Overhauling your health is best done in small steps, but how do you know where to start? Try asking yourself one or two of these questions each day – the answers could improve your health, fitness and mood, or even make you live longer.

Would your great grandfather recognize everything you ate today?

If not, chances are that unidentified item is a processed food, “and the majority of these will either have something added to the, or subtracted from them, which means it’s not as nutritious for your body as it should be”, says naturopath MIM Beim. “Ideally, your diet should be made up of foods as close to their natural form as possible – just as your great grandparents would have eaten. After all, mother nature has been very good at designing things that provide our body with high levels of nutrients that work synergistically together to provide maximum health benefits.”

Can I do this task while standing or moving?

“It’s hard with busy lives to incorporate as much formal exercise as we need into our day, plus technology like email has meant we’ve lost more general opportunities to move, like walking to speak to a co-worker,” says weight-loss specialist Matt O’Neill from Metabolic Jumpstart.

This is bad news, as not only do studies show that a high level of this non-exercise activity is one of the major differences in lifestyle between those who are thin and those who struggle with their weight (as every single movement you make burns kilojoules), research also shows that the more time you spend sitting each day, the greater your risk of heart disease and even premature death.

Experts say you need to make choices to stand during tasks like talking on the phone or while travelling on public transport. It might feel strange at first but, remember, it only takes 21 days to make a new habit.

What could I do to make myself happy right now?

That’s right, now, not a week from Wednesday after your work project is finished, or in a year after you’ve lost 6kg or got a pay rise, but within the next hour. “So many of us suffer the ‘tyranny of when’ regarding feeling good,” says Dr Timothy Sharp from The Happiness Institute. “We say, ‘I’ll be happy when I’ve (insert goal here). The problem is it means you miss out on feeling good each and every day.” Every so often throughout the day, analyze if you’ve feeling as happy as you can be – and if not, ask what it would take to change that. Ideally you would aim to tackle the root cause of the issue rather than just munching on some chocolate to get a sugar high. You might even find it makes those bigger goals easier to achieve. “I believe that if you’re happier day to day, you’ll be more likely to achieve those big goals you’re waiting for. Positive emotions lead to improved performance, coping and resilience, and these lead to success,” says Sharp.

Is taking a over-the-counter medicine the best way to treat this problem?

While popping the occasional painkiller for a headache won’t hurt, if you are constantly self-medicating the same condition, you may be better off visiting your GP, or seeing a specialist like a physiotherapist in an attempt to tackle it at the source. For starters, you might actually get a cure for the condition.

“Also, some serious condition can present with seemingly innocuous symptoms – rectal bleeding, for example, which you might treat as hemorrhoids, can be an early warning sign of rectal cancer and should always be  investigated,” says Professor Michael Kidd, GP and co-author of Save Your Life & The Lives of Those You Love (Allen & Unwin, $27.95).

Description: An estimated 1.8 million Australians have high blood pressure

Am I being kind if I do this?

That’s the most important question Michael J Chase, author of Am I Being Kind (Hay House, $18.95), thinks you can ask for your health – and the wellbeing of those around you. “Kind thoughts, words and actions create joy, but unkindness only create suffering,” he says.

“The next time you’re about to argue, complain, consume something unhealthy, yell at a loved one, or even litter, pause and internally question yourself as to whether what you’re about to do is kind for you, or someone else. If the answer is no, ask yourself “How may I be kind?” Your job then is just to listen and follow through with the answer.” Not only will this make your external world a better place, being kind has also been shown to increase levels of mood-boosting serotonin and strengthen our immune system.

Do I know how healthy I really am?

An estimated 1.8 million Australians have high blood pressure but don’t know it, and another estimated two million women don’t know their cholesterol level is too high. There are also 850,000 undiagnosed diabetics in the country. “Everyone should see a health professional for a check of their overall condition at least once in their adult life,” says anti-ageing physician Dr Michael Elstein.

Basic measurements everyone should have checked at least once a year are blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and you should keep up with any health screenings relevant to your age. “But I’d also recommend everyone has a blood test that looks at factors like their iron levels, thyroid hormone status and adrenal function,” says Elstein. “It can pick up a host of undiagnosed conditions – an estimated five to 10 percent of my patients actually have a genetic condition called hemochromatosis, which causes iron to build up in their body and triggers issues like fatigue.”

How many times did I eat something today?

Weight-loss experts in the US have created a machine that tracks how many bites of food people take a day – the theory has it that each bite averages out at 105kJ and so by setting an individual a maximum number of bites to eat you can control the kilojoules that person consumes.

Now we’re not suggesting you go into that much detail each day but, instead, look at the number of times you ate. “[If you look at] between meals, snacks and picking at things as you wander past the fridge, some people are eating 10 or more times daily,” says dietitian Susie Burrell. A healthy regimen sees you eating three moderate meals and one to three snacks daily, depending on your appetite. “Ideally, you should have two to three hours at a time where you don’t eat anything,” says Burrell.

Description: Is the exercise I’m about to do the right fit for me today?

Is the exercise I’m about to do the right fit for me today – physically and mentally?

When you are doing formal exercise, this is key to ensure balance and results. “If you ran 10km yesterday, you shouldn’t run it again today,” says The Biggest Loser trainer Tiffiny Hall, author of Weightloss Warrior (Hardie Grant, $34.95). “An effective exercise regimen includes interval drills, endurance work, strength training, core stability and recovery. You need versatility and variety to get results, so make sure you’re chopping and changing your routine.”

You also need to make sure you’re exercising from the right place mentally. Hall points out many of us exercise out of guilt or habit, forgetting that it’s supposed to be something we enjoy. So, before you drag yourself to the gym after work when you’re tired or stressed out, ask if your exercise is the right fit for your emotional needs today. Sometimes it might be better to go for a swim and sauna than go for a long run, and “occasionally having a chat to a friend would be better than working out at all”, says Hall.

If you were diagnosed with a serious illness, but were cured, which of your lifestyle habits would you change immediately afterwards?

“Asking this now means you might actually avoid that health scare,” says natural health coach Mark Bunn, author of Ancient Wisdom For Modern Health (Enlightened Health Publishing, $29.95). “Many of the habits we’d change after a health scare like a heart attack are the ones that caused it – so why wait? Change them now and avoid the issue. It could save your life,” he says.

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