In the world of self-improvement, small changes seem to be regarded as, well, too insignificant to matter. The covers on diet books scream out with headlines urging you to "Make Over Your Life", and become a "New You". But what if you like the current you? And your healthiest lifestyle changes can reasonably be confined to tweaks, with just some fine-tuning of an already pretty good way of life?
I propose a (small) protest action: begin your path to living a longer, healthier life by first examining what's working for you. Maybe you have no trouble eating a fiber-filled, balanced breakfast, and take a good lunch to work, but dinner is troublesome when you come home tired and hungry. Is there one thing you could try this week, to tackle the evening-meal problem? Maybe saute some extra vegetables for the week while making Monday's dinner, and have them standing by to toss into a stir-fry or pasta sauce the other nights. Or splurge on ready-washed salads and chopped vegetables to have as side dishes you can take from the fridge to the table.
In his book "Mindless Eating", Brian Wansink recommends this approach to weight loss. It is, he says, a manageable way of depriving your body of enough calories to lose weight over the long term, while keeping your brain from noticing the deficit. Just 100-200 fewer calories per day, can lead to a 10-20 pound weight loss over the course of a year. It may sound slow, but as Wansink writes,"the best diet is the one you don't know you're on."
Even exercise stints can be small but mighty, when it comes to longevity. A very large cohort study published last year in The Lancet showed that people doing just 15 minutes a day of moderate-intensity exercise (like brisk walking) lived a full three years longer than those who were inactive. The authors herald the discovery as a much easier -- and still effective -- sell than the globally-recommended 30 minutes of exercise, done 5 or more times a week (which, incidentally, bought the subjects an extra year of life, making the total benefit to longevity 4 years).
What do you think? Is a small change easier to swallow? Or do you need bigger, loftier, resolutions, to get yourself to pay attention? Let me know, and I'll post the suggestions.
Chi Pang Wen, et.al. "Minimum amount of physical activity for reduced mortality and extended life expectancy: a prospective cohort study." The Lancet, 16 August 2011; DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60749-6