Drinking plenty of water and exercising regularly are two important habits that promote good health. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

With so many programs for weight loss and dieting out there, it can be difficult to know which one is right for you.

The best approach? Slow and steady.

That’s what wins the race when it comes to making lasting change in your diet and exercise routine, said Kristi Artz, MD, medical director of Spectrum Health Lifestyle Medicine.

“There are many ways to make simple adjustments in your life right now that will lead to positive change down the road,” Dr. Artz said.

The Lifestyle Medicine team recommends a whole-body approach to wellness, identifying habits that may cause disease and recommending behavioral changes to prevent or reverse that disease.

Dr. Artz offered some tips that can help set you on the path to improvement.

1. Drink more water

Carry a refillable water bottle with you when you go out and keep track of how much you are drinking throughout the day. Try to drink a full glass before each meal, too. This will help reduce your level of hunger and the amount of food you consume at each meal.

Try infusing water with fresh fruit or herbs for an added burst of flavor. Dr. Artz recommends aiming for six to eight glasses of water a day.

“Habit stacking is a helpful strategy to begin a new healthy behavior,” she said. “What this means is to link the new healthy habit to something you do every day. I like to fill my coffee mug up with water first to remind myself to drink water before I can enjoy coffee in the morning.”

2. Avoid alcohol consumption

Alcohol, wine and beer are full of sugar and empty calories. Cutting back on drinking—or quitting altogether—can greatly improve your weight loss journey and overall wellbeing, physically and mentally.

“Drinking less alcohol will also impact your quality of sleep, give you greater energy throughout the day and improve brain function and overall mental health,” Dr. Artz said.

3. Exercise daily

Dr. Artz tells her patients to try to fit in 30 minutes of physical activity throughout the day.

This doesn’t mean you need to go to the gym and do it all at once. You can fit in bursts throughout the day whenever you have time.

“Try taking a walk mid-day for a break from your routine, shovel some snow from your sidewalk, or go up and down the stairs a few extra times to put laundry away,” Dr. Artz said. “Physical activity is anything that gets your heart beating and your body moving, so do what you enjoy.”

4. Focus on whole plant-based foods

Increasing your daily intake of fruits and vegetables is something that will have a positive impact on your health.

Vegetables are highly nutritious and great sources of fiber, which keeps you feeling full between meals, helps decrease your appetite and curbs cravings.

Try to fill at least half your plate with a variety of colorful vegetables. And try new fruits and vegetables you may have never tried before.

“Whole plant foods are the key to optimal health due to their high nutrient density and low calorie density,” Dr. Artz said. “Plant foods fight inflammation, improve our immune system and keep our bodies functioning optimally.”

5. Limit intake of processed foods

Many processed foods are full of sugar, sodium and added ingredients. If you buy pre-packaged foods, read the nutrition labels and monitor the level of sugar or sodium. Try to select options that have fewer ingredients and focus on whole grains instead of processed grains.

“Keep healthy prepared snacks on hand in your refrigerator and pantry,” Dr. Artz said. “Preparation is key. Try meal prepping—cut up vegetables ahead of time, package nuts and hummus in ready-to-go snack-size portions and make healthy lunch options ahead of time.”

6. Get enough sleep

Try to get six to eight hours of sleep each night to feel fresh and rejuvenated the next day.

Limit screen time before bed—this will make falling asleep much easier. Have a cup of herbal tea and meditate to help plan for tomorrow. Limit your intake of caffeine and sugary beverages prior to bedtime, too.

“Sleep is essential for our bodies to be healthy and well,” Dr. Artz said. “Try taking a bath before bed or meditating or reading a book. And make your bedroom a sanctuary for relaxation and rest.”

7. Limit screen time

If you’re in front of a screen much of the day, try to take breaks sporadically and walk away from the computer. Find a coworker to chat with and try to focus on things at a distance to keep from straining your vision.

“We are all guilty of spending too much time in front of screens,” Dr. Artz said. “Being mindful about it and taking breaks throughout the day is necessary and healthy for your body, mind and soul.”

8. Connect with friends and family

In recent years, many people have become more independent, spending more time working at home. If you’re working from home or working remotely and you have limited daily interaction with others, try to pencil in time for family and friends. Do something social. Grab a cup of coffee with a friend or family member once a week to connect and check in.

Take time to talk about how you’re doing—and be honest.

“We are all social by nature,” Dr. Artz said. “And connecting in real life versus through text or social media can be good for your mental health.”