Swap Guilt and Perfection for Easy Health Habits That Help You Thrive

You could go low carb, hot yoga, interval training, power nap, vegetarian, pescatarian, flexitarian or, maybe, just curl up on the couch with Ben and Jerry and binge-watch the new Ted Lasso season.  A deluge of fitness fads, increasing demands at work and home and an almost competitive environment of health “performance,” can leave you feeling less like working out and more like giving up.
Instead, pick just one small change you can make now that energizes you without stressing you out, advises Certified Wellness Coach, Registered Dietitian and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) instructor, Meridan Zerner. She will lead two Fit to Thrive sessions during the upcoming Leadership Development Workshops Renewed Purpose. Renewed You. launching in September streaming live and in-person in select locations.
“Health is about so much more than a garden salad or 30 minutes on the elliptical,” Zerner says. “It’s about social connection, ongoing movement, a sense of purpose and having the strength and energy to do what is most important to you.”
What’s good now
One way Zerner combats that sense of pressure and guilt we sometimes feel to live up to an idea of some perfectly healthy lifestyle is to start by asking yourself what is already good about your health? “Perhaps you have excellent mobility, great bone density, healthy cholesterol levels or excellent cognitive function,” she says. “Whatever is already working well is something to be celebrated and a foundation to build on.”
Zerner advocates a “low-risk lifestyle” that incorporates physical movement, sound nutrition, stress management and sufficient sleep to help you enjoy a fit body and mind. Improving even a little in any one of those areas will drive benefits today and start a chain reaction of improvements over time.
“You do not need to reinvent yourself,” Zerner cautions. “Research shows that tackling one habit at a time provides an 80% chance of making it stick. If you attempt two or more habit changes at once, your chance of succeeding drops to between five and 35%.”
Another strategy for making new habits stick is to make it easier to do the things you want to do and harder to do the things you want to avoid. That means making your “default” environment and choices healthier, such as not having tempting foods in the house, organizing social gatherings around activities such as walking and bike riding, and setting an alarm for going to bed, not just waking up.
Build on the big three
Throughout her Fit to Thrive sessions, Zerner will focus on three key areas to address for overall health. They are:
“Exercise includes more than specific workouts,” Zerner says. “Start by intentionally incorporating more movement into your life.” That might include walking or riding a bike to do a nearby errand; walking while listening to podcasts, talking on the phone or enjoying music; physically going to a colleague’s office rather than sending an email; taking the stairs; and that old standby, parking farther away from the entrance to your office, stores, events etc.
Zerner advocates focusing on foods you want to eat more of and those you want to minimize in your diet. You might increase the size of vegetable servings and decrease meats and simple carbs. Or, replace simple carbs like pasta and white potatoes with sweet potatoes, cauliflower rice and pastas made from beans, such as lentils.
“You want to maximize plant foods, healthy fats, lean proteins and whole grains, and avoid or minimize saturated fats, trans fats, refined carbs and added sugars,” Zerner says. By maximizing the good and minimizing the bad, it is even possible to “budget” for indulgences, she says.
Zerner also suggests eating smaller amounts of protein more often (good for healthy brain chemistry, alertness, strength, muscle repair and feelings of fullness), noting that your body can only use about 20-25 grams of protein at one time.
Stress management and sleep
Stress creates a hormonal reaction that affects all organs and functions, from digestion to reproduction, blood sugar and endorphin levels.  Likewise, chronic sleep deprivation (anything less than seven hours per night) interrupts immune system function, your body’s ability to repair and heal itself, memory and even weight management.  
Learning to recognize your personal red flags that stress is on the rise or that you are not getting adequate sleep (such as fatigue, headaches, digestive issues, irritability and increased smoking or drinking) can help you identify issues in time to head them off. Deep breathing is a powerful tool for lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as is mindfulness meditation, exercise and strong social connections. Most people can achieve better sleep by adhering to a regular bedtime, limiting caffeine and alcohol, being physically active earlier in the day and using meditation techniques.
Lead by example
Zerner urges leaders to model healthier choices and help create a workplace that honors such choices if others want to make them. You might bring a veggie tray instead of donuts for a team meeting, let team members know you shut down phone and email by 8 p.m. and invite anyone interested to participate in walking meetings with you.
Learn more about how to protect and invest in your health as an asset that can help you achieve your personal and professional goals when you REGISTER for the 2021 Leadership Development Workshops Renewed Purpose. Renewed You. and learn how to be Fit to Thrive.

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