Taking control of your health doesn’t need to be difficult or time consuming. There are several easy, healthy habits you can incorporate into your daily routine to help you lose weight, get in shape, prevent serious illness and de-stress. Here are 14 quick health tips to get you started:
1. Snack Smartly
If you’re looking for simple ways to improve your health, overhauling your snacks is a good place to start. Snacking doesn’t have to mean sitting in front of the TV with a bag of potato chips or grabbing a candy bar while you’re waiting for dinner to finish cooking. If you put some effort into choosing healthy snacks, you can satisfy your hunger while filling in some of the nutrients your meals might be missing.
Ideally, a healthy snack should include protein as well as fiber. This will provide the fuel your body needs to get through the day. Examples of healthy snacks include yogurt and apple slices, string cheese and wheat crackers, unsalted nuts and baby carrots, or peanut butter and pretzel sticks. For most adults, a sensible portion for a snack is somewhere between 100 and 200 calories.
To make snacking more convenient, pre-portion the correct serving sizes on the weekend and keep them in a basket in your pantry or refrigerator. Then, all you will need to do is grab a container when you’re hungry.
2. Say No to Sugary Drinks
We all know soft drinks aren’t a healthy beverage choice, but fruit juices and sports drinks are also full of excess sugar. Water should be your primary beverage of choice, with soda or fruit juice considered a special treat. Sports drinks are only necessary after high-intensity workouts lasting one hour or more.
If the taste of plain water is unappealing, try making your own fruit- and herb-infused spa waters at home. For example, you can make a delicious cucumber-tarragon spa water by thinly slicing half a cucumber and adding it to a pitcher of filtered water along with a bunch of fresh tarragon. Chill in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving. If you don’t have any tarragon handy, try adding cubes of seedless watermelon to water for a sweeter taste and a subtle pink hue.
How much water should you drink per day? On average, an adequate fluid intake for men is about 13 cups of total beverages a day &mdash this includes water, as well as milk, tea and juice. For women, it’s about nine cups of total beverages per day. However, people who exercise vigorously or live in hot climates will need to increase their fluid intake. Pregnant or breastfeeding women will also need to boost their fluid consumption to ensure proper hydration.
3. Eat the Rainbow
For optimal health, it’s recommended that you eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. However, it’s important to vary your choices. One easy way to make dietary changes to improve your health is to challenge yourself to eat something from every color of the rainbow.
The Whole Kids Foundation affirms that different colors of fruits and vegetables offer different nutritional benefits. For example, red produce such as apples, strawberries, cherries, tomatoes and red peppers support heart health and memory due to their high levels of vitamin C, folate, lycopene and flavonoids.
Green produce such as asparagus, broccoli, green beans, cucumbers, grapes and honeydew tends to be high in chlorophyll, vitamin K, carotenoids and omega-3 fatty acids to support healthy bones, teeth and eyes.
If you’re reluctant to eat a variety of produce because you’re concerned about the potential for food waste, try making more frequent shopping trips or look for a farmer’s market near your home that offers easy access to fresh produce as you need it. Frozen fruits and vegetables are another option to consider since they are more convenient to store until you need them.
4. Treat Yourself to New, Smaller Dishes
If it has been a few years since you purchased new dishes, consider springing for a set of dinnerware that includes smaller plates. The bigger your plate or bowl is, the more you’ll eat without realizing it.
Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab reported on a study by professors Brian Wansink and Koert van Ittersum that looked at the effect of large bowls on breakfast cereal consumption among people attending a health and fitness camp.
Campers with larger bowls ate 16 percent more cereal, yet their estimated consumption was actually 7 percent less than campers using the smaller bowls. This indicates that larger dishes tend to make food portions look smaller, so they are visually deceiving when it comes to determining the size of a portion you really ate.
Switching to a salad plate for all your meals is the easiest way to automatically downsize your portions. Alternatively, you can invest in a special portion-control plate with divided sections that illustrate the ideal portions of protein, grains, and fruit or vegetables. There are also portion-control bowls with lines that indicate various serving sizes. This is a quick health tip that will effortlessly cut calories from each meal.
5. Develop a Plan of Attack for Eating Out
For most people, making healthy choices at home is easier than making healthy choices when they go out to eat. But that doesn’t mean you need to resign yourself to becoming a hermit. Restaurant meals can be part of a healthy diet if you pay close attention to the menu.
When you’re at your favorite restaurant, check to see if there is a light, low-fat or healthy section of the menu. If not, simply stay away from anything labeled creamy, stuffed, breaded or sauced. These words generally indicate that a dish is high in fat and calories. Fish or chicken is preferable to beef or pork, as long as it&rsquos not fried, breaded or covered in a creamy sauce. Depending on the restaurant, you may also be able to customize your meal to make it healthier. For example, many restaurants will allow you to substitute healthy vegetables for fried side dishes free of charge if you ask politely. It’s also common for restaurants to allow you to substitute grilled chicken for fried chicken.
If you’re in the mood to indulge, be mindful of portion sizes. Consider getting soup or a salad first and splitting your entree with a friend. The healthy starter will fill you up so you’ll be satisfied with less when your entree arrives. Splitting your entree will automatically make it a more reasonable portion size, too.
6. Take Care of Your Smile
Many people make the mistake of thinking they only need to visit a dentist when they’re in pain. This belief is quite shortsighted. Regular dental visits reduce the risk of developing painful oral problems. However, a dentist can also provide screenings for oral cancer and exam the mouth for signs that could indicate problems elsewhere in the body. For example, the American Dental Association reports that poor oral health is often an early sign of diabetes or heart disease.
In addition to regular dental visits, make brushing and flossing part of your daily routine. Adults should brush their teeth at least twice a day and floss at least once per day. Mouthwash is not medically necessary if you’re brushing and flossing regularly, but it can be helpful if you are concerned about bad breath. For best results, choose a mouthwash containing chlorine dioxide as an active ingredient. Chlorine dioxide is proven to be highly effective at killing the bacteria that cause bad breath.
7. Turn Down the Noise
Hearing loss isn’t an inevitable side effect of aging. In fact, one-third of permanent hearing loss is preventable.
Exposure to noise above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. A good rule of thumb is that a noise level is potentially dangerous if you must shout to be heard by someone who is just an arm’s length away. Any situation that causes a ringing or buzzing in your ears or leaves you with a feeling of “fullness” in your ears after you exit the area may also be too loud.
Removing yourself from a noisy situation or asking someone to turn down the volume is always the best bet. When this isn’t possible, wear earplugs or earmuffs to prevent damage to your hearing. If necessary, purchase multiple pairs so you always have ear protection readily available when you need it.
Hearing loss is most common among military personnel, construction workers, farmers, police officers, firefighters, factory workers and musicians or other entertainment industry professionals due to the continuously high levels of noise they experience throughout the work day. If you work in one of these at-risk occupations, check with your employer to see what steps they are taking to protect workers from hearing damage.
8. Rethink Your Cleaning Routine
Keep germs at bay by tweaking your housecleaning routine. The flu virus can live on hard surfaces for up to 48 hours, so it’s smart to get in the habit of wiping down surfaces in your home every day with a disinfectant spray or disposable disinfectant wipes. Don’t forget the doorknobs, as these surfaces are often one of the germiest spots in your home.
If you suffer from allergies or asthma, you should also consider paring down the excess clutter in your home. Stuffed animals, throw pillows, large collections of decorative objects, stacks of books or magazines and blankets that are not washed regularly can serve as breeding grounds for dust mites. These nasty little creatures can cause watery eyes, skin rashes, itching, coughing and a sore throat.
9. Take Advantage of Your Free Preventive Care Benefits
Preventive care is health care that’s designed to address small problems before they become serious medical issues. Preventive care lets you be proactive about your health instead of waiting until you don’t feel well to make changes to your lifestyle. Did you know that the Affordable Care Act makes many preventive health screenings available free of charge? Even if you normally have a deductible for your insurance, you can obtain these services without paying one cent out of pocket.
The list of screenings available as part of your preventive care benefit includes depression screening, blood pressure screening, alcohol misuse screening and counseling, obesity screening and counseling and HIV screening. Additional screenings are also offered if you fall into a high-risk group, such as lung cancer screening for adults ages 55 to 80 who are heavy smokers, or those who have quit smoking in the last 15 years, and diabetes screening for people who also suffer from high blood pressure. Visit Healthcare.gov to learn more.
10. Get Vaccinated
Getting vaccinated takes just a few minutes, but it’s a simple way to be healthier while protecting those around you. Since some people can’t be vaccinated because vaccines are too dangerous for them due to their age or medical conditions, they rely on others to keep them safe.
Vaccines fall under the Affordable Care Act’s preventive health benefits. You can receive vaccines for:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Herpes Zoster
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
- Varicella (Chickenpox)
These services are provided free of charge only if you visit a doctor or provider in your plan’s network.
Keep in mind that vaccines don’t last forever. Many of the shots you received as a child may no longer be effective. Tetanus vaccinations, for example, require a booster every 10 years. If you have questions about what vaccinations you should receive, ask your doctor for details.
11. Get Moving
Our ancestors didn’t need to worry about their level of physical activity because their daily routines involved walking, lifting and stretching. Today, most of us work in offices where we sit for eight or more hours per day. We exercise our minds, but we neglect our bodies.
Adults should get at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. Examples of moderate intensity activities include biking, brisk walking or water aerobics. As a general rule of thumb, an activity qualifies as moderate intensity if you can comfortably speak while excising. If you need to catch your breath after just a few words, it’s considered vigorous exercise.
In addition to the recommended amount of physical activity, you should also aim to do strengthening activities such as push-ups or basic weight lifting exercises at least two days per week. If you’re on a budget and don’t want to invest in hand weights, you can use filled water bottles to make your own weights. As you get stronger, you can switch to milk jugs and other larger containers.
To track your progress, consider investing in a Fitbit, Nike FuelBand or a basic pedometer. The constant feedback provided by activity trackers is often helpful as a motivational tool. If you can see that you’re behind your daily step goal by 5:00 p.m., this may be the nudge you need to head out for a brisk walk after dinner.
12. Make Sleep a Priority
If you have a to-do list that seems like it will never end, it’s tempting to stay up late to polish your presentation for work or tackle the pile of laundry that needs to be done. Unfortunately, skimping on sleep is a terrible idea. Being awake for 16 hours straight has the same effect on your physical and mental abilities as a blood alcohol level of .05% (the legal limit for operating under the influence is .08%).
Getting adequate sleep is one of the best ways to improve your health. Healthy adults need seven to eight hours of sleep per night, with some people saying they feel best when they get closer to nine hours of sleep per night.
Ideally, it should take you between 10 and 15 minutes to fall asleep. If you can fall asleep in less than five minutes, this indicates you’re suffering from sleep deprivation. If it takes longer than 20 minutes, you might be suffering from a sleep disorder.
Trouble sleeping can be caused by stress, illness, living or sleeping arrangements, diet, exercise and your genetic history. To promote a more restful sleep, develop a ritual that will train your brain to relax. Try drinking a warm glass of milk or enjoying a cup of chamomile tea while you read a book or listen to some relaxing music. Reduce your use of artificial light as much as possible during the evening hours, as there is evidence to suggest that exposure to excess light interferes with the body’s production of melatonin &mdash a hormone needed for proper sleep.
13. Reduce Your Stress
Stress can have toxic effects on the body. Muscle tension, difficulty breathing, digestive troubles, diarrhea, constipation, chest pains and a lack of sexual desire can all be linked to stress. All of these symptoms negatively impact your qualify of life, including your ability to perform at work and enjoy spending time with family or friends.
Some situations that cause stress are beyond your control, such as dealing with an unexpected job loss or a loved one’s sudden illness. Others, however, can be eliminated with minor tweaks to your daily routine. For example, finding an alternative route to work might reduce stress caused by traffic congestion during your daily commute. If waiting for your children to get dressed in the morning makes you stressed, having them pick out their outfits and pack their backpacks before bedtime might make you feel more relaxed.
Penciling in “me” time is also an excellent way to reduce your stress. Making time for activities you enjoy isn’t selfish. You’re not going to be able to take care of your responsibilities unless you manage your stress levels. Schedule a few hours a week for hobbies such as drawing, knitting, woodworking, playing golf or gardening. Meditating, listening to soothing music and writing in a journal are also excellent ways to lower your stress level.
14. Give Yourself a Break
Living a healthier lifestyle takes time, and it’s perfectly normal to make a few mistakes along the way. Indulging in a slice of chocolate cake instead of snacking on a handful of almonds doesn’t make you a terrible person. Neither does skipping your workout to binge-watch your favorite show on Netflix. You’re only human.
When you make a mistake, look at it as a learning experience. Think about ways you might be able to do things differently to prevent it from happening again. For example, maybe you were tempted by the chocolate cake because you didn’t get enough protein at lunch and felt quite a bit hungrier than normal. Perhaps you skipped your workout because you forgot to bring a change of clothes with you in the morning and you lost your motivation to hit the gym once you went back home to grab them.
James Clear, a researcher covering behavioral psychology, habit formation and performance improvement, reports that it takes an average of 66 days to build a new habit. In some circumstances, it can take six months or more. Implementing quick health tips to the point where they became habits will take patience. Make a point to celebrate your successes instead of beating yourself up over your mistakes.
Armed with a little patience and these small changes for better health, you can keep yourself ahead of the curve and start living a healthier life.