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Though getting fit and healthy may seem like a towering challenge, taking small steps every day helps propel you toward your goal without feeling overwhelmed. A few simple changes make a significant difference. According to the Siteman Cancer Center, more than half of all major diseases in the U.S. -- such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis -- are directly related to lifestyle choices. As a bonus, taking steps toward physical fitness also improves your mental health and energy levels.
You don't have to join a gym to get more exercise. It's easy - and free -- to work more physical activity into your day. Park farther away from the store entrance, climb the stairs instead of getting on the elevator, play a game of tag with your kids, take your dog for a long walk and use a push mower to mow the lawn. Each little workout adds up.
Raise Your Heart Rate
Try to engage in at least 30 minutes of vigorous exercise every day. Activities that raise your heart rate and get your lungs working burn calories, improve your endurance and reduce your risk of heart disease. Running, swimming, aerobics, yoga or in-line skating are just a few options.
Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health. Smoking increases the risks of lung cancer, stoke, coronary heart disease and other cancers. While quitting may be hard, more than 1,000 Americans do it every day, according to the Siteman Cancer Center.
Break Your Fast
Your mom was right; breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Start each day right by eating a healthy breakfast. Morning meals based on fiber-rich foods, low-fat milk and fruit even promote weight loss and prevent heart disease and diabetes, according to Harvard Medical School.
Balance Your Plate
Balance your diet by focusing on whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Add in lean proteins and low-fat dairy to complete a balanced meal. The United States Department of Agriculture Choose My Plate makes it easy to balance amounts from the five food groups.
Choose your foods wisely. Limit processed, sugary, salty and fatty foods in favor of whole foods, which tend to offer more nutrition. Choose heart-healthy oils such as canola or olive.
Adding fiber to meals and snacks packs a healthy punch. Increasing the amount of veggies and fruits you consume is an easy way to add more fiber to your diet. Legumes, nuts and whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals also offer high fiber content.
Limit your portion size, especially when you're eating out. Steps to a Healthier Minnesota suggests eating about 50 percent of what most restaurants put on the plate. Take the rest home for lunch the next day.
While a bit of sun helps with vitamin D production, overexposure leads to sunburn, skin damage and even melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer. Protect yourself by applying sunscreen - at least 15 SPF - and wearing long sleeves, pants and hats when you're outside. Avoid direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV rays are strongest.
Engage in Social Activities
Making healthy lifestyle changes is easier -- and more enjoyable -- when you don't go it alone. Recruit friends or family members to work toward fitness and health goals with you. You'll keep each other motivated throughout the process.