Many people put a lot of pressure on themselves to improve their health.
They set big goals for themselves like “I’ll never eat sugar again” or “I’m going to lose 10 kg” or “I’m going to exercise 5 days a week all year.” How about considering simple steps for good health?
While it’s great to be ambitious, setting big goals isn’t always the right approach to achieving optimal and sustainable health. Often it’s in taking small steps, one at a time, that can lead to big results.
By instead choosing smaller, more manageable steps, one at a time, and committing to taking them consistently, you can truly set yourself on a path of sustainable health and wellbeing. These smaller steps will be easier to incorporate into your routine, and they’ll be easier to maintain over the long haul. And, as these activities become habits, you can then add in more of them, building your healthy lifestyle in a sustainable way.
While studying at The Institute of Integrative Nutrition, we learnt about 12 simple steps that you can take to improve your health and wellbeing. Looking at getting healthy in this simpler way was inspiring. And, as I implemented each of them, one at a time, I saw firsthand the positive impact this approach had on my holistic health.
Read through the 12 simple steps to improve your health below and pick one of them to add to your routine. Commit to doing it consistently. And, when you’re ready, add in another one. By taking smaller steps and actually sticking to them, you’ll see more results AND you’ll enjoy your health journey a lot more!
1. Drink more water
We all know that we need to drink enough water, but many of us just don’t do it. Believe me, I know all too well, because drinking water is not something that comes naturally to me. But, when you look at the massive benefits of drinking enough water, you can’t help but try.
If you want to drink more water, start with baby steps. Instead of saying I will drink 2-3 litres of water every single day, start with a single glass – Down a glass of water in the morning when you wake up.
Think about ways you can encourage yourself to drink more water, or make it easier or more accessible. You could get yourself a cool portable water to keep on your desk. Or, you could do what we did – we stopped drinking soft drinks or fruit juices at home, and instead got two big glass water bottles that we keep filled in the fridge or house as all times. Now it’s become a habit to only drink water at home.
If drinking water is where you want to start, think about one small step you can take to start drinking more of it every day.
2. Practice cooking
Home cooking is a great way to improve your health.
When you cook your own food, you see exactly what you’re putting into your meals. When you eat at restaurants or buy ready-made meals, you don’t have control over the ingredients used. By cooking for yourself, you can make sure you’re only using fresh, natural and quality ingredients.
Many cringe at the thought of cooking, but it doesn’t need to be complicated and time-consuming. You can keep cooking simple like I do – using simple recipes with fewer ingredients.
Also, when looking for recipes, look for meals you’re excited to eat – this makes cooking more creative and rewarding. For example, if you love curries, find a simple recipe online and make yourself and your partner, friend or family a homemade curry. Put on some music, use some of your favourite ingredients and have fun with it!
Don’t put pressure on yourself when it comes to cooking. Make your cooking as simple as you like, use online resources to help guide you if necessary, and just have fun with it.
3. Experiment with whole grains
Many put whole grains in the same category as refined grains, and this couldn’t be further from the truth. Not all bread is created equal…
Get clued up on the difference between refined grains vs whole grains – it’s a BIG difference. Refined grains include items like white bread and white rice. Whereas whole grains include items like brown rice, oats, whole grain bread and quinoa. And unlike refined grains, whole grains are a great source of nutrition and are a fantastic energy source.
Try incorporating whole grains into your diet and see how it works for you. You could have oats or rye toast for breakfast. Or you could add some brown rice to your lunch. Monitor your hungry and energy levels along the way to see how it’s working for you.
4. Increase sweet vegetables
For those of you with a sweet tooth, this is a great one to try!
Sweet vegetables offer naturally sweet flavours that can give your body some of the sweetness it craves. By doing this you can actually help your body re-calibrate and can dramatically decrease sugar cravings. We call this crowding out – where you’re crowding out your cravings by adding in more of the good stuff. If you get sugar cravings this is definitely something to try.
Sweet vegetables include sweet potatoes, pumpkin, sweet corn, peas, tomatoes, beetroot, and carrots.
If you battle with sugar cravings, try adding more of these sweet vegetables to your diet – meals and snacks – and see how it goes.
5. Increase leafy green vegetables
Leafy green vegetables are known to be nutrition powerhouses. They are jam-packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre. And, to top it off, they are also low in calories.
Green leafy vegetables include kale, spinach, collard greens, cabbage, arugula (aka rocket), watercress, and many others. And by simply focusing on adding more of these to your diet, raw or cooked, you’ll be leveling your health in a big way.
Also, if you don’t know much about green leafy vegetables or what to do with them, just keep it simple. Some easy ways I incorporate them into my diet is by simply using spinach leaves in salads instead of regular lettuce. Or I have spinach as a side – lightly frying up the spinach in some olive oil, freshly chopped garlic and chili and dressed with fresh lemon and salt.
6. Experiment with protein
Many meat-eaters stick to certain animal proteins and rarely venture out of their comfort zone.
If that sounds like you, try experimenting with alternative protein sources like lentils, beans, chickpeas, spirulina, quinoa and chia seeds.
Whether you’re a meat-eater or a vegetarian, branch out and try different protein sources. By doing that you’ll not only open up your mind, you’ll also give your body a wide range of nutrients to work with.
7. Eat fewer processed foods
If there is one thing you can do to improve your eating, it would be to cut down on processed foods.
If you’re wondering what the difference is between real food vs processed foods – ‘Real Food’ is basically food in its natural state, like fresh fruits and vegetables. On the other side of the spectrum, ‘Processed Foods’ have been manipulated in some way, often with added ingredients to boost flavour or shelf-life. These include foods like many kinds of cereal and ready-made sauces.
Most processed foods contain additives like sugars, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, artificial colours and flavours. Some processed foods are worse than others, with the highly-processed foods containing terrible ingredients that can wreak havoc on the body.
By choosing more natural over-processed foods, you’re one step closer to a healthier you.
If you’re not sure where to start, start looking at the ingredients list of the packaged foods you buy. Aim to only buy foods with 5 or fewer ingredients on the back, and avoid foods with ingredients you don’t recognise or can’t pronounce.
Also try to avoid foods with added sugars on their ingredients lists – And remember, sugar is a master of disguise, so look out for the 60+ different names for sugar on that ingredients list!
8. Make self-care a priority
Many people get so lost in their work and busyness of everyday life, that they forget to take care of themselves.
Self-care means something different to everyone. It could mean spending more time in nature, getting more sleep, doing yoga, getting a massage, having a long bath, going for a walk, meditating, reading, giving yourself a face mask…
How can you take better care of yourself? What ways can you nourish yourself on a regular basis? Pick one thing that you can do to take better care of yourself and commit to doing it regularly.
By prioritising self-care and making it a habit to nourish yourself – mind body and spirit – on a regular basis, you will keep yourself strong, no matter what life throws at you.
9. Have healthier relationships
Our relationships have a big impact on our lives.
Think about how a toxic relationship has affected you… Or how a wonderful relationship has affected you…
Take a look at the relationships in your life. Focus on nurturing your important relationships and take the time to embrace that human connection. Even if you’ve had some challenges with some of your relationships in the past, if it’s important to you, it’s worth working on. Sometimes all it takes is better listening…
Make the effort to reconnect with the ones you love and let that nourish your soul.
10. Enjoy regular physical activity
We all know that keeping active is good for our health, right?
But… many think that to do that, they need to spend many grueling hours at the gym.
Instead of focusing on getting to the gym or ‘exercising’, try and re-frame your thinking into having a more active lifestyle.
Think of ways that you can get your body moving more in a way that you enjoy. That could mean taking your doggies for a walk, going for a brisk walk around the block as a break from your desk, dancing, going for a hike with friends, exploring a city by foot, hula hooping, or taking the steps instead of the elevator.
Instead of forcing yourself to do exercises you don’t like, find ways to keep your body moving in a way that’s enjoyable for you, and you’ll find yourself keeping a lot more active this way.
11. Do work you love
There are so many people who work 8+ hours a day in jobs they don’t like. This can lead to many different health problems.
Take a step back and ask yourself if your job aligns with your values. If it does, great! if not, think about how you could direct your career in a healthier direction. What small steps could you take?
Then there are those who love their work, but find themselves working themselves into the ground. Reaching this burnout stage is not healthy. It may be time to ask yourself how you can find more balance in your life. Yes sure, you love your work, but if it’s impacting your health and well-being, it may be time to make some small changes. Perhaps you could set better boundaries and make more time for other activities like exercise, self-care or more time with friends and family?
Our work takes up a lot of our time, and it’s so important to do the work we love. And, at the same time, it’s also a good idea to strive for more balance in our lives so that we have the time to enjoy the other areas of life too.
12. Develop a spiritual practice
This can be a touchy subject because developing a spiritual practice means something different to everyone.
In essence, though, it’s about connecting to yourself and perhaps something bigger than yourself. That’s what it means to me at least. That could mean spending more time in nature. Or it could be doing your morning yoga meditation practice.
It can mean something totally different to everyone, and that is the beauty of it. It is a personal practice that can help you slow down and reconnect.
For me, my ‘spiritual practice’ is my morning routine where I take quiet time out for myself to do yoga and meditation. This act of self-love helps me reconnect with myself and the universe and it gives me a calm sense of peace that I can take with me throughout the day.
What helps you feel more connected? Take the time to do that activity regularly and notice the impact it has on your well-being.
Are you ready to take simple steps towards better health?
I hope that this post has inspired you to take smaller steps towards your healthiest and happiest self.
You don’t need to do everything at once or take massive steps to get to your best self. Health is a journey, so don’t be scared to spread it out. You can simply pick one small step at a time, and enjoy making that activity part of your life. Over time it’ll become second-nature, and you’ll have the space to take on more healthy habits.
What one small step are you going to take to improve your health and well-being?
Keep taking those small steps towards a healthier you. You’ve got this.