Taking steps towards better health

Small Steps Towards Better Health

Jan 13, 2024 Wellness and Healthy Living Share:

Health-related goals are common at the beginning of a new year. But did you know that most people abandon these goals within the first few months of the year?

Traditional health-related resolutions can be hard to sustain, but that doesn’t mean that you should give up on improving your health this year. In fact, small changes sustained over time can have a significant impact on your health. Learn more about some small, easy-to-implement changes you can make today to improve your health.

Get More Exercise

Exercise boasts significant benefits for your physical and mental health. Regular physical activity both strengthens your heart and improves circulation, reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke. It also helps lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which are key risk factors for heart disease.1

Exercise also supports better bone and joint health. Physical activity that places a mechanical load on your bones (such as walking, running, and weight lifting) helps slow age-related bone loss and is essential for bone health throughout life.2 Moreover, exercise reduces the risk of joint issues, such as arthritis, by helping you maintain healthy cartilage and reducing inflammation. Exercise also helps directly boost your immune system, helping you fight off illness and disease.3

Many people start off the year with ambitious exercise-related resolutions. And while there’s nothing wrong with joining a gym, purchasing a piece of home exercise equipment, or training for a race, you can also make small changes to add exercise to your daily routine.

Some small changes you can make to help you get more exercise include:

  • Go for a walk after meals. Adding a ten-minute walk after each meal adds up to 30 minutes of walking a day. Light exercise after a meal can help you control your blood sugar, increase your metabolism, and improve your digestion. And if walking after each meal feels intimidating, aim for a short walk after one or two meals a day. (Bonus points if you get your walk outside!)
  • Add in stretch or yoga breaks. You don’t have to head to the yoga studio every day; adding a few minutes of stretching or yoga each day can improve flexibility and support your bones and joints. Some great times to stretch? When taking a bathroom break at work or while waiting for your coffee to brew.
  • Schedule an exercise class each week. It may be tricky to add daily trips to the gym to your already busy schedule, but you can still get significant health benefits from adding just one class that you love and look forward to.
  • Find an active hobby that you enjoy. If going to the gym feels burdensome, you may need to try adding a hobby instead. Some active hobbies include hiking, gardening, and pickleball, but the key is finding something that you really enjoy.
  • Track your steps. Your watch or phone probably already has a built-in step counter. Try adding in 10% more steps each week. If you start with an average of 3,000 steps a day, aim to add 300 steps a day for a week. Then, add 10% more steps the next week. After twelve weeks, you’re taking over 9,000 steps a day.

Eat Healthier

What you eat matters. Your diet provides the essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, that your body needs to function. A balanced diet supports your overall health, while a lack of essential nutrients can lead to deficiencies and other associated health problems, such as anemia from iron deficiency.

Your diet can also influence your risk of developing chronic diseases. Diets high in saturated fats, trans fats, and added sugars can contribute to the development of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. On the other hand, diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help reduce your risk of developing these conditions. Your dietary habits also directly affect your weight and body composition.

Many people take an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to diet, adopting a Whole 30, a Ketogenic diet, or eliminating an entire type of food or food group. While all of these dietary approaches have benefits, they can be difficult to sustain.

Small changes that can help you eat a healthier diet include:

  • Packing a lunch. Bring your lunch to work instead of eating out a few days a week. By bringing a meal from home, you have better control over ingredients and portion sizes, and it can be easier to make healthier choices. Meals made at home are often lower in saturated and trans fats than typical take-out or restaurant options.
  • Focus on produce. Instead of worrying about what to eliminate, adding a variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet can increase your intake of essential vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. Start by adding one serving of fruit or vegetable to each meal, and work up to filling half your plate with vegetables and fruit.
  • Swap your soda for water. Regular sodas have up to 12 teaspoons of sugar and 200 calories in a single serving; if you’re getting a fountain drink, chances are good that you’re consuming even more. Even diet sodas can be harmful since artificial sweeteners can be associated with negative health impacts. You don’t even have to go cold-turkey on your favorite drinks; just swap out some of your sodas for water and enjoy health benefits.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to all kinds of health problems, including liver disease, heart problems, increased risk of cancers, and it can exacerbate existing mental health problems. Consider reducing your existing alcohol intake rather than implementing an all-or-nothing approach, which can lead to binge drinking.

Get Better Sleep

When you sleep, your body is hard at work. Your nerve cells communicate and reorganize, your brain processes new information, your cells repair themselves, your body releases hormones, and new tissues and proteins are made. Sleep is critical to healthy body functioning.

Sleep also has a direct impact on your immune system. People who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to get sick after they’re exposed to illness, and sleep also improves the function of T-cells, which fight off viral infections and boost the immune functions of other cells.4

It’s difficult to simply manifest better sleep. To improve the duration and quality of your sleep, small, consistent changes are often the most effective.

Small changes you can make to improve your sleep include:

  • Limit caffeine after lunch. Many people rely on an afternoon burst of caffeine to get through the day, but that additional caffeine can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. You don’t have to give up your morning cup of coffee, but be mindful of your afternoon caffeine intake. If you do feel like you need a burst of energy, consider taking a short walk, drinking some cold water, or getting outside to wake yourself up.
  • Stick to a consistent sleep schedule. If your schedule permits, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This consistency reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. If you have trouble falling asleep, you may need a bedtime routine that makes it easier for you to settle down. Develop a pre-sleep ritual that you enjoy and look forward to; some ideas include taking a bath, brushing your teeth, reading, applying lotion, or journaling. Blue light from your phone, tablet, or computer can interfere with your body’s natural sleep hormones, so avoid screens an hour before bedtime. (Doom scrolling was never going to help you fall asleep, anyway.)
  • Upgrade your sleep environment. You may need to improve the quality of your sleep. Your best sleep happens in a cool, quiet, dark environment, so consider investing in blackout curtains, earplugs, a fan, or a white noise machine. Make sure your mattress, pillows, and bedding are also comfortable.

Sleep difficulties can also be the result of underlying health issues, so make sure to consult your primary care doctor if you continue to have difficulty sleeping.

Talk to your Primary Care Doctor

You can start implementing small changes to improve your health today. But one of the most important small things you can do for your health is to schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor. The phone call will take less than a minute, and your appointment will take about an hour. Not only can your primary care doctor help you identify health priorities, but they can also monitor changes in your health that may not be detectable without regular lab work.

An all-or-nothing mindset when it comes to improving your health can be detrimental: when “all” becomes overwhelming, it’s much easier to do nothing. Small changes can be more sustainable and are incredibly effective over time. For example, if you add only 10 minutes of exercise to your day for five days a week, over an entire year you’re adding over 43 hours of exercise. If you swap two sodas a week for water, you reduce your caloric intake by up to 20,000 calories over an entire year.

At MedHelp, our primary care doctors love helping patients make sustainable changes to improve their health. If you’re looking for a new primary care doctor, doctors at all four of our Birmingham clinic locations are accepting new patients. Simply call a clinic near you and we can help you find a provider that meets your needs and fits your schedule.

Take the Step Towards Better Health

Start your journey towards a healthier year by scheduling an appointment with your primary care doctor. Primary care doctors at all Birmingham MedHelp clinic locations are accepting new patients. 


1 Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults: The American Heart Association. Accessed 15 January 2024. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults

2 Benedetti MG, Furlini G, Zati A, Letizia Mauro G. The Effectiveness of Physical Exercise on Bone Density in Osteoporotic Patients. Biomed Res Int. 2018 Dec 23;2018:4840531. doi: 10.1155/2018/4840531. PMID: 30671455; PMCID: PMC6323511.

3 da Silviera, Matheus Pelinski et al. (2021). Physical exercise as a tool to help the immune system against COVID-19: an integrative review of the current literature. Clinical and experimental medicine, 21(1), 15–28. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10238-020-00650-3

4 Cohen, S. et al. (2009). Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Archives of internal medicine, 169(1), 62-67. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2008.5