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

Illustration of a woman wearing a pedometer and walking along a trail

How well your body functions affects your ability to accomplish your daily activities. Sedentary behavior—which usually means sitting or lying down while awake—has been linked to a shorter lifespan and a wide range of medical problems. Any time you get up and move, you’re improving your chances for good health.

To increase your activity:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park your car at the far end of the street or parking lot.
  • Have “walking meetings” with colleagues at work.
  • Rearrange your home so you can stand upright or walk on a treadmill while watching TV or using the computer.
  • Set an alarm on your computer to go off every hour and prompt you to move around for a minute or two.
  • Try walking as if you’re already late for the bus or an important meeting.
  • Have small weights in your office or around your home for doing arm exercises.

Maintain your body

Illustration of an older couple hiking through the woods

Your bones, muscles and joints all work together to make your body an amazingly movable machine. Like any machine, your body can suffer some wear and tear. It needs regular care and maintenance to keep moving with ease.

To keep your body healthier:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Too much weight can make your knees and hips ache.
  • Engage in muscle strengthening (resistance) activities that involve all your major muscle groups two or more times a week.
  • Stay active all week long. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week, such as brisk walking.
  • Wear comfortable, properly fitting shoes.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. Get enough calcium and vitamin D daily to protect your bones.
  • Try to avoid lifting heavy objects. If you need to lift something heavy, bend your knees and keep your back straight.

Find a healthy weight

Illustration of a man working on a laptop computer

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 being overweight or obese. Take charge of your weight and your health.

To reach your weight loss goals:

Eat Healthy

  • Eat smaller portions.
  • Select a mix of colorful vegetables each day.
  • Choose whole grains.
  • Go easy on fats and oils.
  • Limit added sugars.

Be Active

  • Stick with activities you enjoy.
  • Go for a brisk walk, ride a bike, or do some gardening.
  • Do strengthening activities.
  • Get active for just 10 minutes, several times a day. Every little bit counts!

Track your progress

  • Keep a food and physical activity diary.
  • Be realistic and aim for slow, modest weight loss.

Mind your metabolism

Illustration of fruits, people jogging, a water bottle, and other healthful images

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

Illustration of a family making a healthy salad

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:

  • Limit “bad” fats. Reduce saturated fats and trans fats in your diet. Use olive or canola oil instead of butter, stick margarine, meat fats, shortening, or palm oils.
  • Cut back on sodium. 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.
  • Choose more complex carbs. Eat more complex carbs, like starches and fiber. These are found in whole-grain breads, cereals, starchy vegetables, and legumes.
  • Cut added sugars. Pick food with little or no added sugar. Use the Nutrition Facts label to choose packaged foods with less total sugar.
  • Get more fiber. Switch to whole grains and add different kinds of vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds to your diet.

Build healthy habits

Illustration of a parent and child preparing a healthy meal together.

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 March 28, 2018