Justin Fink by Justin Fink

Six out of 10 adults in the United States live with a chronic disease, while four in 10 have two or more. What if we could start to reverse this trend? What if you could improve your health and decrease your risk for chronic disease in just a few steps? Many people don’t know how to start a healthy lifestyle or how to start eating healthy. Consider trying out this simple, straightforward and efficient five-part jumpstart toward optimizing whole-person health and wellness for the long term.  

1. Manage Chronic Stress 

Stress can be a factor in high blood pressure, diabetes, skin conditions, heart conditions, arthritis, anxiety and more. And, it’s no mystery that both acute and chronic stress appear to have a considerable impact on the immune system. Creating a positive mind-body connection is an important component of mitigating stress. Here are a few approaches you can use to help manage stress and strengthen the mind-body connection. 

Mindfulness: Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment while noticing your thoughts and feelings without judgement. Studies of individuals who have used mindfulness therapies have shown positive changes in areas of the brain concerned with stress. In fact, some evidence connects physiologic improvements with mindfulness, including decreased anxiety, depression and pain, and increased energy, immune function and cognitive capacity 

Mindful eating: Mindful eating can be an effective way to help regulate the stress response. Avoid watching TV, scrolling on your phone or performing other distracted activities. Instead, place the attention on how your food looks, smells and tastes, and chew thoroughly.  

Breathing focus: One form of breathing that may decrease anxiety and depression is 4-7-8 breathing.   

  • Start by ensuring your back is straight. Purse your lips, and let your thoughts pass. 

  • Exhale entirely through your mouth. 

  • Close your mouth and inhale through your nose while counting to four. 

  • Hold your breath for seven seconds. 

  • Exhale completely through your mouth for eight seconds, making a whoosh sound. This counts as one breath. 

  • Inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times.  


Box breathing, which is described in the video below, is another technique that may help you connect with your breath. Another option is to simply take 10 deep breaths—breathe in fully, then out through your nose. 



Avoid the slump: Some evidence suggests that, compared to a slumped posture, adopting an upright posture can improve mood and self-esteem and may be a simple behavioral strategy to help build resilience. There are many at-home exercises that can improve posture. Consider this above-the-head chest stretch:  

  • Standing or seated, raise your arms above your head. 

  • Gently squeeze your shoulder blades and open your chest by moving your elbows and arms backward. 

  • Move your hands to various positionsbehind the head, top of the head, above the head and down. 

  • Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and perform two to four sets regularly.  

2. Get Moving 

Current physical activity guidelines call for adults to achieve a minimum of 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, along with moderate or greater intensity muscle-strengthening activities for all major muscle groups on two or more days every week. Unfortunately, only about one-fourth of adults in the U.S. meet these guidelines 

Tracking your progress, either on your own or with an app, can be helpful. If you prefer to work with an expert, simply search for an ACE Certified Personal Trainer. Before you know it, you’ll be meeting the guidelines and hitting your goals.  

3. Focus on Nutrition 

A healthy eating pattern is essential to overall health and protection against chronic disease. But for many people, changing their dietary habits can seem overwhelming. What do I eat? How much? How can I make it work with my schedule and lifestyle? What’s right for me? One of the most effective ways to transform your plate is to consume nutrient-dense foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains and lean proteins. That may seem like a lot of dietary changes at once, so let’s narrow our focus.  

Only about one in 10 adults meet the Dietary Guidelines for fruit or vegetable consumption, which recommend 2 .5cups of vegetables per day and 2 cups of fruit per day if following a 2,000 calorie per day eating plan. In keeping with the theme of starting with small, manageable changes, make a goal to consume more produce daily.  

4. Get More Sleep 

Sleep is essential to every system in the body. Unfortunately, myriad factors directly compete with sleep, and many people do not get enough. In fact, adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep are at higher risk for chronic disease and health conditions. Additionally, a lack of sleep is connected to higher stress levels, physical inactivity, poor nutrition, weight gain, impaired immunity and more. With busy lives, it’s important to employ your own personal strategy for ensuring quality sleep. Behavioral approaches include getting daily exercise, eating healthy foods, limiting caffeine and alcohol, and being consistent with bed and wakeup times.  

Consider developing a bedtime routine to set the stage for sleep. This may include a comfortable room temperature, reading, listening to calming music, reducing light exposure and ensuring the bedroom is dark and tranquil. Avoiding blue light, which suppresses the body’s release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, is especially important. Interestingly, a National Sleep Foundation poll showed that 90% of Americans use an electronic device in their bedroom within an hour of trying to fall asleep. 

If you find yourself scrolling through your phone, working on your computer or watching TVall of which emit blue lighttry to refrain from those activities for at least 90 minutes before bedtime. Set a goal, and even a reminder, to peacefully conclude each day.  

5. Make Social Connections 

The quality of our social relationships is another factor that affects our health. In fact, people who have supportive and close connections generally have lower incidences of chronic disease. In addition, social isolation has been shown to significantly increase risk of premature death from all causes and is linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide 

Making social connections can be as simple as greeting a neighbor in the street or making a phone or video call to a friend or family member. Reaching out to people you know is inherently more comfortable, but there are many ways to expand your interactions. 

  • Arrange a regular walking group with friends. Remember to take a break from your phones and engage 

  • Sign up for a culinary medicine cooking class. You’ll learn how to cook healthy food while enjoying the company of others. Community-based cooking classes have been shown to be positive influences on socialization, self-esteem and quality of life.  

  • Volunteer. Helping others can boost your psychological well-being. 

  • Register for a group exercise class. You’ll benefit from the feeling of belonging and camaraderie with other participants.  

  • Spend time with animals. Pets can play a role in fostering connection and overall health improvement. Social interactions with dogs  may increase levels of oxytocin, a hormone linked to warm feelings.  

Putting It All Together 

It is clear that our lifestyle choices have a considerable effect on our health and well-being. Embarking upon many health changes simultaneously may seem daunting. Instead, consider starting with manageable goals; you’ll find that the behaviors can complement each other. Your incremental progress will eventually lead to impactful, long-term whole-person health results.   

Plan for Health and Wellness 

To get on the right path toward health and wellness, prioritize a few key areas, including the following: 

  • Reduce stress through multiple mindful methods. 

  • Get moving by working toward goals based on the physical activity guidelines. 

  • Focus on nutrition and experience how fruits, vegetables and lean proteins can transform your palette and support your health. 

  • Secure more sleep by avoiding devices that emit blue light at least 90 minutes before bedtime. 

  • Make social connections by seeking out opportunities to be around others. 

If you are an exercise professional interested in helping clients make healthy, productive and permanent lifestyle changes, check out the ACE Behavior Change Specialist Program. Or, take a continuing education course (worth 0.1 ACE CEC) on Stress Management: Reduce Stress for Better Health.