8 Clever Tips for a Healthier You

Developing a healthier lifestyle takes work, but when you start small, seek support, and stick with it, you'll be amazed by the transformation you can make.

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Developing healthy habits takes balance and flexibility. For example, if you can't fit in an hour-long workout each day, you can still fit in short bursts of activity throughout the day. What's more, getting fit doesn't have to be difficult, painful, or expensive. In fact, the most effective diet and exercise strategies can fit seamlessly into your life. Here are eight easy ways to get a fitter, healthier body—with less effort than you might imagine.

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Shop smart

One way to make sure your kitchen is stocked with healthy foods? Never grocery shop when you're hungry. Hunger activates the part of your brain that responds like Pavlov’s dog to tempting images of food. That’s why a stroll down the cookie aisle may land all those sweets in your cart when you shop right before dinner. Instead, do your grocery shopping after a meal or snack, and you'll save yourself a world of calories. The next time you go to the grocery store, set a mini-goal to get out of the store without any junk food. Remember to focus on the perimeter of the store, where you'll find fresh fruits and vegetables.

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Make your fitness or diet goal public

Post your daily wellness goal on a platform like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. When you get affirmation from friends, you may be more motivated to stick to your pledge. Whether you tell a lot of people or a few, making your goal public is a powerful way to motivate yourself. "You're not airing your dirty laundry or revealing anything too specific," says Kris Gethin, personal trainer and author of Body By Design. So tell someone your goal. In a study, people who shared their goal to walk 10,000 steps walked an extra mile a day.

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Form a network of healthy, active friends

Whatever your goal, you can double your chances of success by teaming up with like-minded people. Research shows social networks have a huge impact on how you act when it comes to health, for better or worse. Weight gains and losses are especially susceptible to the influence of friends and family. Research suggests that your risk of being obese goes up about 60 percent if your BFF is gaining, too, and rises 40 percent if a sibling or spouse gains weight. Team up with a friend who shares your healthy goal or join a social or support group. Work out with a buddy, try an exercise class, or get moving with a furry friend. One study found that dog owners are about 34 percent more likely to get enough exercise.

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Put exercise and healthy foods within reach

The best way to weave healthy habits into your life? Put them front and center. Leave your running shoes by the door or park your hand weights and balance ball next to the TV where you can see them. The same goes for food. "Few things make people more anxious—or more likely to overeat—than a scarcity of food," says Susan Koven, MD, faculty member at Harvard Medical School. "Replace an abundance of unhealthy food with an abundance of healthy food."

Stock your kitchen with fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, and lean protein. Don't forget to include salsa, herbs, spices, and other healthy treats, such as low-fat yogurt, dried cherries, or 70 percent dark chocolate.

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Stick with diet and exercise habits that work

The best kind of diet or exercise routine is often the one that you enjoy most. In other words, find out what works for you and stick with it. And in a world in which choice abounds—of food, in particular—sometimes it helps to limit your options. In one study, less food variety led to successfully keeping weight off. Find a go-to healthy breakfast or lunch you like—say, oatmeal with walnuts and frozen blueberries, or salad with grilled chicken and olive oil—and have it every day to keep things simple.

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Find time to exercise

One of the most common excuses for not working out is "I don't have the time." But most of us have more time than we realize. It doesn't take a lot of time to move your body a little more than you do now, and every little bit of exercise counts. Look for hidden opportunities to be active throughout your day. Each morning while you wait for your coffee to brew, do back leg lifts at your kitchen counter or jog in place. At your child's soccer game, walk up and down the sidelines instead of sitting in the bleachers. Take the stairs, sit on a balance ball at work, and use part of your lunch hour for a quick walk. 

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Get motivated with self-talk

In their book, Motivational Interviewing, William Miller, PhD, and Stephen Rollnick, PhD, explain the techniques counselors use to help people reach their goals, such as quitting smoking or losing weight. While working with a counselor can be powerful, there are effective ways to talk to yourself as well. Ask yourself: Why does reaching this goal matter to me? How will I feel when I reach it? And how ready am I to do what needs to be done to get the changes I want? Just accept your answers, don't judge them. Your inner self is already moving closer to your goal. For more motivation, post encouraging notes or images where you'll see them often. Set up motivating reminders on your mobile device.

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Make one small change

Our final piece of advice? Pick one easy diet or exercise change you know you can make, and start there. Says Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet, "Small steps and strategies do add up. My personal and professional motto is eat well, move daily, and be healthy." 

Consider the habitual things you do every day, since they ultimately shape your health and fitness. Pick one "bad" habit and trade it in for a healthier one. For example, if you drink a high-fat, high-sugar coffee drink every day, start ordering a plain coffee with low-fat milk. Or if you don’t exercise enough, start taking a daily walk. You’ll be surprised at the difference one simple change can make. 

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