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Three Steps to a Healthier You

Making healthier choices step by step can lead to big changes over time.

Committing yourself to a healthy lifestyle isn't necessarily about adopting radical new routines; it's about incorporating healthy choices into your everyday activities. "Changes in lifestyle often begin slowly, with small actions that eventually become healthy habits," says Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA's Mindful Awareness Research Center. Here are some practical, easy steps you can take to bring more healthy activities into your daily routine:

Exercise a Little More

Usually, when we think about getting more exercise we assume that means joining a gym or committing to lengthy workouts. But according to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), even intermittent bouts of moderate or vigorous exercise provide healthful benefits as long as the total duration of activity adds up to 30 minutes in a day. Here some ways to pump up your exercise volume:

Bike or walk to work or to run errands
Fans of Steve Martin will remember the scene in "L.A. Story" that poked fun at overly car-dependent characters who drove three houses down to visit a neighbor. While the movie is an exaggeration, getting over the habit of driving to walkable locations is one way to help you maintain cognitive ability; prevent heart attacks; improve symptoms of hypertension, chronic respiratory disease, and intermittent musculoskeletal disorders; and recover after a heart attack.

Conduct meetings on foot
Consider taking work conversations outside. With sidewalk talks, you can collaborate on work while lending mutual support for a healthier lifestyle. As a bonus, you and your walking buddy are likely to experience enhanced productivity and increased focus after your walk.

Add 10 minutes to your dog walk
Of all the benefits of pet ownership, improved fitness is one of the best. Don't skimp on your dog's daily walk. Add an extra block or go up that hill that you may have been avoiding.

Eat a Little Better

Unfortunately, our best intentions to improve our diets or lose weight are often based on dramatic resolutions that we never carry out. But, says Sarah Mirkin, RD, owner of Kitchen Coach in Santa Monica, Calif., "People are always shocked by how easy it can be to make simple changes that actually work to improve their diet."

Pack a lunch
While eating out doesn't automatically mean eating poorly, the temptation is to choose high-calorie comfort foods. "But some important foods like whole grains can be difficult to come by," says Mirkin. To satisfy your hunger without sacrificing your health, she advises making a lunch that includes whole grains (wheat bread); protein (turkey or peanut butter); and a fruit or vegetable.

Diversify your diet
Browse through recipes in cookbooks such as the "Enchanted Broccoli Forest," a vegetarian classic. Or consider preparing healthy versions of foods from ethnic cuisines such as Chinese, Mexican, or Italian, a strategy recommended by National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Drink your veggies
Your first priority should be to eat whole fruits and vegetables, but juicing can be a time-saving alternative. According to the CDC, 1 cup of 100 percent vegetable juice is equal to 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables. Try carrot-apple to get a dose of vitamin A or spinach-blueberry for a powerful antioxidant drink.

Relieve Stress and Have Fun

Calming your stress levels is as essential to good health as exercise and nutrition. Devoting even a few minutes of your day to stress relief can make a difference, says Diana Winston, "At the Mindfulness Center, we teach one-minute meditations; just taking a moment to stop and breathe can help prevent stress-related ailments."

Make love
A recent study found that found that women who had experienced physical affection or made love with a partner reported significantly lower negative mood and higher positive mood the following day. Connecting intimately with your partner will benefit your relationship, as well as your mental, emotional and physical health.

Take a nap
You may consider naps an indulgence, but research shows that napping can help improve physical and cognitive health. A recent study found that those taking regular midday naps for at least 30 minutes reduced their risk of cardiac death by 37 percent.

Everyday Health

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