Small Changes Can Lead to Better Health

By , SparkPeople Blogger
So many of us are led to believe that in order to be healthy we must give up all the foods we love and exercise for hours on end to get the results we so long to see on the scale. But this mentality is very hard to maintain over a lifetime. Many of us find ourselves in the vicious cycle of good versus bad, however, I believe any time we are making the changes to move our health in the right direction, we are succeeding. Regardless of what the scale reads.

This is why it is very important to allow ourselves the occasional Ďtreatí and to miss a workout when life just seems to get in the way. We canít be 100% perfect, 100% of the time. It is and never will be realistic. Health is a state of mind not just what we do or donít do to gain it. This is where integrating small steps into our plan allows us to meet our goals.

A few days ago I received my weekly email newsletter from Harvard Medical School. As I was reading though it I was amazed to read for those who are not currently physically active, adding just of 20-30 minutes of daily exercise 3 times a week into your plan can cut your risk for heart disease in half. We are talking a 50% decline by doing an hour to an hour and a half of exercise EACH week. This is quite a return for your health with little time involvement. And you may just find that you have more energy, therefore you will look at adding more time or days to your workout.

And if you canít fit 20-30 minutes in all at once, consider breaking this down to 2-3 ten minutes pockets of activity. Studies have shown that these small bouts of activity are just as beneficial as one longer session. The goal is to build consistency.

A study conducted by the American Institute of Cancer Research revealed that by adding just 5 or more servings of fruits and veggies into your diet per day can reduce cancer rates by up to 20%. This is very significant especially since cancers will be the number one killer of individuals in the world by the end of 2010.

Even the United States Department of Health & Human Services recognizes that one way to better health is by incorporating small, doable steps into our every day lives. They have a fantastic website, SmallStep Adult and Teens that allows you to print off a list of small changes you can do every day to improve your health and fitness.

While it is nice to have the freedom to eat well and exercise, we cannot become so hard on ourselves when we fall short of perfect. We need to forgive ourselves when we do stumble. As the old saying goes, ďAim for progression, not perfection.Ē

Do you accept the moments when you are anything less than perfect and if not, how does it make you feel? Do these moments deter you from meeting your goals? Do you believe that small steps can lead to better health benefits even if you donít see a change on the scale?

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I just started and need to take MORE baby steps. I know it will make me feel better.I feel guilty when I don't see improvement in myself. Report
I have learned, mostly through using SparkPeople, that it is OK to let yourself have un-perfect times. I'm very grateful for this revelation. It is much better than what I was doing before which was to expect perfection and then either crush myself or rationalize and be in denial if it didn't happen. Report
If I have a not so perfect day I stop before bed and think about what I did that didn't fit my plans. I think about why I did it and how I can handle the situation differently should it arise again. That way I don't immediately run for cookies when I have a bad day. Instead, I might grab carrots and munch on them and then do a little exercise to try to work it out instead of pack it in.

I believe that a set back or two isn't a real motivation killer for me because I accept that I messed up and vow to myself that tomorrow will be a better and brighter day. And so I wake up and start over. I don't beat myself up about a mistake here and there. After all, I'm only human.

I believe that for some people small steps can make a vast improvement in living a healthier life style and that it's easier for most to take the small steps and add onto them as they go along. Keeping in mind that the scale is only one little fragment of the overall picture helps a lot. If you keep track of other measurements then you'll be able to see differences there too which will help keep you motivated. Report
Beating myself up for not being perfect is so counterproductive! If I mess up today, then I'll do better tomorrow, but I won't let it ruin my ultimate goals...just consider it a bump in the road. Small steps and changes are the best ones since I am more likely to make them good habits. Report
Small steps are better than no steps at all and its good to start small.
As you are feeling stronger and confident then add a little more to your program.
Small steps is how I started. Sure wish I had read this article then because I was so down on myself for not doing more. But, I am doing great now and I won't feel so bad anymore if I miss a workout or eat my Sunday morning donut at church (still can't seem to pass that up...LOL). Report
Wow, I needed to read this today! I've had a headache for two days now and have been pushing myself at work...when I have a headache I crave sugar. I allowed myself one package of sugar in my tea and it felt really soothing. today I woke up late after a rough night and missed my exercise time. Normally I would "beat myself up" for missing it and being lazy, but after reading this, I will accept that missing one day is o.k. I'm not 100% perfect, and will accept that. Small steps, small steps!! Report
Do you believe that small steps can lead to better health benefits even if you donít see a change on the scale?

In my conscious mind, I do, but the subconscious is another story. Old baggage needs to be sent to the dump. Report
fantastic article!! Report
one bite at a time!
Loosing weight is like a full time job . Articles like this helps to educate us on current issues/topics regarding our weight. because we are human and we are creatures of habit.... we will fail. But !! the secret is to get up and keep going Report
Very good points. I think weíre all different of course and some of us may respond better to more aggressive goals, but for me, at least for now, I think modest changes are best. Once I get a handle on the things Iím incorporating into my life I can start adding more. I think this approach is doing more for my confidence than if I went aggressive and kept repeatedly falling far short or worse hating every moment of it. Instead of hating what Iím doing, Iím finding new enjoyment in things Iím not naturally attracted to.

Some of us are deep end people and need to jump right in to really experience change in an immediate and dramatic way. Some of us are shallow end people and like to test the waters and get acclimated as we go. As long as we keep our attention on an honest appraisal of the impact on our health then I donít think either method is inherently wrong.

This post really got me thinking and I posted my full response on my SparkPage for anyone interested.
It's hard, especially when you're first starting out on a journey like this, not to be perfect. It's so tempting to say, "I messed up, I give up" but the longer I Spark, the more forgiving I am of my imperfections. If this is a new lifestyle I am going to have to make my peace with the fact that some days I won't be able to make it to the gym...but that doesn't mean the day is lost. I can still ride my bike to an appointment instead of drive. I can still do everything else I would normally do to promote a healthy lifestyle. Perfection only lasts until you mess up, a healthy lifestyle can last forever. Report
I too believe in small steps, and it's funny that I just read this article because I just wrote in my SP journal about something sort of related: 3 weeks ago I started a gym program at my school and decided that I wanted to start going to the gym regularly, at least 3 times a week. Mind you, 3 times a week would mean that in two weeks I would have already gone to the gym more times than I had in the past year and a half! It's been 3 weeks and I've managed to go between 4-6 times a week, but I'm at that dividing point of while I feel good after working out, my brain keeps sneaking in thoughts of giving up. I keep telling myself that if I can at least get there and do something small for just 30 minutes, I can stick it out. So while I really took a LEAP here in getting to the gym regularly, it's the small step of just GETTING there that I keep telling myself to accomplish! :-D Thanks for the great article! Report
I like this blog and I believe that small changes are good for your health but I still get sad when day after day I just yo yo the same 5 or 10 lbs on the scale. Report
This is an excellent blog.

While I have not met the "goal" I set for myself for weight loss over the last year, I feel and look so much better. I get compliments all the time. It is more important to remember the lifestyle change. I'd be lying if I said the number on the scale did not matter to me. But I'm trying to keep it all in perspective. And I'm actually looking forward to my annual physical this year to see how my cholesteral, etc. are with my having been active and eating right for the past 14 months (a.k.a when I joined SparkPeople).

I looked in my closet yesterday & was thinking about all the changes that had taken place in there over the last year. WOW! I exercise most days consistently and eat/drink the right stuff. Besides, I have come to believe "it is about the journey, not the destination". My thanks to whomever came up with that little reminder. And thanks to SparkPeople ... all of YOU!
I LOVE this comment, "aim for progression, not perfection". that's a wonderful quote !

It's true, perfection is over-rated.

Loved the blog. I believe that baby steps will work for me. I was doing that well, then started to think about doing this for the rest of my life, and it set me back. I know this is a life time thing, but I can only do my best one day at a time. I have to be careful about accepting setbacks, as I sometimes go into an all out downslide. Back on track, I think and doing this step at a time. Report
Yes, have to keep pushing forward! If it wasn't for small steps changing things a little at a time I wouldn't be where I am now. I still have a long way to go! Also when you take it slowly you can see where you are making the mistakes. YES, you have to have the once n a while goodie. I have learned to make allowances in my calories to have that goodie. Also if you take it off slower I have been told you are more likely to keep it off. I do so hope that is right!!!

Hugs Martha n TX Report
I needed this today. I had a horrible eating day yesterday, but I will not let that get me down. I just have to keep going! Report
As hard as it is for me at times; I have to be true to what has worked. Sometimes there just isn't any other choice, but to skip a workout or eat something that isn't exactly the best thing for you. You have to look at the overall picture rather than just a snapshot of a moment. Report
I have learned that consistent small steps works best and if I miss a step it reminds me that I am part of the human race, and I'm very glad to be human. Report
So very true...small steps can really make a difference. It also helps maintain consistency. Thanks Nancy! Report
For me personally, I'm an all or nothing kind of person. So, I strongly disagree with the concept that we must keep our expectations small, because we will quit if we require too much of ourselves. We are not weak, we are capable of doing what is necessary day in and day out and striving for perfection. While something is certainly better than nothing, we can't kid ourselves into thinking we can reach our goals (which for the majority of us means losing weight) by doing the least amount of work possible. We must be willing to continue to push ourselves and raise the bar and make eating healthy and working out a priority and part of our everyday life. Report
Absolutely, like today for instance, I don't have the time to do the 45 minute cardio routine because I have a lot to do (and because I refuse to "drag" myself out of bed on a Sunday). So instead, I am just keeping active while I do stuff today - wash dishes (dance a little), doing laundry (high step it back and forth between washer and dryer), make dinner (more dancing). Sometime you can't get in a great workout, but just moving any little bit you can helps. Report
Excellent Blog. It seems that the older I get, the wiser I become. I have been doing great on the exercising. Never less than 4 days a week. Sometimes more. Report
I'm totally in love with baby steps and gradual changes. it's the only way I could have lost more than 60 pounds since May 2008. And by keeping on making better choices - not always "perfect choices" I know I can keep doing this for the rest of my life without burning out. Report
My steps so far have included a major change in my diet - I feel so much stronger and confident that I can make the right food choices. Exercise is another challenge for me. I have put off exercising - I can think of a 100 excuses - of course, none of them are honest - this is my challenge to get myself walking. A really small step will be a start! I'll keep my blog updated to let those of you who are interested in my progress. Report
Excellent blog!

I rarely have perfect moments but I accept them all. It's all about balance for me. Report
Should be required reading for all of us who wish to be healthier or slimmer, Nancy. I can tell you from experience, sometimes little steps are all a person can force themselves to do....but persistance with small changes eventually lead to bigger and better things in your life. I can not eat little enough alone to lose weight and still be healthy, but you will find with that effort you will feel better and be able to start the little steps which eventually lead to more stamina and determination to reach your goals. It is not perfection but rather persistance which will get you there. Report
I can do baby steps Report
I know this is good advice, but particularly when I was starting out, I needed the big changes to motivate me, now it has to be the smaller steps and since I have made so much progress, it is alright now. Report
Making small changes, or, taking baby steps is the best way to create a healthy new lifestyle. Trying to do it all at once usually results in failure. Just take it one day at a time, one mini challenge at a time and you'll get there!!!!
Great blog - I firmly believe in those small steps - they REALLY add up. Report
One of my SparkFriends calls it "taking the scenic route" to weight loss. If I get down about eating bad or missing workouts, I'll pull myself into a depression and just give up. Therefore, I'm happy to call them "taking the scenic route." Report
I missed a workout this week, which in the past may have derailed me. Instead, I thought about how three months ago I was getting zero hours of exercise a week, and decided that three workouts instead of four was something I could still be proud of. Report
I agree! So many times, I feel so guilty if I don't try my 100% best in eating healthily and exercising hard by pushing myself but in reality I am realising that I'm doing a MSC fullt-time as well and know that I am behind on my studies partly (or msotly in the last few weeks) because I have given too much priority to try and get out of a plateau and starting losing weight again. I have only so much time and it's unrealistic that I can workout at the gym everyday. As long I exercise a few hours a week and try to eat well, then I will achieve my goals in the end. Report
So many people are so hard on themselves when they go over their calorie allowance or miss a day of exercise - we need to lighten up and enjoy life! Not everyday will be perfect, and expecting it to be so will defeat us in the end. Report
I think how you feel in your own skin is the most important guide to your health. Small steps can get anyone there. The more energy I have helps me keep going and eventually I see it on the scale and in measurements but how I feel is so much more important to me. I think health is so much more then what the scale says or doesn't say. The fact that adding just 20-30 minutes of daily exercise 3 times a week into your plan can cut your risk for heart disease in HALF is amazing because almost everyone can do that. I had thought it was more that is great.
Thanks Nancy, love your blogs, I did not know it makes that much improvement with that little of time!!! Report
Absolutely....any step, no matter what "size", is helpful. My lifestyle change has consisted of making lots of small changes and being active in some way every day. Can now give you 109 reasons why this works!!!!! Report
Nancy, this is such a wonderful & encouraging article. THANK YOU for re-emphasizing to us that even teeny-tiny segments of physical activity ARE beneficial.
For those of us who are significantly disabled, it is nice to know that even we can do some physical exercises that will help us bolster our overall health and drop the weight.
And your quote is now close to the top of my "favorite quote" list:
ďAim for progression, not perfection.Ē Yes indeed!!!! Another success secret.
Great reminder, especially for us perfectionists out there, like me! I think this is why I've managed to stick with a healthier lifestyle for two months so far. I tend to be an all or nothing person, but I've realized that exercising 30 minutes a day, 5-6 times a week is working for me. Also, I CAN have some of the "bad" foods I enjoy, in moderation. Previously I'd psyche myself out by thinking I had to deprive myself of everything forever. Report
Nancy thank you again for another great article. Yes I allow myself some days off. I just don't give up all together. Life happens everyday. We just need to learn that if we mess up once all is not forgotten. I just pick up the pieces and keep moving. Just knowing that I've had some time off or bad eating days I work out harder to make up for it. Report
Thank you for the great article!!! Knowledge is power! I love to see movement on the scale but also am focusing on how my clothes feel. That sometimes is a better reminder for me that I'm doing things right. Report
Thanks Nancy! This is just what I needed to hear. I'm guilty of beating myself up for not being perfect...all or nothing syndrome. Having a community like Sparkpeople is such a god-send. To all of us out there beating ourselves up.....stop it! Put yourself back on your priority list and be happy for the small positive steps we take. Report
Yesterday I had a treat at lunch - two slices of pizza. Amazingly enough it fit into my calorie plan for the day. YEA! The difference in my mind set I think is that now I can be satisfied with enjoying 2 slices. In the past I'd be stuffing myself until my half of the pizza was gone and not enjoying nearly as much.

I'm starting to try to more more at work. I've got a desk job so I do a lot of sitting. Now, I get up and go to my printer rather than wheeling myself over in my chair. I'm going to try standing and doing some tasks rather than just sitting. Anything to move around a little more. I'm drinking my water as I should so the extra bathroom breaks should help too. lol

I loved reading this blog and all the comments on it. I'm finding that the more active I become, the more my lifestyle incorporates "fitness moments". I've been kind of beating myself up for only working out 45 minutes in the mornings, but I also go to Jazzercise 4 times a week, and I log about 15000 steps on my pedometer every day. At school, I find more excuses to walk up and down the hall! I no longer worry about getting the closest parking space at the store and I look forward to neighborhood jaunts with my dogs when the weather is nice. The more energy I have, the more I want to get out and do things! At the same time, there are days when I just feel exhausted. I think it's important to listen to our bodies and make sure we are getting rest when we need it. I'm not going to beat myself up over a day off once in awhile. Report
This is a great blog. Four years and 90 pounds ago, I would beat myself up every time I got on the scale. The day that I began to lose was the day I stopped beating myself up for where I was and decided that I was going to do SOMETHING every day to be healthier. On days that I slipped, I decided to forgive myself and would tell myself tomorrow was a new day and to learn from this one. Thanks for sharing. Report
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