A: Oh, Cassandra, you are absolutely not alone! There is so much competing and conflicting information from TV, documentaries, magazines, blogs, self-proclaimed “experts,” scientists, and even friends and family. Can they all be right… or wrong?
At a recent family gathering, we found ourselves accommodating for strict vegetarians, rigid Paleo eaters, and Weight Watchers, gluten-free, dairy-free, and keto dieters. Let’s just say the food table was pretty eclectic, and we enjoyed a lot of variety. Fortunately, all of us get along really well, or we may have had some rough words for each other’s nutrition and exercise choices. (“I’m not going to do CrossFit with you, Uncle Drew, and, no, I have no desire for a battle of the burpees in the backyard. Let’s just say you win.”)
Editor’s Note: The 5 BEST Carbs for a Flat Belly
Yet with so much seemingly contradictory information on the “best” way to eat and exercise, there are some foundational health and wellness habits that virtually everyone agrees on. Here are 15 to get you started:
15 Foolproof Health and Wellness Habits
- Eat Real Food
You likely already know this: if your “food” comes in a box or bag, it’s probably overly processed and far from “real.” Real, whole foods are unprocessed and unrefined, and they tend to be higher (much higher) in nutrition and lower (much lower) in junk, like added sugar, salt, refined oils, chemicals, and preservatives. Choose to eliminate processed and pre-packaged garbage foods and reach for the real thing instead.
- Eat Plenty of Colorful Vegetables and Fruits
Have you ever heard your doctor tell you, “You eat way too many vegetables?” I didn’t think so. Filling up your plate with a rainbow of colorful vegetables provides the nutrients, such as phytochemicals and fiber, your body needs to function optimally. You’ll never go wrong by enjoying a more colorful diet loaded with fresh vegetables and tasty fruits.
- Cook at Home
If you want to take control of your diet, the easiest way to do so is to brush up on your cooking skills, so you can load up your plate with real food nutrition. By cooking at home, you’ll know exactly what you’re eating and can ensure you’re enjoying real foods. Coach Cristina provides a wide variety of delicious recipes virtually every week, and many of them will fit just about every diet plan out there.
- Slow Down
As mentioned in another recent article, it takes at least 20 minutes for the brain to register when you’ve had enough food, so slowing down and eating mindfully is a wonderful health and wellness habit. But it doesn’t just pertain to eating. Slowing down and being more mindful are beneficial to becoming more effective, productive, and present in virtually all life situations.
- Cut Back on Added Sugar
Sugars are hiding in nearly all pre-packaged foods—from cereal to condiments to breads and way more—despite being one of the biggest health concerns. The American Heart Association recommends that women eat no more than 6 teaspoons, or 100 calories, and men eat no more than 9 teaspoons, or 150 calories, of added sugar per day. Yet, the average person, according to the CDC, eats between 13 and 20 teaspoons of added sugar each day. That’s an extra 210 – 320 calories per day! If you’re looking for a sweet treat, go for sugar in its natural state (i.e., fruits and vegetables). After cutting back on refined sugars for a surprisingly short amount of time, you’ll discover just how sweet these treats really are. Sugar snap peas, for example, become a whole new experience in flavor!
- Stay Hydrated
Our bodies are made up of 55 to 60% water, and it’s absolutely critical to our health and wellness. Water is necessary for transporting nutrients, helping remove waste from the body, regulating temperature, lubricating tissues and joints, keeping skin soft and subtle, and more. Being dehydrated by as little as 1% can have negative consequences, so drink up.
- Get Outside Often
Spending time outside in nature has been shown to reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone), blood sugar, and blood pressure as well as support a strong immune system, improve mood, enhance focus, promote recovery after sickness or surgery, boost energy, and even help you sleep better. What’s more, one study found people who live closer to nature have less anxiety and fewer digestive system ailments.
- Sit Less, Move More
Sitting may be as dangerous as smoking. According to Dr. James Levine, “We’re sitting ourselves to death.” Sadly, most adults are sedentary for 9 to 10 hours a day. And that doesn’t even include sleeping. You can try a standing desk, walking meetings, or strive to increase your step count to 7,000 – 10,000 steps per day. And set a reminder to get up and move away from your desk at least every 30 minutes to an hour. (This will also help increase your productivity, so there’s no need to feel guilty for stretching out your legs and your mind!)
- Don’t Smoke or Vape
Tobacco has serious, long-term, harmful effects on virtually every organ in the body. According to the U.S. Department of Health, it causes nearly one in every five deaths each year in the U.S. If you don’t smoke, don’t start; if you do smoke, keep quitting. It’s a hard habit to break, but research has shown that the more times you quit, the more likely it is to become permanent—especially as you pay attention to what works and what doesn’t and continue to build on your success.
- Move Your Body Regularly
If exercise were a drug, it would be considered a miracle pill. It can improve mood, increase energy levels, boost brain health and memory, support weight loss and prevent weight regain, build stronger muscles, bones, and skin, reduce the risk of chronic disease, reduce stress, improve sleep, and more. By engaging in a mere 150 minutes a week regularly (less than 30 minutes 6 days a week), your entire body will benefit. Find a way to move your body that you enjoy and keep doing it regularly and consistently!
- Supplement Smart
Quality supplements are a simple way to provide insurance that your body is getting the nutrients it needs to perform optimally. After all, even with the “best” diet, some nutrients are difficult to get from the foods we eat (due to decreasing levels in soil, for example). There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for all supplements, but some worth considering are a quality protein powder, a multivitamin/mineral, omega-3, probiotic, vitamin D, magnesium, and curcumin.
- Get Enough Sleep
Think you’re one of the rare individuals who can get away with just 5 hours of sleep at night? Think again! The proper amount of sleep (7 to 9 hours a night seems to be the magic range) is vital to a long, healthy life. It can boost memory, attention, and creativity, promote immunity, enhance school, work, and sports performance, improve metabolism, and help you lose weight.
- Manage Stress
Too much stress can negatively affect nearly every aspect of life. Fortunately, stress-management tactics are not only extremely effective, they are very easily implemented. These include being grateful, meditating (even for just 5 to 10 minutes a day), staying mindful, taking a walk, and just breathing slowly and deeply. In return, you can expect to enjoy a better mood, better decision making and brain health, improved weight management, better recovery and performance, and numerous other health and wellness benefits.
- Nurture Your Relationships
When it comes to relieving stress, improving health, and even increasing longevity, human connection is a big winner. One study, for example, found that a lack of social connections can be more harmful to health than obesity, smoking, or high blood pressure. And those with strong social connections are able to recover faster from disease and even live longer (up to 50% longer). One of the best ways to nurture relationships is to give of yourself. In fact, providing social support appears to be even better for you than receiving it. Folks who are willing to help out friends and neighbors become virtually invincible to stress.
- Have Fun!
Want to enjoy greater health and wellness? Have fun! Seriously, laughter, games, engaging in hobbies, and spending time with awesome people increases energy levels, lowers stress, improves sleep, helps you cope better, and improves relationships. So, remember to invite fun into your life each and every day!
At the end of the day, choosing the best nutrition and exercise plan for you really boils down to what you’ll enjoy and, therefore, what you’ll stick to. With the above truly bipartisan health and wellness habits, you’ll relish quite a bit of flexibility as you create your healthier, happier lifestyle—whether you choose to a keto, vegetarian, Paleo, or Mediterranean lifestyle, or drink the CrossFit Kool-Aid, begin bodybuilding, or reign as the cardio king/queen.
Fruits and veggies you MUST avoid for a flat belly: