Most people think that it takes months, or even years, to see the benefits of a lifestyle change. Well, nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, many lifestyle changes can yield noticeable, even measurable, health benefits in as little as 30 days. As a cardiologist, I’ve witnessed, first-hand, many patients quickly improve their health with attainable lifestyle adjustments. Small improvements can truly be transformative – so long as they are the right ones.
Here are some quick wins that you can achieve by making some small, strategic lifestyle changes:
Change two food choices
You don’t have to completely overhaul your diet to realize the benefits of eating better. I would never dissuade you from going 100% vegetarian or vegan, but even changing out just two processed unhealthy choices (like chips or cookies) for plant-based whole foods, like fruits and/or vegetables, nuts and/or seeds, each day for a month will yield noticeable changes- like clearer skin and more energy, fewer food cravings and increased mental clarity. Make the change even more strategic, by incorporating items like Step One Foods, that are naturally high in fiber, antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids and plant sterols and realize significant even medication level – cholesterol profile improvements in just 30 days.
Add some movement to your day
Exercising is good for your mind, body and heart. And the best news is that you don’t have to be a marathon runner or triathlete to yield health benefits from moving your body. The people who live in communities where being a centenarian is not unusual don’t go to spin class. They’re active because that’s what their life demands: they’re farmers or fisherman or they live in little villages where you have to walk up and down a couple of hills to see your neighbor. So ANY and all movement is a step in the right direction. When you start exercising, an immediate difference you’ll notice is a difference in cognition. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, making you more aware, awake and alert. Although initially you may feel sore after exercising, by 2 to 4 weeks, you’ll get past all that. In fact, at 30 days, you’ll find that routine daily activities (like climbing steps or getting in and out of a car) have become much easier. You might also notice subtle increases in muscle size and firmness and better mood and better sleep. And if you needed another reason to keep exercising beyond the 30 days, scientist have discovered that working out has also been shown to boost the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, a part of the brain critical for memory and learning (1).
Still your mind
When was the last time you were able to just sit down, in a quiet environment and relax for even a few minutes? Meditation anyone? Meditation, in its simplest form, is the practice of observing your breath. By concentrating on your breath, you can start to gain control over the various thoughts swirling in your brain by not immediately reacting to them. Even within a short period of time, you will become more mindful – better at discerning which thoughts are more important and deserving of your attention. And this skill is not just “in your head”. Studies have shown that after three short weeks, meditation can improve nerve activity in the brain. In addition to this, meditation can ease chronic pain, lower blood pressure, and improve heart rate. Meditation has also been shown to reduce inflammation and even ward off illness and infections after steady practice (2).
OK this one is not a small change especially if you smoke a couple packs a day. But even if you’re just a “social” or occasional smoker, it’s still bad for your overall health. In fact, smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. (3). Everyone knows that putting down those cigarettes can be difficult, but when you do, you can see some major health benefits almost immediately. After 24 hours of not smoking, your risk of heart attack decreases. After 2 days sense of smell and taste improve. And one month after quitting, your overall lung function improves, which means less coughing and shortness of breath. You can also see a noticeable increase in your cardiovascular ability and overall endurance.
We live in a world that caters to instant gratification, so you’re not alone if you want to see immediate results when you make lifestyle changes. The good news is that you can! And, what’s more, even small changes can yield some major health results. The key to enhancing the benefits that you see early on is to stick with your new habits. You will see even greater results after 6 months and even more after a year. But this is not just about feeling better, it’s also about living longer too. For example, a recent study showed that nearly 50% of all deaths due to heart disease, stroke and diabetes can be attributed to diet (not to a lack of medications) but to the wrong foods. Eating right, moving your body, calming your mind and quitting smoking is not just a good idea, it’s critical to healthy longevity.
About Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC:
Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC, is a cardiologist and founder of Preventive Cardiology Consultants in Minneapolis. She is also the founder and chief medical officer of Step One Foods, a company dedicated to helping patients minimize their dependence on medications through strategic dietary changes.