6 ways to get back to the basics for healthy living

To continue providing the care our patients need, we first have to care for ourselves. With sometimes heavy workloads, fitness classes being canceled, and increased stress levels, we’ve put together some tips on healthy dietary and exercise habits—provided by University of Iowa experts—to ensure our own well-being.

Left to right: Katherine Mellen, PhD, Rose Lee, MD, Lucas Carr, PhD

1. Strive to actively think about the food you’re eating

According to Kathrine Mellen, PhD, associate professor in health and human physiology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, making healthy food decisions has both short- and long-term benefits. In the short term, you’ll feel better, have more consistent energy, and you’ll perform better in your day-to-day work. In the long term, good nutrition often leads to a high functioning immune system which can protect your body and guard against diseases like Type 2 diabetes.

2. Fad diets are not the answer

Fad diets can sometimes help you lose weight fast, but they don’t take the long-term harm into consideration, says Rose Lee, MD, clinical associate professor of gastroenterology. If you starve yourself for a diet and then binge eat after you finish because you lost weight, it can result in an imbalance in your electrolytes known as “refeeding syndrome,” which can often be very dangerous.

3. Fruits and veggies are still your friends

Despite the sometimes mixed messaging about nutrition, Mellen says the greater proportion of your plate should still be plant-based. Fruits and vegetables should be the mainstay, while proteins and whole grains accompany them.

Credible resources

There are so many contrasting sources of nutritional and exercise information that it’s difficult to decipher what’s credible and what’s not. Here are some trustworthy resources on dietary and physical activity habits.

4. ‘Grazing’ is a great option

Many of us may occasionally skip a meal. But when that happens, we have a tendency to binge eat at the next one. What’s the solution? According to Lee, it’s a technique called “grazing.” The technique is characterized by eating smaller, more frequent meals—of healthy food—throughout the day, rather than eating two or three huge meals.

5. You don’t need a gym to sweat

Physical activity remains one of the most important health behaviors that an individual can do to maintain optimal health, says Lucas Carr, PhD, associate professor in health and human physiology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Evidence suggests that regular physical activity helps maintain a healthy immune system and a healthy mental outlook—both of which are very important, especially during a global pandemic.

While we may prefer to workout inside a gym, it is absolutely possible to be active at a high intensity without one, says Carr. Jogging, cycling, hiking, kayaking, and paddle boarding are all great summer options.

When the cold weather returns, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing will become good outdoor options. There are also tangible health benefits from being outside and surrounded by nature. A large study of 20,000 people found that those who spent two or more hours a week in green spaces were more likely to report good health and psychological well-being compared to those who didn’t spend any time in nature.

If you do go to the gym? Make sure you wear a face covering. As exercise naturally causes individuals to expire micro droplets into the air, it is highly recommended that you exercise in spaces that allow you to distance from others and wear a mask or shield.

6. Weight loss and exercise are not as entwined as you may think

Our dietary habits play a larger role in promoting weight loss than exercise, so it’s recommended exercise be paired with a healthy eating pattern to lose weight, says Carr. In terms of which exercises are best to help shrink your waistline, the best exercise is the one that you will stick to. We tend to repeat the things we enjoy most so you should choose activities that bring you joy. However, it’s also important to focus on the many benefits of exercise and healthy eating that are independent of weight loss.