Sunday, January 11, 2009

Top 5 Health Habits for 2009

Nobody's perfect, including myself. I fall into some bad habits and sometimes let the pounds creep on. When that happens it's time to take a good hard look at the problems, and come up with a plan for improvement. Here are my personal top 5 new health habits for 2009:

1. Improve time management. See the graphic above? (Click on it to enlarge.) It represents my daily goal: we only get 24 hours in a day, and with all that's going on it's easy to let priorities slip. Having your day mapped out in a pie chart is a really useful tool. You can do this too: either with a pencil and paper, or in Excel like I did it. Start with sleep (assign at least 7.5 hours), then other necessities like work, commuting, hygeine, and eating. Then add your priorities, which should include exercise and food preparation. It's kinda scary how fast that stuff adds up, and how little time is left for leisure. For that reason, I try to combine activities, such as cooking with my preschooler (food prep + family time in one), washing dishes while on a (muted) conference call, etc.

2. Start every day with a huge glass of water. I admit, one of my challenges is drinking enough water. I also admit that I'm often not hungry in the morning, so I sometimes go too long without anything to eat in the morning. Starting each day with 2 cups of water gets our metabolism going, rehydrates us after a long night, and prepares the body for a healthy day. It also helps control hunger, so we won't overeat at breakfast. On days I want something else, I'll make decaf green tea or sqeeze a little fruit juice in the water. I also keep a pitcher of decaf green tea in the refrigerator.

3. Make at least one meal a day RAW. This is breakfast or lunch, or both. Raw food is living food, and it supports a healthy body and high energy. Going 100% raw is not for me (though others certainly do amazing with it), but I think everyone can benefit with more raw foods in their diets. I got some great information on raw food living for vegans with The Raw Food Revolution Diet by Brenda Davis, Vesanto Melina, and Cherie Soria. Great raw breakfasts include fresh fruit with muesli, fruit smoothies with nut or seed butter, and pre-soaked rolled oats with fresh cashew "milk" and dried fruit. Raw lunches are typically big crunchy salads with different lettuces, spinach, carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, etc., sometimes with sprouted lentils, raw "crackers" (you can get these at some health food stores or online), nuts, or seeds.

4. Listen to my body: don't push too hard. I am injury-prone. I have orthotics for my shoes and I've had my share of ankle and knee problems. I also have multiple sclerosis. When I push too hard, I suffer the consequences, sometimes for weeks or months. As much as I'd like to run 5 miles every day like I did in my 20's, that's no longer an option. So I mix up my workouts as much as possible, and take care to avoid injury, care for new aches and pains, and rest when I need to.

5. Make a big batch of soup or stew every week. Soups and stews are an easy way to pack in several servings of vegetables and beans. They're high in water and fiber, which fills us up and promotes weight loss. And of course they're chock full of health-supporting vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They're easy to make, too! Just saute an onion and some garlic in olive oil in a big pot, add water or veggie broth, and add whatever combination of vegetables (fresh or frozen), beans (if you use dry beans, make sure they're little or you pre-cook them), and herbs/spices you like. Simmer until everything is tender. If you make a lot, you'll have enough to start your dinner every day (or freeze for later). Soup, by the way, is great for weight loss if you eat it before dinner, because it curbs your hunger so you eat less. I even got a friend in on this: we make something healthy and split it, and take turns with it.

What are your health goals for 2009? Whatever they are, you'll be more likely to stick to them if you write them down and look at them every day. Good luck!

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