BODY 2014: How to build a healthier body, step-by-step, in small steps
Getting in better shape doesn't have to be a major challenge. There are many small adjustments you can make to your everyday routine of eating, moving and sleeping, that will help you become fitter and healthier, now and over time.
In fact, it’s easier to work on these three areas together than to focus on diet or exercise alone if you want to see lasting change.
Tom Rath, author of the book, "Eat, Move, Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes," has a plan on his website that users can customize to their lifestyle. His book features 90 main suggestions.
"What works for one person’s needs is almost always very different from the next," Rath said in an interview. "What we tried to do on the website was to create an application where people could go through and in five or ten minutes they would be able to talk about their current behaviours and what they’re doing today, what's working and what’s not."
After you answer some questions, the website creates a personalized 30-day plan that’s sent daily via email, with one to three suggestions for the day.
"Even if people just change two or three things that they are able to sustain over time," Rath says, "It makes quite a difference eventually."
Q: What is the principle behind the book?
Rath: I've seen so many people -- loved ones and colleagues -- who jump from one diet to the next, one exercise regimen to the next . I was trying to figure out what were some of the basic things that each of us can build into a lifestyle for good, instead of bouncing from one thing to the next.
I dug into the research and …. it’s easier to actually work on all three of these things -- eating, moving and sleeping -- at the same time.
I've seen the same thing emerge in the research around the interaction of sleeping and moving and eating: if you get a good night's sleep you are significantly more likely to make the right choices about what you eat the next morning, you’re more likely to work out, you’re more likely to get a better night’s sleep the next night. So it sets this upward spiral in motion …
The second finding is … to tie better decisions in the moment, to near-term incentives or things that will make for a better day, not things that will prevent cancer or heart disease 30 years down the road.
Q: Many people feel overwhelmed and some may have significant weight to lose or other health issues to address. What could they do to make a significant dint in their resolutions, given that there are so many tips in the book?
Rath: Instead of saying, ‘I’m going to lose 10 pounds in the next 30 days' – obviously that's probably helpful for your health in the short term -- but I have not seen to be very sustainable. So do something as simple as getting the sweetener or cream out of your coffee in the morning.
Not only is it helpful with not having sugar and carbohydrates and fat in your coffee in the morning, but most importantly it leads you to crave fewer sweets throughout the day because you didn’t start your morning off with a high load of sugar.
And so it's really small little adjustments like that.
For people thinking about New Year's resolutions in particular, those small adjustments are nowhere near as overwhelming as a program where you need to lose 25 pounds in the span of a couple months.
Q: How can people measure and track the benefits of implementing these changes over the next year?
Rath: One of the best overall litmus tests is three months or six months or twelve months from now, are you making better dietary choices on an ongoing basis in a way that you can see sustaining itself for even five or ten years ….
It could be as simple as making a resolution that you’re not going to put some of the worst offenders for your diet in your shopping cart when you’re at the grocery store.
That one little change helps when, six months from now, when you’re not thinking about the New Year and new you, there are no potato chips and there are no candy bars in your cupboard. You don’t have the option to go off the wagon at home at least.
Q: What's the best fitness tip?
Rath: And 10,000 steps before you go to bed each night -- that's one of the best measures for me of whether I’ve had a good day or a rough day physically. When I go to sleep, I look at the number of steps on my little Fitbit device and if that numbers above 20,000 I’ve had an exceptional day and I have a lot of energy and I get a good night’s sleep. If that number is around 10,000, I’m doing OK; it’s a good day but not as good as it could have been.
And if I'm down in the 3-5,000 range, which happens when I travel sometimes, boy, it’s tough to sleep and have enough energy the next day.
There are simple ways to track steps whether it’s a five-dollar pedometer or a $50 to $100. Fitbit, Jawbone or NIKE FuelBand gadget in addition to apps on your smart phone or watch. There’s never been a better time to track activity levels throughout the day.
In addition to the 10,000 steps and measuring, one of the most important elements is to put activity throughout the day first, and then think about exercise. Every 20 minutes make sure you’re getting up, moving around a little bit. Don’t have two hours where you’re completely zoned into a computer in the same position or watching television for two hours at home without getting up and moving around at all in-between.
Q: What about sleeping? Is it a matter of making more time for sleep?
Rath: The amount of time you sleep does matter. For 95 per cent of us, it needs to be between seven and eight hours based on the research. It also needs to be pretty good quality sleep.
The quality may be even more important when you think about, are you really asleep throughout the night. Very small environmental factors such as not having bright lights on in your home late at night (so if you had dimmers on your lights or had less light in the room where you sleep, and then to avoid all electronic devices in that hour of time winding down before bed) makes a real difference.
Not only does that distract you mentally -- if you’re worrying about an email -- but just the actual light from a smart phone or laptop suppresses melatonin and causes problems as well. And you need that melatonin to sleep through the night.
Another little daily trick on sleeping is just to turn the temperature down a few degrees in the room where you sleep, so it’s two to three degrees lower than what you’re used to throughout the day. That should make it easier to stay asleep throughout the night so you’re not waking up because you’re too warm in the middle of the night.