Have you ever found yourself sitting in a drive-thru at your usual fast food joint…like your car drove there on autopilot? You’re confused because you’d told yourself today was the day you’d go to the salad place for lunch. How did this happen? You’ve just experienced the tremendous power habits can have over your life.

You have good intentions. You know all the rules for living a healthy lifestyle. Eat a balanced diet with lots of fruits and veggies, manage your weight, get enough sleep, take your vitamins, exercise at least 150 minutes a week, etc.

Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

Yes, change can be hard. And, if putting your knowledge about living a healthy lifestyle into action sometimes feels impossible, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there’s hope. People successfully create big transformations by making small changes every day. And you can, too.

The answer may lie in the science of healthy habits. And you don’t have to start from scratch. You can use the habits you already have. Maybe even the one that drove you to that drive thru.

This is Your Brain on Habits

Your brain is lazy. Well, to put it more accurately, it has better things to do than to stay focused on all of the mundane activities you do every day. So, along come habits.

These automatic behaviors drive nearly half of your daily life. Just consider: did your routine this morning vary much from yesterday? Last week? Last year? We’re creatures of habit because it’s the most efficient way to get through the day.

Scientists don’t always agree on the exact definition of what a habit is. But broadly, a habit is any action, or sequence of actions, initiated by a cue. It can be a time of day, an event, another person, an emotional state, or a location. The cue causes a behavioral response. And if the behavior results in some kind of reward, your brain learns that the behavior is desirable.

For example:

  • Cue: stumble downstairs to the kitchen after waking up
  • Behavior: make and drink coffee
  • Reward: feeling awake and more energized

If you continue to repeat these actions, eventually you perform them without even thinking about it. A habit loop is born. And afterward, even the perception of the cue will usually trigger the habit.

Sometimes the rewards in this habit loop can be as mundane as achieving a small goal—like getting to work by driving the same route every day. This leads to goals that are easy to repeat and likely wouldn’t be hard to break.

However, if the reward is really powerful, it can lead to a habit loop that’s harder to change. When you eat things like chocolate or cheese, or show the brain new posts on social media, your brain is rewarded with things it likes. Neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) like dopamine are released in the brain, resulting in pleasurable sensations.

Dopamine is considered a key player in helping your brain establish automatic behaviors. Because your brain likes to feel good.

If your brain doesn’t feel so great, like when you’re stressed or sad, it can drive you to perform the habit. Even if, consciously, you know it’s not good for you. Your brain knows the behavior will relieve the bad feelings—even if it’s only temporary—driving you to do the activity again and again.

The brain sends feel-good messages along pathways. And as habitual actions are repeated, those pathways are strengthened. It works like a forest trail that becomes worn more deeply into the earth as people tread the same path. Once a neural pathway for a habit is established, it becomes the default path to follow. And the pathway becomes even more fixed as the habit is repeated.

Eventually, your habits become as automatic as walking or scratching your nose. This is reflected in your biology. When habits are being created, there is activity in the decision-making areas of your brain—the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. Over time, as the behavior is repeated, the activation in the brain shifts to the same part of the brain responsible for moving your limbs. You’re no longer thinking actively. Instead, you’re responding with as much thought as it takes to move your arms or legs.

This is why changing habits can be challenging. You have to pick a new path to reach your desired destination.

A 3-Step Process for Changing Your Habits

You probably already have a health goal you want to achieve. Some of the most common goals are losing weight, exercising more, and eating healthier. All of those are lofty goals that may seem overwhelming. Aim for small changes that are manageable. Keep it simple by only focusing on one thing at a time. Each small success will add up to greater confidence in your ability to adopt other healthy habits. And over time, all those small changes could add up to a big transformation.

Get started by narrowing down your options to only one action that will help you successfully accomplish your goal. Then follow three key steps, recommended by Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, to create a new habit loop.

Step 1: Identify your cue

You probably already have a lot of set habits. So, one of your existing habit loops may be a good place to start incorporating the new activity on which you want to focus. If you’re working to establish a fairly simple new habit, this probably won’t require too much effort.

Perhaps you want to drink more water. Take a look at your habitual routines and identify somewhere you could add this behavior. If you drink coffee first thing every morning, that might be a logical and easy place to add a little hydration. Try placing a glass in front of the coffee maker. This will prompt you to fill it up with water as you prepare your java. Then drink it while the coffee is brewing. Keep it up for several days and voila!—new habit.

However, if you’re trying to replace a strongly embedded routine with a healthier alternative, you may need to take some time to redesign your habit.

Start with the cue.

Let’s say you need to break your Monday–Friday habit of buying and eating potato chips at your workplace cafeteria. It’s not doing your waistline any favors, and you want to replace this habit with something healthier. Potato chips reward your brain, so you probably enjoy this behavior. This could make it a tougher habit to change, and will require a slightly scientific approach.

First, take a few days to identify your cue. Because most cues are a time of day, an event, another person, an emotional state, or a location—these are the places to look. Every time the craving to treat yourself to potato chips hits, write down the following:

  • Where are you?
  • What time is it?
  • What’s your emotional state?
  • Who else is around?
  • What action preceded the urge?

Do this for a few days until you see a pattern emerge. You will have uncovered what your cue is.

Step 2: Recognize the reward

Once you’ve revealed your cue, you need to figure out what’s driving the behavior. It’s time to test some rewards. Put your scientist cap back on and test theories until you determine the cause of your cravings. Take a few more days to experiment with different rewards each time your craving hits.

  • Theory: I just want a break from work.
    Test: Instead of going to the cafeteria, I’ll head outside for a walk.
  • Theory: I’m hungry or need energy.
    Test: I’ll still go to the cafeteria and buy something else. (Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make a healthier choice yet—just buy something else.)
  • Theory: I enjoy socializing while eating my chips in the cafeteria.
    Test: I’ll go chat with friends somewhere else.

To conclude your test, immediately reflect on the experience of resisting your usual craving and substituting something else. Write down a few thoughts about your test behavior. How do you feel? What did you enjoy? What did you dislike?

About 15 minutes after writing about your experience, also note if you’re still experiencing the craving. And if so, how strong the craving is.

Test as many theories as possible. After you’re done with all of your experiments, review your notes and interpret your results to identify the real reward of your habit.

Step 3: Replace the behavior

You know the reward you’re seeking. And what’s triggering the behavior. So, how do you break the loop?

The reward and cue might be tough to change. If your cue is a time of day, you can’t exactly skip 3 p.m. in the afternoon! So, if you can’t remove or replace the cue, changing your habitual response is the place to focus your efforts. You’ll need to replace the old behavior with a new one.

You need a plan. A very specific plan. And maybe a touch of willpower.

Determine some options you could do to get the same or very similar rewards using different behaviors that better align with your goals.

In the potato-chip munching example, let’s say your long-term goal is to improve your eating. Your action of focus may be adding one serving of fruit or vegetables every day. So, you’ll need to look for healthier options that you’ll enjoy (almost) as much the potato chips. How about edamame with salt? Or an apple? Some carrots and hummus?

Choose your substitute. Write down your plan. Be as specific as possible. Include the cue and, if applicable, when and where you will do your chosen action.

Example: At 3 p.m., every day, I will go to the cafeteria and eat a snack of edamame with salt.

Every time you encounter the cue, do the action. Your routine may not be perfect. But it’s progress.

Simple Actions to Get Started Toward Healthy Habits

There are many small changes you can adopt to improve your health habits. Below are several examples to help inspire ideas.

Eating a healthier diet.

Improving how you eat is often a matter of preparation. So, one of the first habits to establish is making meal planning, grocery shopping, and meal prep an automatic part of your week. If planning a whole week’s worth of meals is too much, start by planning one meal and work your way up.

Also, as you go through your days, it’s important to try and only eat when you’re actually hungry…but not too hungry. Getting in touch with your true hunger signals is a key component of healthier eating patterns. Whereas starving yourself will often lead to bingeing. As long as your hunger is under control, it’s easier to make smarter food choices. Here are a few suggestions for simple actions that could help you start improving your daily nutrition:

  • Every morning when I drink my tea, I will eat a banana.
  • Every day at lunch, I will eat one serving of vegetables.
  • Every evening after dinner, I will take my vitamins with a full glass of water.
  • Every night before I brush my teeth, I will prepare my lunch for the next day.

Exercising at least 30 minutes, most days of the week.

Exercise is key to a long, healthy life. The secret to sustained fitness is finding an activity you enjoy. If you hate running but love a Zumba class, don’t force yourself to run every day. Instead, dance to your heart’s delight. If you’re just starting, here are a few suggestions for simple actions you can take to help establish fit habits:

  • Every morning after I wake up, I will put workout clothes on and go for a 10-minute walk/do a seven-minute workout (science backs up that this works!).
  • Every day after lunch I will walk around the park.
  • Every Wednesday I will leave work and go straight to a yoga class at the gym.

Managing your weight.

Some research has shown that combining habit-changes with traditional weight-loss approaches can make it easier to maintain your lower weight. Addressing relationships with food and attitudes about weight and body image were also important.

When it comes to weight management, diet and exercise go hand-in-hand for best results. But you can also try some easier shifts. Research suggests that simply paying attention to what you eat or to your daily weight can help you start shifting your lifestyle habits. Or, try making a habit of replacing meals or calorie-rich beverages with better options.

  • Every time I eat something, I will track it.
  • Every morning after using the bathroom, I will weigh myself.
  • Every day after my 30-minute lunchtime workout, I will drink a meal-replacement shake.
  • Every afternoon at work, I will replace my usual soda with a flavored sparkling water.

Other areas to consider making healthy habits, if they apply to you, could be around social media usage, responsible alcohol consumption, getting more sleep, or quitting smoking. Just remember to be as specific as possible about what your cues are and how you respond to them.

Struggling to Change? The Science of Healthy Habits Says Add Emotion to Increase Motivation

What if you’re struggling against changing your habits? You understand rationally why you need to ban your old behaviors. But if your intelligent reasons to change are uninspiring, they’ll be less than motivating. Successful change requires enough desire to see it through to the end.

You can add motivation to your habit-change efforts by purposefully amping up the emotion. Emotional responses help drive learning, including learned responses like habits. So, you can harness this power by using your emotions to your benefit.

If you’re trying to break a habit, negative emotions could be your friend. Researchers found that habitual smokers who became more mindful of their experience realized the sensations weren’t very pleasurable. The taste was full of chemicals. Their breath, clothes, and surroundings stunk like cigarettes. This prompted disgust—an emotional reaction to smoking that spurred stronger motivation to change. Staying in touch with this feeling, along with practicing other mindfulness techniques like meditation, made it easier for participants to stick with their efforts at quitting.

On the flip side, positive emotions have a place in changing your habits, too. Every time you complete the goal action you’d like to make a habit, take a moment to check in with yourself. Feel how happy doing this activity makes you. Consciously decide to enjoy the action. Tap into your sense of hope for the future. These positive emotions can start to wear those habit trails more deeply into the terrain of your brain.

Try using both types of emotion while forming new healthy habits. Link your deep frustration with the aches and pains limiting your potential with unhealthy eating habits or a lack of exercise. Use that frustration to fuel your fire to change. Then, after you eat that healthy meal or complete a workout, take a moment to appreciate how good your body feels. And re-engage that feeling of deep desire to change to help refuel your motivational gas tank.

Other Science-Based Tips for Successfully Changing Habits

It’s true. In order to successfully change a habit, you may have to work at it for a while. There is a common misperception that changing habits only takes 21 days. Sure, some simple habits may change that quickly. But others can take as long as six months or more, depending on how deeply ingrained they are.

One thing is sure: the more you repeat any activity, the more permanent it will become. But researchers at University College London have found that 66 days is the average time it takes for effortful actions—like starting a regular exercise routine—to become more automatic.

How can you stay focused and inspired to change during those two months? Well, everyone is different and every habit might need a different approach. Give yourself a reality check about what motivates you. Then choose strategies that will work best for your personality.

Try some of these ideas to help you stay on track as you work to establish new healthy habits:

  • Stay connected to your goals. Short-circuit your old, bad habits with a goal you’re passionate about. Focus on your goals daily. Write about them in a journal. Talk about your goals with others. Visualize the successful change of your behaviors leading to achieving your goals.
  • Anticipate stress. Challenges in life are one of the biggest triggers for regressing to old, comfortable habits. Some life events—like moving to a new home—provide an opportunity to change your environmental cues and establish new routines. But you might not want to try and break those really tough habits in the middle of a stressful time. When you’re ready and able to tackle those tough habits, actively work to manage everyday stresses, so they don’t get out of hand and derail your efforts. Try daily deep breathing or yoga exercises. Get out into nature. Listen to soothing music. Create intentional moments of self-care at home.
  • Track your progress and reward yourself for success. Many people find it helpful to keep a record of their progress. Try one of the habit-change tracking apps available for your smartphone. Use a spreadsheet. Or a good old notebook will do. Keep notes about how the behavior felt, so you can see it getting easier. Select a treat you can give yourself that won’t blow your goals, but will keep you motivated. And give yourself the treat for successfully completing the target behavior. Weight-management research has shown better outcomes when subjects monitor and reward themselves for successful habit changes, rather than for achieving a number on a scale.
  • Get a buddy or join a group. There is strength in numbers. Not only can others help keep you accountable, they can provide support during the tough times. A report on tobacco cessation programs in Argentina found participation in group sessions had significantly greater success in quitting than toughing it out alone. You may also want to make some new friends. Surrounding yourself with people who behave how you would like to behave can help you be more successful.
  • Remove the temptation. Don’t keep the cookies in the house. Ask your friend to go for a walk instead of going out for happy hour (then counting on willpower to keep you from overindulging). Find a new way to drive to work that doesn’t go by the siren-song of Starbucks. Put your smartphone in a drawer when you get home. There’s truth to the saying “out of sight, out of mind.”

Every time you have to use effort to control your behavior, it depletes your mental strength. So, make life easier. Help maintain your motivation by removing the cue that causes your compulsion wherever possible. And look for ways to increase your positive cues, like placing a bowl of fruit on the table or a bottle of water (reusable, of course) on your desk.

  • Get help. If you’re using your old habit behavior as a substitute for other needs, you may need additional support. Ask yourself what you get out of your “bad” behavior. And really, truly answer. If you’re overeating because you’re constantly stressed or depressed, simply deciding on a new habit may not be enough. You might need to talk to a therapist or health-care provider for additional strategies to help address your deeper needs while you work to improve your health habits.

Finally, remember, you’re only human. It can be tough to make changes. Forgive yourself if you slip up occasionally. It’s the long-term that’s important. If you fall back into old habits once or twice, be kind to yourself. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that you can’t do it. Recognize that the action happened, consider why it happened, and think about how you might respond differently next time. Then remind yourself that you’re awesome, and move on. Over time, you will get it!

There’s no better time to start than now. Put the science of healthy habits to work for you. Find a small habit to focus on and get going. Before you know it, you’ll develop the skills you need to improve your healthy habits in any area of your life. And you will be empowered to live the life that you truly want.

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Ever wonder why some animals are nocturnal? Or why you or a friend has to get at least nine hours of sleep every night? Or why a family member can function perfectly well with just five hours?

The answers lie in your physiology.

Did you know your body has its own internal Rolex? OK, not exactly. But your body does keep time. It’s called your internal biological clock—or scientifically speaking, your circadian rhythms.

A well-running clock is essential for your health. So much so, that the scientists who discovered how circadian rhythms work were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2017.

Learn how your biological clock affects all aspects of your health. That includes proper sleep, mental health, eating habits, healthy aging, the pesky effects of jet lag, and overall wellbeing.

The Discovery of Circadian Rhythms

It seems natural that daily routines would revolve around the 24-hour daily period of the sun. But, to be a true circadian rhythm, the cycles must persist regardless of external conditions. That means if you remove all external stimuli (like the sun or your alarm clock) your physiology still centers around a 24-hour cycle. In fact, studies conducted in complete darkness prompted the discovery of these rhythms.

Researchers in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century discovered that these natural cycles occur independent of sunlight. They found plants kept in total darkness still have movements that occur in roughly 24-hour patterns. Also, humans and other animals kept in total darkness, retain cyclical sleep and other biological patterns.

As research in this area continued to progress, the word circadian was first used in 1959 and officially adopted 1977. “Circadian” is of Latin origin meaning around (circa) the day (diem). Circadian rhythms are defined as any one of your physiological processes that occur in cycles of about 24 hours.

Research continues today, usually on those who have irregular sleep-wake patterns. This includes people who get tired at irregular time periods, or who have trouble sleeping. It extends to those who have to fight their natural 24-hour clock. Individuals like shift workers and frequent flyers.

Circadian Rhythms Can Shift With Changing Stimuli

Much of your physiology cycles between on and (mostly) off, in that 24-hour period you just read about. But 24 hours isn’t the hard and fast rule. The length varies between individuals, but devoid of external stimuli, these cycles range from 24 to 25 hours.

Without sunlight or other cues, your physiology will drift about one hour per day. Jet lag is one of the best examples of this phenomenon. If you’ve ever traveled you’ve experienced this. It takes about one day to get back in sync for every time zone you cross.

There are lots of outside influences that can impact your circadian rhythms. The major regulator is the normal day/night cycle of the sun. But it can be almost any kind of light, natural or artificial. Also the lack of light can help reset your clock.

A number of other influences can also help sync or disrupt your natural daily rhythms. Things like sleep time, wake time, eating, exercising, aging and travel all affect your biological clock.

Circadian Rhythms Are Also Responsible for Your Annual Cycles

Have you ever wondered what drives bears to gain weight in preparation for hibernation? Or, on a more personal level, why you may gain a little weight leading up to colder seasons? Circadian rhythms are not limited to only daily routines. They also play a role seasonal patterns, like eating.

Other seasonal rhythms you may experience, are changes in mood and behavior. You may find yourself feeling generally more tired during cold, dark, and wet weather. And some people experience happier moods during warm and sunny seasons. Animal behaviors, like migration, hibernation, and reproduction, are also examples of seasonal circadian rhythms.

Your Health Depends on Your Circadian Rhythms

Many studies have shown that disrupting daily rhythms have negative health consequences. Staying in a consistent daily routine—centered around constant sleep, wake, and meal times—has positive influences.

Guarding your natural circadian rhythms is important for overall health and well-being. Circadian rhythms influence sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, digestion, maintaining normal blood pressure, hunger, and body temperature—to name a few.

Disruptions in circadian rhythms (those caused by shift work, extensive travel, some forms of blindness, and various disease states) have been linked to negative health outcomes. That includes sleep disorders, obesity, mental health issues, and other chronic conditions.

But your lifestyle can help keep your rhythms steady. There are lots of factors that go into a healthy lifestyle. Maintaining a consistent daily routine that focuses on healthy habits can help stabilize rhythms and help you achieve optimal health.

Healthy Circadian Rhythms are Essential for a Good Night’s Sleep

Let’s focus on probably the most important thing circadian rhythms control—sleep.

The benefits of a regular sleep cycle are physical and mental. Sufficient, regular sleep promotes improved concentration and coordination. Physically, your body performs much of its regular repair and maintenance during sleep. Insufficient sleep can result in an increased risk of weight gain, compromised immune function, and more adverse health outcomes.

Since your body has a running biological clock, it controls, at a basic level, when you decide to sleep and stay awake. The rhythms help you fall asleep at the same time each day, and to stay asleep. They also help wake you up in the morning and flip the switch on the energy that powers your daily tasks.

During the day, your body suppresses the production of melatonin—what is often referred to as your sleep hormone. In the evening, when light stops hitting your eyes, you start producing melatonin. This hormone reduces alertness, makes you feel drowsy, and helps you fall asleep. Circadian rhythms further help you stay asleep by altering digestion to reduce bathroom breaks throughout the night. They also slow your metabolism by decreasing your body temperature.

That’s why most sleep experts agree you should sleep in a cool, dark room.

But what about naps? How do they fit into circadian rhythms? While not promoted by melatonin, an afternoon nap can still fit into your circadian rhythms. Like sleep during the night, it can reinvigorate you with energy and increased concentration. Stick to shorter power-naps (less than 30 minutes). Longer naps can disrupt your normal sleep cycle.

Naps might not impact your circadian rhythms. But some aspects of modern culture and lifestyle have you fighting against your internal clock. Airplanes allow you to cross the globe and multiple time zones very rapidly. This can leave you out of sync with your natural cycle. This is commonly called jet lag. You’ll read about more common disruptors below.

4 Common Causes of Circadian Rhythm Disruption

1. Drugs and Alcohol Can Disrupt Your Biological Clock

Drugs, both legal and illegal, have a strong impact on the central nervous system. While this can affect all types of circadian rhythms, sleep is one that is most apparent. For example, caffeine is a stimulant that can disrupt and push back your normal sleep cycle. Alcohol can do the opposite. It promotes drowsiness. But, at the same time, it can prevent you from entering a deep and restful sleep.

Drug abuse is especially harmful to circadian rhythms. Even a single case of abuse disrupts sleep cycles in a way that can lead to further abuse and addiction. Drug abuse can also cause long-term disruptions to circadian rhythms that last after you break the addiction.

These disruptions can be caused by all types of drugs, including prescriptions. You should not stop taking your prescription medication, but you should work with your doctor and pharmacist. They will help you determine medication timing and other lifestyle changes to keep you in rhythm and at your healthiest.

2. Artificial Lighting Negatively Affects Your Daily Rhythms

Your eyes might not mind the difference between natural and artificial light. But your circadian rhythms do differentiate between types of light. Depending on the timing and color, artificial light can increase or decrease your natural, daily rhythm.

Shorter wavelength lights, like blue and ultraviolet, are especially harmful to your biological cycle. These wavelengths inhibit the production of melatonin. Remember, melatonin is your sleep-promotion hormone. Lights in your home, on your television, phone, or computer monitor all can negatively impact your melatonin production.

As you get ready for sleep each night, consider turning off your digital screens. Another option, many phones and computers now include a “Night” setting that makes the screen much warmer colored and reduces its blue-light output.

3. Working Nights is Bad for Circadian Rhythms (and Health)

doctor feel tired sleeping on desk of clinic. beautiful mixed race asian chinese woman model. medical and health concept

Unfortunately, this is one disruption that you might not have as much control over as you would like.

Working night shifts disrupts your circadian rhythms in a number of ways. You have to work when you should be asleep, sleep when your body wants to be awake, and you’re surrounded by either artificial light or sunlight 24 hours a day.

There are a few things that you can do to create a healthy routine around your nighttime work:

  • Stick to a schedule. Wake up and go to sleep at the same time each day.
  • Create a dark sleep environment. Use blinds, blackout curtains, or get creative to block out the sunlight from coming in your windows. Put a towel under the bottom edge of your door. Do whatever it takes to make it feel like night.
  • Consider a melatonin supplement. For shift work, supplementing melatonin can help support your body’s natural circadian rhythms.*

4. Fight to Stay on Local Time to Combat the Effects of Jet Lag

If you have ever flown across several time zones, you know the feeling of jet lag. It can leave you tired when you want have energy, or stuck awake all night long. Airline pilots, flight crews, and frequent fliers are all too familiar with these feelings. With extreme cases leading to constant tiredness that never actual leads to a good night of sleep.

One of the best ways to fight jet lag is to stick with the local schedule. You might have just gotten off a 10-hour flight ready for sleep, but locally it’s only noon. Do your best to stay awake. Feel free to take this first day easy, but don’t go to sleep until it’s actually night.

Alternately, due to the time zone changes, you might arrive feeling rested. But the locals are heading to bed. This is most likely to happen if you’re travelling east a few time zones. In this case, consider waking up early the day of your flight and avoid sleeping on the plane. This will help shift your waking hours closer to your destination.

In either of the cases above, a melatonin supplement about one hour before you plan to sleep can help shift your circadian rhythms towards the local time zone.* This will help you feel energized and ready for whatever your location has in store.

Stay in Rhythm

As you can see, your circadian rhythms are super important. But they are so overlooked when it comes to achieving optimal health. You’ve seen how they can impact your life, and how your life can impact your circadian rhythms. Do what you can to protect your natural cycles to help keep you as healthy as possible.

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Walmsley L, Hanna L, Mouland J, Martial F, West A, Smedley AR, Bechtold DA, Webb AR, Lucas RJ, Brown TM (April 2015). “Colour as a signal for entraining the mammalian circadian clock”. PLoS Biology. 13 (4): e1002127.

https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/pages/Factsheet_CircadianRhythms.aspx

Czeisler CA, Duffy JF, Shanahan TL, et al. Stability, precision, and near-24-hour period of the human circadian pacemaker. Science. 1999;284(5423):2177-81.

 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

A vacation can clear your mind and take the weight of life off your shoulders. But that exotic location, and the journey to get there, could be hard on one part of the body—your gut.

Don’t let that ruin your get-away. There are three steps to ensure your vacation is a happy time for your guts, too.

Step 1: Learn the reasons why travel can impact your gut health will help you plan appropriately.

Step 2: Follow some simple tips to take with you on your next trip.

Step 3: Just like you’d do with your car before a road trip, check out your gut health before you go. Luckily, there’s a simple quiz below to help you out.

Why Travel Can Create Chaos for Your Gut Health

It’s great that the trillions of microbes in your microbiome fly free. But your guts could still pay a price.

Why does this happen? That’s because anytime you travel, you’re accompanied by the frequently fussy passengers in your intestines. And those annoying traveling companions are the reason your gut health can take a hit while you’re on vacation.

This happens because your outside environment plays a role in determining your interior one. What you eat, what you’re exposed to, and the water you drink all impact your microbiome. Feeding your gut bacteria food they aren’t used to can cause chaos—and gastric discomfort. You can also be exposed to foreign bacteria your body doesn’t quite know how to deal with.

Your microbiome is also impacted by jet leg. They have their own rhythm. When these patterns get upset, so do your guts. Your gut microbes could also shape your appetite while you travel. That’s because research has already shown links between the microbiome and systems regulating your hunger levels. This includes hormones and other mechanisms of the brain-gut axis. So, if you get extra hungry on the plane, you might be able to blame your microbiome.

There are other reasons you might experience gut-health issues while you travel—altitude, chaotic schedules, stress, and less-than-ideal dietary habits. But much of it revolves around the contentment of your microbial travel buddies. Keep them happy during your vacation.

Plane taking off through thick clouds.

A Few Quick Gut-Health Tips for Smooth Travel

Being mindful of your microbiome is one of the most important things you can do for your gut health—on vacation or at home. Here are five other simple practices that can help when you travel:

  1. Hydration helps maintain your gut health. And it’s also important to keeping yourself healthy when you’re on-the-go.
  2. Probiotics can support the overall health of your guts by helping to maintain a balance of good bacteria.
  3. If traveling has your guts on lockdown, movement might help get your bowels moving, too.
  4. Plan properly for any situation you might encounter. That means proper vaccinations, bringing the right medicines, and making sure you have healthy foods on hand.
  5. Don’t leave your healthy diet at home. Eating plenty of fiber from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables could help keep your gut bacteria happy—which is key to your happiness, too.

Gut Check! Take the Quiz

Your gut is at the core of your good health. Before you take off on your trip, answer these seven questions to check the state of your digestive health. You can click the plus sign below each question for more information.

  1. How often do you consume high-fiber foods? (fruits, vegetables, beans, oats, nuts, seeds, whole grains)

(3) Frequently

(2) Occasionally

(1) Rarely

Find Out About Fiber

Increasing your intake of fiber may not only be good for a flatter tummy. It also can be good inside your belly, too.

Your gut health reflects the quality of your diet. The microflora in your gut will be dominated by different types of bacteria if you eat a diet high in animal fat, versus if you eat a plant-centric, carbohydrate-rich diet. And your diet is the first place to start if you’d like to improve the health of your digestive system. Transitioning to a healthier low-fat, high-fiber diet can start to make notable changes to the environment of your gut in only 24 hours.

A lack of fiber in the diet may lead to progressive declines in some important bacteria and microorganisms in your digestive tract. Whereas, a high-fiber diet (up to 37 grams per day) is thought to feed good bacteria in your gut. Prebiotic foods help the natural bacteria colonies you already have in your gut flourish. Great prebiotic foods to add to your diet: bananas, berries, legumes, onions, garlic, artichokes, leeks, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

 

  1. How often do you consume probiotic-containing yogurts/drinks or fermented foods/drinks? (Kefir, kimchee, kombucha, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, and more.)

(3) Frequently

(2) Occasionally

(1) Rarely

More on the Power of Probiotics

Boosting the beneficial microflora in your gut with probiotics or fermented foods, is a great start in caring for your digestive health. Make sure you look for food and beverages labeled with “live and active cultures.” Remember, heating or other processing can kill the live microorganisms in foods.

 

  1. Were you breastfed as an infant?

(1) Yes

(0) No

(0) Don’t Know

More on the Making of a Microbiome

The method of delivery and the first three years of life are the most important for establishing a healthy diversity of microflora in the gut. Exposure to a wide range of bacteria is key during this time. One important way that parts of the microbiome are transferred is via the mother’s breast milk. Exposure to other family members, pets, a diverse diet, and time in nature are also crucial.

 

  1. How often do you feel a lot of normal, everyday stress?

(1) Frequently

(2) Occasionally

(3) Rarely

Expand on the Impact of Stress

Psychological stress has been associated with weakened gut function when cortisol (a stress hormone) levels also increase. Your gut might be paying the price for normal, everyday stress.

 

  1. How often do you experience bloating after a meal, gas, or constipation?

(1) Frequently

(2) Occasionally

(3) Rarely

See What Might be to Blame for Your Belly Blues

Occasional bloating or gas is normal, but can be uncomfortable. Gas is caused by bacteria in the digestive tract. And how much gas you have can be influenced by swallowed air, what you eat, and the health of your digestive tract. As gas builds up, the abdomen may expand, especially right after eating. This can also be painful … and not just because your clothes start fitting tighter!

You can help beat the belly bloat by avoiding gum chewing, slowing down when you eat, and not drinking out of a straw. Support the normal digestion of high-fiber foods with probiotics and digestive enzymes if certain foods tend to cause gas or bloating. Or, as is the case with lactose intolerance, you may need to identify the culprit and cut it out of your diet.

Occasional constipation is also common and normal. An imbalance of bacteria in your digestive tract is one of the reasons this can happen. It also means your food might not be passing through your system effectively. Maintaining the right balance of microbes will help support the proper function of your digestive tract. Staying hydrated, eating a diet rich in fiber, and getting enough exercise is also important.

(Note: Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have with your digestive system if you answered “frequently” to this question.)

 

  1. How often do you travel?

(1) Frequently

(2) Occasionally

(3) Rarely

Know More Before You Go

Acute stress during travel can give you an upset tummy. Plus, going to novel environments, particularly overseas destinations, and being exposed to new people increases the risk of exposure to different microbes. Your gut may not know how to respond to the new microbes. Disruptions in your sleep schedule could also alter your intestinal flora.

For more information about travel and gut health, see the rest of the story above.

 

  1. How much cardiovascular exercise do you get per week?

(1) 0-60 minutes

(2) 61-90 minutes

(3) 91-120 minutes

(4) 121-150 minutes

(5) More than 150 minutes

Exercise Your Brain with More Facts

Chalk up another benefit for exercise. It’s also good for your gut. As your cardiorespiratory fitness improves, you gut microbial diversity also increases.

 

Add Up Your Answers to Get Your Gut Check Score

Once you’ve totaled the numbers by your responses, see what your gut check score is telling you.

 

21–17

Your Gut Feelings: In Great Shape

Your gut is in great shape! Stay focused on eating a high-fiber diet and foods without antibiotics or other chemicals. And keep your stress in check. If you don’t already, try adding a probiotic supplement to get the most out of your healthy diet. Also, if you plan on traveling soon, a probiotic might help reduce the likelihood of mild and common travelers’ stomach upset.

 

16–11

Your Gut Feelings: Good to Go

You’re taking steps to keep your gut healthy. Way to go! Keep up the good work and take a look at any other improvements you could make:

  • Aim for 150+ minutes of exercise per week.
  • Try adding some fermented foods or more fiber-rich foods to keep feeding your good bacteria.
  • Give a boost to your belly with a probiotic supplement to help maintain overall digestive health.

 

10 or Below

Your Gut Feelings: Room for Improvement

Your gut may be a little out of balance, so take action today to get your digestive system on the right track. The three most powerful steps that you can take now are:

  • Add more high-fiber foods to your diet.
  • Keep a food journal to identify any food sensitivities. Then reduce or remove those foods from your diet.
  • Try adding a probiotic supplement and/or digestive enzymes to your daily routine to help support digestive health.
Friends Happiness Enjoying Dinning Eating Concept. Food Buffet. Catering Dining. Eating Party. Sharing Concept. close-up

Friends Happiness Enjoying Dinning Eating Concept. Food Buffet. Catering Dining. Eating Party. Sharing Concept. close-up

The hustle and bustle of travel keeps you active and always moving. But whether for work or pleasure, long trips and quick jaunts aren’t always kind to your diet. Packing takes priority over meal prep. Whole foods are overlooked for their simpler, convenient, sugar-filled counterparts. These realities make travel nutrition tough.

But traveling doesn’t need to trip up your healthy eating. There are quick and easy ways to eat healthy while you travel. At the airport, on the road, or in a new restaurant, you can save your diet from sabotage by making smart eating choices.

Scenario 1: Air Travel

Jet plane in flight. Panoramic composition.

Business trips and exotic vacations often require travel by air. But the airport is not the best place to secure a healthy meal.

The stress of checking bags and waiting in line keeps you from focusing on what’s best for your body. Pretty soon, you’re starving. And your only options are to eat in the airport or on the plane. There are healthy choices for quick meals and snacks. You just need to know where to find them.

Plan Ahead: If you’ll be flying during meal time, don’t miss the opportunity to eat. Travel is tiring. Keeping a regular eating schedule sustains energy and prevents you from overeating once you arrive at your destination. Bring snacks with you in your carry-on luggage. Pack food that travels well. Dried fruit, nuts, granola, and low-glycemic protein bars take up little space and will stay fresh on the plane.

At the Airport or On the Plane: Flying can be stressful. So, don’t fill up on foods that will make you feel heavy, bloated, and sick. Airport dining and in-flight meals often feature food high in sugar, salt, and artificial preservatives. These ingredients may be tasty, but they fail to provide you the lasting satisfaction that follows a healthy meal.

Try to find an airport restaurant with a sit-down environment. Choose a balanced meal from the menu and eat it slowly. Listen to your body’s hunger cues and don’t overeat. A stomach full of good, wholesome food will provide you will steady energy throughout your flight. A stomach stuffed with unhealthy foods won’t do you any favors in the air.

If you want to eat on the plane, become familiar with the in-flight menu. Choose a meal that provides fruits or vegetables, protein, and whole grain. Making well-balanced choices in transit can help keep unnecessary snacking under control.

When choosing between complimentary in-flight snacks, look for a nutritious option. Ask a crew member if fresh fruit is available. Dry roasted peanuts provide more sustainable energy than crackers or cookies. And drink wisely, too. Water helps keep you hydrated, while too much caffeinated soda might send you running to the bathroom. (Caffeine is a mild diuretic—and if you consume too much, it could increase urine output.) Should you order an alcoholic beverage, limit yourself to one drink to avoid excess calorie consumption.

Scenario 2: Road Trip

Driving is a slower way to travel than flying. With most of the day spent in the car, you can easily lose track of time and what you’ve been eating. So, if you plan on snacking, fill up on whole foods with nutritional value— berries, bananas, and pistachios are a great place to start.

Plan Ahead: Long car rides are peppered with pit stops. But your choices for food aren’t limited to cheeseburgers and French fries. Bringing along a picnic lunch helps you take control of your travel nutrition to help you eat healthy while you travel.

Pack snacks and meals that are easy for your body to digest. This will help you feel satisfied without the bloating and bellyache caused by fast food. Baby carrots, apples, grapes, cheese, and turkey sandwiches are examples of healthy snacks to bring on the road. Full of fiber, complex carbohydrates, and protein, they provide a sustained source of energy and will keep your blood sugar from crashing later in the day. Making a meal ahead of time will help you avoid the temptation to stop for something greasy.

Picnic lunches don’t need to be eaten in the car, either. Find a rest stop or park along your route. Getting out of the car to eat and stretch your legs will break up long periods of driving with some fresh air and exercise. Walking after eating helps your body process your meal. So, stop and enjoy some time outside to ward off boredom and help digestion.

At a Gas Station or Fast Food Restaurant: Stopping at a gas station to fill your car’s tank and use the restroom doesn’t need to end with soda and candy. There are several healthy choices for snacks inside. Walk past the chocolate bars and pick up some trail mix instead. A bottle of unsweetened iced tea is a better selection than soda—regular or even diet.

Many gas stations have refrigerator boxes with pre-prepared salads, yogurt, fruit, and vegetables. These whole foods offer valuable nutrition and will keep you focused and alert on the road.

Should you find yourself in line at a drive-thru, order your meal strategically:

  • Choose an entrée with grilled chicken, rather than fried.
  • Exercise portion control and order off the kids’ menu.
  • Skip the soda and have ice water instead.

Easy substitutions and exchanges like these will protect your diet and keep you feeling well as you travel.

Scenario 3: Dining Out

Attractive asian couple having a romantic dinner

Home cooking is hard to come by on business trips and family vacations. For some, that’s OK. Trying new restaurants is an enjoyable way to spend travel time. But you may find yourself struggling to keep healthy eating habits. Challenge yourself to find ways to eat well while exploring a new place.

Plan Ahead: Knowing your schedule and planning your meals will help keep dining out from killing your diet. If there is a business dinner or trip to a fancy restaurant in your future, eat light throughout the day. Small, regular portion sizes will keep you full so you don’t overeat later. Snack on low-calorie, high-protein foods. After a day of mindful eating, you can enjoy dinner at a restaurant without all the guilt.

At the Restaurant: Once you’ve been seated, make a plan to order a balanced meal. Look for items on the menu with fresh vegetables and lean protein, like chicken or fish. Watch out for hidden calories in sauces and dressings. Order these on the side.

Chewing slowly and talking with your tablemates will allow you to hear your body’s hunger cues. Don’t feel the need to eat everything on your plate. Restaurant portions are much larger than a healthy meal—so take the leftovers with you, if you have the means to store them. Also consider sharing with a friend.

Resist the urge to treat yourself every time you dine out while you travel. When you decide to splurge, do so in moderation. Fill up on healthy food first. Skip the complimentary chips and salsa or bread. Make sure you save room for your well-balanced, nutritious meal.

Start Your Day Off Right

No matter the destination, fueling for a day of travel starts with a proper breakfast. Powering up with protein and whole grains in the morning keeps you full. It also helps you stay focused as you prepare to hit the road. Hard-boiled eggs, low-fat Greek yogurt, overnight oats, and whole-wheat toast are great for early morning getaways. Prepping your healthy breakfast the night before a big trip is easy and saves you from mindless eating come morning.

If you feel sluggish as your travels begin, steer clear of tempting, sugary energy drinks. These carbonated beverages could be loaded with caffeine, sugar, and artificial flavors. A blood-sugar spike may ultimately be followed by a dramatic drop in energy. That might make you reach for something else to eat.

Choose to perk up with a natural alternative. Coffee and tea are excellent sources of caffeine and offer an early-morning pick-me-up. As “nature’s energy drinks,” tea and coffee are much gentler on your body than caffeinated soda or sugary energy drinks. Tea and coffee are packed with antioxidants that help protect cellular health and promotes healthy immune system function. And these drinks can be easily transported in reusable bottles, making them the perfect companions for long car rides or early-morning flights.

Here’s a few great breakfast tips to help you eat healthy while you travel:

  • Skip the sugary drinks and pre-packaged pastries. Instead, build your breakfast with whole, nutritious food and drink. You will have better, more sustainable energy to get where you’re going.
  • If you find yourself eating breakfast in a hotel, look for healthy options at the buffet table. Sliced fruit, whole-wheat toast, eggs, low-fat yogurt, milk, coffee, and tea, are usually available. These are healthier alternatives to sugary cereal, pastries, waffles, and pancakes.
  • Remember, it’s tempting to fill your plate with too much food from the buffet. Stick to proper portion sizes and a balanced meal.
  • Have a coffee maker in your room? Heat some water and prepare oatmeal.

Enjoy the Journey

Good travel nutrition is often the exception, rather than the rule. But if you practice healthy eating habits at home, you will be less likely to forget them while out of the house.

Remember to indulge moderately and avoid self-deprivation. Enjoy “cheat” meals while keeping up normal exercise and nutrition. Look for local produce and fresh foods to try while touring a new place. Couple rich desserts in the evening with a day full of healthy choices.

By making smart eating decisions on the go, you can look forward to happy, healthy travels.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

Woman carries your luggage at the airport terminal of Hong Kong

Woman carries your luggage at the airport terminal of Hong Kong

You’re deep asleep when your alarm clock rings at an early hour. It’s still dark, but it’s time to get up. You triple-check that your bags are fully packed—are you missing anything?—and book it out the door to the airport. Whether you’re flying for work or play, the stress of an early morning flight is a constant.

Seasoned travelers are ready for most things—for the noise, the turbulence, the germs in the recycled airplane air. But one thing travelers don’t often prepare for is maintaining your fitness on the go. The list of reasons—ahem, excuses—can run long.

The good news is that traveling doesn’t have to differ from home so much. It’s possible to take your healthy habits on the road with you. With a little bit of planning and forethought, you can take your fitness goals on the road with you. This will keep your routine intact, and also help you maintain energy, so you can feel your best during your trip.

Read on for tips on how to travel so you won’t unravel your wellness along the way.

Flying Fit

Research has shown that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with less favorable health outcomes for a variety of reasons. Not exercising or moving around burns fewer calories, promotes muscle loss, slows metabolism, encourages poor circulation, and more.

For these reasons, health professionals encourage breaking up sedentary periods with frequent activity. For example, if you work a desk job, incorporating frequent walking breaks into your day is a good way to keep your blood flowing.

The same is true for long flights. Sitting for long periods in a confined space makes circulation difficult. In some severe cases, blood clots or deep vein thrombosis (DVT) may become a concern. With DVT, a clot formed in the lower limbs could break free and block flow in a pulmonary artery—a very dangerous scenario.

Moving around on the plane helps with proper blood flow, general comfort, and you can sneak in some exercise. Try the following if you’re on longer flight. (Always heed movement restrictions given by the crew for safety reasons.)

  • When you are seated, avoid crossing your legs. This further impedes circulation.
  • Get up and walk the aisle frequently. Setting an hourly timer can help you accomplish this. The movement will improve circulation, which can help ease any cramping.
  • Wear loose and comfortable attire. Unnecessarily tight or restrictive clothing will only further complicate circulation issues.
  • Stay hydrated (see more on this in the section below)! Use the routine drink service to order beverages that will quench your thirst. Water is your best bet, over sugary or alcoholic beverages.

If you’re stuck in your seat, don’t despair. There’s plenty you can still do. It’s possible to stretch and be active even from your seat. Start from your feet and work up.

  • Circle your ankles. You can do this by bending one leg at a 90-degree angle and propping it over the other. Start clockwise and rotate your ankle 10 times. Switch directions and repeat. Then switch feet and repeat the entire process.
  • Stretch the piriformis. It’s a muscle found deep in your buttock—a muscle that quickly tightens with lack of activity. With one bent leg still resting on the opposite leg, lean slightly forward. This is commonly called the figure four stretch, and will engage the piriformis. Hold for 30 seconds and switch legs.
  • Loosen your shoulders by adjusting your posture. Roll your shoulders back and down so they’re not hunched forward—a common position that promotes tightness and can contribute to tension headaches.
  • Circle out your arms. This can be difficult in tight spaces, but you can easily modify it by bending your elbow so that your hand touches your shoulder. Once in this position, start by circling out one bent arm clockwise 10 times, then reverse direction. Switch to the other arm and repeat. If your seating area is crowded, you can do this while walking the aisle.
  • Stretch your neck. Like the shoulders, the neck is an area that, when tight, often contributes to headaches. In tight spaces, this is likely to happen, especially if you’re leaning forward for much of the flight to read a book or focus on a screen. Carefully and slowly, lower your chin to your chest and hold for several seconds. Do the same in the opposite direction, looking up toward the ceiling. Then stretch the sides of your neck by slowly pulling one ear down to its closest shoulder. Switch sides to complete the circuit.

Get Creative with Your Workouts

Many hotels include gyms and other workout facilities. But it can seem difficult to carve out time to use them during travel. Fear not. There are still ways to incorporate more activity into your days on the road.

The simplest one is considering different options of getting around. Is your meeting close-by— within walking distance? Are stairs an option instead of an elevator or escalator? Can you park further from the entrance to a building? These are small changes, but they can stack up. If the options present themselves multiple times a day, over a week of travel, the number of extra steps can become substantial.

If you’re stuck in meetings all day or don’t have access to a hotel gym, you can incorporate desk- or chair-based exercises into your day to keep you moving. Here are some easy options that require no equipment or athletic clothing:

  • Chair dips: With your palms on the seat of a chair, move the rest of your body away from the chair so your legs are bent at 90-degree angles. Dip your body below the seat of the chair so your arms must control the movement. Start with 3 sets of 5 and work up from there. Dips are great for your triceps and shoulders.
  • Seated bicycle: Much like the supine abdominal exercise, the same movement can be done sitting on a chair. Place your hands behind your head and raise a bent knee (90-degree angle) to meet the opposite elbow. Do the same on the opposite side. Try for 3 sets of 10 at first. This exercise is great for engaging your oblique muscles.
  • Seated Warrior 2: This is the same pose as the yoga position, but the seat of a chair supports the bent knee. Ensure your thigh is supported by the seat and your knee is at a 90-degree angle. Your back leg should be extended out behind you, with your foot perpendicular to your front foot. Extend your arms out to the side. You should feel a generous stretch across your chest and especially in the hip flexor of your back leg. This is key if you are sitting for a long time. Wake up the legs with 30-60 seconds of this stretch on each side.

Explore New Workouts

Even if your hotel does have a gym and you have time, it’s easy to let excuses get in the way. And it really can be hard to get motivated to use the space if it’s cramped, lacks windows, or doesn’t have the equipment you prefer. But that’s OK. There are still ways to get a great workout, outside of a lackluster facility.

A lot of people enjoy exploring new cities. It’s a great way to learn about new cuisine, visit historical sites, or take in new scenery. The same can be true for fitness classes. Hop on the internet and search for local studios that provide new routines or trusted favorites. This could be a yoga class, dance studio, boxing gym, or something different entirely.

Classpass.com, Yelp, and even Facebook can be great places to search for studios near you, wherever you are. Each site will give you information on price, type of workout to expect, and reviews from class-goers. Don’t limit yourself—treat exercise as another way to immerse yourself into the new city and culture you’re visiting. Expand your horizons and get your sweat on in the process.

Make Your Hotel Room Your Home Gym

Caucasian businessman meditating in bed in lotus position.

If you aren’t able to explore the area near you, a great workout is still possible—even in a hotel room. Many at-home workouts that are available online are designed to be done in small spaces. Just move any furniture out of the way, if you can. Then check out YouTube or popular fitness websites for videos you can watch right from your laptop computer. You can find all sorts of options—from yoga and circuit training to kickboxing.

You can also put your smart phone to work for you. Try downloading a fitness app. Most offer plenty of options for workouts that require no equipment. And you can choose the type and length of workout you want to do.

A tabata-style workout is a low-tech option that works well if you’re short on time. These workouts only last for about 20 minutes. All you need is a stopwatch. You will perform a round of activity at high intensity for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, then repeat. Each round takes four minutes, total.

You have some flexibility in how you can complete the workout. Try doing a circuit of five sets of different exercises. Or you can keep it limited to five total exercises. It sounds easy, but these workouts will really get your heart pumping. Make sure you mix it up. Alternate cardio moves (like jumping jacks) with strength exercises (like push-ups) for a full-body workout.

Here’s a sample workout for you to try:

20 Minute Tabata

20 seconds high intensity • 10 seconds rest

Repeat each round 4 times

Round one

  • Jumping Jacks
  • Squats

Round two

  • Burpees
  • Pushups

Round three

  • High Knees
  • Bicycle Crunches

Round four

  • Jumping Lunges
  • Tricep Dips

Round five

  • Mountain Climbers
  • Plank

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Now that your fitness is taken care of, it’s time to address keeping yourself hydrated. The two go hand-in-hand. At home, it’s easy to take advantage of the fact that a simple water glass is readily available. When you hit the road, don’t make the mistake of leaving your water bottle behind. Invest in a sturdy, reusable one-liter water bottle and pretend it’s your traveling companion. That means it goes everywhere with you.

Your body’s proper function (and survival!) depends on frequent hydration—especially if you’re moving around with the tips above. So how much should you be consuming each day? The general guideline has been eight, 8-ounce glasses per day for a total of 64 ounces (1.9 liters). A lot of factors influence how much water you should drink each day: health status, exercise intensity and frequency, and climate. So if you’re sick, working out a lot, or in a dry climate. You should adjust your water intake accordingly.

Now that you have your trusty one-liter bottle with you at all times, you have an easier measurement to follow. Consider refilling your water bottle 3-4 times per day to make sure you’re getting enough for all your needs.

Preparing for your Next Trip

If you’re a seasoned traveler, you probably have your packing list down. Toiletries, extra socks, your favorite creature comforts. Hopefully this guide has helped you realize that you don’t need to take up precious room in your suitcase with gym clothes and athletic shoes.

You can stay active, fit, and well-hydrated with minimal gear. All you need to bring along is some intention and determination (along with your trusty water bottle, of course). Exercise and fitness can often sound daunting, but you’re now well-prepared to sneak in steps, stretches, and more movement without overhauling your itinerary.

So, whether you’re on the road for work or play, find the tiny moments throughout the day to take care of yourself. The moments can add up significantly—and your body will thank you.

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.

Tourist backpack and sleeping pad on a background of mountains, Georgia (Svaneti)

Tourist backpack and sleeping pad on a background of mountains, Georgia (Svaneti)

Traveling is a great way to break monotony and add some excitement to life. That’s why an anonymous quote says, “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

It provides an opportunity to see new places, experience new things, meet new people, and disconnect from your normal routine. Research suggests that it’s highly beneficial for your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Traveling can be an exhilarating and memorable experience that invigorates the soul. That boost is one reason why so many people love to travel. Whether it’s for business or pleasure, you can make traveling an adventure worth remembering.

Travel can be both beneficial and detrimental to health. The anxiety of planning, preparing, and trying to remain healthy and safe are some of the reasons that can make it stressful.

Don’t sweat it! Here are 50 expert tips for healthy travel. They can help you stay healthy, safe, and organized while embarking on your journey. That way you return home with the best souvenir of all—great memories of your amazing adventure.

travel planning map tourism traveler plan holiday lay desk flat tourist booking journey pointing plane trip landmarks modern concept - stock image

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

No matter the reason for your travel, there are important planning basics to keep in mind. And each one will save you some stress or anxiety along the way:

  1. Research your destination and accommodations in advance. Know before you go!
  2. Look for lodging that has a kitchen so that you can cook some of your own meals.
  3. Check the weather forecast for your destination. Being savvy about the weather will help you pack appropriately.
  4. Learn at least a few key phrases and words in the local language.
  5. Know the activities you will be doing so you can pack the right clothes.
  6. Find out if the country you are traveling to requires a visa or any vaccinations.
  7. Make sure you have all your travel documents in order (passport, visa, medical records, if necessary, etc.)
  8. Photocopy of all your important travel documents and put them in different bags. Carry the originals on you until you get to your destination. When not traveling, make sure original travel documents are secure and then carry the photocopies.
  9. Keep a separate photo of your passport uploaded online, so it’s available even if belongings go missing.
  10. Buy locks to secure your bags when they’re out of your possession.
  11. Convert at least some money to local currency before you leave. Your local bank or credit union often gives the best rates.
  12. Check which of your credit cards has the lowest foreign transaction fees (preferably zero) and foreign currency exchange rates. Use that one when you travel abroad.
  13. Think about your cell phone and what you are going to do while traveling. Do you need International data, or a new SIM card? If neither, keep your phone on airplane mode to avoid extra charges.

Getting Ready for the Big Travel Day

Three young persons with suitcases in blurred motion

  1. Pack an extra power source for your portable electronics. Batteries can drain quickly when using them for navigation, photos, etc.
  2. Make sure you have adaptors for the electrical plugs for all the countries you will be visiting.
  3. Take all the electronic cables or chargers you may need.
  4. Noise cancelling headphones, earplugs, and a sleep mask can make traveling on a plane or train more relaxing.
  5. Keep all essential items that you may need during travel with you—not in your checked luggage. This includes items like: sunglasses, supplements, tissues, alcohol swabs, sanitizing wipes or towelettes, and saline nasal spray.
  6. Take extra prescription medications with you just in case you get delayed or stranded.
  7. Pack a travel first aid kit with bandages, saline solution, antibiotic ointment, hydrocortisone cream, diphenhydramine (Benadryl), analgesics (Tylenol, Ibuprofen), and antidiarrheal medicine.
  8. Don’t forget the sunscreen. Pack enough to last your entire trip.
  9. Pest-proof with plastic. When packing, put clothes into giant sealable bags to pest-proof your belongings. There’s no reason to take a little critter home in your luggage.
  10. Pack as lightly as possible. Some countries and forms of transportation are not friendly to large bags—think cobblestone roads, trains, and metros. Backpacks are best.
  11. Pack appropriate footwear for fitness and walking.
  12. Bring healthy portable snacks. It may be difficult to find healthy snacks when visiting unfamiliar places.
  13. Pack probiotics to help maintain a healthy gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Eating locally can cause your GI system to rebel, especially if you are eating unfamiliar foods. Be prepared.
  14. When flying take a change of clothes in your carry-on bag just in case your checked luggage doesn’t arrive with you.
  15. If backpacking is your trip of choice, pack dark clothing. The clothes will look cleaner, longer. Take a jacket, regardless of where you’re going. Even in the summer, planes can get cold. And a jacket is useful if you have a layover in a cold location.
  16. Cash is king around the world. Make sure to take some to cover emergencies. If you lose your wallet, your credit cards stop working, or the ATM runs out of money, you’ll be glad you did.
  17. Stash your cash in a few different places, like inside of socks, under shoe inserts, in a toiletry bag, in travel security belt with a hidden wallet, in hidden pockets, or even sewn behind a patch in your bag. Knowing that you have some extra money stashed away will give you peace of mind.

We are ready for new future. Young man and woman are watching flight at airport. They are standing and carrying luggage

Time to Go

  1. Take a probiotic before leaving home to fortify your gut.
  2. During the flight, drink lots of water, and avoid overconsuming drinks that can promote dehydration—like alcohol and caffeinated beverages. Sitting in airports, flying for hours, changing time zones, and even the weather can leave you dehydrated.
  3. While on the plane, take short walks and stretch/move your legs and feet while seated. This helps promote healthy blood circulation.
  4. Don’t touch your face and use saline nasal spray to keep your nasal passages moist.
  5. Turn on the overhead vent above your seat and direct it slightly in front of your face to help keep airborne germs away.
  6. Take antibacterial wipes on the plane, train, boat, bus, or car. Use them to clean your hands, tray tables, and armrests. They’re often dirty and teeming with germs.
  7. Be patient. Travel can be stressful, so don’t sweat the small stuff you can’t control. Life is too short to be angry and annoyed.
  8. Get enough sleep. Traveling can often be harsh on your body as you zip across time zones, carrying luggage to and from destinations. So, make sure you get plenty of rest.
  9. Even if your room looks clean, keep your suitcase off the floor, and preferably stored on a hard luggage rack.
  10. Avoid draping your clothes over the furniture or placing them inside the dresser drawers to avoid any unseen little critters that could be present.
  11. Read reviews and ask a local for advice on places to see and eat. Cab drivers, hotel attendants, and shuttle-bus drivers often know the best places to see and eat.
  12. Don’t post everything on social media—make some memories that are just stories.

Side view portrait of a relaxed woman resting lying on the grass in the coast with the ocean in the background

You Know the Tips for Healthy Travel, Now Have Some Fun!

There’s a lot of things you can do to travel safe and healthy. You don’t have to do everything—that might actually add to the stress.

But remember to:

  1. Get enough sleep.
  2. Eat breakfast daily.
  3. Take your vitamins daily (because sometimes you just don’t eat healthy meals when traveling).
  4. Wear sunscreen.
  5. Eat fruits and veggies.
  6. Pace yourself. You can’t see or do it all in one day.
  7. Keep your mobile phone clean, and wash your wands frequently.
  8. Be aware of your surroundings.

Men aren’t from Mars. Women aren’t from Venus. They’re the same species from the same planet. But the sexes certainly aren’t the exact same. The differences between men and women are real and important.

They serve biological functions and can even help you better understand your health needs. These differences give each sex unique strengths that help with the most important task—survival.

But let’s talk similarities before jumping into what makes men and women different.

Here’s two you might not know: Genetically, men and women’s DNA is 98.5 percent identical. They even have the same hormones. But the ratios of those hormones explain some of the differences between men and women.

Now it’s time to dive into 25 fun facts. Discover the important physiological, biological, and nutritional differences between men and women.

  1. Men typically have thicker skin—by about 25 percent. They also have higher densities of the protein collagen.
  2. The differences in density goes beyond skin deep. Usually, men also have denser, stronger bones, tendons, and ligaments than women.
  3. From about age 14 to 51, women typically need more iron than men. This is due to their loss of blood during menstruation, which typically happens in a cycle of 28 to 40 days.
  4. On average, men typically have more muscle mass than women. And those skeletal muscles are faster and more powerful. But women’s muscles more readily resist fatigue and are faster to recover.
  5. The second longest finger for most women is next to their thumb—the index finger. But men are the opposite. They usually have ring fingers—those next to their pinkie finger—that are longer than their index fingers.
  6. Folate is an essential vitamin. So, men and women both need it. But it’s especially crucial for women of child-bearing age. If they become pregnant, women need enough folate to support the neural development of their babies.
  7. There are differences in the way male and female brains are structured, how they process information, and interact with chemical signals. Some examples: men have more information-containing gray matter, but women have more white matter, which connects different parts of the brain. Also, women have bigger memory centers than men.
  8. A woman’s circadian rhythm is more likely to be short of a 24-hour period. (They’re often six minutes short of a full day.) Men are more likely to be night owls. But women function better during periods of sleep deprivation.
  9. During exercise, women’s primary fuel is fat. For men, it’s carbohydrates.
  10. An average adult female has about 15–70 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL) of testosterone. An average adult male has about 270–1070 ng/dL. Every year after age 30, men’s testosterone levels drop about one percent. That doesn’t happen for women. But women do see their estrogen levels fall off after menopause.
  11. Men have pronounced Adam’s apples. That’s because they have larger voice boxes that make the surrounding cartilage stick out more.
  12. Both sexes hit peak bone mass around age 30. At 40, men and women start losing bone. Menopause accelerates bone loss in women. So, women 51-70 need 200 milligrams (mg) of calcium more than men the same age. That’s 1200 mg per day for women and 1000 mg per day for men.
  13. The daily calorie requirement for men is higher than women. There are a few reasons for this: higher muscle mass, stature, and basal metabolic rate. Pound for pound, muscles burn more than double the calories fat does.
  14. Men and women carry different amounts of body fat. The higher body fat in women—about 10 percent—mostly supports reproductive physiology. One example is when a woman’s body fat gets too low, she stops menstruating.
  15. Women typically carry their body fat in their hips and thighs. Fat tends to deposit around men’s stomachs.
  16. The difference between men and women’s size, muscle mass, and calorie needs means men typically require diets higher in protein.
  17. One study found that men have lower resting heart rates than women. But women have lower peak heart rates. Men’s heart rates typically rise faster during exercise and slow quicker afterward.

  1. Men normally have more red blood cells (4.7–6.1 million cells per microliter compared to 4.2–5.4 million cells per microliter for women).
  2. Women typically have lower blood pressure than men—regardless of race or ethnicity.
  3. For most of life, men and women have the same vitamin D requirements. But older women need to up their intake of vitamin D. That’s because it promotes better calcium absorption.
  4. Men are less likely to seek regular medical checkups. And when they go to the doctor, they’re more likely to hide or lie about their symptoms.
  5. Zinc needs are generally similar for men and women. But pregnant and post-menopausal women require more zinc. Both sexes store zinc in bones, but men also store the essential mineral in their prostate.
  6. Men are less sensitive to cold temperatures.
  7. Women have better senses of smell and taste. They have 50 more cells (neurons) in their olfactory bulbs—the part of the brain responsible for processing smells. Women also usually have more taste buds than men.
  8. The differences in the way men and women see the world is partly physical. On average, men are more likely to be colorblind, but their eyes also sense movement better. Women are able to distinguish small difference in color better.

That Was Fun, But Now What?

You know some of what makes men and women different. You can drop these fun facts in conversations whenever you want. And now you can also use those differences to personalize your health decisions. If you’re a woman, you know you need more folate and you burn fat during exercise. If you’re a man, you know you need more calories and your fat deposits around your stomach. Those are important considerations when planning your healthy lifestyle.

One thing you shouldn’t do is use the differences between men and women to make a case that one sex is somehow better than the other. All the differences listed above have very good biological or physiological reasons for existing. Through the history of human beings, the differences have helped men and women survive—mostly working together.

And these sex differences shouldn’t be seen as limitations in any way. They are averages and typical conditions. Not all men are more muscular. Not all women have a better sense of taste. Don’t let the differences between men and women get in the way of your health or life goals.

References

https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/good-nutrition-should-guidelines-differ-for-men-and-women

http://www.dermalinstitute.com/us/library/17_article_Is_a_Man_s_Skin_Really_Different_.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_differences_in_human_physiology

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/#h2

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/09/110907-ring-finger-length-science-genes-sex-hormones-men-women/

https://www.crnusa.org/sites/default/files/files/resources/15-CRNVMS3-FOLICACID.pdf

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hope-relationships/201402/brain-differences-between-genders

https://www.thesleepdoctor.com/2011/09/22/men-and-women-different-when-it-comes-to-sleep/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11101268

https://www.healthline.com/health/low-testosterone/testosterone-levels-by-age#adolescence

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3383520/

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/

https://www.livestrong.com/article/456788-caloric-intake-for-men-vs-women/

https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/body-fat-measurement#2

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-does-fat-deposit-on-t/

http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/recommended-daily-protein-men-vs-women-5141.html

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/red-blood-count/

http://www.acc.org/about-acc/press-releases/2014/03/27/12/29/allison-peak-hr-pr

https://bsd.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/2042-6410-3-7

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151102130239.htm

https://www.healthline.com/health/top-10-tests-men-should-get#other-tests

https://news.rutgers.edu/news/tougher-men-think-they-are-less-likely-they-are-be-honest-doctors/20160321#.WsT_1y_MyL8

http://www.who.int/elena/bbc/zinc_pregnancy/en/

https://www.livestrong.com/article/492749-what-are-the-benefits-of-zinc-for-women/

https://bsd.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13293-017-0147-5

http://www.psychmechanics.com/2017/07/do-men-and-women-differ-in-tasting-and.html

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/284991.php

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/men-and-women-see-things-differently-literally-180954815/

Playing isn’t just for kids. All work and no play is a very bad idea, because the importance of play can’t be overstated. Playful activities for adults—like sports and physical games—help support mental and physical health.

Most people grew up playing, having fun, being active. But work, stress, and “adulting”—paying bills, taking care of situations, and making important, responsible decisions—gets in the way. Many adults who grew up playing sports trade in their cleats and jerseys when they settle into a 9 to 5 job. A Harvard study found a steep drop-off in continued athletic involvement at age 26 among those who played sports in their youth.

Lack of time, interest, and good health are often cited as reasons grown-ups tend to leave the fun to their kids. But researchers say that adults who play sports not only benefit physically from the exercise, but see mental, social, and work improvements, too.

If your current workout routine involves staring at a TV while using the elliptical, or running the same streets through your neighborhood, mixing up your workout by playing a new sport can help you find renewed interest in your fitness routine. Practices and games are usually scheduled in advance, so you can more easily cement it into your calendar. Playing team sports has another important element of a successful fitness routine: built-in accountability. People are counting on you to show up to play your position, and might have to forfeit time, money, and the game if they don’t have enough people there to play.

Of course, playing sports isn’t for everyone, even if you played in your younger days. Always check with your doctor before taking up any new fitness routine, especially if you have prior injuries, asthma, or other medical conditions. Plus, you’re assuming a small risk of getting injured while playing. But if you’re given a clean bill of health, joining a sports team or signing up for tennis lessons could be a great way to boost your well-being.

How Playing Sports Help Your Physical Health

In general, it’s important to your health to remain physically active as you get older. Playing helps ward off the problems that often accompany obesity. Regular exercise also helps:

  • Cardiorespiratory health. Studies show that physical activity benefits your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. About 40 percent of coronary-related deaths can be traced back to inactivity. So, getting moving can significantly impact your cardiovascular health.
  • Bones and muscles. An active lifestyle maintains muscle strength, balance, stamina, and bone density. All are important factors as you age. Since most sports are weight-bearing activities—basically anything that has you up and moving on your feet—they help new bone tissue form. Keeping yourself moving is even more important for those that are at risk for bone loss.
  • People who exercise report having an easier time falling asleep, and then sleeping more deeply throughout the night. The only caveat for this is physical activity too close to bedtime. That gets some folks too energized to sleep. If you prefer to work out late in the day, be sure you give yourself enough time to come down from the “runner’s high” before hitting the sack.

Playing Sports’ Impact on Mood and Mental Health

Sure, exercise does your body good. But did you know that play is also good for you? That’s right: Your brain needs play.

Play is a human need as basic as sleep. When you’re deprived of play, your mind and body feel it in the form of crankiness, down moods, or just feeling stuck in a rut. You need a break during waking hours from thinking and worrying. Play of all kinds, including sports, leaves little room for you to focus on anything but the task at hand. While play is necessary for children to practice a wide range of skills, it also helps adults learn, bond, communicate, and cooperate with others.

Playing also helps adults process stress. Those with playful personalities are often better able to cope with high-stress situations, and even transform them into something resembling entertainment. Because of this, fun-loving people who have good senses of humor tend to be more attractive to potential partners. Life is stressful, and it’s more appealing to share it with someone who helps diffuse the tension.

Not a playful person? Good news—you can learn how to have more fun with life. You can overcome a more uptight disposition by practicing playfulness. A great way to get your mental play reps in? That’s right: playing sports.

Especially if you were very active as a child, playing a sport can help you reconnect with that inner youth. If you’re feeling constrained by the rigidity of routine life, try to reintroduce elements of play in your everyday life. Basically, you don’t need to wait for your summer vacation to give yourself a mental escape. Your brain will thank you.

In addition to helping you process and relieve stress, playing sports can do wonders for improving your mood. Being silly and having fun causes a release of dopamine that, simply, makes you feel good. Playing around also often leads to laughter, which has its own host of stress-relieving benefits. And it also helps you connect with your teammates (and sometimes even your rivals). In fact, you’ll likely notice your social life improve from taking up a sport, since people tend to be more positive, open, and vulnerable in fun settings.

Playing Sports Can Give You a Leg Up at Work

If improved mental and physical health aren’t enough to convince you to go out and play, this might: playing sports can help give you the competitive edge at work.

It turns out that playing sports instills a lot of the same benefits in adults that we know it gives kids. Self-confidence grows when your strength and skills in a sport improve. Combine that with the increase in energy that commonly accompanies regular workouts, there will be an extra bounce in your step.

Strengthening leadership skills is another perk of sports participation that can pay off in the conference room. Studies have shown that high school athletes tend to exhibit more leadership traits because of the team-first mindset and adaptivity sports require.

If you’d like to have better concentration while at the office, playing sports can help you in that department, too. Regular physical activity (disguised as play) helps keep mental skills sharp—like critical thinking, using good judgement, and learning. And studies have shown that implementing elements of fun in the workplace improve employees’ creative problem-solving abilities and lead to higher productivity.

Consider Calories, Skills, and Fun Before You Start

Now you’re convinced to step back on the field. That’s understandable. The importance of play is too much, and the benefits are too good. But there are a few things to consider before you pick a sport and revisit your glory days—or start creating some new ones.

First, you need to assess your fitness goals. Ask yourself a few questions: What do you want out of the experience? How many calories are you looking to burn with these activities? What sport best supports the fitness goals you’ve laid out? What sport or playful activity is the most fun for you? Answering these questions will help you pick the right sport for you.

Next, assess your fitness reality—right now. Sure you used to be able to jump high and run fast. But what can you do now? Be honest about the kind of shape you’re in. Consider the injuries you’ve accrued over the years and any weaknesses in your current state of fitness.

The last thing you’ll want to think about is the amount of fun you’ll have. You don’t want to play a sport that you end up hating. That means picking something age-appropriate that you understand or can learn. Not grasping the rules or strategy makes any sport a painful experience. You’ll also have more fun if you match up the sport to your skills. And, if it’s appropriate, match your skill level to that of your competition. Losing shouldn’t ruin sports, but having a chance to win will enhance your experience.

Also think about the cost of equipment or any fees to start playing a sport. Some require substantial investments just to participate. Asking yourself these questions and doing some self-assessment will help you have the best experience possible.

Breakdown: The Best Playful Activities for Adults

man triathlon iron man athlete swimmers swimming in silhouettes on white background

Any sport or playful activity that matches up with your fitness goals, is accessible to you, safe, and makes exercise fun is the right choice. If you have a favorite sport, stick to what works for you. If you’re looking for something different, try some of the new sports from the list below.

Here’s your breakdown of the best sports and playful activities for adults:

Solitary Activities

  • Swimming: Places to swim can be hard to find. But they’re often available at a community recreation center or gym. An average-sized person (155 pounds or about 70 kilograms) will burn 223-372 calories in just 30 minutes. That goes up to 409 if you’re doing more difficult strokes, like the butterfly.
  • Cycling: Access to equipment is one of the only cons for this simple sport. The average person will burn 298-614 over 30 minutes, depending on speed. And if you do it outside, you can soak in the beautiful sights, too.
  • Skiing/Snowboarding: The costs to get started either downhill skiing or cross-country skiing can be a barrier to entry. And, obviously, a lack of mountains or snow also complicate your ability to get into these sports. If everything falls into place, it’s a good way to burn about 225 calories (for an average-sized person) per 30 minutes. The number jumps up to almost 300 per 30 minutes for cross-country skiers.

Individual Sports or Activities Played Against or With Others

  • Golf: The pros are a relaxing, competitive time with friends in beautiful surroundings. But golf has cons, too. Access to courses and the price for equipment and greens fees can be tough to overcome. But an average-sized golfer will burn 130 per 30 minutes using a cart, and 205 if they carry their clubs.
  • Tennis: Doubles or singles, it doesn’t matter. Tennis can be a fun way to burn quite a few calories—260 per 30 minutes. There are often public courts available, so all you’ll need is equipment.
  • Racquetball: It’s bit more intense than tennis, and places to play can be harder to find. But racquetball is a fun, spirited workout. You’ll burn 260 calories in 30 minutes of leisurely play. Step that up to 372 if you get more competitive.
  • Boxing: Professional boxers are in good shape for a reason. Sparing takes it out of you—to the tune of 335 calories for a half hour. If you aren’t scared away by some of the more rugged aspects of the sweet science, it can be a fun way to punch through a lot of calories and stress.
  • Martial Arts: Just like boxing, you’ll have find a place to practice and a desire to learn the moves. If you’re ready for judo, kickboxing, karate, and more, an average person will burn about 372 calories in 30 minutes.

Team Activities and Sports

  • Kickball: Simpler than baseball or softball, kickball just requires a ball, anything to mark the bases, and some space. And it’s a really good social activity that’s easy on beginners. It’s a nice way to burn about 211 calories per 30 minutes.
  • Softball/Baseball: You’ll need a few more pieces of equipment than kickball, but both softball and baseball offer some of the same social benefits. They’re lower impact than a contact sport like football, but they do require good hand-eye coordination. The average player burns about 186 calories in a half hour.
  • Bowling: Heading down to your local bowling alley is an easy, fun activity. It also has a bonus of 112 calories burned in 30 minutes.
  • Soccer (Football/Futbol): The most popular sport in the world can be played almost anywhere where there’s a ball, players, and some space. In general, the average-sized soccer player will burn 260 calories for every half hour of play. But if you go harder, that number can certainly increase.
  • Flag or Touch Football (American Football): Don’t be scared off by the complexity, equipment, and contact of tackle football. It’s pretty easy to start up a simple flag or touch football game. And in 30 minutes, your average player will burn 298 calories. Not bad for a fun way to spend an afternoon with friends.
  • Volleyball: Big bonus if you can play on an actual beach. But anywhere you play volleyball makes for an easy, social, and fun physical activity. Non-competitive play nets an average person 112 calories burned in 30 minutes. Competitive team volleyball in a gym is about 149 calories, but the beach can get up to 298 calories in a half-hour of play.
  • Basketball: You don’t have to be able to dunk to have a good time playing basketball. Hop on the court to burn almost 300 calories during a 30-minute game of basketball.

Just because you don’t see your favorite sport or playful activity mentioned doesn’t mean it’s a bad option. If you have fun, stay safe, and it helps you stay active, any playful activity is a great option. If you’d like to find out how many calories you burn while playing, check out this helpful calculator (unfortunately, it’s in English only.)

Be a Sport—Get Out and Play

You can enjoy playing in many ways. If you don’t have the time, money, or desire to sign up for lessons, you can still have fun with sports. Gather friends for pickup games, get goofy with a game of tag, or play Ultimate Frisbee in the backyard. You can even make up a game. Just get moving, enjoy others’ company, and play—it’s good for your mental and physical health.

Journal, tape measure and apple - diet concept

Journal, tape measure and apple - diet concept

It’s time to lighten your load—literally. Carrying around extra weight isn’t good for your body. You know that. But staying at a healthy weight is easier said than done. This weight management checklist helps you focus your energy on impactful activities. Start checking off items and building momentum to achieve weight management goals.

Maintaining a healthy weight is all about the balance of calories in and calories out. Use more than you take in and you lose weight. Do the opposite, and you gain. If they’re balanced, that’s how you maintain.

This means a focus on diet and exercise together. But this weight management checklist goes deeper and provides simple tips to get you started.

It’s time to start checking off some boxes.

Cropped image of businesswoman writing on checklist

Item 1: Set a Goal for a Healthy Weight

Determining your target weight isn’t a guessing game. There are many factors that can help you determine the right number for you.

The most common way to figure out a healthy weight is using the Body Mass Index (BMI). This is a ratio of your height to weight. This is going to involve some math, but you can do it (or use a BMI calculator). You can find your BMI with this equation:

Weight in Kilograms(kg)/(Height in meters)2

Here’s an example: Dave is 84 kg (or about 185 pounds) and 1.8288 meters (six feet tall). His BMI would be 25.1, which is just barely in the overweight range. (Here’s the math: 1.8288 squared is 3.345, and 84 divided by 3.345 is 25.1.)

The healthy range for BMI is 18.5 to 24.9. That’s what you want to aim for. There are charts available that will give you the healthy weight range for your height.

But BMI isn’t everything. It’s a very simple calculation that doesn’t consider different circumstances.

You can also use measurements like body fat percent or determining belly circumference (around the belly button) to help determine your ideal weight. Body fat percentages should be less than 31% for women and 25% for menBelly circumferences should be less than 40 inches (102 cm) for men and 35 inches (88 cm) for women.

If this is all a little bit overwhelming (and math can do that) you can always talk to your doctor, dietician, or nutritionist. They’re great resources.

Item 2: Assess Your Calorie Needs

Calories aren’t scary or mysterious. They’re simply the units used to measure energy in your food. And you need calories to run all the processes of your body.

Most of what you see about calories is based on an average diet of 2,000 calories per day for women and 2,500 a day for men. That’s a good starting place. But there are many factors to consider when assessing your daily calorie needs.

Weight and activity are probably the biggest considerations. A larger person needs more calories. That’s because you need more energy to move around more weight. And if you’re on the go a lot or you’re an athlete, you need more fuel to support that extra activity.

Age and sex are two other factors. Calorie needs decrease with age. And men need about 500 more calories per day (on average) than women. That’s mostly due to their overall larger size and the fact that they have a higher basal metabolic rate or BMR.

BMR is what your body burns at rest. About two-thirds of your calories are used this way—just to keep your body running smoothly. Those are like freebies. The rest of your calories are burned because of activities you do during the day.

There are calculators that will tell you your BMR and how many calories you need to maintain your weight. But for simplicity’s sake, if you’re a man, it should be around 2,500 calories. If you’re a woman, that number is around 2,000.

Use those as the starting point for maintaining a healthy weight. You can adjust your needs if you’re more active, larger, or have other health considerations.

Item 3: Design a Diet to Achieve Your Weight Management Goals

You know how much fuel (calories) your body needs. But counting calories is just a part of planning your perfect weight-management diet.

The foods you choose to acquire those calories makes a big difference. Think about how 300 calories of sugary treats compare to 300 calories of almonds and fruit. One will fill you up with fiber, sustained energy, and micronutrients. The sugary snack is empty energy that can lead to a crash.

Like any healthy diet, you should target a balance of nutrient-rich protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, plant-based fats, and foods with fiber.

Protein (especially in the morning) and fiber are especially important. You only absorb half the available calories in fiber. And it helps you feel full for longer. Also, don’t forget to drink plenty of water.

Any diet should give you a foundation of vitamins, minerals, and beneficial plant compounds. It’s the starting point for getting your body all the nutrients it needs.

Item 4: Examine Your Exercise Expectations

The best exercise plan is one you can follow. That’s a popular saying, but it’s true (the same is true for your diet, too). You don’t want to make these common mistakes:

  • Starting at a higher level than necessary
  • Forcing yourself into activities you hate
  • Expecting results right away

Being honest with yourself about your fitness level will help you avoid jumping into something too hard. You really shouldn’t run before you walk. So, assess where you are and work—in steps, since health won’t happen all at once—to get where you want to go.

Taking an inventory of healthy activities you enjoy is essential to developing an effective exercise routine. You shouldn’t focus on running if you find it boring. Maybe playing a sport works better for you. Figuring out what you like to do will help you look forward to exercise instead of dreading it.

Also, properly set expectations. One trip to the gym isn’t going to reshape your body or improve your fitness. It’s a process. You have to burn 3,500 calories to eliminate a pound of fat. A good goal is using 500 more calories than you take in each day. That can lead to losing a pound a week.

And remember, exercise is only part of the equation. You can’t exercise your way out of bad eating habits. So, you need both as part of your weight-management plan.

Female runner tying her shoes preparing for a run a jog outside

Item 5: Plan Your Exercise Routine

You know what you like. You have properly set expectations. Now it’s time to plan.

Take the activities you like and figure out how many calories you’ll burn. Then figure out how many minutes are required to hit your goal for the day. You can find these estimates online or in a fitness tracker app.

Then carve out time in your daily schedule. Make sure to vary the activities so you don’t get bored or fatigue one part of your body too much. Ideally, you should get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. The easiest way is to split that up into five, 30-minute sessions.

Item 6: Get Going

This is the simplest one on paper, but the hardest in practice. It’s also the most important part of any weight-management plan.

Doing it.

Understanding your calorie needs is great. Planning the perfect diet and exercise routine is important. Crossing off items on the weight management checklist builds momentum. But you’ll need action and perseverance to achieve your weight management goals.

So, put your plans into motion. Get out and move. And remember progress and consistency—not perfection—is what you want. You’ll have successes and snags, but focus on continuing to move forward, in the direction of your weight-management goals.

A simple way to put it is to be good—eat right and incorporate exercise—the majority of the days of the week.