Anybody and everybody is writing about healthy living nowadays. Much of what is out there is common sense and you have to
wonder why someone has written a whole book about it. More of what is out there is just a load of crap. Generally, I think too many people have turned healthy living into something that is way too complicated for someone who wants to start on the road towards a healthier lifestyle.
So, since I am an anybody and I have accumulated some personal experience on this topic over the past few years, I thought I would share my own tips on how to live more healthily.
1. Your goal should be gradually shifting into a lifestyle change and not finding a quick fix solution. One of the first things you need to do is completely remove the word diet from your vocabulary. YOU ARE NOT STARTING YET ANOTHER DIET. Your goal is not to lose a certain amount of weight in a certain amount of time. Your goal should not even be weight loss. Your goal should be to become healthy. This will inevitably result in some weight loss. But stop focusing on your weight and start focusing on changing the way you live.
2. Lifestyle changes do not happen overnight. Most of us cannot sustain a sudden and drastic change to our lifestyles. So stop kidding yourself. The key word here is GRADUAL. You need to start with something small that you can actually sustain for the rest of your life. Once you have succeeded doing the first small change, make that change a bit bigger and add something else to your list, and so on. I like to use soda pop as a good example. If there is one thing you can do to start on the road to healthy living, it is removing soda pop from your diet. But most people in modern society simply can’t stop drinking it cold turkey. So take it easy on yourself. Start by deciding that you will not drink any soda pop on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, for example. And on the other days of the week try not to drink more than one can of pop. If this is too difficult for you to start with, make it even easier on yourself and decide you will not drink soda pop on Mondays and that you will only drink one can once a day for the rest of the days of the week. Once you have managed to do that, increase the number of days you do not drink it. And so on. Eventually, you will discover that you don’t need to drink soda pop as often. Later you will wonder why you ever even liked the stuff in the first place.
3. Move! Modern day lifestyles involve much more sitting than our bodies are naturally designed to do. We sit at our desks most of the workday, we sit while driving, and we come home and sit in front of the television set. We are doing our bodies much harm by not moving enough. So find a way to start moving more but remember the golden rule of starting small and gradually increasing. Whatever you start doing it needs to be something you can sustain for the rest of your life. Start, for example, by deciding to walk for 30 minutes every day after work. If that is too much for you, start with a 30-minute walk on the weekend. Once you have done this for a few weeks, add a 30-minute walk sometime in the week. Try parking your car farther from your destination than you normally would. Try walking up the stairs instead of taking the elevator or the escalator. If your body is not used to movement, you really do need to start small and build up gradually. Eventually, you will feel a little bit stronger and you will want to challenge yourself more by adding on longer walks or other physical activities.
4. Choose activities that are right for you. If you are going to sustain movement (and thus a certain level of physical activity) you need to start with an activity you actually enjoy doing. If you don’t enjoy it, it will be more difficult for you to sustain. I don’t enjoy running very much, so I have struggled with sustaining a jogging routine over the years. In a bit, I’ll tell you how even doing something you don’t enjoy is possible and even good for you. For now, though, since we’ve only started on the path towards healthy living, choose something you really enjoy doing. It might be walking. It might be cycling. It might be dancing. It might be going to gym classes with friends. Whatever it is, when you start, make sure you start by doing something enjoyable and at a level you know you can sustain for the rest of your life.
5. Buy yourself something new. Being physically active is not easy and you will find that you need to discover new ways to motivate yourself. I have found that buying funky new clothes for the gym can motivate me. When I recently started taking cycling very seriously, I bought myself cycling tops, cycling shorts, cycling gloves, cycling click-on shoes, and a pink cycling helmet. And, of course, I bought myself a really cool road bike. My husband, a health fanatic for years now, simply rolled his eyes at me. He has been engaging in physical activity since his youth and he doesn’t feel a need to have “stuff” in order to engage in his activities. Well, I do. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel cool. And it makes me feel that I had sure as heck use all this stuff that I just spent way too much money on or I’m a fool.
6. Sustain frequent and regular physical activity. It takes time, usually a couple of years, to get yourself to a place where you frequently and regularly engage in a good amount of physical activity. I started going to the gym in my mid-30s. I started by trying to go 2 to 3 times a week. That wasn’t easy in the beginning. Sometimes I would hurt so much after going to the gym that I would not be able to go to the gym three days later. Sometimes I would just not feel like going. But after about two years of going to the gym on and off, I started noticing such a difference in my body and in my physical strength that I decided I wanted more and I wanted to keep it up. I started realizing that when I stopped exercising for two or three weeks, it was very difficult to get back into my normal routine. This became my motivation for exercising regularly. I would wake up in the morning, not wanting to jog those 5 km, but I knew if I didn’t do it I probably wouldn’t do it the next day either. I also knew that when I eventually did decide to go back to my 5 km jog, I would find it significantly more difficult to do. So rather than take that day off, I would kick myself in the butt and tell myself to get moving. I also discovered that even though I usually hate getting up and doing my exercise routine, whatever it is, I ALWAYS appreciate the fact that I did do it afterwards. Knowing that motivates me to keep it up. More importantly, I see the results. I can do things I couldn’t do before. I can engage in activities I never thought I could engage in. It took me about three years before I managed to get myself into a very regular gym routine. But I kept at it. Afterwards, it has been a daily struggle to make sure that I keep up and increase my routine. But I have never regretted it. The only times I have felt regret are when I fell off my routine for any reason. One of the best things I ever did was to work with a personal trainer for one year when I was starting off. This provided great motivation for me. I paid a decent amount of money to get a personal trainer and I was not about to chicken out on going to meet her and waste all that money. I also felt it would be very embarrassing to call her up and tell her that I couldn’t show up today. So I kept at it quite regularly during the year I had her with me. My personal trainer (bless you, Mayada) also taught me so much about working out. She helped me discover where my muscles were and how to focus on exercising one particular muscle and how to do that without injuring myself. If you can afford it, one of the best investments you will ever make is starting off with a personal trainer.
7. Diversify. Your body will eventually get used to your daily 30-minute walk or your weekly aerobics class. You may also start to get bored of it. Mix things up a bit. Cycle one day, walk another, jog another, go to the gym yet another. Go to different kinds of gym classes. Try different trainers. You need to work out your whole body as much as possible and you need to change your routines so that your muscles become stronger.
8. Make some short-term goals. One of the most important things I do to keep myself motivated is to set some short-term goals for myself. They keep me excited. One of my first short-term goals was climbing Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro. I decided to do this when I felt I had reached a stage of physical fitness where, if I pushed myself a bit further, I might actually be able to climb a mountain. And I did! Ever since then, I have made sure to have one or two adventures on my calendar every year. This year my husband and I cycled from London to Paris in three days. It was one of the most amazing trips I ever went on. Your short-term goals could be doing a half-marathon or a marathon. It could be doing a triathlon. It could be running a 10km race. It could be hiking a mountain or cycling or walking from one end of your country to the other. Once you feel you’re ready, set yourself a short-term goal and start building up your physical routine so that you can physically manage to do it. It helps keep the excitement about going to that gym every day.
9. Choose your food carefully. Food is where so many people go wrong. We have already agreed that we are removing the
word diet from our dictionary. We do not diet. We eat healthily. This must be a gradual process. If you significantly change your diet in any way you will never be able to sustain it. If you do not sustain it, you will easily go back to your unhealthy habits and you will lose whatever gains you made during the time you ate healthily. I started by removing soda pop from diet. I was never a soda pop addict, but I did enjoy drinking the dark stuff once a day when it was available. I stopped making soda pop a part of my dinner. I would still drink it if I went out to dinner once a week. But whenever I was at home, I wouldn’t make it part of my meal’s routine. Whenever I got an urge to drink some soda pop, I would fill a huge glass with water and ice and drink that instead. It surprisingly did the job. Eventually, I have come to dislike the stuff and have it only on very very rare occasions. Another thing I did in the beginning was to decrease the amount of sugar I added to my food and drinks. I used to put a ridiculous amount of sugar in my tea. Every week I would decrease the amount by half a teaspoon until I stopped putting it in my tea altogether. Now, I can’t drink tea that has any sugar in it. It turns my stomach. I have done the same with salt by decreasing the amount I put in food. Because of this, I now appreciate the natural taste of foods so much more. I removed fast foods from my diet very early on. All that took was to tell myself over and over again that it was extremely unhealthy and fatty for me. Eventually, just the thought of fast foods made my stomach churn. Same thing with fried foods. A lot of it is simply knowing that something is unhealthy and sincerely, in your heart, not wanting to have unhealthy stuff in your system. I still eat desserts. But they are almost always desserts that I have made myself at home so I know what the ingredients are. And I have self-control. I don’t need to eat dessert every day. And I don’t need to eat half the cake when I make one. A small piece of pie twice a week is a nice thing to have. It isn’t the end of the world. Just make sure it’s a small piece and that it is made of healthy ingredients. Finally, don’t completely ruin your healthy eating when you eat out. It is so easy nowadays to choose a restaurant that serves healthy food.
10. Eat, sleep, exercise, and enjoy life. Healthy living is not a synonym for sorrowful living. It should result in you enjoying life so much more. Enjoy food, make sure you sleep eight hours a night no matter what, exercise as regularly as you can manage, and you will see how much your life will change for the better. Life will still have its trials and tribulations, but you will be much more capable of dealing with them with a healthy body and spirit.