(ARA) - Eating right and exercising is something we all know we should do, but the follow-through can be harder than we think. You don't need to take part in an expensive or radical health program to improve your life. Thinking long term and making small changes like shopping smarter and taking a closer look at what we eat can help improve our lives.
Shop with a plan
Try to avoid going grocery shopping without a list or menu in mind - or worse still, when you're hungry. Wandering through the aisles can lead to picking up a lot of foods you don't need or aren't good for you, leading to expensive trips now and poor health later.
But if you shop smarter, you can turn the same trip into a much less painful experience on your wallet and your waist line. Creating a list and planning your menu for the week ahead is a great way to start. You can shop for only what you need in a given week, and if your schedule is particularly chaotic, you can prepare many of your meals in advance. Once you get into a routine, it can be much easier to navigate the grocery store.
Look at labels
One way to help get yourself feeling great on the inside and out is to take a closer look at what you're buying. If you're not sure where to start, consider the advice from the American Heart Association and look for foods that are lower in sodium.
Whether you are looking for snack items, main course options or condiments, more and more companies are trying to help consumers by making options that will help you move toward a better-for-you lifestyle.
Also, keep an eye on the serving size of what you're eating. If you need help sticking to that, try using this "serving size card" from the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute for reference.
For those who love to cook, so many of the recipes handed down from generation to generation aren't always the healthiest. Part of the joy of cooking is that it's more art than science, so cut back on items that aren't healthy and substitute in better-for-you items. If you are looking for inspiration or help, search for any one of the thousands of food blogs on the Internet - many of which offer healthier alternatives, like Hungry Girl or the Food Network's Healthy Eating Blog.
Living a better-for-you lifestyle doesn't mean giving up all the foods that you love and enjoy - it means being smarter about how you shop, cook and eat. Once you do that, you'll be amazed at how much better you feel.