“Diets don’t work.” “Exercise should be part of your daily routine—just like brushing your teeth.”
You’ve probably heard these pearls of wisdom before. Many Americans have, only to ignore them in favor of the latest fad diet … or the latest fast-food burger. Uncle Sam says it’s not that hard to be healthy. Consider these top seven recommendations from the 2005 federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans and tips on how to make them daily habits.
1. Get moving!
At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, in addition to your usual activity, on most days of the week reduces your risk for chronic disease, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.
Today’s task: Dance to a song—or two or three—on the radio. Then make a walking date with a friend. Write it on your calendar—in ink.
2. Lose excess weight.
Obesity causes more deaths and chronic disorders than either smoking or drinking. If you’re overweight, you’re more likely than normal-weight people to develop colon, kidney, breast or endometrial cancer.
Today’s task: Go to www.mypyramid.gov and use the calculator to find an estimated daily calorie intake to use as a starting point. Then start counting calories and measuring portions.
3. Ditch the diets—for good.
Most diets lead to feelings of deprivation followed by bingeing and feeling demoralized. People who’ve successfully lost weight and kept it off say lifestyle changes did the trick.
Today’s task: Make over just one unhealthy meal you normally eat. Instead of a fast-food pizza lunch, try a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat pita and a can of low-sodium vegetable juice.
4. Up your vegetables …
… and your fruits! For an average 2,000-calorie diet, eat two cups of fruit and two-and-a-half cups of vegetables a day. Vary your selections to get a mix of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals.
Today’s task: If you normally eat one vegetable at dinner, eat two—say, oven-roasted cauliflower and a yam or side salad.
5. Limit your liquor.
Alcoholic drinks provide calories with few nutrients.
Today’s task: Skip the booze and water up! Save that glass of wine or beer for Friday night or your next dinner out.
6. Keep up the carbs—the healthy ones.
Vegetables like yams and beets, fruits, beans and whole grains like oats and barley are rich in disease-fighting fiber and antioxidants.
Today’s task: Add a half-cup of canned beans to a salad, soup, burrito or pasta sauce.
7. Trim the fat.
Aim to get no more than 25 percent to 30 percent of your daily calories from fat. Emphasize healthy sources of fat, including nuts, olive oil and omega-3-rich salmon. Avoid trans fats and limit saturated fats.
Today’s task: Examine the food labels on breads, crackers and cookies in your cupboards. If partially hydrogenated oil is listed, replace it with a trans fat–free selection next time you shop.
Incorporate new habits one at a time, and you’ll be on your way to a healthier lifestyle.