Posted on Dec 14, 2023, 3 p.m.
Regular physical activity improves health, mood, and quality of life. Being more active may help you manage your weight.
Healthy adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. You can pick an aerobic activity and a strengthening activity you enjoy, start slowly, add a little at a time, set goals, stay motivated, and overcome roadblocks.
Tracking your progress can help you keep moving. Be safe—start slowly, drink plenty of liquids, and talk with your healthcare professional if you have a health problem or an injury. Choose activities you enjoy and try new ones. Reward yourself.
To reach or stay at a healthy weight, how much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Do you know how much food is enough for you? Do you understand the difference between a portion and a serving? The information below explains portions and servings, and it provides tips to help you eat just enough for you.
A portion is how much food you choose to eat at one time, whether in a restaurant, from a package, or at home. A serving, or serving size, is the amount of food listed on a product’s Nutrition Facts label, or food label.
Different products have different serving sizes. Sizes can be measured in cups, ounces, grams, pieces, slices, or numbers—such as three crackers. Depending on how much you choose to eat, your portion size may or may not match the serving size.
To see how many servings a container has, look at the top of the label. “Servings per container” is listed right above “Serving size.” In the example below, a frozen lasagna serving size is 1 cup. But the container has four servings. If you want to eat 2 cups—or half the package—you’d be eating two servings.
Do a little math to find out how many calories you would really be getting.
- 1 serving = 280 calories
- 2 servings = 280 × 2 = 560 calories
In this case, eating two servings would mean getting twice the calories—and other nutrients—that are listed on the food label.
The serving size on a food label may be more than or less than the amount you should eat. That’s because how many calories you need each day to maintain your weight or lose weight may depend on:
- your age
- your current weight and height
- your metabolism
- whether you’re male or female
- how active you are
For example, if you’re a 150-pound woman whose main physical activity is a short walk once a week, you’ll need fewer calories than a woman about your size who engages in intense physical activity, such as running, several times a week.
Checking food labels for calories per serving is one step toward managing your food portions. It’s also important to keep track of:
- what you eat
- when you eat
- where you eat
- why you eat
- how much you eat
Create a food tracker on your cell phone, calendar, or computer to record the information. Or you can download apps available for mobile devices to help you track how much you eat—and how much physical activity you get—each day.
If you find that you eat even when you’re not hungry, try distracting yourself from food by doing something else instead. For instance:
- call or visit a friend
- if at work, take a break and walk around the block, if your work and schedule permit
- try a healthier option, such as a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts, or carrot sticks and hummus
Using your tracker, you may become aware of when and why you consume less healthy foods and drinks. This information may help you make different choices in the future.
Consuming healthy foods and beverages, along with getting regular physical exercise, may help you reach and maintain a weight that suits you. Maintaining that weight, getting adequate sleep, and managing stress may also help prevent some health problems.
An example of a healthy meal includes vegetables, fruits, and small portions of protein and whole grains. These foods provide fiber and important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.
Treats are okay if you have them once in a while. Just don’t eat foods such as candy, ice cream, or cookies every day. Limit sweet treats to special occasions, and keep portions small. Have one cookie or piece of candy, rather than trying every kind.
Remember that alcohol, juices, soda, and other sweet drinks have a lot of sugar and calories.
If you can’t have milk or milk products because you have trouble digesting lactose, the sugar found in milk, try lactose-free milk or yogurt. Besides milk and milk products, you can get calcium from calcium-added cereals, juices, and drinks made from soy or nuts. Eating dark green leafy vegetables such as collard greens and kale, and canned fish with soft bones like salmon can also help you meet your body’s calcium needs.
A balanced eating plan, regular physical activity, and stress relief may help you reach and maintain a weight that suits you. Calculate your body mass index (BMI), a measure of healthy body weight. Learn the key daily decisions that may help both men and women improve health.
Share a few tips with your children on how to eat and drink enough to fuel their bodies and get them moving. Work together as a family to form healthy habits—such as getting adequate sleep and limiting screen time.
Whether you’re ready to try for a baby or are already pregnant, you may be inspired to get healthy. Learn what to eat, how to stay active, and how much weight to gain during pregnancy. Good habits now may help you have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
As you grow older, good nutrition and staying active are as important as ever, but both men and women may need to make a few changes. Plan nutrient-rich meals on a budget. Learn how to stay healthy and engaged as you mature.
In addition to helping you reach and maintain a healthy weight, staying active and eating better may lower your chances of developing:
- type 2 diabetes, or high blood sugar
- high blood pressure
- kidney disease
- heart disease
- certain kinds of cancer
But improving your health isn’t the only reason to move more and eat better. You may also:
- have more energy for work, play, and family
- feel better about yourself
- manage stress better
- set a good example for your children, friends, and other family members
- tone your body—without losing your curves
Your family, friends, and coworkers can be a great source of support as you work to adopt healthier habits. Ask them to join your efforts. Being healthy is important for them, too. By making healthy choices together, you may find it’s easier to move more and eat better.
Most people don’t need to see a healthcare professional before starting a less intense physical activity, like walking. However, if you have chronic conditions, such as diabetes—or symptoms of chronic conditions—talk with a health professional about the type and amount of physical activity that’s best for you.
To maintain or improve your health, aim for 150 minutes per week—or at least 30 minutes on all or most days of the week—of moderate physical activity. Moderate activities are ones that you can talk—but not sing—while doing, such as brisk walking or dancing. These activities speed up your heart rate and breathing.
If you haven’t been active, work slowly toward the goal of 150 minutes per week. For example, start out doing light or moderate activities for shorter amounts of time throughout the week. You can gain some health benefits even if you do as little as 60 minutes of moderate physical activity a week.
For best results, spread out your physical activity throughout the week. Even 10 or 15 minutes at a time counts. And any amount of physical activity is better than none at all.
To lose weight and keep it off, you may need to be even more active. Shoot for 300 minutes per week, or an hour a day 5 days a week. On at least 2 days per week, also try activities that strengthen your muscles. Examples of these activities include workouts using hand weights or rubber strength bands.
Becoming more active isn’t easy. Different people may have different reasons for finding it hard to get moving. If some of the roadblocks below sound familiar, try the suggested tips to help you overcome them.
“I don't have time.”
Try sneaking a few minutes of physical activity at a time into your day. Get started by making these small changes in your daily routine:
- Break your physical activity up into two or three 10-minute walks a day, if you can do so safely near work or home.
- Take regular breaks from sitting at the computer or watching TV. Get up, move, and stretch by lifting your hands over your head. Twist side to side.
- Schedule time to be active as you would a hair or work appointment and stick to your plan.
“I'm going to ruin my hairstyle.”
If you avoid being active because you don’t want to ruin your hairstyle, try:
- a natural hairstyle, short haircut, braids, twists, locs, or wigs
- wrapping a scarf around your hair; when you’re done with your workout, remove the scarf and let your hair air dry.
Tip: Physical activity may make the hair look dull or lead to salt buildup. To keep your hair healthy as you stay fit:
- Cleanse your scalp with a clarifying product when needed.
- Avoid harsh products that may strip hair of natural oils.
- Limit the use of heat on hair, such as dryers and curling irons. If you use heat, also use low settings to protect hair from damage.
- For styling ideas, consider viewing YouTube videos and visiting other relevant online hair groups and communities to be informed and inspired.
“It costs too much.”
You can be active without spending a lot of money—or any money at all:
- Look for free or low-cost classes and activities in your community.
- Walk in a mall, or walk or jog in a park or on a school track.
- Gather friends and neighbors from your apartment complex and hold regular group workout sessions.
- Find workout videos online and on YouTube if you have internet service—or DVDs at the library—and work out at home.
“Physical activity is a chore.”
Some people may be put off by physical activity, especially if they haven’t been active for a while or got hurt and are afraid of getting injured again. However, with some planning and effort, physical activity can be enjoyable:
- Try being active with your kids—walk, jump rope, play flag football or tag, or toss a softball. Children should get an hour of physical activity each day.
- Get a friend or family member to go biking or take a dance class with you. You can cheer each other on, have company, and feel safer when you’re outdoors.
- Enjoy friendly competition with family and friends by setting a weight-loss challenge or entering a walking, biking, or running event for a worthy cause.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
Content may be edited for style and length.
References/Sources/Materials provided by:
This article was created using resources from the NIH National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).