Five Easy Steps to Better Health

If your lifestyle has led to less-than-optimal health, the good news is that it's not as hard as you think to make changes that can improve the way you look and feel. Your body naturally wants to return to a healthier state, and it will recover more quickly than you might expect once you get the ball rolling.

Many people want to make healthier choices but feel overwhelmed and do not know where or how to begin. All too often, they end up falling short of their goals because they can not create and implement a sensible plan for a healthier lifestyle. Do not let this happen to you; prepare for success by following these easy steps:

1. List your reasons for wanting better health. Increased energy and a longer, better life are givens, but you may have other reasons – your kids, your partner, yourself. By creating this list, you'll be forced to confront the things you'll be sacrificing if you do not make changes to enjoy better health. Keep this list, and look at it if you start to lose your motivation – it'll be an effective reminder and help you stay on track.

2. List the things you need to do to live healthier. You might want to divide this list into categories like diet, exercise and lifestyle. Keep your goals realistic; instead of expecting to turn on a dime from a high-fat, high-salt diet to an abstemious regimen of fresh fruits, whole grains and steamed vegetables, try simpler strategies. For example, if you eat too much red meat, start by swapping it out for chicken or fish twice a week. Choose whole-grain bread instead of white bread. Double your servings of vegetables and cut your fats and starches in half at mealtimes. If you've been inactive for a long time, start by taking half-hour walks three times a week. Quit smoking, do not drink alcohol to excess and be sure to get 7 to 8 hours of restful sleep every night.

3. Implement changes over time. Just as you're not going to transform your entire diet overnight, you're also not going to change your eating, exercise and lifestyle habits all at once. Start small and make changes gradually. Many people find that creating a schedule makes for an easier transition; for example, you might aim to implement all the changes over a two-month period. In the first week, you might increase your intake of fruits and vegetables and decrease your intake of fats. In week two, you might add some light exercise to the mix. In weeks three and four, you might implement further dietary changes and make your workouts more vigorous, and so on.

4. Track your progress. Nothing will keep you motivated like tangible results. You should consider testing your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, weight and endurance before you start, then track your improvements over time. Numbers do not lie when it comes to telling you how much you've improved your health.

5. Forgive yourself. You're going to have good days, and you're going to have bad days. When you have a bad day, put it behind you. Do not beat yourself up if you cave in to a craving or skip your morning jog. The important thing is that you have more good days than bad ones, over time.