Six Simple Ways to Improve Your Health Habits
Changing your daily health habits can help you start feeling better today. Our expert physician assistant shares simple health tips involving exercise, water intake, sleep, diet, and weight tracking.
Spring is the perfect time to look at your daily health habits and identify areas for improvement. It’s also a great time to reenergize yourself and set new goals on your journey to good health. With the weather improving each day, you’ll likely have more opportunities to get outside, breathe fresh air, and increase your activity level.
The good news is that even small changes in your daily health habits can help you start feeling better and more energized. Jennifer Sheldon, physician assistant with Atrium Health Primary Care Ballantyne Family Medicine, shares six important ways to support your health daily. These involve exercise, water intake, sleep, diet, weight tracking, and outdoor activities.
Keep Moving and Stretching is Good Health Habits
Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your mind and body. Exercise benefits the body by strengthening bones and muscles, reducing disease risk, improving brain function, and helping with weight management. Regarding mental health, exercise reduces feelings of depression and stress, improves self-esteem, enhances mood, and promotes an overall sense of well-being.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity weekly. To meet this goal, you could exercise for 30 minutes five days a week, 22 minutes daily, or any other combination that works for you. The CDC also recommends two days of muscle-strengthening activities each week. Muscle-strengthening exercise works all major muscle groups, including legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.
Low-impact exercise and stretching provide numerous health benefits. For example, tai chi, which incorporates gentle movements and meditation, has been proven to reduce symptoms and improve the quality of life for patients with fibromyalgia. Routine stretching has been shown to improve function and reduce symptoms in patients with low back pain.
What about posture?
“Having good posture can prevent back pain, fatigue, and muscle pain while reducing stress on your ligaments,” Sheldon says.
Drink More Water
Drinking enough water helps keep your body working the best it can. For example, water is needed to help your body eliminate waste, regulate your temperature and lubricate your joints.
How much should you drink?
“Make it a goal to drink 0.5 to 1 ounce of water for each pound you weigh,” Sheldon explains. “For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 to 150 ounces of water daily to stay hydrated.”
If you don’t drink enough water, you could become dehydrated. Dehydration can make you feel sluggish, tired and lightheaded.
Get Enough Sleep
Like food and water, sleep is a biological necessity for life and good health.
“Research shows that the hours we sleep are critical,” Sheldon says. “During sleep, your body is busy fighting off viruses and other pathogens, operating a waste removal system to clean the brain, repairing injured tissues, and forming vital memories essential for learning.”
Getting enough sleep can improve your mental health, mood, and ability to think and make good decisions. It’s also essential for the functioning of the heart and other organs. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7 to 9 hours of quality (uninterrupted) sleep daily. For some, a minimum of 6 hours may be appropriate, while others may need more.
But what if you don’t get enough sleep? Poor sleep habits can negatively affect your mood, thinking ability, attention span, and job performance.
Ditch the Salt
Your body needs a small amount of sodium to function. However, 90% of Americans consume too much sodium.
“High sodium consumption can raise blood pressure, and high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke,” Sheldon says. “Most of the sodium people consume is in the form of salt.
How can you reduce your salt intake? Check food labels to monitor their sodium content. The CDC recommends consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
It’s important to remember that most of the salt intake (about 70%) is from processed foods and food served at restaurants. For example, a cheeseburger from a fast-food restaurant contains 710 to 1,690 milligrams of sodium. So, to reduce your salt intake, find a few new recipes to try at home instead of dining out.”
Get on the Scale
Weighing yourself regularly is a form of accountability that can help you stay on track with your health journey. “Goal setting is also important when it comes to monitoring your weight,” says Sheldon. “To keep your weight from creeping up on you, set a weekly maintenance or loss goal for yourself, write it down, and check yourself against that goal.
Use the same scale for each weigh-in at the same time of day. Remember, daily weight fluctuation is normal. Your weight can fluctuate up to five pounds over a day.
Going outside is one of the easiest ways to improve physical and mental health. Increasing your intake of fresh air is known too.
- Clean your lungs
- Boost your immune system
- Improve your heart rate and blood pressure
- Help you relax, concentrate and collect your thoughts
- Increase your vitamin D levels
- Lessen anxiety and depression
- Improve sleep quality and duration
Sheldon recommends spending at least 20 minutes outdoors each day.
Getting outside and being active encourages deeper breathing, which gets more oxygen into your blood and circulates throughout your body. This improves the body’s overall function.
Looking for some new outdoor activities for Health Habits? Try hiking, planting a garden, exploring a park, playing a round of golf, or going for a bike ride. You can even try working or eating your lunch outside to increase your outdoor time.