Sometimes a goal can be so big, so grandiose, so all-encompassing that it can seem downright overwhelming. Improving your health is no exception. There are so many things you can focus on: dropping unwanted weight, eating better, decreasing stress levels, improving your fitness, and so on and so forth. When we don’t know where to start for such big, vague goals, we tend not to start at all.
So instead of putting off the giant goal of “being healthy,” why don’t we settle for just being a little healthier today, and then the next day, and then the next? Small changes can add up to make a big impact. Plus, when you make small, subtle changes to things like your diet or exercise routine, you hardly notice something’s different.
It’s kind of like money. For example, a $5 coffee doesn’t sound like much, but if you buy one every day for one year, it’d cost you over $1,800. Start making your coffee at home, and you suddenly have a pretty big chunk of pocket change. The same thing goes for your health! Cut 100 calories a day, and in a year you could drop 10 pounds; or run 1/4 mile further every week, and you could be running a half marathon by the start of the new year.
Breaking things down into smaller, more manageable pieces is a great way to not only achieve your goals but make them stick. Why not try to make one small positive change each day? By the end of the month, you won’t believe the impact you’ve made on your health.
Click through to get started on this 30-day challenge to better health.
Small Changes Equal Big Impact 1 of 31
Adding just one tiny habit to your routine each day for a month can add up to huge changes in your health and well-being!
Day 1: Try a New Class at the Gym 2 of 31
It's easy to sink into a rut, especially when it comes to working out. Trying something new is not only a good way to reinvigorate yourself, but changing up your routine can challenge your muscles in a new way and even help you get past a stubborn weight loss plateau. Try anything from a spin class to step, Zumba to water aerobics, or get really adventurous and find an aerial yoga class, a pole dancing class, or Crossfit!
Photo credit: Heather Neal
Day 2: Plan a Week of Workouts 3 of 31
We have a tendency to schedule everything else in life — class schedules, doctor's appointments, meetings, play dates — but that isn't always the case for our personal needs. We all need to fit in time to fulfill our personal needs, and exercise is certainly one of them. Not only is it good for you physically, but it can lift your mood, lower stress, and help you sleep better. Treat exercise like any other commitment. We're more likely to stick to something if it's written down.
Photo credit: Heather Neal
Day 3: Drink More Water 4 of 31
Drinking water not only helps keep you hydrated, but it helps flush out unwanted toxins. Drinking water can help improve your energy levels and reduce fatigue (something all parents struggle with), aid weight loss, improve digestion, alleviate headaches, and boost your immune system — all things that help you feel your best. Bonus perk: it can help your skin look better! It's hard to say exactly how much water you need to drink each day, but if you're not thirsty and your urine is pale yellow or colorless, you're likely on the right track. The "8 glasses of 8 ounces a day" rule isn't hard and fast, but it is easy to remember.
To help you drink more water, try some of these tips:
-Keep a water bottle at your desk or in your purse so you always have it handy.
-Have a glass of water with or before all your meals.
-Jazz up the flavor with fruit or fresh herbs.
Day 4: Enlist a Workout Buddy 5 of 31
I bet it'd take you less than a minute to come up with a list of 10 excuses not to exercise on any given day. But what if you had to call your friend and bail on them with one of those excuses? Chances are you'd be less likely to skip out on your sweat session if you knew you'd be letting someone else down. Recruit a friend to be your workout buddy so you can keep each other on track. Time passes quickly when you have a pal to chat with, plus you can pull double duty and fit in a little social time while you sweat.
Day 5: Add More Greens to a Meal 6 of 31
Greens, greens, greens. Why do we always hear about eating more greens instead of purples, blues, or oranges? While all colors of fruit and vegetables are important to eat, greens pack a pretty good nutritional punch: they're a good source of iron, folate, and fiber, as well as vitamins A, C, K, and even calcium. Next time you're preparing a salad, spice things up by opting for a variety that's different from traditional lettuce, like kale, collards, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and spinach.
Day 6: Cut Back on Soda 7 of 31
It seems innocent, but soda seems to be a vice for a lot of people. It tastes good, it's refreshing, and it's readily available. But it also has a lot of downsides. Soda (diet soda included) can cause tooth decay, weight gain, increased cravings for sweets, and bone weakness. If you're a soda guzzler, you aren't alone! In fact, the average American drinks about two cans a day. Cutting your intake just a little can have great health benefits.
Day 7: Do Yoga 8 of 31
When we have limited time to begin with, we often try to cram in the most effective workout we can: a run, a spin class, or a weightlifting or circuit training session. But it may behoove us to slow down a little. Improved flexibility and a little relaxation time aren't the only benefits of yoga. Yoga can also help lower your resting heart rate and blood pressure, improve your mood, lower blood sugar and cholesterol, increase mental endurance and concentration, and lower cortisol levels (the "stress" hormone).
If quiet and subdued isn't your style, there are plenty of different kinds of yoga. Some examples are:
- Bikram yoga, (a kind of "hot yoga") practiced in a 105 degree room
- Ashtanga yoga (or power yoga), focusing even more on strength
- Kundalini yoga, which involves a lot of core work
Here are 10 different styles of yoga to try.
Day 8: Go to Bed Earlier 9 of 31
Sleep — the healthy habit many people often overlook, yet it's so beneficial. Failing to log enough hours of shuteye can lead to weight gain, poor blood sugar control, stress, and poor diet choices. People who sleep eight hours or more a night tend to have the lowest body mass index (BMI), and those who sleep fewer than six hours a night typically have higher BMIs. Inadequate sleep increases the amount of cortisol, the stress hormone, and ghrelin, an appetite stimulate, in our blood. Sleep can also improve memory and the ability to learn.
If you can't increase your nighttime slumber, take note from young kids and squeeze in a nap. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a 20-30 minute nap can improve performance, mood, and alertness.
For better sleep, try these tips:
-Make sure your sleeping place is dark! Turn alarm clocks around, use blackout curtains, and shut off your phone.
-Set a consistent bedtime and wakeup time.
-Avoid TV, computer, and phone screens two hours before bedtime.
Day 9: Eat a Meatless Meal 10 of 31
You don't have to be a full-fledged vegetarian to reap the benefits of a veggie-packed lifestyle. Even replacing a couple of meals a week with a meatless meal can have a positive impact on your health. In fact, going meatless just once a week can reduce your risk for chronic disease, like obesity, cancer, and diabetes. A study at the National Cancer Institute shows that people who ate 4 ounces or more of meat per day were 30 percent more likely to die (for any reason). Going meatless for a meal or two doesn't mean you have to start chowing down on tofu or sprout. Beans, quinoa, legumes, and nuts are great vegetarian sources of protein.
An added bonus? Meatless meals tend to be friendlier on the budget.
Day 10: Get a Massage 11 of 31
I probably don't need to twist your arm on this one. Ladies, tell your husbands a massage is required for good health. OK, it's certainly not required, but it does have its perks! Not only is it a chance to relax and unwind from the stresses of daily life, but massages can also enhance your immune system and release toxins from your muscles. Massages can decrease anxiety, reduce headaches and pain, improve digestion, and help with insomnia. Trigger point massages or sports massages can also help release tight bundles of muscle fibers that can lead to injuries or be caused by injury.
Day 11: Go for a Walk 12 of 31
Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves to exercise. The thought of running or going to the gym can sound like an awful lot sometimes, so we just skip it entirely. Well, even going for a walk can do wonders for your health. Walking 30 minutes a day can help lower blood pressure, lower the risk of heart disease and obesity, improve blood cholesterol levels, strengthen your bones, and improve your mental well-being. Walking is also a great way to get started exercising, as there's a lower injury risk than other activities due to the low impact. Grab a buddy and catch up on life, or take a stroll during your lunch break on your own to clear your head.
Day 12: Volunteer 13 of 31
Raising your hand to volunteer certainly helps other people, but it can benefit you too. Volunteering or helping someone else out can lift your spirits, improve your social skills, foster a sense of community and connection, and even help your heart. A study in Psychology and Aging showed people who volunteered 200 hours or more a year had an average 40 percent lower blood pressure than those who volunteered less. You can also learn new skills, improve your self-esteem and self-confidence, or teach your kids how to think of others when you volunteer.
Day 13: Read a Good Book 14 of 31
Sometimes you just need a little time to yourself, and a little bit of peace and quiet. Curling up with a good book is a great way to do both. Reading can also help keep your brain on its toes! Reading may slow the development of disorders such as Alzheimer's — the same way doing puzzles and crosswords can. It can also help with focus and mental clarity, improve your vocabulary, and give you a means of de-stressing by getting caught up in something besides your own day-to-day life.
Day 14: Try a Green Smoothie 15 of 31
It may look scary, but sipping on green smoothies or juices offer a great way to sneak in some extra fruits and veggies. Not to mention they're a great on-the-go snack or breakfast. Start by using spinach, which has a mild flavor that you can't even taste in a smoothie, and then try other greens like kale to mix things up. You can even prep your smoothies in advance to save time.
Here are some great green smoothie recipes to try:
Day 15: Plan a Weekly Menu 16 of 31
Taking a few moments out of your day to plan a week's worth of meals, or at least dinners, in advance can lead to less stress and chaos later in the week, as well as increase your chances of eating healthy, home-cooked meals. Knowing what you'll be making in advance can help you plan a more efficient and cost-effective grocery shopping trip, as well as avoid nagging questions like, "Mooommmm, what's for dinner?!"
Eating at home can also help you control what goes into your food. There's typically less high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, and fillers in meals you cook in your own kitchen. Compared with regular restaurant diners, people tend to consume 50 percent less calories, fat, and sodium when eating home-cooked meals. Regular family meals at home can also help kids by reducing obesity and preventing smoking, drug use, and eating disorders.
Take it one step further, and prep ingredients or even whole meals in advance to spare yourself the 5 o'clock dinner rush chaos.
Day 16: Tell Someone You Appreciate Them 17 of 31
Do you know how good it feels when someone compliments you on a job well done, or tells you how much you mean to them? It feels pretty good to be the one to say that to someone else, too. Expressing gratitude and appreciation can help build relationships, make you feel good about yourself, and improve your well-being. Simply saying "thanks" can help lower your blood pressure and feelings of hostility, decrease the risk of depression, alcoholism, and eating disorders by means of a positive attitude, and help you feel less stressed.
Day 17: Meditate 18 of 31
This is an easy one: instead of DOing something, take 10 minutes to NOT do anything. Meditation can improve your mood, decrease stress levels, and improve the quality of sleep.
Day 18: Eat a Healthier Breakfast 19 of 31
Making this one simple change can have profound effects on the rest of your day — and your health — without you even realizing it. Eating a healthy breakfast can jump-start your metabolism and help control your appetite for the rest of the day, meaning you'll consume fewer calories and be less prone to mindless eating later on. Not only can eating breakfast help you stay slim, but it can also help improve concentration, which is especially important for kids to be able to learn at school. Fiber and lean protein can help keep you full for longer than a sugary breakfast. Try adding an egg, turkey bacon, Greek yogurt, or scoop of peanut butter to your breakfast for some serious staying power.
Day 19: Reduce Screen Time 20 of 31
At its most basic level, sitting in front of a screen for too long, whether it's a TV, a computer, or an iPad, means you're not up and moving around. Lack of physical activity isn't the only downside of too much screen time, though. It can also disrupt sleep, decrease your attention span, and lead to mindless eating. A report in the Journal of American College of Cardiology showed people who logged more than four hours of screen time per day were 113 percent more likely to have a stroke and 50 percent more likely to die than those with fewer than two hours of screen time. That's enough to make me get up and switch the power button to the "off" position!
Experts recommend kids get no more than two hours of screen time per day, including using the computer for homework. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, too much screen time can increase obesity risk due to lack of physical activity and increased snacking and exposure to food commercials. Instead, switch off the TV and read a book, or head outside for some good, old-fashioned fun.
Day 20: Keep a Food Journal 21 of 31
Writing down what you eat throughout the day can help you become more aware of what you're eating, even if you don't record calories and nutrition information. By keeping a food journal, dieters are more likely to lose unwanted weight. In one study, dieters who recorded their food intake six days per week lost twice as much weight as those who only recorded their food one day per week. Even if you're not trying to lose weight, tracking what you eat occasionally can help identify weaknesses in your diet. It's easy to overlook a handful of candy here and a cupcake there. I could easily say I don't eat much sugar ... until I wrote it down one day. Oops!
Day 21: Highlight a Good Quality About Yourself 22 of 31
Don't be afraid to toot your own horn every once in awhile! As long as you do it respectfully, it's a great way to let others (and more important, yourself) know what you're capable of and what kind of person you are. The same way you enhance your best facial feature with makeup, draw attention to something you like about yourself. Whether it's your loyalty, honesty, strength, or determination, reminding yourself about a positive quality you possess can make you feel even better.
Day 22: Take Time for Yourself 23 of 31
So easy to say, so hard to do! So many people struggle with making time for themselves during the day, especially moms who feel guilty for not spending that time with their family. But taking some time for yourself can do wonders for your mood and stress levels, which means you can be a better mom, dad, friend, etc.
Day 23: Replace Dessert with Fruit 24 of 31
There's nothing wrong with occasionally indulging in a treat, but why not opt for something satisfying yet still packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants? "Nature's candy" is a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth without going overboard on empty calories. Try baked cinnamon apples, poached pears, caramelized bananas, or grilled peaches for a fun twist on plain fruit.
Day 24: Stand Instead of Sit at Your Desk 25 of 31
Or couch or table or floor ... just sit less and stand more! If you stop and think about how much of our day we spend sitting, it adds up pretty quickly. Whether you're sitting at a desk in front of a computer, on the couch watching TV, or at the table doing crafts with your kids, we end up spending a good amount of the day on our behinds. That means the hour we busted our tails at the gym in the morning may not be helping us as much as we thought. So why does it matter? According to Discovery Fit & Health, the moment we sit down we start burning one calorie less per minute and our fat-burning enzymes drop by 90 percent. One calorie doesn't sound like much, but if you're sitting for an eight-hour work day, that's almost 500 calories. The American Cancer Society reports that women who sit for more than six hours a day are 37 percent more likely to die than those who sit less.
Sometimes you have to sit, but if you can, try standing as much as possible, or sit on a balance ball so your core is engaged and you're still working your muscles. If you're really fancy, try a treadmill desk — although I don't know how many offices have those as standard issue yet.
Day 25: Try a New Sport 26 of 31
I've always been a little bit timid when it comes to sports — and especially team sports. I never really played traditional sports, like soccer or tennis, when I was growing up, but they sure sound fun. Just because we've grown up doesn't mean we've lost our chances. Look for an adult recreation league that offers kickball, softball, or soccer, or look for a club that plays tennis or swims. Not only will it be a ton of fun, but stepping out of your comfort zone often simply feels good and can transfer to other areas of your life, like work and your relationships.
Day 26: Move More 27 of 31
Exercise doesn't have to be structured, rigid, or redundant. Just the act of moving more can improve your health. Get up and play with the kids, or better yet, act like a kid yourself! Cartwheels, games of tag and hopscotch, and dancing around are all fun ways to get a little extra physical activity in your day. If you're stuck at a desk or sitting down for most of the day, try getting up every hour or so and taking a quick stroll to shake our your legs. Try to take the stairs or park farther away when possible to fit in a few extra steps. It may not seem like much, but every little bit helps.
Day 27: Cut Clutter 28 of 31
I don't know what it is about a disorganized, messy house, but it without fail raises my stress levels. I have trouble working or relaxing in a space that's a disaster. Unfortunately, my house looks like a tornado whipped through most of the time. Taking a little bit of time to make a donation sweep throughout the house makes me feel so much less burdened and instantly brings me a sense of peace. I love that I can help somebody else in the process by donating my clothes and belongings to a local charity instead of tossing them in the trash.
Extra bonus of de-cluttering? It may help you make healthier diet choices.
Day 28: Order a Healthier Dish at a Restaurant 29 of 31
It can be so hard to choose something new when you have a favorite comforting go-to meal at a restaurant, but choosing a healthy option can go along way, especially if you dine out a lot. Some restaurant dishes can pack thousands of calories in a single "serving" without you even knowing it. Look for helpful words like broiled, grilled, and baked that reflect healthier options. Stay away from sauces or soups with cream in the name. These tend to be high in calories and fat. Ask if you can switch your side to the vegetable of the day instead of fries, and wrap up leftovers to go because restaurant portions tend to be huge!
Day 29: Try a New Veggie 30 of 31
Bored of broccoli, peas, and carrots? Challenge yourself to try an out-of-the-box veggie like kohlrabi, kabocha squash, okra, or purple sweet potatoes. You may just find a new favorite, and your kids will love the excitement of trying something adventurous (or at least watching you try something adventurous).
Eating a variety of vegetables is a great way to get a lot of different nutrients. Kohlrabi, for example, is high in vitamin C, while kabocha is a great source of vitamin A. Traditional orange sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber and carotenoids, like beta-carotene, which are antioxidants that do things like protect your cells and help your body make an active form of vitamin A. On the other hand, purple sweet potatoes taste just like orange sweet potatoes, but they're high in anthocyanins, a different class of antioxidants that are anti-inflammatory and protect against heart health. Plus, they're a fun color!
Day 30: Write a Letter to Your Future Self 31 of 31
Sometimes we have trouble saying what we want because we're scared we won't achieve it, but people who share their goals are more likely to meet them. Instead of shouting them out loud, write them down in a letter to yourself to read down the road. Not only will it keep you accountable, but it may nudge you to go for a dream you may have put off when you eventually read it.