The spring season is a special time of renewal, growth and change. Likewise, it’s the perfect time for you to refresh commitments to your own good health and happiness.
Many people are ready to end their winter hibernation, and longer, brighter days and better weather naturally encourage our interest in activity. You don’t have to join the gym or sign up for an exercise class to become more active. Often, it’s small lifestyle changes that increase your energy and endurance, as well as improve your mental and spiritual well-being. Physical activity has a positive impact on you — body, mind and spirit.
Lisa Thomas, RN, a Via Christi nurse navigator, provides personalized support to help patients manage and improve their quality of life. She and her fellow nurse navigators have a special role: helping coordinate care for patients with complex conditions such as diabetes, heart failure and pulmonary disease. This allows patients to spend more time enjoying life and less time in the ER or hospital.
Here, she offers nine simple lifestyle changes you can make that have the potential to produce big results.
1. Rethink your drink: Replace sugar-sweetened, high-calorie drinks with flavored or sparkling water. For the ultimate healthy refreshment, infuse your water or ice cubes with citrus fruit, berries, cucumber or mint leaves. You’ll get great-tasting beverages that have added nutritional benefits.
Says Thomas: “Try combinations. One of my favorites is fresh sliced oranges with blueberries either fresh or frozen. Experiment with whatever you have on hand for different combinations. Cut up fruit chunks and freeze them for individual uses later.”
Pro tip: For produce with more intense flavor, such as citrus, you won’t need as much and it takes less time to infuse.
Hydration helps maintain your body’s major functions and supports weight loss, she adds. Sip water throughout the day and drink more when you’re active or hot. Dehydration can cause headaches, muscle cramps and fatigue. Set reminders to drink every hour.
2. Book a break: Set alerts on your calendar, cell phone or activity tracker to remind you to get up and move. Short bouts are beneficial — a 10-minute walk can reduce anxiety and stress. Work for 50 minutes, step away for 10.
3. Snack smart: Keep blood sugar and energy levels steady with nutritious, satisfying snacks. Pair a protein such as almonds, a boiled egg, turkey pepperoni, low-fat cheese or hummus with fiber-rich fruit like an apple, or with sliced veggies or ½ cup whole-grain cereal.
“Planning ahead is so important,” says Thomas. “Have healthy options with you so you’re not tempted by the vending machine or fast-food drive-through. For example, I have blueberries and mini sweet peppers in the office fridge and KIND ® protein bars and grape tomatoes at my desk.”
4. Freshen up: Step outside to regroup and recharge. Being active in sunshine and breathing in fresh, spring air helps us feel rejuvenated and gets positive emotions pumping. Time outdoors boosts vitamin D levels and studies show it’s a natural antidepressant — it can lift our mood and improve brain function.
5. Eat a rainbow of colors: One of the best things you can do to boost your overall health is to eat five or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits every day. They are important sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, and are generally low in calories and fat.
The more colors and kinds of vegetables and fruits you eat, the more nutritional benefit you receive. Brightly colored veggies are the richest in nutrients. Make a point to choose variety of dark, leafy greens, and yellow, orange and red vegetables.
For a balanced plate, fill half with vegetables, one quarter with lean protein, and one quarter with whole grains or other starches. Try serving on salad plates instead of full-size dinner plates. If you’re still hungry, help yourself to extra sides of veggies or some fresh fruit for dessert.
6: Keep moving: Whether you’re on the couch, at your desk or in the car, find ways to burn a few more calories and tone your muscles. During your favorite TV program, you can use hand weights for an arm and shoulder workout, and do standing leg extensions, lunges, crunches or squats during commercials. Even if you’re in a meeting or are driving, you can tighten and release your glutes and abs.
Try one of these simple ways to incorporate more physical activity into your daily life:
- The long way: Take the stairs instead of the elevator, or find a parking spot far away from your building — those extra steps really add up.
- Speed-walk your errands: Lace up your sneakers and do daily errands or shopping on foot, checking off items on your list as you get your heart pumping.
- Activity date: Replace a lunch or dinner date with an activity date. Walk to the park, bike the neighborhood or take up a new sport like tennis or golf. You’ll have fun on your date and get a workout at the same time.
7. Get peace of mind: Make time to treat yourself by doing something special that makes you happy. Get a mani-pedi. Play with an animal. Listen to music. Try a yoga class. Catch up with a friend. Meditate. Plant some flowers. Write down five positive things that happened today. Volunteer.
“Try making a habit of enjoying mid-morning tea time,” suggests Thomas. “With just 5 or 10 minutes in the morning and a cup of herbal tea, you can create a calming experience to help set the tone for the day. Having a mindful, positive habit as part of your routine can help you relax and focus.”
8. Eat mindfully: Turn meal time into a relish-worthy retreat by slowing down to savor the moment. Turn electronics off, serve yourself with a plate and napkin and sit down at the table. Engage your senses — notice pleasant colors, aromas and textures. Eat at a leisurely pace and put your fork down or take sips of water between bites.
“Create an enjoyable experience that’s something to look forward to. Even if you’re at home alone, put on some nice music and light a candle,” Thomas says. “Make it a mental break, a time to relax and reflect on your day.”
9. Just breathe: Breathing is physical activity too, when you think about your breath. Three minutes focusing on breathing in and breathing out through your nose minimizes your stress response, increasing your mental function, calming your emotions and improving your physical health.