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How to improve your health and maintain it in 2023

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A new year means many people are looking to improve their health by embracing a new lifestyle, but not all strategies for changing up habits are created equal.

Pricey fitness programs and fad diets often draw interest at the start of a new year, but they can be hard to keep up and even pose risks to your health. Still, according to experts, some trends actually do help folks get healthier.

There are plenty of long-term changes you can make in your life that won’t break the bank and will help you feel better in your daily life.

Here are some tips for creating a sustainable diet and fitness plan to continue through 2023:

Eat ‘real food’

Dr. Shami Hariharan, an integrative medicine doctor with Atrium Health in Charlotte, N.C., recommended constructing a healthy diet around one of her favorite quotes from food writer Michael Pollan: “Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much.”

“Real food,” she explained, includes “whole foods, fruits, vegetables, legumes and other proteins.”

Within that framework, Hariharan said, it’s important to find meals that bring you “joy.”

“If we don’t like how we’re eating or it’s hard, then that affects maybe even how we process our nutrients,” she said.

Farmers markets are a great place to find healthy foods at a reasonable price, she noted, while also supporting local businesses.

Exercise safely

As with diet, it’s important to find a fitness routine you actually enjoy so that you’ll stick with it throughout the year and beyond, said Hariharan.

“There’s so many great resources out there, online and in person, so finding something we enjoy is good. And we don’t need to shoot for the moon every time,” she said.

Setting specific and attainable goals will help you get where you want to be, she added.

“For example, if I say, ‘I’m going to exercise more in 2023’ versus ‘I’m going to walk for 20 minutes on my lunch break on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (all month),’ I’m much more likely to do the second thing than I am the first,” she said.

And if you have chronic medical problems such as heart disease, joint pain or arthritis, Hariharan recommended reaching out to your doctor for help crafting an exercise plan that’s both “safe and beneficial.”

Avoid fad diets

While some fad diets may have helpful components, Hariharan said, most end up getting “skewed.”

“Keto, for example, is actually a very extreme diet where it puts our body into this whole different type of metabolism that it’s not used to,” she said. “The way that Keto has kind of gotten skewed over time is that people will end up eating a lot of saturated fat and animal products. Some of those things in moderation are just fine, but to that level are not.”

And while a fad diet might help you shed weight in the short term, they’re hard to maintain and there’s often “little to no evidence on the long-term effects.”

Oftentimes, she said, people gain back weight they lost as soon as they stop the strict regimen — and sometimes they even gain added pounds.

“And so that kind of up and down with our bodies can be not healthy on the inside as well.”

Manage your stress

Our health is affected not just by what we eat and how much we exercise but also by our mindset, Hariharan said. So she advised that it’s important to find a “meaningful outlet” for dealing with stress.

“I believe that stress, even low levels of chronic stress, is probably one of the most prevalent diseases in our society,” she said.

A stress outlet can take many forms, depending on what works best for you.

“People get intimidated,” she said. “They think … about somebody sitting quietly for 30 minutes … It doesn’t need to be something like that. It can be a breathing practice, it can be prayer, it can be sitting outside in nature and can be listening to meaningful music.”

As little as five minutes a day “of some mindful type of practice (can) create measurable changes in the mind and the body,” said Hariharan.

“For example, if I was to lift weights for five minutes every day for a month, I would notice that I could maybe pick something up more easily or do other things about my day with more ease. It’s the same with mind-body practices,” she said. “If we do that for five minutes today, we don’t just feel better for those five minutes. The benefits start to kind of diffuse out into the rest of our day, and the benefits grow.”

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