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“5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, with Melissa Morris and Dr. William Seeds

The second barrier is that we don’t see the long-term effects on our health. We usually focus more on the short-term health effects, like weight loss or more energy. The long-term stuff gets lost until we have a major health event or wake-up call. Sadly it’s usually only then when we really focus on what […]

The second barrier is that we don’t see the long-term effects on our health. We usually focus more on the short-term health effects, like weight loss or more energy. The long-term stuff gets lost until we have a major health event or wake-up call. Sadly it’s usually only then when we really focus on what we need to change to be more healthy.

As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Morris. Melissa Morris is a writer for exercise.com. She has a BS and MS in exercise science and an EdD in educational leadership. She is an ACSM certified exercise physiologist and an ISSN certified sports nutritionist. Melissa teaches nutrition and applied kinesiology at the University of Tampa and has worked in health education, fitness, and nutrition for 15 years.


Thank you so much for doing this with us, Melissa! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?

My interest in health, fitness, and wellness began when I was 16. At the time, my dad was 42 and had a heart attack. I had heard of a heart attack and knew some basic information, but while my mom was with him at the hospital, I got the encyclopedia (this was before Google existed) and looked up what a heart attack was, what the risk factors were, and how to prevent heart attacks from happening.

This started my interest in health, fitness, and wellness and I knew that was a career that I wanted to work in for the rest of my life. Once I got into the coursework in undergraduate and graduate school, I was easily able to see the personal and professional application of the information, which kept me excited.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Last summer, I was skimming through the course evaluation surveys that students complete at the end of the semester. The feedback usually varies, but I try to find comments that help me improve my course each semester. One of my students said this, “As for her teaching capability: A+. Some professors you like because you can relate to them and their funny, but I liked Professor Morris because she was honestly a great TEACHER. She knew what to say, didn’t read off slides, very organized, had many activities, many resources available, fair grader, and put personal info into her presenting.”

Wow! That’s exactly what I try to do in my courses, and it really encouraged me to know that one of my students recognized that.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

This funny story happened on the interview for my first “real” full-time job. I had to travel out of town for the interview, so I had limited options in my suitcase. I was invited to a dinner with the individual who would supervise my position. My handbag did not match my outfit, so I did not want to bring it along. I put my hotel key in my pocket, but did not bring anything else with me (no credit card or cash). The administrative associate that I had met with earlier in the day told me that the supervisor would pay for my dinner, but I would submit the rest of my expenses on a form.

Fast forward to dinner, the server asked if we wanted separate checks or one check and the supervisor said “separate checks.” I was mortified! I had to tell him that I did not bring my credit card with me, so he asked for one check. He didn’t make a big deal about it, but I remember going back to my hotel room, crying, and calling my Dad telling him that I didn’t even want to go on the interview the next day. But, a few days later I was offered the job and I worked in that career for almost 11 years.

I learned to never assume that someone will cover your dinner on any kind of job activity, so always stick a credit card or cash in your pocket. I also learned that even if something seems doomed, it could end up working out very well for you so keep your head up.

Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?

I’m a professor, so I love sharing my knowledge with my students. But I didn’t follow the traditional route to academia, I worked in community health, fitness, and nutrition for 11 years before I started teaching full-time.

I try to recognize what is most important for students to know from a practical application perspective. For example, how will they use this information outside of the classroom? I also hoped that I helped motivate people to live a healthier life when I was working in the community. I worked with a lot of older adults, so if they told me they felt stronger, their balance was improving, or they felt more flexible, that was so exciting for me!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My grandma was the person who stands out to me as one of my biggest cheerleaders. I was living with her for a short time while I was looking for my first job out of graduate school. She was very encouraging and a great sounding board for me through a frustrating time. She always supported me and never questioned any of my decisions. I wish she were here now to see how far I’ve come since I was that 22-year-old who felt a little lost after finishing graduate school. Grandmas are special people, I sure do miss her.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

I think the first barrier is time. We are busy! Many people are trying to balance their jobs, family time, hobbies, social lives, and health. Unfortunately, our health is usually the thing that takes a back seat because we run out of time to exercise. Running through a drive-through or picking up carryout is faster than grocery shopping, prepping, and cooking a meal.

The second barrier is that we don’t see the long-term effects on our health. We usually focus more on the short-term health effects, like weight loss or more energy. The long-term stuff gets lost until we have a major health event or wake-up call. Sadly it’s usually only then when we really focus on what we need to change to be more healthy.

The third barrier is motivation. I struggle with this one myself too, sometimes I’m just not feeling motivated to work out or eat healthy. We get into a plateau, we are feeling emotional, or we are too tired. Everyone has to figure out ways to help overcome that lack of motivation, for me it’s signing up for and committing to a class. If I don’t show up, I get charged. Some mornings I feel completely unmotivated but I tell myself, just show up, that’s all you have to door, just go for the first ten minutes. Once I’m there, my lack of motivation disappears and I feel so much better for going.

Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)

Lifestyle Tweak #1

Drink 8–16 ounces of water first thing in the morning. Do this before you drink your coffee. We wake up slightly dehydrated, so this is a good start to drinking plenty of water all day long. I started doing this over the summer, and it has made a huge difference in how I feel and it’s such an easy (and free) thing to add to your routine.

Lifestyle Tweak #2

Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Yes, we know this is represented on MyPlate, but it’s such a simple concept that’s still difficult to do. This is not a fad diet or some crazy concept to healthy eating, anyone can do this. Fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients, filling, low in calories, and usually not expensive.

Lifestyle Tweak #3

Move more. Sit less. A regular exercise program has numerous health benefits. But even if you don’t have time to exercise regularly, you can sit less and move more. Go for an evening walk with a friend, do an online yoga video, or lift weights first thing in the morning. Limit sitting to short periods and stand up and stretch or move at least a few times an hour. Most smartwatches now have a setting that buzzes to remind you to stand up once an hour, which is great.

Lifestyle Tweak #4

Get eight hours of sleep each night. Many people only get 6 or so hours and most of us need at least 8 hours to function properly. Go to bed earlier, get into a good bedtime routine, or avoid napping during the day to get your full eight hours a night.

Lifestyle Tweak #5

Practice self-care. This is another simple concept that can be more difficult to do. Take care of your physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual heath by taking care of yourself. Focus on your needs, customize your self-care on what you need the most, and identify one small change you can make.

As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?

In reality (and the research supports this), daily exercise is not a great way to lose weight. Diet is the more important factor when it comes to weight loss. Weight loss happens in the kitchen. However, we do know that exercise has so many health benefits. The three biggest health benefits are: improved heart health, improved mental health, and improved strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility.

For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?

For cardiovascular health — walking/jogging, biking, or swimming.

For muscular/bone/joint health — squats, push-ups, and planks.

Obviously a full routine with exercises for upper and lower body is important, but those stand out because they work multiple muscle groups (a lot of bang for your buck!) and do not need special equipment.

In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?

STRETCH after physical activity and listen to your body. Stretching is the part that so many of us skip out on (myself included) because we are in a hurry or didn’t leave enough time at the end of our workout. Yoga is great at improving flexibility and balance and can go a long way in preventing injuries too. You have to listen to your body. I love to exercise, and I would do vigorous physical activity every day, but I know my body needs time to recover. If you need an extra day off because you have been working really hard, take it.

There are so many different diets today. Can you share what kind of diet you follow? Which diet do you recommend to most of your clients?

I don’t like diets. To me, diets are a temporary thing and many are very restrictive and un-sustainable. I believe eating should be fun and pleasurable. Eating should fuel your body and it should be part of your lifestyle.

Some diets will restrict certain food groups, like carbohydrates. Are you really never going to eat pasta, or a piece of pizza, or cookie ever again? That’s not realistic.

I am constantly trying to improve my diet in small but significant ways, like eating more vegetables, eating fruit for dessert instead of sweets, or cutting back on my portion sizes. Any “diet” that leads to a caloric deficit will lead to weight loss, but some do so in a healthy way and some in a not-so-healthy way.

MyPlate isn’t a diet, but an easy way to look at your plate to improve how you eat and in turn, lose weight.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership.

I read this as part of my coursework on leadership, but I still enjoy picking it up on occasion and reading a chapter or two. I used to think that leaders had to be the managers or supervisors. That book helped me realize that anyone and everyone can and should be a leader. There are skills, qualities, and tools that we can all use to become positive leaders.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

In the words of Tim McGraw, “Always stay humble and kind.” If everyone treated others kindly, and we all acted humble, this world would be a great place to live.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I have two, one is “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” Lifelong learning and staying updated in your area of expertise is extremely important.

The other relates more to fitness as well as life, and for me, relates to running, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Well, outside of the world of health, nutrition, and fitness I am pretty obsessed with college football (M-I-Z) and country music. So I would love to sit down and have lunch with Kirk Herbstreit and/or Kenny Chesney. Kenny Chesney also stays in great shape so there’s a fitness connection there too.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Azdmelissa on Instagram.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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