Want to make sure your beach body lasts through the summer? Start with just two simple goals, according to a new study from Northwestern University.
Researchers gave more than 200 people different pairs of healthy living protocols: Either exercise more and eat less saturated fat, or spend less leisure time sitting still and eat more fruits and vegetables. After 20 weeks, the group that was only told to cut down on sedentary leisure time and eat more produce were 50 percent more successful than the other groups, increasing their fruit and vegetable intake from an average of 1.2 to 5.9 servings per day, and cutting down their couch time from 219 minutes to less than 90 minutes each day. (Learn the surprising habit that’s making you fat.)
That may seem like a no-brainer, but here’s what’s more impressive: Even though they weren’t instructed to, those same people also reduced their saturated fat from 12 percent to 9.9 percent of total daily calories, and increased their time exercising from 50 to 75 minutes per day.
Eating more produce likely filled the study participants with enough fiber that they weren’t hungry enough to eat any more calories from saturated fat, explains study author Bonnie Spring, Ph.D., a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern. She adds that reducing time in front of the TV also meant people were less likely to sit on the couch gorging on unhealthy snacks, and more likely to find light physical activity to fill their time. (Discover how brisk exercise can curb your snack cravings in just 10 minutes.)
Consuming more fruits and vegetables also seemed to be the tipping point that made everything else possible–the volunteers quadrupled their produce intake by the end of the first week. “That increased people’s confidence about being able to make lots of healthy diet and activity changes,” Spring says.
The lesson: Take some time to think about what your weak points are. Focus all your effort on two fitness goals that seem easy to achieve, Spring says. If you’re already a regular lifter, you could add one more set of each exercise. Want to eat better? Try cutting refined carbs out of one meal every day, such as breakfast. Like a domino, the rest of your goals, like trimming fat and gaining strength, should fall into place.
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