31 Fitness and Diet Tips That Anyone Can Benefit From
Get strong and healthy in no time with these easy, actionable tips.
Wanted: Tips that actually work
We all want to be our best, healthiest selves, but with so much advice floating around out there, it can be hard to home in on which healthy lifestyle tips are actually worth trying.
To make your life a bit easier, we've rounded up a number of our go-to healthy strategies, to help you reach your goals.
Whether you're heading off to spin class, boot camp, or any other exercise, it's always important to hydrate so you can stay energized and have your best workout. But you don't want to grab just anything for hydration purposes.
Electrolyte-loaded athletic drinks, for example, can be a source of unnecessary calories, so "drinking water is usually fine until you're exercising for more than one hour," Jackie Newgent, RD, author of The Big Green Cookbook, tells Health.
But if you are working out harder and longer, feel free to go for regular Gatorade-type drinks (and their calories), which can give you a beneficial replenishment boost. But worry not if you like a little flavor during your fitness: There are now lower-cal sports drinks available, adds Newgent, so look out for 'em in your grocery aisles.
Find a workout buddy
A friend you can work out with is hugely helpful for keeping motivated, but it's important to find someone who will inspire—not discourage. So make a list of all your exercise-loving friends, then see who fits this criteria, says Andrew Kastor, an ASICS running coach: Can your pal meet to exercise on a regular basis? Is she supportive (not disparaging) of your goals? And last, will your bud be able to keep up with you or even push your limits in key workouts? If you've got someone that fits all three, make that phone call.
Stock your fridge with healthy items
While there are heaps of good-for-you foods out there, some key ingredients make it a lot easier to meet your weight-loss goals.
During your next grocery store run, be sure to place Newgent's top three diet-friendly items in your cart: balsamic vinegar (it adds a pop of low-cal flavor to veggies and salads), in-shell nuts (their protein and fiber keep you satiated), and fat-free plain yogurt (a creamy, comforting source of protein). "Plus, Greek yogurt also works wonders as a natural low-calorie base for dressings and dips—or as a tangier alternative to sour cream," says Newgent.
Relieve those achy muscles
After a grueling workout, there's a good chance you're going to be feeling it (sore thighs, tight calves, you know the drill).
Luckily, you can relieve post-fitness aches by submerging your lower body in a cold bath (50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit; you may have to throw some ice cubes in to get it cold enough) for 10 to 15 minutes.
"Many top athletes use this trick to help reduce soreness after training sessions," Andrew Kastor, tells Health. "An athlete training for an important race should consider getting one to two massages per month to help aid in training recovery," he adds.
Curb your sweet tooth
Got a late-night sugar craving that just won't quit? "To satisfy your sweet tooth without pushing yourself over the calorie edge, even in the late night hours, think 'fruit first,'" Newgent says. So resist that chocolate cake siren, and instead enjoy a sliced apple with a tablespoon of nut butter (like peanut or almond) or fresh fig halves spread with ricotta.
Buy comfy sneaks
You shouldn't buy kicks that hurt—bottom line. "Your shoes should feel comfortable from the first step," Kastor says. So shop in the evening—your feet swell during the day and stop in the late afternoon, so you want to shop when they're at their biggest. Also make sure the sneaks are a little roomy—enough so that you can wiggle your toes, but no more than that. They should be comfy from the get-go, but Kastor says they'll be even more so once you have a good 20 to 40 miles on 'em.
Pick your perfect tunes
Running with music is a great way to get in a groove (just make sure it's not blasting too loudly, or you won't hear those cars!).
To pick the ultimate iPod playlist, think about what gets you going. "I know several elite athletes that listen to what we'd consider 'relaxing' music, such as symphony music, while they do a hard workout," Kastor says. So don't feel like you have to download Lady Gaga because her tunes are supposed to pump you up—go with any music that you find uplifting.
Know when (and how often)
It's normal to want to weigh yourself soon after starting a new diet or fitness routine. "It's best to step on the scale in the morning before eating or drinking—and prior to plunging into your daily activities," says Newgent. For the most reliable number, be sure to check your poundage at a consistent time—possibly every week—and don't let yourself get too discouraged by different results (remember: weight fluctuations are totally normal).
Keep your portions in check
Does your steak take up more than half your plate? Think about cutting your serving of beef in half. That's because it's best to try and fill half your plate with veggies or a mixture of veggies and fresh fruit, says Newgent, so you can get a healthy mix of proteins, fats, and carbs.
If you know you'll be imbibing with more than one drink, try to order a glass water between cocktails, says Newgent. That way, you won't rack up more calories than you intend. But your H20 doesn't have to be ho-hum. "Make it festive by ordering the sparkling variety with plenty of fruit, like a lime, lemon, and orange wedge in a martini or highball glass," adds Newgent.
Plan your runs ahead of time
When you have a 5- or 10K on your calendar, it's important to plan out what you're going to eat the morning of the big day—something that will keep you fueled and also go down easy.
While everyone is different, "we always have good luck with a high-carbohydrate breakfast such as a small bowl of oatmeal with fruit or a couple of pieces of toast with peanut butter or cream cheese," Kastor says, who also advises eating around 200 to 250 (primarily carb) calories about 90 minutes before you warm up for your run . And don't worry about nixing your caffeine fix on race day. "Coffee is great for athletic performances," Kastor adds, because it makes you sharper and may even give you extended energy.
Don't stress over a cheat day
Feeling guilty about that giant ice cream sundae you enjoyed at your niece's birthday party? Don't; it takes a lot of calories—3,500—to gain a pound of body fat. "So really, that one off day doesn't usually result in any significant weight gain," says Newgent. It's about what you do the next day and the day after that's really important—so don't stay off-track, but also don't go overboard. Remember: starvation and excessive exercise are not the healthy answer.
Before you hit the road, make sure you're packing these key staples: a watch to log your total time (or a fancy GPS to track your mileage), an iPod with great amp-you-up music, a cell phone if you don't mind holding onto it, and a RoadID (a bracelet that includes all your vital info, $20; roadid.com). And on a sunny day, wear sunglasses. "They reduce glare, which can decrease squinting, ultimately releasing the tension in your shoulders," Kastor says. And that's a performance bonus, because relaxing them helps conserve energy on your runs.
Add some spice to your food
It's easy to get in a diet rut, even if you're loading up on flavorful fruits and veggies. The solution? Have plenty of spices, fresh herbs, and lemons at your cooking beck and call. "It's amazing what a little dash of spice, sprinkle of herbs, pinch of lemon zest, or squirt of lime juice can do to liven up a dish—and your diet," says Newgent.
Know when to take it up a notch
How do you know when to increase your exercise? "The general rule of thumb is to up the amount of miles run, for races half-marathon length and longer, by 5 to 10 percent each week," Kastor says.
Have a fruity ice cream sundae
Next time your family or friends decide to make an ice-cream run, don't worry about being left out of the fun! Order a fresh (and super-refreshing) ice cream sundae, piled high with diced kiwi, pineapple, and strawberries. You'll get a serving of delish fruit and satisfy a craving.
Swap out your shoes
While we've all heard that running shoes break down after logging lots of miles (about 300 to 350), you may still be holding on to your fave pair. But that's not a good idea. "Glue has a tendency to break down under ultraviolet light, as do the other materials that make up the shoe," Kastor says. So even if your sneaks have only 150 miles on them but are more than two years old, recycle them (try oneworldrunning.com or recycledrunners.com), because chances are they've already started deteriorating. And as a rule of thumb, always keep tabs on how many miles you've logged on them—tedious, but hey, you'll be proud of how far you've gone.
Snag the right support
Sure, your yoga sports bras work great for downward dogs—but when it comes to running, you'll need one that's designed to lock your chest in for all that pavement pounding.
So what should you look for? "The best sports bras are loose around the chest so you can expand your ribs and diaphragm more effectively. But they should also be form-fitting," says Deena Kastor, an American marathon record holder and 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist. Just make sure the cup is made of comfy material (like a soft compression fabric; look for descriptions that include the terms "breathability" and "compression").
Relieve those side stitches
You know the feeling: a sharp pain just below the rib cage that always seems to pop up when you're working out your hardest. It's called the side stitch, and it can be a major nuisance—especially when it keeps you from completing a workout.
To ease the ache (so you can get on with your run), take your fist and press it beneath your rib cage while taking deep breaths from your belly for about 10 steps. In about 30 seconds, the pain should subside, so you can get on back to work.
Move your body
Sick of that elliptical or bike or workout DVD? That means it's time to mix up your routine Our favorite way: Break a sweat by moving and shaking. Simply make a playlist with your favorite "cut a rug" tunes, then turn up the volume, and start breaking it down. For even more fun, invite some gal pals over and get grooving (and laughing). The best part is that you'll each burn about 200 to 600 calories per hour.
Fuel for fitness
Planning on picking up the pace tomorrow? Eat food that will help keep you going strong. For breakfast, opt for a high-carbohydrate meal—one similar to what you'll be eating on race day, so you can find out what foods digest best (for you!). Try a whole-grain English muffin or a bagel with peanut butter or a low-fat cream cheese. Then, have a well-rounded meal post-workout to help with recovery. Kastor's favorite? One to two slices French toast with a side of fruit. "The protein-to-carbohydrate ratio is perfect for enhancing my recovery," he says.
Say goodbye to peer pressure
Even if you've been eating healthy and exercising, it may be tough to stay on track if your partner, coworkers, or friends don't share your healthy-eating habits. What to do? If your partner loves pizza, try ordering a pie that's heavy on the veggies and light on the cheese—then supplement it with a side salad. And at work, instead of Friday baked-goods day, suggest a Friday "make it healthy" day, and swap in baked pears with cinnamon or mini fruit-and-nut muffins for brownies and blondies.
Savor your carbs
When trying to slim and trim, you may be tempted to take drastic measures like cutting out your carbs. But before you go and add dinner rolls and chips to your "no" list, remember that yummy foods like brown rice, pumpernickel bread, and even potato chips contain resistant starch, a metabolism-boosting carb that keeps you full for longer, which means you won't have to eat as much to feel satiated.
Take an actual lunch break
Munching on your lunch while at the computer could lead to mindless grazing, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. People who ate their midday meals while playing a computer game ended up eating more cookies 30 minutes later than those who hadn't been gaming. So carve out 20 minutes a day and eat in your conference room (or outdoors!).
There's no denying it: Getting the fresh air from exercising outdoors is great! But along with it, you also get the harmful UV rays. To keep yourself shielded while still having fun in the sun, opt for a sweat-proof screen with SPF 30 or higher (look out for types that say "water-resistant" or "waterproof" on the bottle, terms regulated by the FDA), a lip balm with SPF 15 or higher, a lightweight hat, and sports shades. Also consider trading in your white tee and instead going for a shirt with built-in UV protection (a rating of 30 UVP is necessary to be awarded the Skin Cancer Foundation's "Seal of Recommendation"; a white T-shirt has a rating of 10). And remember, the rays are at their brightest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so try to plan a before-or post-work sweat-session.
Slim up your snack
It's hard to avoid that 3 p.m. stomach rumble. And while it's fine to eat something to hold you over until dinner (in fact, we encourage it!), some choices may be better than others. So instead of running to the vending machine, try fruit or sliced veggies dipped in hummus.
There's nothing fun about chafing. You can get the rash (caused by moisture and constant friction) on your thighs, around your sports bra, and even under your arms. To prevent the next occurrence, try rubbing on an anti-chafe stick in any spots that have the potential to chafe. Moisture-wicking fabrics help, too, so if you have a few quick-dry shirts (Nike, Asics, and Under Armour all make 'em), save those for your long runs or tough workouts, when chafing is most likely to occur.
Find healthy fast food
Have to work late tonight and need dinner in a hurry? Not to worry. If you find fast food is your only option, pull up the restaurant's nutrition facts online before you go; you can make an informed decision ahead of time about what to order. "Nearly every quick-service restaurant has a relatively healthful option or two," says Newgent. Salads, chili, or grilled chicken are all good options, she says.
Up your fiber intake
Along with protein and good-for-you fat, fiber is one of those nutrition elements that keeps you full and fueled all day long. And if you're trying to get fit and shed pounds, fiber is your best friend. In fact, in one an American Heart Association study, participants who consuming 30 grams of fiber a day ended up losing weight and improving their heart health. So when it comes to staying healthy and slim, aim for that 30 gram fiber goal!
Work out in the morning
Sure, it can be a pain to drag yourself out of bed for a morning workout. But according to a study from Appalachian State University, opting for a 45-minute a.m. sweat sesh could cause a metabolic spike, helping your body continue to burn an additional 190 calories throughout the day.
Have a hearty breakfast
By now you're probably tired of hearing how breakfast is the most important meal of the day—but this tired piece of advice couldn't be more true! In one study completed at the Imperial College of London, participants who skipped breakfast were more tempted to reach for unhealthy, high-calorie foods later in the day. And in case you need more evidence to eat that a.m. meal, further research found that women had a larger drop in ghrelin (the hunger hormone) when they ate a hearty breakfast versus a small one.