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Did you know?

Eating healthy foods and staying physically active can help you keep up with the demands of your busy life. Moving more and eating better may help you take better care of yourself and be there for the people who depend on you. If you are overweight and inactive, you may be more likely to develop

  • certain forms of cancer
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • stroke
  • type 2 diabetes (high blood sugar)

Why move more and eat better?

You may improve your health if you move more and eat better, but that's not the only reason to be active and make healthy food choices. You can also

  • charge up your body for work, play, and family
  • feel better about yourself and manage stress better
  • look better in your clothes
  • set a good example for your children and your friends
  • tone your body (without losing your curves)

Your family, friends, and coworkers can be great sources of support as you adopt healthier habits. Ask them to join you in healthy eating and physical activity. Being healthy is important for them, too! By making healthy choices together, you may find it is easier to move more and eat better.

How much physical activity do I need?

Regular physical activity can be fun and help you feel great. To improve your health, aim for at least 150 minutes per week (30 minutes a day on 5 days) of moderately intense aerobic activity. This type of aerobic activity, like brisk walking or dancing, speeds up your heart rate and breathing. To lose weight and keep it off, you may need more: Aim for 300 minutes per week (an hour a day for 5 days). On at least 2 days per week, also try activities that strengthen your muscles. Examples include heavy gardening (digging and shoveling) and exercises that use hand weights. For best results, spread out the physical activity throughout the week. Even 10 minutes at a time counts!

How can I handle barriers to becoming more physically active?

Adding more physical activity to your life may seem a challenge. Here are some common barriers and solutions. "I don't have time for physical activity." You can "sneak" it into your day a few minutes at a time. Get started by making these small changes in your daily routine:

  • Add three 10-minute walks to your day, if you can do so safely near your work or home.
  • Take regular breaks from sitting at the computer or watching TV. Get up, move, and stretch by lifting your hands up over your head. Twist side to side.
  • Schedule your workouts as you would a hair or work appointment and stick to your plan.
  • Start taking the stairs instead of the elevator whenever you have the option (be sure the stairs are well lit).
  • If your job requires a lot of sitting, add a walk around the block to one of your daily breaks.

"I'm going to ruin my hairstyle."

If you avoid physical activity because you do not want to ruin your hairstyle, try

  • a natural hairstyle
  • a short haircut
  • a style that can be wrapped or pulled back
  • braids, twists, or locs

"It's too expensive."

There are ways to be active that are free or lower in cost. You can

  • check out programs that may be offered at your workplace or local place of worship, like dance classes or walking programs.
  • find a local park or school track where you can walk or run.
  • walk in a mall or a free museum.
  • work out with videos or DVDs in your home. You can find these at bookstores, your local library, or online. Or try swapping with friends.

"Physical activity is a chore."

It can be fun!

  • Be active with your kids—hike, jump double Dutch, play flag football, play tag, toss a softball, or visit the zoo. Physical activity is good for them, too.
  • Do things you enjoy, like biking, gardening, playing sports, or swimming.
  • Get a friend to try out a dance class with you. Walk or take an exercise class with a friend or a group. This way, you can cheer each other on, have company, and feel safer when you are outdoors.
  • Use your daily workouts as time-outs just for yourself
  • .
  • Enjoy friendly competition with family and friends by setting a weight-loss challenge.
  • Give your workouts more meaning by setting goals to do a walk or run for a cause you support.

How can I create a healthier eating plan?

A healthy meal may include vegetables and fruits and small portions of protein and whole grains (breads, pastas, and rice). Here are some ideas on how to create a healthier eating plan for you and your family. When planning meals for the week, think about including the following:

  • a salad or other vegetables (eat "from the rainbow" of colors)
  • fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products
  • fruits (choose a variety of vibrant colors)
  • lean beef or pork, chicken, seafood, eggs, tofu, or beans
  • whole grains, like brown rice, oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, and whole-grain cornmeal

Treats are fine once in a while. Just don't make treat foods like candy, desserts, pizza, and potato chips an everyday choice. Limit sweet treats to special occasions, and keep portions small.

Remember that alcohol, juices, soda, and other sweet drinks contain a lot of sugar and are high in calories.

How can reading the Nutrition Facts label help me?

Reviewing the Nutrition Facts label can help you choose foods that are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and low in these nutrients, which federal guidelines recommendAmericans reduce:

  • saturated fats and trans fats that are solid at room temperature—like butter, margarine, and lard—which are not heart healthy
  • sodium (salt)—aim for fewer than 1,500 mg a day (about 2/3 teaspoon)
  • sugar

How can I handle barriers to healthy eating?

Eating healthy foods may seem hard when you do not have time to cook or you are on a tight budget. Try these tips to get past barriers that keep you from eating well.

"I don't have time to plan healthy meals."

Eating well doesn't have to take a lot of time. Here are some ways that you and your family can eat better:Fuel up every day with breakfast. Try a whole-grain cereal like bran flakes with fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt. Enjoy some fruit with your breakfast, too, like bananas, berries, or peaches.

Invite your kids to join you on the weekend to plan, shop for, and cook a healthy family meal. Make it a game! Children may be more likely to eat dishes that they help prepare.

When grocery shopping, choose whole grains like whole-wheat bread and brown rice. These are higher in fiber, protein, and nutrients than refined white grains. They also keep you full longer.

"Eating well is too expensive."

You don't have to spend a lot of money to eat well:

  • Avoid buying single portions (like pudding, snacks, or yogurt). Instead, buy in bulk and divide into smaller portions as needed.
  • Check newspaper ads for grocery specials. Clip coupons or print them from websites.
  • Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season (they are cheaper at that time).
  • Try canned beans like black, butter, kidney, or pinto beans. They are loaded with protein, cost less than meat, and make quick and easy additions to your meals.

I can do it!

Set goals and move at your own pace to reach them. Ask your family, friends, and coworkers to help you. They can join you, encourage you, help you with setbacks, and be there to celebrate your successes! No matter what, keep trying. You can do it!

How can I eat well when away from home?

Here are some ways to make healthy choices when you are on the go:

  • Avoid heavy gravies, salad dressings, or sauces. Leave them off or ask for them on the side so you can control how much you eat.
  • Order a grilled chicken salad or sandwich with whole-grain bread.
  • Share a meal with a friend or take half of it home.
  • Take healthy snacks with you to work, like apples or fat-free yogurt with fruit.


NIH Publication No. 04-4926
January 2013