Simple Steps To Build Sustainable Healthy Habits

AHA Blogger

From the American Heart Association


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With holiday parties behind us and a new year ahead, it’s a good time to resolve to maintain a healthy lifestyle.


Making healthy choices may lower your risk for illnesses and prolong your life, said Frank Hu, M.D., Ph.D., chairman of the nutrition department at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.


Even moderate changes can add up to long-term benefits. “We’re not talking about running a marathon or going to the gym every day,” Hu said.



Healthy habits = healthy life


The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, or 75 minutes of a vigorous aerobic workout, each week, preferably not done all at once. If a brisk walk or a leisurely bike ride sounds your speed, that means only 20 minutes a day can make a big difference.

In addition, muscle-strengthening activities should be done at least twice each week. These can include squats, wall sits, push-ups, light weightlifting and a number of other exercises. Make sure to sit less and be more active, even during cold weather months. Even if you need to bundle up, consider stepping outside for a brisk winter walk. Keep in mind there are some advantages to exercising during cooler weather.


Along with physical activity, a recent study found that five specific steps can keep you healthy and possibly extend your life:


  1. Keeping your body mass index in a healthy range
  2. Eating a healthier diet
  3. Staying physically active
  4. Never smoking
  5. Limiting alcohol to moderate drinking

For those who adopted all five of the low-risk factors, the projected life expectancy at age 50 was 14 years longer for women and 12 years longer for men, compared with those who adopted none of the steps, according to the study by Hu and others published in the journal, Circulation.1


Controlling weight can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes, Hu said.


Those diseases are among the leading causes of death and disability in the United States and are among the main drivers of the $3.3 trillion in annual national healthcare costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.2


Managing meals and snacks


Food temptations can be challenging, but keeping your weight under control starts with the decisions you make in those moments. Counting calories can be difficult. It’s much easier to step on the scale, Hu said.


Many people tend to put on a pound or two a year as they approach middle age, and if left unchecked that can mean a gain of 30 to 40 pounds in the long run. This phenomenon is a contributor to the obesity epidemic, Hu said.


“Once people gain weight, it’s difficult for them to lose weight and keep it off,” he said.


To check your body-mass index yourself, try a reputable online BMI calculator.


If you overindulge with high-calorie foods and you are sedentary, that’s a double whammy that can lead to weight gain. Instead, try to opt for fruits and vegetables. When preparing desserts, use less sugar and more oatmeal, fruit, and nuts.


Cooking meals at home can save money and help you better control what you consume as part of a healthy eating pattern. Incorporate a variety of food groups, reduce sodium and make simple changes – such as enjoying a handful of nuts in place of potato chips for a snack.


Limiting your alcohol intake can help keep you healthy and keep extra calories at a minimum. Moderate drinking is considered to be an average of no more than one to two drinks per day for men and one per day for women.


Reduce stress, get organized


As you embark on your schedule for the new year, try to include some downtime to help reduce stress and possibly boost your health.


Stress can lead to overeating, excessive drinking, and sleep deprivation, and these can be factors in high blood pressure, weight gain, and obesity. “All these factors are interrelated,” Hu said.


Getting organized may help reduce stress also. Do you have some indoor home improvement projects that you’ve been putting off? Now that the weather is cold and you’re spending more spare time inside, consider getting going on that to-do list. Your projects may be as simple as clearing out junk mail and other unneeded items to reduce clutter.


Don’t wait until spring tax deadlines are here to go through financial documents. Organize tax records and receipts by finding a simple, suitable storage spot. Keeping receipts is especially important if you itemize your tax deductions. It also helps you track spending for the year.


Finally, make sure your regular medical and dental checkups for the year are scheduled, or at least place reminders on your calendar so you’ll remember to make those appointments on time in the months to come.


All these steps can help you commit to living healthier, longer, and better.


1 “Impact of Healthy Lifestyle Factors on Life Expectancies in the US Population,” Circulation, July 2018.2 “Six in ten adults in the US have a chronic disease and four in ten adults have two or more,” CDC, November 2018


This article was prepared by the American Heart Association (AHA). Transamerica is not affiliated with the AHA and does not control, guarantee, or endorse the information. This information does not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911, or call for emergency medical help immediately.