7 Simple Ways to Make Healthier Choices Each Day

Tiny tweaks can add up to greater overall wellness. 

Updated on March 16, 2022

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If you're crunched for time and looking to burn more calories each day, there's good news—you don’t have to overhaul your diet or spend hours in the gym. Have a minute before work or after your lunch break? Sixty seconds at a time are all you need to begin getting fit and maintaining your weight.

Matthew Metz, MD, a bariatric surgeon with the Denver Center for Bariatric Surgery in Denver, Colorado, shares some simple steps to help you slim down—and each of them can be done in a minute or less.

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Make smarter drink choices

If you sip a latte to start your day or pop a can of soda to beat the afternoon slump, you’re probably drinking more calories than you realize.

One 16-ounce whole milk latte contains 230 calories. That's close to the number of calories in a small meal. Instead, order a hot coffee with 1/4 cup of steamed nonfat milk, which contains just 25 calories.

If you’re a soda drinker, swap your daily can with a seltzer and slash 140 calories. Better yet, drink good old H2O throughout the day. One 2019 study published in Nutrients that looked at 358 people in Spain between the ages of 18 and 39 suggested a link between better hydration and a healthier body composition. The women in the study who stayed well-hydrated were more likely to have a lower body mass index (BMI), lower fat body mass, and a smaller waistline than those who drank less water throughout the day.

Some research suggests those who sip sugar-sweetened beverages like soda or juice before meals consume more calories than those who chose water. One 2015 study of 84 obese people in the journal Obesity found that those who drank about 16 ounces—one standard bottle’s worth—of water 30 minutes prior to mealtime shed more pounds than those who didn’t.

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Burn more throughout the day

The average American spends most waking hours sitting on the couch or at a desk, which can hurt your health and doesn’t help burn calories.

“When you're sitting at your desk, stand up periodically and do 10 squats or 30 squats, whatever you can. These can be done anywhere in the office,” Dr. Metz recommends. “Or, when you're going for a walk, stop and do 10 or 20 jumping jacks.”

Adding movement—even slow-paced walking—throughout the day can help you burn calories. You’ll be surprised by how quickly your one-minute intervals add up, too. In as few as 30 minutes, a 155-pound person can burn 150 calories. 

Research suggests we should be sitting for no more than 30 minutes at a time, so twice an hour, get up and move. If you can’t remember to get going, set a reminder on your phone or computer.

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Swap your sandwich wraps

Slashing calories from your diet is one proven way to shed pounds, and you don’t have to forfeit the foods you love to do it. Just make them healthier.

The average tortilla wrap contains 210 calories and 35 grams of carbohydrates, and two slices of whole wheat bread pack 200 calories and 38 grams of carbs. So, instead of stacking sandwich ingredients between bread or inside a carb-heavy wrap, fold them into a fresh lettuce leaf. Metz recommends wrapping a crunchy romaine leaf—with just five calories—around your protein and veggie filling. Bibb and iceberg lettuce also work well, with just 2 calories per leaf.

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Take a minute to unwind

Diet and exercise are important for weight loss but getting a handle on your stress is also essential. “Stress management is critical to maintaining a healthy weight,” says Metz.

One 2017 study in the journal Obesity suggested a link between long-term stress and higher obesity rates. Of the more than 2,500 men and women who participated in the study, those with the highest levels of the stress hormone cortisol—detected in tested hair samples—were heavier, registered a higher BMI, and had larger waist circumferences.

There are easy ways to reduce everyday stress—in 60 seconds or less you can:

  • Breathe deeply
  • Close your eyes and meditate
  • Practice easy yoga postures, like child’s pose
  • Call a friend or family member
  • Have a good laugh

Tracking your stress with apps like Sharecare, available for iOS and Android, can also help manage tension. Remember: Not all stress is bad, but chronic stress can be. Speak with your healthcare provider about the best options for you if stress interferes with your daily life.

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Order an app instead of an entrée

Fast-food joints get a bad rap, but full-service restaurants may be just as damaging to your diet. A 2016 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people consumed an average of 190 calories more on days they ate out. Plus, your average cholesterol and sodium consumption may be even higher at full-service restaurants than they are at fast-food places.

While sticking to your kitchen may be your best bet for weight loss, you can easily slash calories when you’re dining out by ordering an appetizer instead of an entree. Not including sides, a typical chicken parmesan dinner contains about 430 calories. Once you add a heaping serving of spaghetti, your dinner can total 1,000 calories or more. On the other hand, an appetizer-sized plate of stuffed mushrooms, with six medium caps, contains fewer than 190. 

Want to get creative? Instead of ordering a specialty platter, create your own low-calorie combo. Pair a side salad with a cup of broth-based soup, like chicken noodle, for a 145-calorie meal. Or order a selection of apps and share tastes with friends.

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Unplug Before Bedtime

Sleep affects your weight, too. Research suggests insufficient slumber is linked to higher body weight and increased obesity risk.

Like too much stress, too little sleep increases cortisol levels, which causes the body to hold onto extra calories. Inadequate sleep also affects hormones, like those responsible for regulating hunger, meaning you may be hungrier than you’d be with adequate sleep. Exhaustion can make exercise less appealing, too, and increase your desire for unhealthy foods.

There are things you can do to get better sleep. “I suggest stopping screen time at least two hours before going to bed, and if you're able to, put your phone in another room when you're sleeping,” Metz says.

You can also:

  • Avoid food and drinks that disrupt sleep.
  • Go to bed at the same time each night.
  • Use your bedroom for sleep and sex only, so you don’t associate the space with potentially stress-inducing activities, like work.
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Don't skip dessert

You don’t have to deprive yourself of sweet treats, even if you’re trying to lose weight. Eliminating your favorites may actually lead to binging and can make eating healthfully more difficult.

One study suggests that people who ate a low-calorie diet six days a week and indulged in unhealthy treats on the seventh were happier than those who ate a moderate and consistent number of calories every day. Their weight loss results were nearly identical.

If you can’t limit yourself to sweet treats every once in a while, Metz recommends swapping typically high-calorie desserts with fruit or nuts. Enjoy an apple with a tablespoon of sugar-free peanut, almond, or cashew butter, or toss a tablespoon of sliced almonds in a cup of blueberries and add a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

University of Colorado Colorado Springs. “Nutrition: Your Guide to Nutrition Basics.”
T Chang, N Ravi, et al. “Inadequate Hydration, BMI, and Obesity Among US Adults: NHANES 2009–2012.” Annals of Family Medicine. July/August 2016 vol. 14 no. 4 320-324.
MC Daniels, BM Popkin. “Impact of water intake on energy intake and weight status: a systematic review.” Nutrition Reviews, 68(9), 505–521.
Laja García AI, Moráis-Moreno C, Samaniego-Vaesken ML, Puga AM, Partearroyo T, Varela-Moreiras G. “Influence of Water Intake and Balance on Body Composition in Healthy Young Adults from Spain.” Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1923. Published 2019 Aug 15.
HM Parretti, P Aveyard, et al. “Efficacy of water preloading before main meals as a strategy for weight loss in primary care patients with obesity: RCT.” Obesity. 2015 Sep;23(9):1785-91. 
CD Matthews, KY Chen, et al. “Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors in the United States, 2003-2004.” American Journal of Epidemiology, 167(7), 875–881.
Harvard Health Publishing. “Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights.”
KM Diaz, VJ Howard, et al. “Patterns of Sedentary Behavior and Mortality in U.S. Middle-Aged and Older Adults: A National Cohort Study.” Annals of Internal Medicine. 2017;167:465–475. 
Mayo Clinic. “Chronic stress puts your health at risk,” “Relaxation techniques: Try these steps to reduce stress,” “Stress relievers: Tips to tame stress,” “Sleep tips: 6 steps to better sleep.”
SE Jackson, C Kirschbaum, et al. “Hair cortisol and adiposity in a population-based sample of 2,527 men and women aged 54 to 87 years.” Obesity, 2017; 25 (3): 539.
MedlinePlus. “Stress.”
R An. “Fast-food and full-service restaurant consumption and daily energy and nutrient intakes in US adults.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  70, 97–103 (2016).
Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. “Obesity Prevention Source: Sleep,” “The Nutrition Source: Sleep Deprivation and Obesity.”
R Coelho do Vale, R Peters, et al. “The benefits of behaving badly on occasion: Successful regulation by planned hedonic deviations.” Journal of Consumer Psychology. Volume 26, Issue 1, January 2016, Pages 17-28.
G Beccuti, S Pannain, “Sleep and obesity.” Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 14(4), 402–412.

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