Energize Yourself and Your Family

Did you know?
Being healthy and active can help give you the energy to keep up with the demands of your busy life, take better care of yourself, and be there for the people who depend on you.

If you are overweight and inactive, you are more likely to get:

  • Type 2 diabetes (high blood sugar)
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Certain forms of cancer.

You may improve your health if you Move More and Eat Better! This booklet gives you tips on how to get moving and eat well even when your life is busy.

Why Move More and Eat Better?
Being active and making smart food choices is good for your health. But that is not the only reason to move more and eat better. You can:

  • Have more energy and less stress
  • Feel better about yourself
  • Tone your body
  • Look better in your clothes
  • Set a good example for your children and your friends.

Tips on Moving More
Try to do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (like brisk walking) on most days of the week. It is not as hard as you may think, and you do not have to do the whole 30 minutes at one time. Try these tips to get past things that keep you from being active.

“I don’t have time for physical activity.”

You can “sneak” it into your day, a few minutes at a time. Get started by making these small changes in your daily routine:

  • Get off the bus or subway one stop early and walk the rest of the way (be sure the area is safe).
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator (be sure the stairs are well lit).
  • Walk and talk with a friend at lunch.
  • Put more energy into housework and yard work.

“It’s too expensive.”

There are lots of ways to be physically active that are free or low-cost. You can:

  • Find a local school park or school track where you can walk or run.
  • Walk around a mall.
  • Work out with videos in your home—you can find workout videos at bookstores or your local library.

TIP: Most people do not need to see their health care provider before getting physically active. If you have chronic health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, or obesity, talk to your health care provider before starting a vigorous physical activity program. You do not need to talk to your provider before you start less strenuous activity like walking.

  • Join a recreation center or fitness center at work or near your home.
  • Walk your dog. If you do not have a dog, pretend that you do.

“Physical activity is a chore.”

It can be fun! Try to:

  • Do things you enjoy, like walking, dancing, swimming, or playing sports.
  • Walk or take an exercise class with a friend or a group—that way, you can cheer each other on, have company, and feel safer when you are outdoors.
  • Be active with your kids—ride bikes, jump double-dutch, toss a softball, play tag, or do jumping jacks. Physical activity is good for them too.
  • Break it up into short blocks of time—taking three 10-minute walks during your day may be easier than taking one 30-minute walk.
  • Use your daily workouts as time out just for yourself.

TIP: Keep a physical activity log. Writing down your workouts in a notebook or on a calendar lets you see how many times you have been physically active in a week. You can also use your log to track your physical activity and health goals.

Tips for Eating Better
It may be hard to eat healthy if you do not have time to cook or your kids want fast food. Try these tips to eat better, save time, and stretch your food budget:

Help your family eat well

Here are some ways that you and your family can eat better:

  • Eat breakfast every day. Try a whole-grain cereal like raisin bran with nonfat or low-fat milk, or whole wheat toast spread with jam. Enjoy some fruit with your breakfast too.
  • Teach kids that healthy foods taste good. Make macaroni and cheese with nonfat milk and low-fat cheese. Try a peanut butter (spread thin) and jam or preserves sandwich instead of a burger and fries.
  • Choose nonfat or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese instead of full fat dairy products.
  • Choose whole-grain foods like whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, or whole wheat pasta more often than refined-grain foods, like white bread, white rice, and white pasta.
  • Snack on fruits and vegetables. Keep a bowl of fruit on the table, bags of mini carrots in the refrigerator, and boxes of raisins in the cupboard.
  • Do not keep a lot of sweets like cookies, candy, or soda in the house. Too many sweets can crowd out healthier foods.

TIP: If you cannot digest lactose (the sugar found in milk), try nonfat or low-fat lactose-reduced milk. Or try nonfat or low-fat yogurt or hard cheeses like cheddar, which may be easier to digest than milk. You can also get the calcium from calcium-fortified juices, soy-based beverages, and cereals. Eating dark leafy vegetables like collard greens and kale, and canned fish with soft bones like salmon, can also help you meet your body’s calcium needs.

Save time and money when you cook

You do not have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen or a lot of money to eat well.

  • Buy foods that are easy to prepare, like pasta and tomato sauce, rice and beans, or canned tuna packed in water.
  • Plan ahead and cook enough food to have leftovers. Casseroles, meat loaf, and whole cooked chicken can feed your family for several days. (Be sure to freeze or refrigerate leftovers right away to keep them safe to eat.)
  • Buy fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season. Buy only as much as you will use, so they will not go bad.
  • Buy frozen or canned vegetables (no salt added) and canned fruit packed in juice. They are just as good for you as fresh produce, and will not go bad.
  • Try canned beans like kidney, butter, pinto, or black beans. They are loaded with protein, cost less than meat, and make quick and easy additions to your meals.
  • If your local store does not have the foods you want or their prices are too high, go to another store or your local farmers’ market. Share a ride or the cost of a taxi with friends.

Reading Food Labels
Food labels may help you make healthy food choices.* But they can be confusing. Here are some quick tips for reading food labels:

Serving Size: All the information on a food label is based on the serving size. Be careful—one serving may be much smaller than you think. Compare what you eat to the serving size on the label.

Calories: Most women need to eat about 1,600 calories per day, with no more than 30 percent (about 480 calories) from total fat. Active women need more calories, up to 2,200 per day (no more than 660 calories from total fat).**

% Daily Value (%DV): This tells you whether a food is high or low in nutrients. Foods that have more than 20 percent daily value (20% DV) of a nutrient are high. Foods that have 5 percent daily value (5% DV) or less are low.

Saturated Fat: Saturated fat is not healthy for your heart. Compare labels on similar foods and try to choose foods that have a 5% DV or less for saturated fat.***

Trans Fat: Trans fat is not healthy for your heart. When reading food labels, add together the grams (g) of trans fat and saturated fat, and choose foods with the lowest combined amount.

Cholesterol: Too much cholesterol is not healthy for your heart. Keep your intake of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol as low as possible.

Sodium: Salt contains sodium. High sodium intake is linked to higher blood pressure. Foods that contain more than 20% DV are high in sodium. Look for labels that say “sodium-free” or “low sodium.” Foods that are low in sodium contain no more than 5% DV.

TIP: Many food labels say “low-fat,” “reduced fat,” or “light.” That does not always mean the food is low in calories. Remember, fat free does not mean calorie free and calories do count!

Fiber: Choose foods that are rich in fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Sugar: Try to choose foods with little or no added sugar (like low-sugar cereals).

Calcium: Choose foods that are high in calcium. Foods that are high in calcium have at least 20% DV.

* For more information on reading nutrition labels, see Using the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, available from the Federal Consumer Information Center, 1-888-878-3256 or read Guidance on How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Panel on Food Labels from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/foodlab.html.

** From Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2000, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If you need a special diet, check with your health care provider before following these guidelines

*** Ibid.

Eating on the Go
In real life, you cannot always cook your meals or eat at the dinner table. Here are some ways to make healthy choices when you are on the go:

  • Choose a salad or a grilled chicken sandwich (not fried) instead of a burger at fast-food restaurants.
  • If you really want a burger, make it a small one without sauce, and skip the fries—or share them with a friend.
  • Take healthy snacks with you to work. Try graham crackers, pretzels, baby carrots or a small amount of raisins or nuts (nuts and raisins are high in calories).
  • Balance your meals throughout the day. If you have a high-fat or high-calorie breakfast or lunch, make sure you eat a low-fat dinner. If you know you will be having a higher fat dinner, make lower fat choices earlier in the day.

TIP: Fried foods, high-fat foods, and take-out foods can be part of a balanced eating plan—if you do not eat them every day and only eat small amounts.

Keeping Track of Serving Sizes
Many people think that bigger is better. We are so used to value-sized portions—especially in restaurants—that it is easy to eat more than our bodies need. Eating smaller portions will help you cut down on calories and fat (and might save you money, too). Here is a 1,600 calorie/day sample menu with sensible servings:

1/2 cup cooked oatmeal
1 English muffin with 1 tablespoon low-fat cream cheese
1 cup low-fat milk
3/4 cup orange juice

2 ounces baked chicken without skin (a little smaller than a deck of cards)
Lettuce, tomato, and cucumber salad with 2 teaspoons oil and vinegar dressing
1/2 cup white rice seasoned with 1/2 teaspoon tub or liquid margarine
1 small whole wheat roll with 1 teaspoon margarine

TIP: Use margarine instead of butter. Choose a soft margarine that has no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon and that lists “liquid vegetable oil” as the first ingredient on the ingredient list. American Heart Association

3 ounces lean roast beef (about the size of a deck of cards) with 1 tablespoon beef gravy
1/2 cup turnip greens seasoned with 1/2 teaspoon margarine
1 small baked sweet potato with 1/2 teaspoon margarine
1 slice cornbread
1/4 honeydew melon


2 1/2 cups low-fat microwave popcorn
1 1/2 teaspoons margarine

TIP: Keep a food diary. Writing down what you eat, when you eat, and how you feel when you eat can help you understand your eating habits. You may be able to see ways to make your eating habits healthier. You can also use your diary to plan weekly menus, make shopping lists, and keep track of recipes you would like to try. For more information about keeping track of food portions, read WIN’s brochure, “Just Enough for You: About Food Portions.”

* Adapted from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute sample menus.

You Can Do It!
Set goals. Move at your own pace. Celebrate your successes. Allow for setbacks. Let your family and friends help you. And keep trying—you can do it!

NIH Publication No. 04-4926
June 2004


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