If your goal this New Year is to lose weight and exercise more, forget the deprivation diet and marathon workouts. New research shows that taking baby steps — not giant leaps — is the best way to get lasting results. A study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that participants who made one small, potentially permanent change in their food choices and/or physical activity each week (such as drinking one fewer can of soda or walking 5 more minutes each day) lost more than twice as much belly fat, 2 ½ more inches off their waistlines, and about 4 times more weight during a 4-month program, compared with those who followed traditional calorie-restriction and physical-activity guidelines.
We’ve uncovered 7 simple steps (with proven results) to help you move more, eat less, and look and feel better than ever. Even better: Once these healthy habits become second nature, they’ll benefit you for a lifetime.
SKIP THROUGH THE COMMERCIALS
Get off your duff and move during your favorite TV shows. Skip, dance, go up and down some stairs, run in place — anything that gets your heart rate up so you feel somewhat breathless. Do it for each 2-minute break (forget the TiVo) during a typical 2-hour TV night and you’ll burn an extra 270 calories a day — which can translate to a 28-pound weight loss in a year.
LIMIT HIGH-FAT FOODS TO ONE PER WEEK
Tag the high-fat/high-calorie foods that are typically your favorites (our top five: cookies, candy, ice cream, potato chips and fries) and gradually downshift. If you’re eating six of these foods a week, try to go down to five. Each week, drop another until you’re at no more than one or two; at the same time, add in a good-for-you choice like baby carrots, sauteed broccoli, oranges, and other fresh fruits and veggies.
SIGN UP FOR HEALTHY E-NEWSLETTERS
One recent study from Kaiser Permanente found that people who received weekly e-mails about diet and fitness for 16 weeks substantially increased their levels of physical activity and intake of healthy foods like fruits and vegetables while cutting back on trans and saturated fats.
STRENGTH-TRAIN IN MINI-BURSTS
Basic body-weight exercises like squats and push-ups are a simple way to build more metabolism-revving muscle in minutes, and research shows they’re just as effective as hitting the gym. Your muscles don’t know the difference between working against your body’s own resistance and on a fancy piece of equipment. The one rule to follow is that each exercise should fatigue your muscles within 60 to 90 seconds.
Try this mini-workout: Do 10 reps each of knee push-ups, squats, crunches, lunges and chair dips. Then gradually increase the number of reps it takes for your muscles to feel fully fatigued.
CLIMB 3 EXTRA FLIGHTS OF STAIRS DAILY
Have a choice between riding and climbing? Including 2 to 3 minutes of stair climbing per day — covering about three to five floors — can burn enough calories to eliminate the average American’s annual weight gain of 1 to 2 pounds a year. It’s also good for more than just your waistline: Men who climbed more than 70 flights of stairs a week had 18% lower mortality rates than those who climbed fewer than 20 flights a week, according to one Harvard study. Start with just a couple of flights a day; if you’re already a dedicated climber, aim to add three more flights to your daily trek.
TAKE A PEDOMETER WHEREVER YOU GO
Just as you wouldn’t leave home without your cell phone, make a pedometer a must-have accessory. Research shows pedometer users take nearly 2,500 more steps a day (over 1 mile, or about 100 calories) than nonusers. Over a year, that’s enough to burn off about 10 pounds.
OBEY THE 1-MILE RULE DURING ERRANDS
Americans use their cars for two-thirds of all trips that are less than 1 mile and 89-percent of all trips that are 1 to 2 miles, yet each additional hour you spend driving is associated with a 6-percent increase in obesity. Burn calories instead of gas by following this rule: If your errands are less than 1 mile away, vow to walk them at a brisk pace instead of driving. Or park where you can run several errands within a mile instead of moving your car each time. Walk every day and you’ll be 13 to 17 pounds lighter next year.
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