice but the ingredient list for these chips is light years better than the Cheetos, mainly because there are no artificial ingredients added.
Next is a picture of the back of a Fruit Loops box. There are 17 ingredients. The first ingredient is sugar. If you are sending your kiddos to school after eating a bowl of Fruit Loops you should be aware that they’ve eaten more sugar than anything else. I don’t know about you but it’s hard for me to focus and learn when I’ve eaten that much sugar. They also have hydrogenated vegetable oil, artificial food dyes and BHT (a preservative.) Artificial food dyes have been linked to hyperactivity in some kids.
Here’s a picture of a better option. This is a box of Barbara’s Multigrain Spoonfuls; it has 8 ingredients. I buy these occasionally when they are on sale for $2.50. Again, they are no more expensive than the Fruit Loops you see above. Healthier foods don’t have to be more expensive if you watch for sales! You can see it does have added sugar but it’s not the first ingredient. The boys love these and do eat them once a week or so. I try to balance things like this with more real food options like homemade granola, eggs, yogurt, etc.
8. Decrease sugar and refined carbs. Eating too much sugar and refined carbs (think white bread, most cereals, regular pasta, pastries, cake, donuts, cookies etc.) wreaks havoc on your blood sugar and often lead to overeating. Foods loaded with sugar have been stripped of nutrients and are basically empty calories. It’s difficult to live life when you are not getting any nutrients from your food. Refined carbohydrates are low in fiber and do not lead to feelings of satiety, which can lead to overconsumption and weight gain. They lead to a spike in blood sugar and then a quick decline in energy and feelings of tiredness. Eating like this day in and day out can lead to metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes.
Replacing refined carbohydrates and sugary foods with complex or whole carbohydrates (think whole wheat pasta and bread, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, beans, lentils, fruits and vegetables like sweet potato) provides your body with needed nutrients and fiber that will keep you fuller longer and will help control hunger, which leads to less overeating. When I eat a lot of sugar and refined carbs I absolutely notice a difference in my mood, my regularity and my overall feelings of wellness. I get headaches, feel hungrier and just generally feel lethargic.
9. Learn to snack smart. This is a tough one for a lot of people, myself included. For me the afternoons are the most difficult time; for others it’s the morning or late at night. But if you learn to snack smart you can still enjoy snacks as part of a healthy diet.
You may wonder how much you should be snacking. That really depends on the person and how active you are, how large your meals are and when you eat. The most important thing you can do is learn to listen to your body. If you eat breakfast and then have a snack and aren’t hungry at lunch time you should probably drop the morning snacking or decrease the amount you eat at breakfast. If you snack after dinner and go to bed full you should stop snacking at night. You should be hungry at meal times and that may mean snacking less. When I started eating better I definitely decreased my snacking because when I paid attention I realized I was often not hungry at meal times. And since I really like an afternoon snack I try to keep my lunches light so I’m hungry enough to really need a snack.
Here’s what works for me: I usually have an early breakfast and an early lunch. Then I have an afternoon snack around 2:00 or 3:00. This usually holds me over until dinner. I try not to snack after dinner, but I do admit to often having a small sweet treat (usually dark chocolate.) I also try to keep my snacks around 200-300 calories. And I try to make sure my snacks are healthy and not processed. Typical snacks for our family: peanut butter and celery, apple or other fruit, carrots, homemade granola bar, stove top popped popcorn, a smoothie, string cheese, veggies and hummus or nuts.
10. Get plenty of sleep each night. You probably already know that sleep is important to your health. Sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. Sleep deficiency also increases your risk of obesity. Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry or full. When you don’t get enough sleep you may feel hungrier than when well rested. You can read more about how sleep affects your health here.
The tips I shared here and in part I are all based on changes I’ve made over the last several years. You’ve got to figure out what makes you feel best. For some it’s a paleo or gluten free diet. Others feel better when they go without meat and/or decrease dairy. For me I have found that I feel best when I eat a variety of real/whole foods, watch my sugar intake, stay active and get plenty of sleep (which sometimes means saying no to certain activities and commitments.)