Nutrition and exercise often go hand-in-hand in the success of living a healthy lifestyle.
But only 2.7 percent of the U.S. adult population lead a "healthy lifestyle" filled with a good diet and moderate exercise, according to Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
However, learning how to eat healthy and sustain an active routine can help cultivate a healthy, happier routine for years on end.
Healthy Eating Habits and Exercise: Correlation Between the Two
The relationship between good nutrition and exercise generally equates to a positive correlation – meaning if one increases, the other will follow.
Although correlation does not necessarily equate to causation, improving in one generally causes the other to improve, too.
Standing alone, a diet rich in whole foods is paramount for overall health, though balancing with physical activity also elevates health benefits and helps cultivate an healthy lifestyle.
Benefits of Eating Healthy
The benefits of eating healthy are countless and include, but are not limited to, the following:
• Supports weight loss and maintenance
• Reduces the risk of and assists in the management of chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain forms of cancer
• Promotes bowel health and regularity
• Lowers feelings of depression and anxiety
• Staves from age-related health conditions, including dementia and Alzheimer's disease
• Augments concentration, memory, and overall cognition
• Boosts self-confidence and esteem
• Fuels and enhances exercise performance
• Promotes longevity
Healthy Whole Foods
One of the best ways to know if the body is being fueled with essential nutrients is by incorporating wholesome food sources naturally rich in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals in the diet.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a healthy eating pattern that includes the following whole foods:
• A variety of veggies from all subgroups, including dark green, red and orange, beans and peas
• Fruits, especially whole fruits over juices
• Grains, in which at least half are whole
• Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
• A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats, and poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products
• Oils, particularly those rich in unsaturated fatty acids such as olive and canola oils
While increasing the consumption of whole foods is a natural way to eat healthy, healthy eating tips also include:
• Limiting the intake of processed foods, including those rich in saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.
• Filling at least half the plate with veggies, a quarter with a lean or plant-based protein, and complementing with a whole grain and healthy fat source.
• Practicing meal prep at least once a meal to reduce the chance of running through a drive-thru after a long day at work.
• Allowing indulgences from time-to-time, as feeling deprived yourself of sweets and other treats can ultimately lead to a binge later on.
• Making water the primary source of hydration and aiming for at least 64-ounces daily.
• Consulting with a Registered Dietitian to build a personalized plan suited to nutritional needs, preferences, and goals.
Best Ways to Exercise
While the best ways to exercise varies on individual needs, general recommendations include:
• Participating in at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise weekly, including brisk walking, jogging, biking, swimming, and dancing.
• Incorporating strength training at least two to three times weekly, focusing focus on the major muscle groups such as back, chest, arms, and legs.
• Warming up before and cooling down after any exercise routine.
However, especially if new to exercise, ease into a regimen and gradually work up to the recommendations to reduce the risk of overuse and injury.
To illustrate, if just beginning a cardio regimen, go for a walk, light jog, or swim for about 15 to 20 minutes. Also like aerobic activity, start slow with weights and advance as your body adapts and feels stronger. Advance time and intensity as the body starts to feel more comfortable.
Truly, the most importance is not necessarily on the type of exercise, but that you are. Tips to increase physical activity involve:
• Walking for 15 minutes during lunch breaks
• Taking the steps over the elevator
• Doing a quick at-home workout
• Cutting the grass with a push lawnmower
• Raking the leaves or shoveling the snow
• Parking further away from the entrances
• Taking a bike ride with the family after dinner
Fuel and Recovery with Good Nutrition
Remember, too, healthy eating can fuel and enhance exercise performance and results. Though also dependent on exercise duration and intensity, general recommendations regarding workout nutrition includes the following:
• Fuel workouts with a pre-workout snack at least 30 to 60 minutes before exercising, mostly consisting of easy-to-digest carb and protein. Examples include a banana with smear of peanut butter, oats with berries, whole grain cereal and milk, and half a turkey sandwich on wheat bread.
• Ensure proper workout recovery by eating a balance of protein and carb within an hour or two within exercise, which could include cottage cheese with peaches, grilled chicken with steamed veggies, glass of chocolate milk, Greek yogurt with fruit, or a protein shake.
• Maintain hydration and drink 16 ounces of water leading up to activity, six to 12 ounces immediately prior to exercise, and every 15 to 20 minutes of active training.
Maintain Healthy Habits
While knowing how to eat healthy and exercise appropriately is key, maintaining such healthy habits is vital to reaping the benefits.
Fundamentally, we must learn how to crawl before we can learn how to run. And whereas making and trying to tackle huge goals is admirable, it can be extremely overwhelming and set the stage for failure.
So when embracing a healthy lifestyle, it is important to not start off with a sprint or bite off more than you can chew. Making SMART goals can help form and maintain healthy habits.
Understanding SMART Goals
SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Creating and implementing SMART goals provides a clear target to aim for, along with increasing motivation, compliance, and results.
Below provides 3 examples of general goals modified into SMART goals:
1. General Goal: "I want to run a 5K."
Modified SMART Goal: "I will run at least 20 minutes five times per week to work up to a 5K."
2. General Goal: "I want to eat healthier."
Modified SMART Goal: "I will eat healthier by eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day."
3. General Goal: "I want to lose 20 pounds."
Modified SMART Goal: "I will lose 1 to 2 pounds weekly and achieve a 5 percent weight loss in three months."
Ultimately, healthy eating and exercise habits can be sustained by making baby steps and conscious decisions.
The process can be slow, but try to not get discouraged. Remember to stay adaptive and willing to grow into a healthy lifestyle to lose weight, keep it off, and inherit a bounty of health benefits!