I no longer had a choice. I had to do something about my health now or suffer the consequences. It was after returning from a trip to the Amazon Basin in August of 2016. My family had spent 10-days in Iquitos, Peru, living and learning from some of the most isolated people in South America. Iquitos is the largest city in the world that can’t be reached by a road. It is only accessible by plane or boat.

I got sick as soon as we returned home. This was not the average sickness that you get when you travel overseas. This was an ‘in the hospital with IVs in my arm’ sickness. During my visit to the hospital, they tested every bodily fluid imaginable. Multiple times.

They never found the cause of my sickness, and it went away after several weeks. What they did find was even more alarming. They informed me that I was 40 pounds overweight, my body fat was 32%, my cholesterol was 203, and my glucose was 109. I needed to make some lifestyle changes or I would not live very long.

I knew that I needed to improve my health, but I didn’t know where to start. I had spent years eating poorly and not getting enough exercise. Getting back into shape in my 50’s was not something that was going to be easy or happen quickly. Weight loss and muscle growth are much more challenging as we get older.

However, over the last two years, I have been able to overcome these challenges. The changes I’ve made have helped me lose 40 pounds, reduce my body fat from 32% to 20%, reduce my total cholesterol from 203 to 170, and bring my A1C to an all-time low.

Out of all the things I’ve tried, three steps in particular have given me 80% of the benefit. Here’s how I took them and how you can do the same.

1. Try Several Diets For 30 Days Each To Find The Most Effective One

“If you maintain a healthy diet, or at least are smart about your food choices, you’ll still see the pounds come off.” — Misty May-Treanor

We have all heard that weight loss is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. I am not sure if that is a fact, but from my experience, unless you eat healthy, you will not lose weight, regardless of how much you exercise.

It is not easy to change your diet. I have been eating poorly for years and I love pizza, burgers, and fries. Unfortunately, these foods will not help anyone lose weight. I have tried many diets over the last year. Some of them resulted in short-term weight loss. But most of them were not healthy for the long-term.

First, I tried the Whole30 Diet. It is an elimination diet that removes all sugar, dairy, and grains from your diet. Not eating most of my favorite foods made it a difficult diet to follow. It also requires hours of meal prep for you to stay on track. The good news is that I lost 12 pounds over the course of 30 days.

Next, I tried Intermittent Fasting for 30 days. I thought that this was going to be much more difficult than it was since I have been known the get very “hangry.” I experimented with a daily schedule where I would fast for 16 hours and eat for 8. I was able to schedule my first meal at about 11:00 am and finish my last meal by 7:00 pm.

This actually worked well for me because I was able to eat most things that I wanted as long as I ate within the required time frame. Did I eat burgers and fries every day? No! I tried eating healthily most of the time but did allow myself unhealthy choices occasionally.

Finally, I experimented with the Ketogenic Diet. Despite the recent hype, the Ketogenic diet is not new. It’s been used for almost 100 years to treat drug-resistant epilepsy, especially in children. This was a good solution for me because it allowed me to eat a lot of high-fat foods that are filling and taste good. It was great for short-term weight loss, but it can be hard to follow in the long-term.

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that strict, rule-based diets don’t work.

They can speed up your weight loss in the short term, but if you want long-term weight loss and a healthy body, you simply need to eat healthy foods.

“It is also important to remember that “yo-yo diets” that lead to rapid weight loss fluctuation are associated with increased mortality. Instead of engaging in the next popular diet that would last only a few weeks to months (for most people that includes a ketogenic diet), try to embrace change that is sustainable over the long term.” — Harvard Medical School

What I ended up with is a blend of the diets I tried. I am now trying to eat a more balanced diet with more unprocessed foods, lean meats, fish, whole grains, and olive oil. I also drink at least 100 ounces of water a day. Without a balanced diet, you will not be able to transform your body.

What helped me get there is to test different diets for 30 days each. Pick one, then stick to it rigorously for one month. Repeat with different diets until you find one that will be a long-term solution for you or you can blend one together from the ones you’ve tried. If you find a diet isn’t working for you early on, stop and move on to the next one.

“Person walks alone on a rural trail through the countryside” by David Marcu on Unsplash

2. Walk At Least 10,000 Steps A Day

“The longest journeys start with the smallest steps.” — Cherie Blair

You need to get moving if you want to lose weight. You don’t need to run a marathon.You don’t need to spend hours on a treadmill. You just need to move.

My first step was to start walking. My goal was 10,000 steps a day. There’s nothing magical about 10,000 steps, it’s just a nice number to shoot for. An interesting fact is that that the 10,000 number originally appeared in the 1960s when a Japanese company started selling pedometers called manpo-key, which literally translates to “10,000-step meter.”

Since then, studies have shown people who take 10,000 steps have lower blood pressure, more stable glucose levels, and better moods. I would not quit walking until my phone said that I had walked 10,000 steps. It was hard at first. Sometimes, I would have to go out for a walk when I was tired and just wanted to relax with my family. But I forced myself to do it every day.

Walking 10,000 steps a day was a good goal for me. It might not be the right goal for you. What is important is that you get moving. Any movement beyond what you are doing today will improve your health.

If you want to test what I did, walk at least 10,000 steps a day. Or set a lower number at first. If you can’t walk outside due to the weather, go to your local mall and walk inside or walk on a treadmill.

3. Develop A Simple 30-Minute Workout

“From middle age on, there’s nothing more vital to your health and weight control than building lean muscle mass, and the only way that happens is with weight training and exercise.” — Suzanne Somers

I am not a personal trainer or an expert on resistance training, but what I have learned over the last year is that resistance training is important. Dieting without proper resistance training will cause you lose muscle which is the opposite of what you want.

Resistance training can mean different things to different people, but it’s usually a form of weight training with or without weights. For some people, it might be doing bodyweight exercises at home. For some people, it might be joining a gym. For others, it might be starting a Crossfit program.

If you’re not doing resistance training at all right now, it doesn’t matter which type of training you initially choose. Just choose something!

I chose to join a gym and was able to find one close to my home and on my way home from work. This made it very convenient. I knew that if it was convenient, I would make excuses not to go, defeating the whole purpose of joining a gym.

Since I hadn’t been in a gym in years, I needed a simple plan to get me started. I worked with a trainer to develop a simple 30-minute machine workout that got me started. Working with a trainer is important. It helps you get started safely and to see more rapid results. Having a plan helped me know what I was going to do for each workout. Keeping it simple removed more excuses and made it easy to do.

After a few months on a basic program, my trainer worked with me to develop a more advanced program that allowed me to continue to make progress. I am not becoming a bodybuilder, but I am getting more toned and preventing muscle loss. It is important to find something that works for you and get started.

You can either do what I did and sign up for a gym and trainer, who’ll help you make a plan and hold you accountable to it, or go for a more self-disciplined type of workout that you maybe find online. The point is to develop a simple 30-minute routine you can actually follow.

Will This Work For You?

I am not a doctor, personal trainer, or dietitian. I don’t know what your current health status is. You should discuss any lifestyle changes related to your diet and exercise with your physician.

But for most people, there is nothing stopping them from choosing to eat healthy foods instead of less healthy ones. Most of us have the ability to walk, and walking is a great way to get started. Workout routines are available everywhere, for free, and there are lots you can do without spending a lot of money or time.

The key is to commit to taking a small first step today that will help you live a more healthy lifestyle. Getting started will help you feel better, have more energy, and live longer.

Originally published at betterhumans.coach.me