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5 Small Habits to Adopt Now With a Big Impact

By Chris Mohr, PhD, RD | March 3, 2021 | EatingWell

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. We've all heard it. And while maybe we've shrugged off such simple advice, what if that's all that was needed? While it's not quite that simple, it's not that complicated either.

A recent poll of 2,000 Americans conducted by FreshlyFit found that about 2/3 of those surveyed of have ditched the "big ticket" changes for smaller, more achievable ones. It's likely a sign of the times—living through a pandemic is overwhelming enough!

If nothing else, science has shown that "big, outcome-based goals don't work for most people trying to make any long-term health change—and can actually backfire on you," says Kyra Bobinet, M.D., MPH, founder and CEO of Fresh Tri, a habit-formation app focused on healthy eating. "Better to figure out the healthy things you can get yourself to do, then practice and build on those until they become part of your lifestyle."

It's the focus on the journey, not the destination or the process instead of the outcome.

"Small, tiny goals stimulate inertia and concrete action because they are perceived as very doable. Getting started is half the battle. Big goals are much more attainable when supported by micro goals" says Jim Loehr, EdD, author of Leading with Character.

The best part of this is you can celebrate more often because, really—who wants to wait months or years down the road to celebrate when the "bigger goals" are actually achieved…if they are at all.

With this new approach, each time you achieve a "win" you can also reward yourself—not necessarily with food—but in another way with "micro celebrations" says Jen Fisher, Chief Well-Being Officer at Deloitte. "Give yourself credit for the small accomplishments along the way to help keep you energized and inspired" and learning positive habits will become more likely to stick.

Here are 5 Small Healthy Habits to Start

1. Eat One More Fruit or Veggie Daily

Considering only about 10% of Americans eat the minimum recommended servings daily, this is nothing to balk at. One additional serving can go a long way. How long? A study in the British Medical Journal found that for every additional serving of produce eaten daily, there is a 4% reduction in risk of heart disease. Another way to look at this; adding one single serving every day is seven additional servings each week. Added bonus—that additional serving may replace other, less nutrient dense options, creating a compound effect of improved nutrient quality and improved health.

Remember the "apple a day" recommendation?

Try this: If you snack, pick one snack each day to replace with a fruit or vegetable. If you don't typically snack, pick one meal daily and add a serving of a colorful fruit or vegetable to that meal.

2. Do At Least 10 Minutes

In a perfect world, we'd all hit the recommended amount of physical activity daily, balancing weight training with cardio, keeping our blood flowing and heart pumping like needed.

If 2020 taught us anything, we're not in a perfect world. And from a movement—or exercise standpoint—something is always better than nothing. Don't have time for 30 minutes? No problem—do 10 minutes or even 5 minutes.

For me, being consistent with cardiovascular exercise has been a challenge in the past and more so last year. To help solve this, we recently purchased a Hydrow rower to get a full body workout at home. I've committed to do at least 10 minutes of rowing, 5 days a week. Now, some days I've done just 10, but most…I've done more and this complements my typical resistance exercise workout.

You don't have to purchase a rower or any equipment for that matter; simply getting out for a 10-minute walk is a great start, costs nothing and counts (learn more about the health benefits of walking).

The "at least 10" idea is supported by research that shows when you go out for just 10 minutes of exercise, on average you'll do at least 16.

Heck, start smaller. If you simply get at least two minutes of movement for every 60 minutes of sitting, according to research, you'll have a 33% lower chance of dying. That's powerful.

Try this: Set a timer on your phone or watch for 60 minutes. Every 60 minutes, stand up for at least 2 minutes. Want some bonus movement – do some bodyweight squats, walk up and down your stairs or get outside and enjoy a bit of sunshine! On top of this, get add at least 10 minutes of strategic movement at a specified time during the day.

3. Eat More Omega-3 Fats

I get it. Eating more Omega-3 fats isn't a typical goal most people have, but according to research adding omega-3's to your diet may help you live longer.

You can do this by eating more fish—fatty fish in particular—at least twice per week. Salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna are examples and are all high in omega-3 fats.

For help making informed and sustainable seafood choices, and for the most up-to-date information, check the websites of sustainable seafood expert sources, including Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch, the Marine Stewardship Council and The Safina Center.

Try this: Replace two meals weekly with fish; either swap out existing protein with fish or if you're ordering out, try a seafood dish vs your normal fare. Try these Speedy Salmon Dinners or these High-Protein Seafood Dinners for inspiration.

4. Eat More Fiber

Eat more fiber. Not the "sexiest" of goals when considering what to do for your health, but most people get less than half of the daily requirements (25 grams for women and 38 grams for men) and adding more fiber to your days would do wonders for long term health. If your goal is weight loss, improved lipids, reduced risk of heart disease, improved gut health or so much more, adding more fiber could help there too. When we look to what we can add to our diets vs. what do we need to take away, the likelihood of success becomes much more clear.

An Annals of Internal Medicine study supports this; the simplified approach of recommending one change (adding more fiber) vs. multiple changes turned out to be a reasonable alternative to adhering to more complicated diet regimens.

Try this: Adding more produce like suggested is a start. Complement that with a daily serving of beans or consider a high-fiber cereal or oats in the morning rather than your typical fare. Those three additions alone add up to about 10-15 grams more daily.

One note, this isn't a light switch that's all or nothing—try one method and build from there, but the importance of getting more fiber cannot be understated.

5. Get Outside Daily

Depending where you live, this one might pose a bit of a challenge, but as they say in Norway, there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Dress for success, which includes outdoor time.

This one is as important for mental health as it is physical. It's not exactly clear why being outdoors has such a positive mental effect, but there is a strong body of evidence that has shown time in nature can reduce stress, anxiety and depression. This one should be at the top of all of our bucket lists.

Try this: Use this as your strategic movement, so pick your 10 minutes and make it some outdoor activity every. Single. Day. Yes, that's a little different than mentioned earlier – in our house this looks like some outdoor activity with our kids, so not "structured" exercise, but outdoor fun like tag, basketball or something along those lines. It's needed for all of us!

Now when we look at this list, there's not one big, lofty goal that says "lose weight, stop eating this" or anything of the like.

Imagine, the simple benefits of adding any of those 5 practices to your lifestyle each and every day. The difference between any outcomes can be one simple thing—for mental health, physical health and overall well-being.

What habit will you try to build this year and then, how will you celebrate your practice along the journey?

This article was written by Chris Mohr, PhD, RD from EatingWell and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

Chris Mohr, PhD, RD
EatingWell

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