Your Healthiest Self

Physical Wellness Toolkit

Watching what you put into your body, how much activity you get, and your weight are important for keeping your body working properly. Positive physical health habits can help decrease your stress, lower your risk of disease, and increase your energy. Flip each card below for checklists on how to improve your health in each area. Click on the images to read articles about each topic. You can also print the checklists separately or all together to share with others or as a reminder to yourself.

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6 strategies for improving your physical health

Get active

Sedentary behavior has been linked to many medical problems. Moving more and sitting less can have major health benefits. Experts recommend adults get at least 150 minutes (two and a half hours) of moderate physical activity a week. You can benefit from even a little activity at a time. Every minute counts when it comes to movement.

To increase your activity:

  • Set specific goals for your physical activity.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Park your car at the far end of the street or parking lot.
  • Set up your space so you can walk on a treadmill while watching TV or stand when using the computer.
  • Try an online exercise class to stay active from home.
  • Set an alarm to go off every hour as a reminder to move around for a minute or two.
  • Have small weights in your office or around your home for doing arm exercises.
  • Take a walk on your lunch breaks. Or have “walking meetings” with colleagues at work.

Maintain your muscle

Building muscle helps you keep up the activities you enjoy at any stage of your life. Some types of strength training keep your bones healthy, too. Experts recommend strength training activities for all the major muscle groups two or more days a week for adults and three for kids and teens.

To build muscle safely:

  • Start slowly, especially if you haven’t been active for a long time.
  • Pay attention to your body. Exhaustion, sore joints, or muscle pain mean you’re overdoing it.
  • Use small amounts of weight to start. Focus on your form, and add more weight slowly, over time.
  • Use smooth, steady movements to lift weights into position. Don’t jerk or thrust weights.
  • Avoid “locking” your arm and leg joints in a straight position.
  • Don’t hold your breath during strength exercises.
  • Ask for help. Look for a group class at a local gym, recreation center, or senior center. Or find a trainer.

Find a healthy weight

Keeping your body at a healthy weight may help you lower your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer that can result from carrying excess weight or obesity. Take charge of your weight and your health.

To reach your weight loss goals:

  • Calculate how many calories you need for your weight goals. Visit NIH’s Body Weight Planner.

  • Record your daily food intake and physical activity using an app on your phone or a journal. 

  • Weigh yourself every day, or at least once a week.

  • Set specific goals. Be realistic about your time and abilities.

  • Choose healthy meals and physical activities you enjoy. You’re more likely to stick with ones you like.

  • Plan physical activities with friends or family.

  • Identify temptations. Plan ways to stay on track.

  • Learn from your slips. Find out what triggered the slip and restart your eating and physical activity plan.

  • Be patient. Changing lifestyle habits takes time.

Mind your metabolism

Your metabolism changes as you get older. You burn fewer calories and break down foods differently. You also lose lean muscle. Unless you exercise more and adjust your diet, the pounds can add up. Middle-age spread can quickly become middle-age sprawl. Carrying those extra pounds may be harming your health.

To combat age-related changes:

  • Commit to a healthy diet.
  • Limit snacking.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Move more. Take the stairs and add walking breaks to your day.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Limit alcohol use. Alcohol is high in calories and may worsen health conditions common among older adults.
  • Avoid tobacco products. When you quit smoking, you may improve many aspects of your health and are likely to add years to your life.

Eat a healthy diet

We make dozens of decisions every day. When it comes to deciding what to eat and feed our families, it can be a lot easier than you might think to make smart choices. A healthy eating plan not only limits unhealthy foods, but also includes a variety of healthy foods. Find out which foods to add to your diet and which to avoid.

To eat a healthier diet:

  • Eat a variety of foods—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, lean meat, seafood, eggs, milk, yogurt, and cheese.
  • Limit foods that are low in vitamins and minerals.
  • Cut down on sugar. Pick food with little or no added sugar. Use the Nutrition Facts label to choose packaged foods with less total sugar.
  • Replace saturated fats in your diet with unsaturated fats. Use olive, canola, or other vegetable oils instead of butter, meat fats, or shortening.
  • Get more fiber. Increase your fiber intake gradually, so
    your body can get used to it.
  • Choose more complex carbs. Eat more complex carbs, like starches and fiber. These are found in whole-grain breads, cereals, starchy vegetables, and legumes.
  • Watch out for foods high in salt. Use fresh poultry, fish, and lean meat, rather than canned, smoked, or processed. Choose fresh or frozen vegetables that have no added salt and foods that have less than 5% of the Daily Value of sodium per serving. Rinse canned foods.

Build healthy habits

We know that making healthy choices can help us feel better and live longer. Maybe you’ve already tried to eat better, get more exercise or sleep, quit smoking, or reduce stress. It’s not easy. But research shows how you can boost your ability to create and sustain a healthy lifestyle.

To build healthy habits:

  • Plan. Identify unhealthy patterns and triggers. Set realistic goals.
  • Change your surroundings. Find ways to make healthier choices easy choices. Remove temptations. Work for changes in your community, like safe places to walk.
  • Ask for support. Find friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, or groups for support.
  • Fill your time with healthy activities. Try exercise, a favorite hobby, or spending time with family and friends.
  • Track your progress. Record how things are going to help you stay focused and catch slip-ups.
  • Imagine the future. Think about future benefits to stay on track.
  • Reward yourself. Give yourself a healthy reward when you’ve achieved a small goal or milestone, like a massage.
  • Be patient. Improvement takes time, and setbacks happen. Focus on progress, not perfection.

Want to learn more?

NIH scientists study how your diet, weight, activity level, and habits impact your health and well-being. Read more resources from the NIH institutes advancing research in these areas.

More resources about physical wellness »

This page last reviewed on August 4, 2023