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Small steps to a healthy lifestyle

Christine Cristiano hangs her hat in Ontario, Canada. She shares her world with husband, two sons and a beagle named Tessie.

Small steps for long-term health

Now is the perfect time to reevaluate your current lifestyle and make healthy changes that will carry you through the fall and winter season. Resolving to better your health doesn't even have to be a drastic ordeal, simply taking small steps to improve your well-being, both physically and mentally, is the real key to long-term success!

Woman eating Yogurt and Fruit

Don't try to do too much at once

"Most people try to overhaul their entire lives all at once, which is nearly impossible to stick with for any length of time," says Kelly James-Enger, motivational speaker and co-author of Small Changes, Big Results: A 12-Week Action Plan to a Better Life.

"Focusing on one thing, like eating better and doing something relatively minor, like increasing your produce intake from one to two servings (or less) a day to four per day really helps."

Nutrition, dieting, exercise and mental health are four major areas that you can focus on to better your health. Here is James-Enger's expert advice to take small steps in each one.

Small steps to better nutrition

Improving your nutritional intake can be easily accomplished with a few simple changes, such as adding an extra piece of fruit to your daily food intake or forgoing the donut with your morning coffee.

James-Enger advocates eating more fruits and vegetables. "Every meal, have at least one fruit or vegetable (this doesn't include French fries!). Make an effort to drink more water-you'll be better hydrated and be less likely to snack out of thirst masquerading as hunger."

Instead of a sugar-laden muffin or pastry, order a whole wheat bagel with light cream cheese or a yogurt and granola cup - both will help fill that hungry void without all the empty calories and sugar of a typical jumbo muffin.

Try incorporating some healthy food choices throughout your day. Good choices are a handful of almonds (high in healthy fats), berries (high in antioxidants), cottage cheese (calcium-rich dairy), raw veggies with low fat dip (full of vitamins, minerals and fiber), and fiber-rich foods such as citrus fruits, beans, peas and whole-grains.

Small steps to better dieting

Skip the likely unhealthy fad diet and lose a few pounds with small calorie reductions and effortless food substitutions. You can reduce your calorie and fat intake seamlessly by exchanging one unhealthy food choice for a healthier alternative. For example, choose an olive oil-based vinaigrette (like this tangy Mustard Vinaigrette) over a high-fat creamy salad dressing.

Other diet-friendly substitutions include choosing whole wheat bread over white bread (though recent research suggests sourdough is the best bet), air-popped popcorn over potato chips, yogurt over ice cream, and broiled or baked foods over deep-fried. Small changes to your diet are far more palatable than fad dieting, and not only will they help you lose weight, they will also have a positive impact on your overall health.

"Make sure you're eating enough protein – women, in particular,r skimp on it, relying more on low-fat and fat-free foods and then wonder why they're hungry all the time," suggests James-Enger. "And don't go longer than three to four hours without eating. You are likely to overeat when you finally do sit down to have a meal or snack."

Small steps to better fitness

The thought of trying to incorporate any type of exercise into an already jam-packed schedule can be daunting, but it is doable. First, increase your activity level by doing mini-workouts several intervals throughout the day. Even unintentional exercise counts! Parking farther from your destination, taking your bike instead of driving, walking your dog and even vigorously cleaning house or doing yardwork will boost your daily calorie burn and improve your health. Incorporating any additional steps to your daily routine can help maintain your current weight or, better yet, help you shed a few excess pounds.

"[Adding more activity into your day] helps burn a few extra calories and makes you more aware of becoming more active. Ten-thousand steps is the number we're supposed to shoot for-that's the equivalent of four to five miles per day," James-Enger points out. "Start with 2,000 steps if you're completely inactive and work up gradually from there."

Even marching in place at various times throughout your day can help you be more active. You can step in place at home while you are waiting for the tea kettle to boil, march in place to take a break from work or while watching TV during commercials. Try increasing the "on the spot stepping" gradually over the next few weeks and see how many steps you can work up to. To track your steps, invest in a pedometer to automatically count your steps throughout the day. Studies show that pedometers can actually motivate you to stay more active.

Small steps to better mental health

The world can be a crazy place and a little downtime is a must for a healthy mind and body (read Self renewal from head to toe for some relaxing and self-pampering ideas).

"Taking mini-breaks throughout the day gives you a chance to step away from your busy life, even if only for a few moments. Over time, these breaks help lower your daily stress level, and make it easier for you to cope with typical stressors like driving (or sitting) in traffic." James-Enger recommends.

She adds, "Even a five-minute breathing break or short walk can lower your blood pressure, lower your heart rate and reduce stress hormones, plus give you an energy boost that will help you tackle the rest of your day."

Schedule relaxation or fun and family time each week to destress and rejuvenate your soul. Put the errands on hold, let the laundry pile up for a day, leave your work behind at the office and enjoy a nice dinner, watch a movie, sleep, read or go for a walk with someone special. Your body and mind will thank you!

With a few simple – and small – steps, you can improve your health and well-being stress-free. And, best yet, you are more likely to incorporate small steps into your lifestyle, meaning you will enjoy positive, healthy long-term effects.

For more tips to improve your health and fitness, be sure to check the SheKnows.com Health and Wellness Channel.

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