Shelby Spears by Shelby Spears

Eat better. Get more sleep. Stress less. Feel happier. Be more productive. Have more energy. Hydrate adequately. The list of what it takes to be healthy and fit can seem both long and overwhelming.

But getting off track from your fitness journey or failing to reach your goals most often is not due to a lack of willpower. Rather, you may be trying to take on too much at once.

What if focusing on one, small thing could lead you to lasting, sustainable health and fitness results? What if simple movement could be your catalyst to change?

Decades of research has shown that regular exercise leads to better sleep, less stress, improved mood and even better eating habits. And it doesn’t have to be vigorous. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the goal for most U.S. adults is to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise nearly every day. Nor does exercise have to be performed in a single bout—the latest Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans removed the requirement that exercise should be performed for at least 10 minutes at a time to be effective—even five-minute bouts offer health benefits.

Taking the stairs at work, walking around your building on a break, parking farther away at the grocery store, doing squats while watching your kid’s sporting event or doing some push-ups on a park bench, all count toward this goal of daily movement.

When you start to move more, other positive behavior changes will tend to follow suit. It’s not magic, but rather behavioral science. Studies have shown that when participants increase their physical activity they tend to naturally eat better. For example, a recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that when college students followed an exercise program but were told not to change their diet, their eating habits still improved. They ate more vegetables and healthy foods and fewer fried, high-fat foods even though they weren’t following a nutrition plan or focusing on nutrition specifically as a goal.

It makes sense. Why take things away—don’t eat this, eat less of that—when you can instead add something. Adding daily, regular movement to your life can set off a chain reaction of improved healthy habits.

James Clear, author of the best-selling book, Atomic Habits, calls this the “Domino Effect.”

“Many of the habits and routines that make up our daily lives are related to one another. There is an astounding interconnectedness between the systems of life and human behavior is no exception,” Clear wrote on The Huffington Post. “The inherent relatedness of things is a core reason why choices in one area of life can lead to surprising results in other areas, regardless of the plans you make.”

A plethora of research shows that regular exercise or daily physical activity such as gardening, taking the stairs or walking your dog can help improve sleep and even helps to treat chronic insomnia. One comprehensive study looking at the effects of exercise on sleep found that the reduction in anxiety from exercise and the increase in serotonin levels—those good feelings you have after a workout—can contribute to improved sleep. Researchers also concluded that exercise may work just as well as drugs when treating insomnia, with the added benefit of having no medication side effects.

The evidence is clear. When you exercise or move your body on a regular basis you’re bound to experience benefits beyond added strength or endurance. Challenge yourself to move every day and you may soon find you’re eating well, sleeping sound, experiencing less stress and achieving more.

Become an ACE Behavior Change Specialist and discover new methods to move more, eat better and make healthier decisions for yourself, your family and for your clients.  

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