16 Health and Fitness Hacks
When you're pulled in all directions between work, family and friends, it may seem impossible to eat right, exercise and achieve optimal wellness. Integrating just a few small tricks into your daily routine can go a long way toward healthier living, says Brian St. Pierre, sports dietitian and nutrition educator at Precision Nutrition. Whether it's sampling a new food or finding ways to get more exercise, read on to see some health hacks that you can start using today.
1. Wear a Pedometer
If it's hard to schedule daily exercise into your week, try wearing a pedometer that serves as a reminder to get some extra steps in, says sports dietitian and nutrition educator Brian St. Pierre. Challenge yourself to take a few more steps a day by making extra loops around the office. Walking is a type of non-exercise physical activity, also known as a NEPA. You're not explicitly working out, but you are increasing your movement. "Research shows that people who have higher levels of NEPA are more fit," St. Pierre says. "By increasing levels of NEPA you can definitely make significant improvements."
2. Get Up, Stand Up
Try to stand up as much as possible throughout the day even if there are ample opportunities to sit, says sports dietitian and nutrition educator Brian St. Pierre. "When you're standing, you burn more calories," St. Pierre says. Challenge yourself to avoid states of immobility. If you work in an office where elevators are the norm, take the stairs every time. If you have a long commute on the subway, stand the whole way home. "These may seem like small things, but when you do multiple versions of them in combination, you can really expend more energy," St. Pierre says.
3. Schedule Active Work Meetings
Sneak in activity at work by convincing coworkers to participate in some type of exercise or movement when having one-on-one meetings, says Jonathan Ross, author of "Abs Revealed" and a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. Ask if they'd like to go for a walk, or see if they're interested in going to a nearby gym for a discussion while using stationary bicycles. Your colleague may thank you for the exercise break. If this isn't possible at your office, try to schedule time in your day to walk, or at the very least stand and stretch every 90 minutes, Ross says.
4. Break Up Workouts
If the thought of spending an hour or more at the gym exhausts you, consider separating exercise into chunks throughout the day, says sports dietitian and nutrition educator Brian St. Pierre. You can do your foam-rolling in the morning at home, go for a walk at lunch and lift weights later in the day. If you can't chunk out your exercise, reduce your regular routine rather than skipping it altogether. "If you cut down the number of sets or spend 35 minutes working out rather than 45 or 60 minutes, it's still better than just being at home and doing nothing," St. Pierre says. "Try not to have an all-or-nothing mentality."
5. Wake Up to Exercise
You may relish hitting the snooze button, but if you work out first thing in the morning you'll have greater success, says sports dietitian and nutrition educator Brian St. Pierre. "When you work out in the morning, no matter what happens in the rest of the day, you've already exercised," St. Pierre says. Morning workouts might be more effective because the body has been fasting all night. A study published in The Journal of Physiology in 2010 found that exercise for those on a high-calorie diet was more effective on an empty stomach because it stimulated fat oxidation and improved insulin sensitivity.
6. Make Fitness Fun
Even people who hate boring, regular exercise can stay fit by participating in fun aerobic activities such as kickball, tap dancing and kayaking. “I call this 'Do Something Real'," says Jonathan Ross, author of "Abs Revealed.” “Get out and use your fitness in the real world ... preferably as a shared experience with someone else." Fun activities accompanied by fast-paced music can give you a leg up. A study published in the The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness in 2012 looked at cyclists and found that exercise was more efficient when performed synchronously with music.
7. Purge Bad Foods
If you're trying to eat healthier, get rid of any "trigger foods" that are in your pantry or refrigerator, says Jonathan Ross, author of "Abs Revealed" and a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. If you can't quit cold turkey, at least make it harder to get at that bag of chips or box of cookies. "Put snacks in harder-to-reach places rather than in a bowl on the counter or a cabinet at chest height," Ross says. If you need to kneel down or use a stepladder to reach your favorite junk food, you'll be less likely to snack. "It's amazing how the smallest of obstacles can cause a useful moment of thought to aid in making a better choice," Ross says.
8. Make Good Food Plentiful
Stay healthy by putting nutritious food within reach. Try repackaging your healthy foods in grab-and-go snack bags filled with crunchy vegetables, fruit or nuts so that they're at the ready when you need a snack. You'll be less likely to reach for unhealthy foods if healthy foods are abundant and convenient. "The important part is to use foods that you enjoy and not force yourself to eat things you dislike," says Jonathan Ross, author of "Abs Revealed.” "Snacking gets a bad reputation, but it can be helpful if good choices are made." If you can't eat raw vegetables without dressing or a dip, try making a low-calorie version.
9. Bulk Up
High-volume foods with lots of fiber and water are your secret weapon for feeling satisfied. Foods such as non-starchy vegetables (think carrots and peppers) help fill you up without all the calories. As you eat these foods, your stomach expands and sends signals to your brain that you're not hungry anymore, says sports dietitian and nutrition educator Brian St. Pierre. Chia seeds are another power food to sneak into your diet, says St. Pierre, because they're high in soluble fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Sprinkle a tablespoon on your favorite dishes. The seeds absorb water and create a viscous gel that increases fullness, St. Pierre says.
10. Replace Carbohydrates With Healthy Alternatives
Researchers have found that eating too many refined carbohydrates could lead to obesity and diabetes. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association surveyed more than 65,000 women and found that diets high in carbohydrates and low in fiber increased their risk of diabetes. Try reducing your carb intake by eating non-starchy vegetables as substitutes. For example, try shredded or shaved zucchini instead of spaghetti. Quinoa is a great rice substitute.
11. Sneak in Fruits and Vegetables
There are many ways to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet or use them to replace high-caloric foods. Try using grated and steamed cauliflower instead of rice, or eat kale chips instead of potato chips. Kale chips are easy to make at home, says Jonathan Ross, author of "Abs Revealed.” Simply tear off bite-sized pieces from kale leaves, season them, add a little oil and bake. Other ways to sneak in vegetables are to blend them into fruit smoothies or use applesauce instead of butter in recipes for baked goods.
12. Analyze Every Craving
Even with all your hard work you will have cravings that will be hard to ignore. When the urge for a hot fudge sundae or a bag of corn chips hits you, take a second to ponder your feelings, says Jonathan Ross, author of "Abs Revealed" and a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. "Stop and think for just a moment about why you are craving what you're craving. Is it real hunger or is it something else?" Ross says. Wait 10 minutes, drink some water or move around a little, he suggests. "Cravings can result in automatic responses that we don't think through. Just taking a time out to have a thoughtful response helps control the craving."
13. Get 7-9 Hours of Sleep Per Night
Getting enough sleep is critical to wellness, says Brian St. Pierre, sports dietitian and nutrition educator at Precision Nutrition. "The area of your brain affected by sleep controls your circadian clock, which controls your appetite, body weight and blood pressure," St. Pierre says. Try to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Create an environment devoid of stimulation, such as your television, adds Jonathan Ross, author of "Abs Revealed.” For people who are too wired to doze off, Ross suggests counting to 200 by eights. "Counting sheep is too simple, so it doesn’t distract the mind from the events of the day and the ones upcoming," Ross says.
14. Be Still
Taking a few minutes from your day to meditate can go a long way toward spiritual wellness, says Jonathan Ross, author of "Abs Revealed.” For those who are just starting to learn meditation, using mantras may take some getting used to. Ross suggests sitting still for five minutes and silently saying the words "inhale" and "exhale" to yourself as you do both. "This is a kind of mantra without needing to feel strange about meditating," Ross says. Meditation can help to lower blood pressure and decrease stress and anxiety, says sports dietitian and nutrition educator Brian St. Pierre.
15. Create Specific Goals
Setting goals or rewards can help you maintain wellness, but many people stop once a goal is met, says Brian St. Pierre, sports dietitian and nutrition educator at Precision Nutrition. Concentrate on meeting behavioral goals, such as eating five servings of vegetables a day, rather than outcome goals, such as losing 20 pounds. Some people still find outcome goals appealing, such as putting up a picture of someone with your ideal healthy body, but only do it if the photo inspires you and doesn't make you feel discouraged about how far you have to go, says Jonathan Ross, author of "Abs Revealed" and a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise.
16. Find Buddies
Having an exercise or diet buddy is a great way to improve your health, but you can really step up your game by having a friend for every desired behavior and action, says Jonathan Ross, author of "Abs Revealed" and a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. A friend at the office can prevent you from splurging on doughnuts, while another friend at the gym can help you keep up with workouts. If you're the type who hates to share your wellness goals with people you know, there are a number of online applications and websites that connect strangers seeking similar health goals, adds Brian St. Pierre, sports dietitian and nutrition educator at Precision Nutrition.
What Do YOU Think?
Have you tried any of these tricks to improve your health? How did they work for you? Are there other great tricks that we’ve missed that work great for you?
Explore In Depth
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: The Importance of Non-Exercise Physical Activity for Cardiovascular Health and Longevity
- Journal of Physical Activity and Health: Difference in Caloric Expenditure in Sitting Versus Standing Desks
- The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness: Effect of Music-Movement Synchrony on Exercise Oxygen Consumption
- American Diabetes Association: Mediterranean Zucchini "Pasta" With Shrimp and Cherry Tomatoes
- National Institutes of Health: Meditation: An Introduction
Lisa Chiu has been a journalist since 1998, covering everything from congressional lobbying to bee exterminators. She has worked for "The Orange County Register," "The Arizona Republic" and "The Seattle Times." Chiu holds a master's degree in China studies from the University of Washington.