35 Ways to Be Healthier This Year
The best strategies for erasing stress, shedding pounds, improving memory and more—no matter how little time you have.
Do These Right Now
Tackle these to-do items just once in 2013 to boost your wellness.
1. Clock Your Sunblock
It's good for up to three years, but look at expiration dates and restock if necessary, says dermatologist Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, M.D., a clinical instructor at the University of California, San Francisco. If you're using sunblock properly, you should need a new bottle every year.
2. Create a Reading List
Jot down the books you'd like to finish in the next 12 months—from guilty pleasures to classics—then borrow, buy or download them. Tearing into a page-turner is good for your brain. People who regularly read fiction are more empathetic than those who don't, and reading any form of literature increases vocabulary and comprehension. See our must-read picks for 2013 at familycircle.com/2013books.
3. Check the Detectors
Change the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors annually and test them monthly, says Greg Martin, a firefighter, engineer and EMT with Idaho's Ketchum Fire Department.
4. Book a Bra Fitting
Tense shoulders? Blame it on your bra. According to researchers, 85% of women wear the wrong size, which can lead to pain (and an unflattering silhouette). Weight fluctuations and other changes make an annual measurement, available in most department and lingerie stores, invaluable.
5. Chuck Old Sneakers
Regular workouts are great for you but not for your gym shoes. If you exercise three times a week, replace your pair after six to nine months, says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University at Montgomery. If five times a week, swap out after five months.
6. Revamp Your Beauty Regimen
What you put on your body can make its way into your body, so spend a day this year looking at the ingredients list of your favorite soaps, nail polishes and hair sprays. Products containing hormone-disrupting chemicals called phthalates may increase your risk of diabetes. Check out our favorite phthalate-free beauty products at familycircle.com/healthybeauty.
Do These Once a Day
Feel better from Sunday to Saturday with these simple tips.
7. Get Your Fiber Fix
Adding 10 grams of soluble fiber to your daily diet can reduce your visceral fat—the most dangerous type of body fat because it wraps around organs. Meeting this total is as simple as adding an apple to breakfast and a cup of carrots to your lunch, snacking on a pear, and having a cup of black beans with dinner.
8. Satisfy Cravings with Gum
"You'll be putting a food-like substance in your mouth, giving your jaws something to do and stimulating the production of serotonin," says Pamela Peeke, M.D., author of The Hunger Fix: The Three-Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction. Look for gum sweetened with xylitol—this natural sugar substitute protects teeth from cavities.
9. Preserve Your Pearlies
Floss once a day—before you brush. It'll help the fluoride in your toothpaste get between your teeth.
10. Try a 4-Minute Workout
Twice a week, switch your regular workout to the high-intensity interval training known as Tabata. Sweat with our rapid plan from Jessica Smith, co-author of The Thin in 10 Weight-Loss Plan, at familycircle.com/tabata.
11. Tidy Up
Cleaning your place nightly can result in more than just sparkling floors: Researchers say well-kept homes house healthier people. It's unclear if the elevated heart rate and calorie burn from housekeeping is responsible for fitter occupants or if caring for your home is linked to caring for your body, but whatever the reason, get mopping—it's a win-win. Neaten up in a hurry with our tips at familycircle.com/quickclean.
12. Pack a Brown Bag
Women who ate lunch in a restaurant at least once a week lost 5 fewer pounds on average than those who ate out less often. The likely reason: You're more inclined to splurge when going out. Find seven from-your-fridge ideas that'll make it easy to pass on take-out at familycircle.com/baglunch.
13. Get in the Green
Just five minutes of activity in nature is enough to boost your mood, say researchers. Fit in a quick loop around a park or spend a few minutes tending to your garden.
14. Pause at the Watercooler
Chitchat may feel like idle talk, but making time for short conversations can improve your memory and focus. Social interactions—particularly ones that ask you to consider another person's perspective—stimulate the brain region responsible for these functions.
15. Fix Everyone a Plate
The easiest way to reduce calorie intake by up to a third? Keep serving dishes out of sight and your family will automatically skip second helpings, say researchers at Cornell University.
16. Sleep, Uninterrupted
Getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom? Limit fluids two hours before bed, suggests Mark Liponis, M.D., author of UltraLongevity and corporate medical director of Canyon Ranch.
17. Shower Away Stress
"Let droplets flow over your head, close your eyes, and inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, holding it for a few seconds," suggests davidji, author of Secrets of Meditation. "Imagine a waterfall releasing tension as you exhale."
18. Shut Down Your Inbox
Reading and answering after-hours e-mails can throw a wrench in your work-life balance, spurring feelings of guilt. Establishing e-mail boundaries can help: Do a final check-in early enough that you have a couple of hours of continuous family time.
19. Skip Sick Days
Regular exercise may halve your risk of contracting a bug. Just fit in 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily, suggests the American College of Sports Medicine.
20. Wipe Out
It's not a wrong number: 92% of cell phones have bacteria on them and 16% have E. coli. Consult the manufacturer's guidelines for cleaning, and consider a microfiber cloth from goswype.com.
Do These Once a Week
Every seven days make a move toward vitality.
21. Be a Pedal Pusher
Between running errands and meeting friends, the average woman drives 30 miles a day. Make one trip a week by bicycle and you'll improve your health, says Mia Birk, author of Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet. Don't forget your helmet!
22. Cut Out a Few White Lies
Next time you're tempted to tell a fib, fess up. Eliminating three lies in a week—even little ones—leads to fewer headaches, sore throats and other mental and physical complaints.
23. Watch a Rerun
It's not often that the boob tube is linked to health benefits, but this is one of the exceptions. Rewatching favorite episodes allows your brain to recharge, restoring levels of self-control and increasing willpower, say researchers at the University at Buffalo. This type of brain break may give you that extra oomph needed to finish a lengthy report or hit the gym.
24. Plan a Game Night
Play an active video game (read: one where you exercise more than your thumbs) and you'll burn more calories than you would watching a movie. Bonding bonus: Research shows that girls who do so with their parents report feeling more connected to their families and are less aggressive.
25. Exercise Your Memory
Always park in a different place at work or the mall. Regularly remembering new information—like where to find your car—can help your brain stay sharp, says Christine M. Gall, Ph.D., professor of anatomy and neurobiology at the University of California, Irvine.
26. Sniff Away Stress
Feeling frustrated? Reach for some jasmine essential oil. It stimulates the brain much like prescription anxiety medications, such as Valium.
27. Water Your Work Plants
Hazardous chemicals, like formaldehyde, are often the cause of that funny smell carpets, paint and cleaning agents give off. And particles can linger long after the scent disappears. To clean the air you breathe, add plants. Bamboo palms are particularly good filters.
Researchers in Norway have developed a scale to measure Facebook addiction. If you have a feeling your score is off the charts, pick at least one day each week to avoid social media, suggests David Strayer, Ph.D., professor of cognition and neural science at the University of Utah. Limiting your access to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and even e-mail rests your brain and weakens the urge to virtually connect.
29. Wear Flats
High heels add length to your legs, but the fancy footwear also increases pressure on your knees and ups your risk for osteoarthritis.
Do These Once a Month
Just 12 times a year can make a big impact on your well-being.
30. Start a Healthy Dinner Swap
Wouldn't it be great if low-cal meals magically appeared in your fridge? They can—sort of. Recruit four other families in your neighborhood for a food swap: Each family cooks a big batch of a particular meal (enough to feed five families), packs it up in Tupperware and trades it with the others. Make it a Sunday activity. You'll each prepare dinner just once but eat five different homemade dishes that week. For good-for-you recipes, go to familycircle.com/dinnerswap.
31. Refresh Your Relationship
Next date night, get creative. Breaking your routine can keep the fire burning strong between you and your partner because new activities—such as bowling, star-gazing, a golf lesson or a ride in an exotic car—rekindle romantic feelings.
32. Book a Massage
Allow us to twist your arm: Massages boost immunity, decrease aggression and lower cortisol levels, all while treating ailments like headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome and diabetes. For best results, ask for moderate pressure, suggests Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
33. Schedule a Meet-Up
Book clubs, wine tastings and the PTA provide enough social connection and inclusion to make you happier and more resilient. The more groups, the better. Casual social sets, such as the crew at your friendly yoga studio, count too.
34. Plan a Double Date
What's even better than a night alone with your hubby? Dinner with him and another couple. When partners develop close friendships with other couples—even ones they've just met—they tend to feel more sparks in their own relationship, say researchers.
If you're pressed for time, stressed or feeling a bit blah about things, helping others can reverse those negatives while making life more meaningful. Whether you're ready for a single charitable act or a monthly gig, find deserving organizations at volunteermatch.org.
Originally published in the January 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.
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