Harvard Health Letter

Improve your health by starting with one simple change

Increase your fruit and vegetable intake by sneaking a few servings into omelets, snacks, and sandwiches. You can also add a side salad at lunch or dinner.

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Resolving to try something for a week, such as walking or eating more vegetables, may soon turn into a lifestyle change you can sustain.

Starting on the path to better health can feel overwhelming. The thought of trying to make a big change in your diet, weight, or exercise may seem drastic or unrealistic—particularly if you try to tackle them all at once. But like any journey, all it takes to get going is just one step. "There is a lot of power in starting slow and small. The little changes add up," says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "For example, if you go for a 10-minute walk, then the 10 minutes becomes easier, and maybe you'll feel good about going for 15 minutes, then 20. You'll enjoy it, and before you know it, without overwhelming yourself, you'll feel better."

That's a concept that won't be as daunting as jumping into several major lifestyle changes simultaneously. But where to begin? Consider the following suggestions. Try one of them for a day or two, then a week. If you like it, keep going. Or try another suggestion on the list until something clicks for you. Just try one simple change, and see how easy it can be to get healthy.

Walk for 10 minutes per day

Walking is one of the easiest and most effective ways to exercise. It can help lower the risk of high blood pressure, heart dis-ease, stroke, and diabetes. It can also strengthen bones and muscles, burn calories, and lift mood. Try walking for 10 minutes per day for one week. Walk slowly for a few minutes to warm up, and then walk briskly for a few minutes to get your heart pumping. Walk slowly again for a cool-down. Avoid uneven ground and cracked or crumbling sidewalks. If you feel comfortable walking, then gradually increase your walking time, a little more each week. Your ultimate goal will be 150 minutes of brisk walking per week.

Improve sleep hygiene

Your sleep environment, and the activities leading up to sleep, may be keeping you from getting a good night's sleep. Fix that by making improvements to your sleep hygiene for a week. Resolve to keep a regular sleep-and-wake schedule, which can improve your circadian rhythms. Keep your room cool at night, and turn the lights down low. An hour and a half before bedtime shut off electronic gadgets such as computers and televisions. Limit alcohol intake after dinner; it can help you fall asleep at first, but then interrupts sleep repeatedly. Avoid eating food, especially spicy food, close to bedtime, as it may cause heartburn. If it's not hard making one of those changes for a week, add in the others gradually.

Increase your fruits and veggies

Eating fruits and vegetables can help lower your risk of heart attack and stroke and may even play a role in preventing common causes of vision problems. The benefit comes from the many vitamins, minerals, and other naturally occurring compounds in plants. The World Health Organization recommends we eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. An easy way to work toward that is to double the amount of either fruit or vegetables for the day. Snack on fruit. Add vegetables and legumes to omelets, sandwiches, or wild rice. Try it for a week. If the menu feels sustainable, add another fruit or veggie the following week, until you get to five or more servings per day.

Boost your fluids

Healthy older adults should be consuming 30 to 50 ounces of fluids per day (about 3 to 6 cups) to stay hydrated, and to keep every system in the body functioning properly. Water-rich foods such as soups, fruits, and vegetables count. Unfortunately, older adults often fall short of the daily requirements. That may keep the body from getting nutrients to the cells, flushing bacteria from the bladder, and making the bowels move normally. Increase your fluids by using a bigger glass and filling it up each time you have a drink; using a straw, if that will encourage more drinking; having a glass of water at snack times and at every meal; eating more water-rich foods; or using a pitcher or water bottle with ounce markings, filling it to the desired amount for the day, then resolving to drink the contents gradually, throughout the day